Sea Peoples and Mycenaean Greeks: Epic Migrations that Reshaped the World

Based on the paper presented by Sanford Holst at the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain on June 25, 2022

Gold mask of Phoenicians

The Sea Peoples migration in the years around 1200 BC had a critical impact on the Mediterranean world, as did the major Mycenaean and Dorian migrations in Greece. These events all occurred during the same time period and caused many nations to fall.[i]

The Classical Greek and Roman civilizations which came later would have developed much differently—if at all—if these migrations had not taken place. So those major changes affected not only antiquity but much of world history that followed. And with them has come a cautionary message to us today, that the impact of mass migrations should not be underestimated.

Sea Peoples

The actions of the Sea Peoples establish the clearest framework for these events, so it is best to begin with their exploits. They are credited with having destroyed many societies around the ancient Mediterranean during their mass migration. And while an abundance of different opinions have been offered over the years about the Sea Peoples and their activities, that has now settled down into a growing consensus.

The traditional major milestone events in the Sea Peoples invasion are:[i]

  • 1208 BC  —  King Merneptah of Egypt turned back an incursion by the Sea Peoples and Libyans at the Nile Delta.
  • 1180 BC —  The Hittite empire fell.
  • 1180 to 1176 BC —  The Levant fell (eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean) except for the Phoenician cities.
  • 1176 BC —  King Ramses III of Egypt stopped the Sea Peoples attacks by land and by sea, allowing them to keep the land they had taken.

The main theory advanced to explain the origin and actions of the Sea Peoples has been described by Eliezer D. Oren[i] as “the collapse of the two great empires of that day—the Hittite in Anatolia and the Mycenaean in Greece—brought about their mass migrations to the coastlands of the Levant and Cyprus.” The collapse of those two empires was basically laid to economic and environmental factors.

Shelley Wachsmann[ii] added a significant point which was missing from the above explanation, and that was the participation of people from Central Europe and the Black Sea region. This appears to have been a major factor in the events of this time.

Trevor Bryce[iii] and others who examined conditions in Anatolia in those days found food shortages definitely existed. The Hittites were able to relieve this by importing wheat and other goods from Egypt and Canaan. However the peoples of Western and Northern Anatolia were not members of the Hittite world, and in fact were frequently at war with that empire. So these parts of Anatolia suffered unrelieved food shortages and faced strong pressure to take some form of necessary action.

To illustrate the problem clearly, Itamar Singer[iv] cited texts from the Emar region which state there was a year of hardship in which three qa of grain cost one silver shekel. Then later a shekel would buy only two qa of grain. Finally that same amount of silver would buy only one qa of grain. The price of grain had already become a hardship—and then it had tripled in cost. There clearly was a rising food shortage at this time.

Having said this, it must be noted that other motivations appear to have existed for the Sea Peoples as well. As pointed out by Wachsmann,[v] some groups among them may have joined simply due to greed. The quick-strike raids in the Aegean and across the southern coast of Anatolia seem particularly of this nature, given that delivering settlers into those areas does not seem to have been the prime motivation.

A symbiotic relationship appears to have developed between those who were motivated to find good land for their families and those who simply wanted booty and adventure. The chaos created by each benefited the other, and the results suggest they came to share mutual enemies and mutual allies.

So pressures were increasing in and around Anatolia. But why was this particular moment chosen for exploding into action?

To see this we take a look at the Hittite empire which, during the 13th century BC, occupied the heartland of the vast Anatolia peninsula and extended south to the Mediterranean Sea. The Hittites pressed even farther south along the Levantine coast in those days and captured the port city of Ugarit. That brought them to the border of Phoenicia. Egypt had previously claimed control of Ugarit, and now the powerful Ramses II fought the Hittites over the land they had taken. But these battles ended with Ramses signing a treaty in 1258 BC which ceded to the Hittites all the lands those people had taken.[vi]

During the next forty-five years of Ramses’ long reign following this treaty, the Hittites were beset on all sides but held their own. They fought the Assyrians in the east, the fierce Kaska people who controlled the north shore of Anatolia, and they fought the several groups of people who divided Western Anatolia among them.[vii] Meanwhile the Mycenaeans continued to raid into Western Anatolia and held lands in the neighborhood of Miletus, which was also known as Millawanda.[viii]

Then, in 1213 BC, the great Ramses II died[ix] and a paroxysm seized the entire region. It was fairly common in the ancient Mediterranean for the death of a powerful king to lead to attacks by neighboring states—each seeking to determine if the successor king was weak, and if prized lands might be wrested away. But the Hittites were preoccupied with problems at home and put off any aggressive action in the Levant.

