History Files

Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Anatolia


Ekwesh / Eqwesh / Akawasha (Sea Peoples)

Towards the end of the thirteenth century BC, the international system in the Near East began to break down. Communications between the many smaller states, especially in Syria and Canaan, and the kings of Babylonia, Egypt, Elam, the Hittites, Mitanni and the Assyrians, gradually broke down as events overwhelmed many of them.

The system was inherently unfair, often making the poor even poorer, often dispossessing them of everything. During the second millennium BC growing numbers of people left the cities to escape, often joining rogue groups which were known as habiru. These groups not only maintained a way of life which was free of the control of the major kings, they also raided their cities and supplies.

Then the region was hit by climate-induced drought and a loss of crops during the thirteenth century BC. Food supplies dwindled and the number of raids by habiru and other groups of peoples who had also banded together greatly increased until, by about 1200 BC, this flood turned into a tidal wave which destroyed the Hittites and many Anatolian and Syrian cities and states. A dark age descended on the eastern Mediterranean region.

The term 'Sea Peoples' was used to refer to the mass of raiding and migratory peoples who existed in this period. They frequently took everything with them on their attacks - wives, children, and belongings - and often settled in any territory which they managed to conquer. The Ekwesh were part of the combined force of Libyans and Sea Peoples which attacked Egypt in 1208 BC.

Some scholars see the Ekwesh (Eqwesh or Akawasha) as possible elements from Ahhiyawa, or even mainland Mycenaean Achaea. Homer and Odysseus mentioned an Achaean attack upon the delta, and later Greek myths stated that Helen spent the duration of the Trojan War in Egypt rather than Troy. Following the war's conclusion the Mycenaeans are claimed to have gone there to recover her.

Doubt about the Mycenaean link comes from prisoners taken by Egypt. To be sure of the numbers of enemy dead (6,000, with 9,000 prisoners), the pharaoh ordered that the penises of all uncircumcised victims be cut off, along with the hands of those who had been circumcised. The Ekwesh numbered amongst the latter, making the Greek connection doubtful to some.

However, the name 'Ekwesh' is very similar to the Indo-European word for 'horse'. The related Latin word, 'equa', is pronounced 'ekwa'. In this period Indo-Europeans were starting to lose their exclusivity when it came to using horses, but they still dominated the world's total number of horse users, and the Achaeans/Ahhiyawans were chariot users. Considering their own name, Ekwesh, as indeed being clearly related to the Indo-European word for horse, it can be seen that they were a division of Indo-Europeans, and almost certainly one which was related to the Achaeans (Greeks).

Central Anatolian mountains

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Philistines and Other 'Sea Peoples' in Text and Archaeology, Ann E Killebrew (Society of Biblical Literature Archaeology and Biblical Studies, 2013), from Researches into the Physical History of Mankind, Vol 3, Issue 1, James Cowles Prichard, from The Roman History: From Romulus and the Foundation of Rome to the Reign of the Emperor Tiberius, Velleius Paterculus, J C Yardley, Anthony A Barrett, and from External Links: Listverse, and Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny.)

c.1220 BC

With the decline of the Hittites, the textual information regarding the Ahhiyawans also disappears. It seems unlikely they are definitively defeated as this is bound to be recorded - instead, they are probably assimilated into the newly emergent kingdoms of the twelfth century BC, some of which have a Greek heritage which the Ahhiyawans may share.

Ekwesh warriors in relief
The group of people known as the Ekwesh were involved in the destruction of the Hittite kingdom around 1200 BC, although their origins are clouded in mystery

One possibility is that some of the Ahhiyawan population can be equated with the Ekwesh, part of the Sea Peoples according to Egyptian accounts. If so, their hostility towards the Hittites probably leads to their being involved in the destruction of that state when it falls in about 1200 BC.

Doubt about a link between Ahhiyawans and Ekwesh is raised by Ekwesh prisoners taken by Egypt. To be sure of the numbers of enemy dead (six thousand, with nine thousand prisoners), the pharaoh orders that the penises of all the uncircumcised victims be cut off, along with the hands of those who had been circumcised. The Ekwesh number amongst the latter, making a Greek connection doubtful.

Habu relief at Medinet
Attacks by the Sea Peoples gathered momentum during the last decade of the thirteenth century BC, quickly reaching a peak which lasted about forty years

c.1210 BC

Increasing drought in the Near East results in famine and the subsequent movement of peoples who are in search of new food supplies. Collectively known by chroniclers as the Sea Peoples, various groups begin raiding the Mediterranean coastline, attacking kingdoms and destroying cities and, in some cases, even settling in the conquered areas.

1208 BC

Egypt fights off an attempted invasion by a confederation of Libyan and northern peoples in the Western Delta. Raids on this area have already been so severe in recent years that the region is 'forsaken as pasturage for cattle, it was left waste from the time of the ancestors'.

Included amongst the ethnic names of those invaders which have been repulsed in the ongoing battles are the Danya, the Ekwesh, the Lukka, the Shekelesh, and the Tjekker.

Map of Anatolia and Environs 1550 BC
A short dark age had followed the Hittite collapse around 1500 BC, but a much greater one awaited the regional social and political collapse at the end of the thirteenth century BC (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.1100 BC

The age of the migratory Sea Peoples is largely over, as the turmoil and chaos (such as during Egypt's 'Third Intermediate Period' or in Syria) gives way to an already-active dark age and a gradual rebuilding of civilisation. The fate of the Ekwesh is unknown - like the Ahhiyawans they have disappeared from the historical record, probably joining settlements in Anatolia and/or Syria.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.