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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Anatolia


Karkisa (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 Karkisa (or Karkisha) were a minor grouping of Sea Peoples who were mentioned in passing by several sources.

Their origins were in Anatolia, close to the Lukka, where they formed a tribal region known as Karkissa, or Caria to the later Greeks who began colonising the region from the twelfth century onwards. In fact those Greeks may have been there far longer, forming even more of a solid basis for subsequent first millennium BC states in Anatolia, in the form of the Ahhiyawans. While the people of Caria were probably Luwian-speaking Indo-Europeans who were related to the Lukka or Arzawans, there is almost no history for the region before the sixth century BC.

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 Link: Listverse.)

1286 BC

The Battle of Kadesh (the earliest surviving report of a major engagement) sees the forces of Egypt, under Ramses II, and the Hittites together with their various allies, including troops from Arzawa, plus the Lukka and Karkisa, clash for control of former Mitanni Syria.

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

The battle ends with no clear outcome although the Hittites come out on top, gaining uncontested control of Syria, and also raiding further south into Canaan at the expense of Egyptian dominance there.

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.

c.1193 - 1183 BC

Karkissa (Caria) is traditionally an ally of Troy during the Trojan War against Mycenae and the collected forces of the Achaean kingdoms, although its 'barbarian' language places it a little apart from the main Trojan allies.

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)

The Carian troops are led by Nastes and Amphimachus, sons of Nomion, but the latter is killed by Achilles after going 'into battle like a girl, decked in gold'. Groups of Carians may also form the Karkisa elements of the Sea Peoples around this time.

Already decaying, the Hittite empire is now looted and destroyed by various surrounding peoples, including the Kaskans and the Sea Peoples (and perhaps even selectively by its own populace). Anatolia suffers its share of the chaos, with little known of the situation in Karkissa for several centuries, until it re-emerges as the Greek-named Caria.

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