Instead it was the Sea Peoples who took action. In 1208 BC they sailed to Egypt in small numbers, estimated at 5000 warriors,[x] and attacked the successor to Ramses: king Merneptah. To do this they joined with the Egyptians’ western neighbors, the Libyans, and mounted an attack on the Nile Delta. Merneptah routed those forces, as described on his victory stele at Thebes.[xi]

This attack by the Sea Peoples on Egypt, the breadbasket which had been supplying the Hittites with wheat via Ugarit,[xii],[xiii] was consistent with the proposition that these people were driven by food shortages in their lands. The Sea Peoples’ first strike, if successful, would have acquired ownership of some part of that food source. Even though the Hittites were the long-time adversaries of virtually all the people who made up the Sea Peoples, the Hittites had no excess of food, so the first strike had gone against Egypt.

But once the attack against Egypt failed, the next thrust came against the Hittites. With hindsight we can now see what attraction attacking the Hittites would have held for the Sea Peoples. In addition to removing an old enemy, those Hittites stood between the Sea Peoples and an achievable goal: the land of Canaan in the Levant which was second only to Egypt as a source of wheat.[xiv] In addition, by going through the Hittite land and Canaan, the Sea Peoples would be able to bring a force numbering hundreds of thousands to confront the wheat-rich Egyptians—rather than the handful of warriors who had failed on the first attempt.[xv]

The attacks against the Hittites began by land. In fact the greatest campaigns the Sea Peoples would mount were by land. This has led William MacDonald and others to refer to them as the Land and Sea Peoples[xvi] which is a much more accurate appellation. The Kaska living to the north of the Hittites—between them and the Black Sea—attacked at this time. The Assuwa, Arzawa and Lukka lived in the land to the west of the Hittites, between that empire and the Aegean Sea, and they also attacked. But a problem had to be overcome. The Mycenaeans continued to hold the Aegean and attacked the Anatolian people from the seaward side.[xvii] To deal with this, warriors and ships in the Sea Peoples confederacy poured from Anatolia and the Black Sea into the Aegean, where they ravaged the Mycenaeans in their islands and on the Greek mainland. The Mycenaean citadel-cities inland may or may not have been taken at this time, but the coastal towns were certainly laid waste by these raiders.[xviii]

When the Aegean had been thus cleared, the people of Western Anatolia were no longer fighting on two fronts. They were able to turn their full attention to the Hittites. The now-open Aegean allowed ships belonging to the Sea Peoples to sail through those waters and begin raiding the Hittites all along their Mediterranean coast.[xix] This proved to be pivotal in the struggle against that entrenched power. In 1182 BC Ugarit fell and the Hittites’ flow of wheat from Egypt was cut off.[xx] Approximately two years later the Kaska captured Hattusas, the capital of the Hittites, and that empire died.[xxi]

The Hittite blockage had been removed. Now nothing stood in the way of the Sea Peoples’ exodus. With their wives, children and household possessions in two-wheeled carts, the Sea Peoples—now more properly the Land Peoples—flowed across the former Hittite territory in a massive migration. At the territory’s southeast corner they turned southward and flowed through Canaan, destroying the cities they encountered.[xxii] Many settled beside the wheat fields and took some of the land for themselves and their families.

A very large number of the Land and Sea Peoples continued onward and eventually arrived at the border between Canaan and Egypt. There they were met by the armies of Ramses III and a great battle was fought—with a second battle being fought in the Nile Delta. These encounters were documented in some detail on the walls of Ramses’ funerary temple at Medinet Habu in Thebes.[xxiii]

The [Northerners] in their isles were disturbed, taken away in the [fray] at one time. Not one stood before their hands, from Kheta (Hittite empire), Kode (Cilicia), Carchemish, Arvad, Alasa (Cyprus), they were wasted. {The}y {[set up]} a camp in one place in Amor (near Ugarit). They desolated his people and his land like that which is not. They came with fire prepared before them, forward to Egypt. Their main support was Peleset, Thekel (Tjeker), Shekelesh, Denyen, and Weshesh. (These) lands were united, and they laid their hands upon the land as far as the Circle of the Earth. Their hearts were confident, full of their plans.

