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THE ETHNICITY OF THE SEA PEOPLES (download pdf)

 

Fred Woudhuizen

 

Bringing down the Hittite empire and dealing Egypt a blow from which it never recovered, the Sea People’s episode at the end of the Bronze Age was crucial for a shift of the economic and political centre of gravity of the Mediterranean world away from the Levant and towards Greece, Africa Minor, and Italy. Soon this shift was to give rise to the splendors of archaic and classical Greece developing into Hellenism, Carthage, Etruscan civilization, Rome, the Roman empire, early Christianity and, in the long run, of the emergence the modern western European civilization, dominated by speakers of Indo-European languages, but greatly influenced by a Levantine religion (Judaism). For better or worse, the Sea People’s episode was one of the few major turning points in world history, comparable to the period of the great migrations which led to the collapse of the Roman empire, or the rise and early spread of Islam.


With the help of modern anthropological theories about ethnicity, the author will set out to determine whether the enigmatic Sea Peoples are merely a bunch of pirates or a set of coherent ethnic entities, temporarily making common cause in pursuit of the richnesses of, and hence a better life in, the Near East. Of vital importance to this endeavor is the question of the homelands of the various groups which make up the Sea Peoples. In order to tackle this problem, an interdisciplinary proto-historical method has been applied, which makes full use of the available archaeological, historical, and linguistic data as provided by Egyptian, Levantine, Anatolian, Aegean, and central Mediterranean sources. As such, the work aspires at an historical synthesis, in which the Masperonian thesis of a homeland for the Sea Peoples in Asia Minor and the Aegean is weighed against the opinion of others who rather attribute such a role to, apart from the Aegean, the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, and the Italian peninsula in the central Mediterranean. It will be shown that both the “Anatolian thesis” and the “central Mediterranean antithesis” are partly valid, and that some of the groups of the Sea Peoples originate from Anatolia and the Aegean, whereas others rather come from the central Mediterranean region. It further will be argued that the “prime mover”, which set the whole process leading to the upheavals of the Sea peoples into motion, is formed by the true mass migration of bearers of the central European Urnfield culture into the Italian peninsula c. 1200 BC.


The reader will get a fascinating insight into a crucial period of human history, which up till now is considered a murky backwater by the specialist of the various disciplines involved.

2006. 167 pp. Dissertation. This work, which has been published in a limited impression, will be included in Wim M.J. van Binsbergen and Fred C. Woudhuizen, Ethnicity in Mediterranean Protohistory, forthcoming in the series of the British Archaeological Reports, Oxford.

 

 

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