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Sea people Inscriptions in

The Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III

Commonly called "Medinet Habu Temple"








Medinet Habu is a mortuary temple that was constructed for Ramesess III at Thebes in Upper Egypt. The temple decoration consists of a series of reliefs and texts telling of the many exploits of the king, from his campaign against the Libyans to, most importantly, his war against the Sea Peoples.

The texts and reliefs that deal with the Sea Peoples date to year eight of Ramesess III’s reign, approximately 1190 B.C. The significance of these texts is that they provide an account of Egypt’s campaign against the “coalition of the sea” from an Egyptian point of view.

The Medinet Habu inscriptions are also significant for their artistic depictions of the Sea Peoples. These provide valuable information about the appearance and accoutrements of the various groups, and can lend clues towards deciphering their ethnic backgrounds (Redford 1992: 251).


But this was not the first attempted invasion by the Sea Peoples, the first attempt was against king Merneptah (reign:1213 to 1203 B.C.). His victory was recorded on his stele: Click here >>>











The Sea People

The Peleset and Tjeker (Minoans) of Crete, they would later be known as the “Philistines” after they had settled in Southern Canaan. Over time, this area became known by a form of their name “Palestine”. The Lukka who may have come from the Lycian region of Anatolia, The Ekwesh and Denen who seem to be identified with the original (Black) Greeks, The Shardana (Sherden) who may be associated with Sardinia, The Teresh (Tursha or Tyrshenoi), the Tyrrhenians - the Greek name for the Etruscans, and The  Shekelesh (Sicilians?).

From the textual evidence on the temple walls, it appears that the Peleset and the Tjeker made up the majority of the Sea Peoples involved in the year 8 invasion.  In the artistic depictions, both types are depicted wearing a fillet (a ribbon used as a headband), from which protrudes a floppy plume and a protective piece down the nape of the neck. 





Their armament included long swords, spears and circular shields, and they are occasionally shown wearing body armor.  Other groups, such as the Shekelesh and Teresh, are shown wearing cloth headdresses and a medallion upon their breasts. The weaponry that they carried consisted of two spears and a simple round shield.  The Shardana soldiers are most obviously armored in the artistic depictions, due to the thick horned helmets that adorn their heads (Redford 1992: 252).



The land battle and sea battle scenes provide a wealth of information on the military styles of the Sea Peoples. The reliefs depicting the land battle show Egyptian troops, chariots and auxiliaries fighting the enemy, who also used chariots, very similar in design to Egyptian chariots.  Although the chariots used by the Sea Peoples are very similar to those used by the Egyptians, both being pulled by two horses and using wheels with six spokes, the Sea Peoples had three soldiers per chariot, whereas the Egyptians only had one, or occasionally two.







The land battle scenes also give the observer some sense of the Sea Peoples’ military organization. According to the artistic representations, the Philistine warriors were each armed with a pair of long spears, and their infantry was divided into small groups consisting of four men each. Three of those men carried long, straight swords and spears, while the fourth man only carried a sword. The relief depicting the land battle is a massive jumble of figures and very chaotic in appearance, but this was probably a stylistic convention employed by the Egyptians to convey a sense of chaos. Other evidence suggests that the Sea Peoples had a high level of organization and military strategy (O’Conner 2000: 95).








A striking feature of the land battle scene is the imagery of ox-pulled carts carrying women and children in the midst of a battle. These carts seem to represent a people on the move (Sandars 1985: 120).
The other famous relief at Medinet Habu regarding the Sea Peoples is of the sea battle. This scene is also shown in a disorganized mass, but as was mentioned earlier, was meant to represent chaos, again contradicting the Egyptians’ descriptions of the military success and organization of the Sea Peoples. The sea battle scene is valuable for its depictions of the Sea Peoples' ships and their armaments. 






The Egyptians and the Sea Peoples both used sails as their main means of naval locomotion. However, interestingly, the Sea Peoples' ships appear to have no oars, which could indicate new navigation techniques (Dothan 1982: 7).  Another interesting feature of the Sea Peoples' ships is that all the prows are carved in the shape of bird heads, which has caused many scholars to speculate an Aegean origin for these groups. Wachsmann (2000) speculates that the sea battle relief shows the battle in progression, from beginning to end.





The following texts are adapted from the translation

by James Henry Breasted (2001).

Note: Dashes --- indicates missing piece: Brackets () {} [] indicates uncertainity of words.  


Excerpt from Ramesses III's speech about the war against the Sea Peoples.

The countries -- --, the [Northerners] in their isles were disturbed, taken away in the [fray] -- at one time. Not one stood before their hands, from Kheta, Kode, Carchemish, Arvad, Alashia, they were wasted. {The}y {[set up]} a camp in one place in Amor. 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, Tjekker, 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 river-mouths [1], 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 river-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. (Thus) I turned back the waters to remember Egypt; when they mention my name in their land, may it consume them, while I sit upon the throne of Harakhte, and the serpent-diadem is fixed upon my head, like Re. I permit not the countries to see the boundaries of Egypt to [--] [among] them. As for the Nine Bows, I have taken away their land and their boundaries; they are added to mine. Their chiefs and their people (come) to me with praise. I carried out the plans of the All-Lord, the august, divine father, lord of the gods. {"The Nine Bows" refers to Egypt's traditional enemies}.



The Sea peoples' defeat prevented them from conquering Egypt itself, but it left the Egyptians incapable of defending their possessions in the East, which were colonized by the Philistines, Sidonites and others. The effects of the eclipse of Egyptian power are described in the Wenamen papyrus. Local kings, such as the king of Dor, showed quite open contempt for the ambassador of the Pharaoh.    
According to this, possibly ficticious account, at the beginning of the 11th century B.C, during the reign of Ramses XI: Wenamen, a priest of the Amen temple at Karnak, sailed in a Phoenician ship to Gebal (Byblos) in order to buy timber for the construction of a solar ship. He carried with him a letter of introduction to Zekharbaal, king of Gebal, a statue of the god Amen and some valuables

In this account of Wenamen's journey, there is still hostilities between the Tjekker (Philistines) and Egypt, as the Tjekers seek to imprison Wenamen. Click here for the Wenamen papyrus. <<Click>>






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