Now, it happened through this god, the lord of gods, that I was prepared and armed to [trap] them like wild fowl. He furnished my strength and caused my plans to prosper. I went forth, directing these marvelous things. I equipped my frontier in Zahi, prepared before them. The chiefs, the captains of infantry, the nobles, I caused to equip the harbor-mouths, like a strong wall, with warships, galleys, and barges. They were manned [completely] from bow to stern with valiant warriors bearing their arms, soldiers of all the choicest of Egypt, being like lions roaring upon the mountain-tops. The charioteers were warriors, and all good officers, ready of hand. Their horses were quivering in their every limb, ready to crush the countries under their feet. I was the valiant Montu, stationed before them, that they might behold the hand-to-hand fighting of my arms. I, king Ramses III, was made a far-striding hero, conscious of his might, valiant to lead his army in the day of battle.

Those who reached my boundary, their seed is not; their heart and their soul are finished forever and ever. As for those who had assembled before them on the sea, the full flame was in their front, before the harbor-mouths, and a wall of metal upon the shore surrounded them. They were dragged, overturned, and laid low upon the beach; slain and made heaps from stern to bow of their galleys, while all their things were cast upon the water.

This description at Medinet Habu was accompanied by pictures displaying battle scenes in which the Sea Peoples’ boats were shown as having a very peculiar design: The fore-post and aft-post were identical and each had a bird’s head at the top. Wachsmann traced this design to vessels found only in Central Europe[xxiv] along the Danube River corridor. The Danube River flowed through the part of the Balkans north of Greece and emptied into the Black Sea. This rivermouth faced the north side of Anatolia, where boatmen from this region could join the rest of the Sea Peoples. It should be noted that the names of several groups among the Sea Peoples were not found anywhere in the Anatolian or Aegean regions, and might reasonably have designated people who came from the Black Sea area. Also, as noted earlier, refugees from the shattered Mycenaean world would eventually come to live among the Sea Peoples, though they did not begin to arrive in Cyprus and Palestine until the latter part of the 12th century BC[xxv]

 Experts differ over exactly how many battles were fought between Ramses and the Sea Peoples, as well as where they were fought. But the net result was that the Sea Peoples were finally stopped in their southward movement. Large numbers of them settled in Canaan and gave their own name to the land:  primarily the Peleset people who settled a wide swath of land which became known as Palestine.[xxvi] Others sailed west and settled upon islands which likewise seem to have been given the name of the tribe which settled there: the Shekelesh who settled on Sicily,[xxvii] the Sherden who settled on Sardinia,[xxviii] and several settlements in other lands.

Mycenaeans and Dorians

We now take a deeper look into the lives of the Mycenaeans and Dorians to see their mass migrations in proper context. To start at the beginning, it has been widely agreed that Indo-European people first came south from Central Europe into the northern part of the land known today as Greece around 3000 BC.[xxix] It is a matter of discussion as to whether they already spoke Greek when they arrived or whether their language evolved into Greek while they lived in this new land. But in any event they became the first Greek-speaking people.

Their often-moving tribes established their new homeland in what is now Northern Thessaly, Epirus and part of Macedonia. The people in this hunter-gatherer society did not stay in one place long enough to create significant towns of their own but instead tended to follow their food as seasons changed. Their hunting skills seemed to make them adept as warriors, because they successfully defended their land against intruders for many centuries. With these observations in mind I have found it useful to refer to them as “warrior kings” who ruled this large swath of land across the middle of the Balkans.

That status-quo changed significantly during the 2200-2000 BC time period due to a substantial portion of these Greek-speaking people sweeping south into what is now Central and Southern Greece.[xxx] The oral history of those times has given us the names of a Greek leader and his sons who were said to have accomplished this epic event. The leader was said to have been named Hellen. And while we do not know for certain that the actions attributed to him are true, there is no compelling evidence in favor of another person or group of people who should be given this credit. That being the case, it is reasonable to accept the strong belief of the Greek people that he existed, until proven otherwise. It should be mentioned that even today the Greek people identify with him, calling themselves Hellenes and their country Hellas.

Before setting out on his campaign to establish Greek rule, Hellen was said to have left his eldest son Dorus in charge of the Greeks who stayed in the north. As a result those people came to be called Dorians.

As Hellen and the original Greek force marched southward they encountered large towns populated by people they knew as Pelasgians. They passed the town of Dimini just beyond the southern edge of their lands, then established their forward base of operations in the sparsely populated valley of the Sperchios River. This land came to be known as Phthia.

Continuing onward, Hellen captured the significant city of Thebes. Apollodorus[xxxi] and others told us Hellen established his son Aeolus as the new king of Thebes. This may have been his favorite son, for he made Aeolus his successor in Phthia and the rest of Southern Thessaly as well. The descendants of the Greeks in these two lands did in fact become known as Aeolians.

What happened at the major town of Manika on the nearby island of Euboea was less certain. But we do know it became drastically reduced in size at this time.[xxxii] To compensate for this, a new settlement began to grow at Lefkandi, about six miles southeast along the shore.[xxxiii] Hellen established his last son, Xuthus as king over this huge island. But Xuthus apparently continued to campaign with his father, because he left behind his own young son Ion to rule over Euboea. This young man’s kingdom was fated for good fortune and expansion. And its people became known as Ionians. Again, this was the oral tradition of the Greek people, which was later recorded by many writers.

Hellen and his followers then marched southeast to the modest settlement at Athens. This town and the surrounding rocky land, which seemed not well suited to agriculture nor otherwise producing wealth, was added to Euboea and placed under the charge of Ion.

Hellen’s next campaign pressed even farther south. The Greek troops entered the isthmus of land between the Corinthian Sea and the Aegean, and as the countryside spread out again in front of them, they arrived in the extensive Peloponnesus peninsula. The first land they encountered was controlled by the ancient town of Argos. The city had a protective acropolis on an adjacent hillside which was of little use, so the town would have fallen quickly. Argos ruled over promising land on fertile plains, and the sea was only about four miles away. But it was completely indefensible the way it stood.

So Hellen built a town of his own several miles to the north. It was located on a high hill and was vastly more defensible. This town was given the name “Mycenae.”[xxxiv]

Going down into the valley of Argos and passing that city, Hellen and his men came to the sea where a small hill stood with a protective round tower. This was Tiryns. With part of Argos’ wealth coming from fishing and trade, this modest place was well positioned to guard those commercial interests. So a wall was now built around the top of the hill for further protection. This wall would grow over time to become truly massive. Tiryns eventually became an important Mycenaean city.

The rest of the Peloponnese was vast but thinly populated, so Hellen and his descendants had come far enough to claim the land. It was reportedly bequeathed to Hellen’s son Xuthus. Seeing the enormous size of the Peloponnese, Xuthus in turn divided it between his own two sons. The expanse of land west of Argos he gave to Achaeus. And in time the people of that region came to be known as Achaeans.

The smaller part of the peninsula—encompassing only Argos, Mycenae, Tiryns and the arm of land which reached eastward into the sea—he added to the kingdom of Ion. In this way Argos became intertwined with Athens and Euboea. And these Ionians would eventually extend their reach eastward across many Aegean islands. But that was still in the future.

It should be pointed out that many experts have identified the years between 2200 and 2000 BC as the time the Hellenes “came down from the north.” For example John V. A. Fine of Princeton University told us:

The arrival of proto-Greeks in Greece in the years around 2000 BC, then, would be in conformity with what little is known about the wanderings of other Indo-European-speaking peoples and particularly with the appearance of the Hittites and Luwians in Asia Minor. For several centuries these proto-Greeks spread over much of Greece, destroying various settlements and gradually blending with the natives. Archaeology has revealed the existence in this period of many communities in the Peloponnesus, central Greece, and Thessaly.[xxxv]

The essential fact is that at the end of this time all of the mainland was Greek. And it would remain Greek for all the years to come.

Many centuries after those events, the city of Mycenae was unearthed by Heinrich Schliemann in 1874 and these early Greeks who occupied Central and Southern Greece were then given a new name: Mycenaeans.[xxxvi] This was not a name they had called themselves, so one cannot look for the first or last use of that name among the ancient Greeks. That simple fact required historians to look for other ways to identify the beginning and end of the Mycenaean people.

These ancient Greeks played prominent roles in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, so it has become accepted that they existed during the time of that war, which was close to 1200 BC. Within 100 years of that war, archaeological evidence has shown Mycenaean society dissipated, marking the end of their reign.

To assign a date for the rise of their society, historians noted an increase in burial-site wealth at Mycenae around 1600 BC.[xxxvii] The major event they experienced in that time frame was their conquest of the rich Minoan society on the island of Crete. With that act the Mycenaeans acquired the extensive Minoan sea trade which made them rich, the Minoan palace-building which elevated their architecture and arts, and the Minoan system of writing (Linear A) which was then used to write Greek words (Linear B) thereby increasing the Mycenaeans’ literacy.

So 1600 BC has become popularly used for the beginning of Mycenaean society. But a deeper look into this impressive society shows that its basic Greek gods, beliefs and many practices did not change significantly from 2000 BC  to 1600 BC. Even with all the dramatic events they experienced in those years, the Mycenaeans continued to speak the their Greek language, follow the same leading families, and live in the same Greek towns. And they continued to dominate many of these lands from their fortress city at Mycenae.

So in reality we should reasonably call them Mycenaeans for the entirety of their existence, from 2200 BC to 1100 BC. However it has traditionally been exceedingly difficult to get historians to change once they adopt a particular view. So perhaps it will be sufficient to identify these Greek-speaking people as Early Greeks (2200-1600 BC) and Mycenaean Greeks (1600-1100 BC).

The tumultuous changes after the Trojan War brought the Dorians into this chain of events. At that time the Sea Peoples had already made their first foray against Egypt and been beaten back. But the drought and suffering in their homelands continued unabated, so now they surged forward again.

By this time the Mycenaeans were weakened from ten years of war at Troy and the loss of many of their greatest fighters. This left their coastal cities as easy prey for seaborne raiders. The damage imposed on those seaside cities were well-documented in the archaeological record.[xxxviii] Following this widespread disruption the Mycenaean cities withered and eventually died.

Philip Betancourt[xxxix] noted that prior to this collapse there had been an adequate supply of food in Greece and the population had grown very large. An essential link in their food system was the extensive trade in the Aegean which allowed shortages in any locality to be made up by shipments from other areas. He also pointed out that widespread disruption of this system of distribution could have caused the collapse of this society and its descent into warfare and migration. He postulated further that a simple two-year drought could have caused this whole system to collapse.

With the loss of those harbor cities—and loss of coastal cities in other lands with whom they traded—the sea trade revenues which had supported the Mycenaeans evaporated. So their inland cities faltered amid the failing economic conditions. As a result, several decades after the Sea Peoples’ seaport raids the Mycenaeans began to migrate to other lands in substantial numbers.

The island of Cyprus was a clear beneficiary of this trend. Mycenaean Greeks arrived in significant numbers and swelled its population.[xl] This affirmed a Greek stamp on a substantial portion of that island which would never go away. Some Mycenaeans traveled farther and reached the shore of the Levant in the land now known as Israel. They brought recognizable pottery and other artifacts with them about 30 or 50 years after the Sea Peoples migration had arrived in that land in massive numbers.[xli]

So the deteriorating Mycenaean mainland was ripe for a new group of people to take on a dominant role, and the Dorians did exactly that. Surprisingly enough, historians have made a mess out of understanding these times. The piece-meal approaches taken to date have only added to the confusion rather than producing clarity.

Among the points which historians have studied are the relationship between oral traditions referring to the Dorians and those referring to the “return of the Heracleidae (the descendants of Heracles)” as discussed by George Grote and others.[xlii] An ongoing mixture of the two seems to take place, suggesting they may have been two ways of describing the same thing.

The origin of the language spoken by the people of Hellen’s time and of the Dorians has also been a subject of much discussion. These have ranged from asserting both groups spoke an original form of Greek, all the way to them having spoken some unknown Indo-European language which only became Greek after it was merged with the native Pelasgian language. This latter view has been favored by J. P. Mallory and others.[xliii] The difficulty with that position is no one seems to know what that original language might have been, nor what language was spoken by the Pelasgian people. So it has simply added to the confusion.

Next came the view proposed by John Chadwick and others[xliv] that there was no Dorian migration at all. It was suggested that warring clans among the Mycenaeans could have weakened themselves with so much constant fighting that their slaves or other subjugated, lower-class people staged a revolution and overthrew their masters in the Peloponnesus. In this case, the dialect of the lower-class people was assumed to have been Dorian. Unfortunately, this view does not address the apparent evidence of Dorian people and language first appearing northwest of the Gulf of Corinth and then spreading southward into the Peloponnesus.[xlv] It has contributed more confusion.

By focusing only on one piece or another in this puzzle, the above studies have not produced a coherent explanation for all the events which occurred. And no compelling facts have been presented which would establish them as the correct explanation. So let us take a step back and look at the overall picture, just as one would do with a jigsaw puzzle.

Assembling all the diverse facts identified in the above discussions—leaving behind the opinions—then adding what is known to us about the Sea People produces a well-supported, overall picture of the Dorian migration.

As noted earlier, ancient Greek oral tradition told us rustic people came down from the north and settled in Northern Thessaly, Epirus and parts of Macedonia. This land included Mount Olympus. Greek language and culture became well-established at this time. Then in 2200 BC great men led many of them southward and spread Greek society over all of Middle and Southern Greece.

For many centuries the relatively-civilized Mycenaeans in Central and Southern Greece were able to hold back their less-civilized brethren in Northern Greece. And they referred to these northerners as Dorians.

Then around 1200 BC the weakened Mycenaeans were faced with a serious problem. The drought conditions afflicting people in the Black Sea region and along the Danube in the Balkans seem to have struck the Dorians in their part of the Balkans. The same life-and-death pressures which sent the Sea Peoples southward in their mass migration would have pushed the Dorians in that same direction. If the Dorians did not immediately take action of their own volition, they would have been highly motivated to do so once word of the Sea People’s incredibly successful migration arrived.

But whatever caused them to begin their movement, the mass migration of Dorians southward from Epirus, Northern Thessaly and Western Macedonia was noted by the ancient Greeks. Herodotus, Thucydides, Pausanias, Apollodorus and others described these events in which the Dorians took over the Peloponnesus from Messenia in the west to Argos in the east. This migration extended as far north as Corinth, but did not reach Athens or other cities in that direction. Athenians were particularly proud of maintaining their Ionian heritage rather than yielding to the Dorians.

Thucydides reported that the Dorians completed their sweeping takeover of the Peloponnesus by eighty years after the Trojan War.[xlvi] This happened to fit the timeline suggested by Greek oral tradition that the grandson of Agamemnon—the Mycenaean king who led the Greeks in the Trojan War—was the last king to rule Mycenae before it fell to the Dorians.[xlvii],[xlviii]

Now let us consider this Dorian migration in the context of the Sea Peoples’ actions in the Mediterranean region. There were clear winners and losers in the confrontations that accompanied the massive Sea Peoples and Dorian displacements of people.

As we have seen, the major losers were a) the Hittite empire which was destroyed and left behind only a residual fragment on the Euphrates River, b) the city of Ugarit which was totally destroyed and never rebuilt, c) the Mycenaeans who were fatally wounded in their coastal cities and would disappear completely within a hundred years, and d) Egypt which had won the battles but lost the Levant—a loss which would cause it to waste away and become a shadow of its former self.

The winners included a) the tribes of people who came from Anatolia—and the lands to its north and west—who migrated into the Levant and onto islands across the Mediterranean, b) the Kaska who kept their original lands in the north of Anatolia on the Black Sea, and added the heart of the Hittite territories to their own, c) the Dorians who ended up in possession of most of the Mycenaean lands, and d) the West Anatolian people who remained in their own lands, but acquired some of the Hittite lands, and gained influence in the Aegean.

Although not a fighting participant, the Phoenicians were also among the winners because they survived by cooperating with the Sea Peoples. Moreover the historical record[xlix],[l] shows the active cities of these sea traders in Phoenicia (modern Lebanon) quickly expanded their reach by placing trading posts all across the Mediterranean: primarily in Cyprus, the Aegean, Sicily, Sardinia, North Africa, Algeria, Morocco and Spain.

Impact of These Mass Migrations

As we have seen, it has been well documented that the Mycenaean and Dorian migrations took place shortly after the Sea Peoples swept down through Hittite lands and the Levant. Also worthy of note was that the impact of the Eastern migration (Sea Peoples) and Western migration (Mycenaeans, Dorians) were similar to a remarkable extent. The highly functioning, civilized cities in Greece—just like those in the Levant—deteriorated rapidly and were largely abandoned in favor of a more rustic way of life, as noted by Carl Blegen and others.[li]

One of the most surprising aspects of all these events was how much they have been ignored by historians to date. This was once the case for the Sea Peoples, though it happens less now. But as we have seen, it still remains common to see assertions that the Dorians and their migration are an unresolved mystery. Yet the facts are clearly present.

The Dorian migration was a companion to the Sea Peoples migration, and proceeded in a straightforward manner. These two migrations took place under similar conditions, had similar results, and happened at roughly the same time.

And the impact of these migrations was devastating. Highly civilized and powerful societies—so strong that they could not be defeated by military attacks—were swept aside by the sheer force of overwhelming numbers. This provides a lesson which should still resonate with us today.

Migrations of people suffering from hunger, disease or persecution have already pushed many nations to the limits of their patience in recent years, especially across Europe and the Americas. And we have still not seen the full force these migrations would have if they occurred in vastly larger numbers.

What would happen today if Russia and China were to suddenly disappear under the feet of millions of desperate people in Asia? Then have this be followed by the United States and several major European countries suffering a similar fate in the West? It would be reasonable to expect the economic disruption from the fall of those powerful nations would drive the entire world backward into some degree of poverty and desperation.

At that point it would be too late to react.

The chance to react is now.

It would be unwise to assume the current superpower nations are “too big to fail.” The Mycenaeans and Hittites were exceedingly dominant in their time and place. Yet they were turned to dust by mass migrations on a scale they never expected. We can learn from their demise. And we can do this by reducing the pressures of hunger, disease and persecution in troubled lands today. By doing so, we can survive these difficult times.

Or we can choose not to learn. And follow the footsteps of once-great societies on a path of no return.


[i] Grant, Michael  The Ancient Mediterranean  (New York: Meridian, 1988), p. 80.

[i] Experts have not agreed on the specific year in which each of these events occurred. In each case there is a cluster of dates within a narrow band for the event. One of the well-supported dates within each band has been identified for use in this paper. Using any of the other dates within these bands does not change the outcome.

[i] Oren, Eliezer D.  “Introduction”  The Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment  (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 2000), p. xvii.

[ii] Wachsmann, Shelley  “To the Sea of the Philistines”  The Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment  (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 2000), p. 122.

[iii] Bryce, Trevor  The Kingdom of the Hittites  (Oxford: Clerendon Press, 1998), pp. 364-365.

[iv] Singer, Itamar  “New Evidence on the End of the Hittite Empire”  The Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment  (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 2000), pp. 24-25.

[v] Wachsmann,  “To the Sea of the Philistines”, pp. 103-105. 

[vi] Bryce,  The Kingdom of the Hittites, p. 306.

[vii] Bryce,  The Kingdom of the Hittites, p. 320.

[viii] Bryce,  The Kingdom of the Hittites, p. 60.

[ix] Freeman, Charles  Egypt, Grece and Rome  (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 74.

[x] Wood, Michael  In Search of the Trojan War  (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), p. 219.

[xi] Barnett,  “The Sea Peoples”, p. 366.

[xii] Bryce,  The Kingdom of the Hittites, p. 356.

[xiii] Bryce,  The Kingdom of the Hittites, p. 364.

[xiv] Bryce,  The Kingdom of the Hittites, p. 357.

[xv] Sandars, Nancy K.  The Sea Peoples  (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978), p. 133.

[xvi] McDonald, William  Progress into the Past: The Rediscovery of Mycenaean Civilization (London: MacMillan, 1967), p. 459.

[xvii] Bryce,  The Kingdom of the Hittites, p. 399.

[xviii] Sandars,  The Sea Peoples, p. 179.

[xix] Bryce,  The Kingdom of the Hittites, pp. 366-367.

[xx] Van Soldt, W.H.  “Ugarit: A Second-Millennium Kingdom on the Mediterranean Coast”  Civilizations of the Ancient Near East  (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1995), p. 1265.

[xxi] Murnane, William J.  “The History of Ancient Egypt: An Overview”  Civilizations of the Ancient Near East  (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1995), p. 708.

[xxii] Finkelstein, Israel  “The Philistine Settlements: When, Where and How Many?”  The Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment  (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 2000), p. 159.

[xxiii] Breasted,  Ancient Records of Egypt, vol. 4, pp. 37-39.

[xxiv] Wachsmann, “To the Sea of the Philistines”,  p.122.

[xxv] Sandars,  The Sea Peoples, p. 183.

[xxvi] Dothan, Trude  “The ‘Sea Peoples’ and the Philistines of Ancient Palestine”  Civilizations of the Ancient Near East  (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1995), pp. 1267-1279.

[xxvii] Barnett,  “The Sea Peoples”, pp. 367-368.

[xxviii] Sandars,  The Sea Peoples, p. 161.

[xxix] Although some sources refer to dates as late as 2500 BC, as shown in:  Drews, Robert  The Coming of the Greeks (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), p. 9.

[xxx] Fine, John V. A.  The Ancient Greeks: A Critical History  (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), p. 5.

[xxxi] Apollodorus, The Library, translated by James George Frazer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1921), sections 1.7.2-1.7.3.

[xxxii] Sampson, Adamantios  “Manika. An Early Helladic Settlement and Cemetery Near Chalkis, Euboea” retrieved on August 31, 2020 from CEMETERY_NEAR_CHALKIS_EUBOEA_in_A_Sampson_Manika_An_Early_Helladic_town_near _Chalkis_1985.

[xxxiii] “Lefkadi” retrieved on August 31, 2020 from 

[xxxiv] There were a number of local families at Mycenae before the arrival of this Hellenic force, and even the name appears to be indigenous. But it was now constituted as a new town and began to grow quickly.

[xxxv] Fine, John V. A.  The Ancient Greeks: A Critical History  (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), p. 5.

[xxxvi] Schuchhardt, C.  Schliemann’s Excavations (London: Macmillan, 1891), p. 8. This source notes that Schliemann’s critical excavation was performed in 1873 and then first published in 1874.

[xxxvii] Castleden, Rodney  Mycenaeans (London: Routeledge, 2005), p. 91.

[xxxviii] Sandars,  The Sea Peoples, p. 179.

[xxxix] Betancourt, Philip P. “The Aegean and the Origin of the Sea Peoples”  The Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment  (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 2000), pp. 298-300.

[xl] Lewartowski, Kasimierz  The Decline of the Mycenaean Civilization (Wroclaw: Polska Akademia Nauk Komitet Nauk O Kulturze Antycznej, 1989), pp. 171-2.

[xli] Finkelstein, Israel  The Philistine Settlements: When, Where and How Many?” The Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment  (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 2000), pp. 159-180.

[xlii] Grote, George  History of Greece  (London: John Murray, 1849).

[xliii] Mallory, J.P.  In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology and Myth  (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991), p. 71.

[xliv] Chadwick, John  “Who were the Dorians?” Parola del Passato (Florence: Olschki, 1976). 31: 103–117. 

[xlv] Mylonas, George Emmanuel  Mycenae and the Mycenaean Age. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), pp. 230-1.

[xlvi] Thucydides  History of the Peloponnesian War 1:12  “Sixty years after the fall of Troy…. Twenty years later the Dorians with the descendants of Heracles made themselves masters of the Peloponnese.”

[xlvii] Pseudo-Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.8.3-4

[xlviii] Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 2.18.7–8

[xlix] Markoe,  Peoples of the Past: Phoenicians, pp. 170-188.

[l] Moscati, Sabatino  The Phoenicians  (New York: Rizzoli International, 1999/1988), pp. 8-304.

[li] Blegen, Carl  “The Mycenaean Age: The Trojan War, the Dorian Invasion and Other Problems”, Lectures in Memory of Louise Taft Semple: First Series, 1961–1965, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967), p. 30.

CLOUD: Mycenaean Sea Peoples, Dorians, migration, invasion, Mycenaeans, Greeks

Further information

If you would like to experience more of the Mediterranean world in which the Phoenicians and other peoples lived, the book Phoenicians: Lebanon’s Epic Heritage is recommended. See the Greeks, Sea Peoples, Egyptians and other societies in a completely new light.

This deeply researched but highly readable exploration goes beyond the few traditionally-cited facts. It also draws from interviews with leading archaeologists and historians on-site in the lands where these ancient peoples lived.


You can take a look inside this book. See the first pages here.