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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Anatolia


Tyrsennoi / Teresh / Tursha (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 Tyrsennoi were one such group, part of the combined force of Libyans and Sea Peoples which attacked Egypt in 1208 BC (under the name of the Teresh).

It has been speculated that the Tyrsennoi could have originated from somewhere near the Tyrrhenian Sea (between Italy and Sardinia). The Greeks knew of them, and the name of that sea derives from a Greek term for Tyrsennoi. They may have borne some relation to the (possibly) Sardinian Shardana, while another theory is that they were related to the Etruscans (who called themselves 'Rasena').

Interestingly, the Elymi people of Iron Age Sicily have also been linked to the Tyrsennoi. Greek authors claimed that the Elymi were refugees from Troy, another candidate for providing Sea Peoples following its utter defeat in war against the Mycenaeans. Reliefs in contemporary Egypt which show the Teresh depict them as being bearded, wearing pointed kilts, strips of leather or linen to protect their chests, and carrying either spears or a scimitar.

The name Tursha is also linked to the Tyrsennoi, but also to Etruscans, Lydians, and Trojans. In all likelihood, the Tyrsennoi consisted of an original core group which gained numbers as it progressed. Any number of people could have joined from dispossessed or destroyed states or regional groups, hoping to find a fresh start, and a free start.

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.)

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.

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

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, and the Tjekker, with the 'Teresh' also involved (believed to be one and the same as the Tyrsennoi).

Later battles in Egypt largely feature the 'Denyen', Peleshet, Shekelesh, Tjekker, and Weshesh who are operating from a base in Amurru. The Teresh or Tyrsennoi seem not to be involved, or have so diminished in number that they have merged into another group.

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)

Within a century the age of the migratory Sea Peoples will be 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.

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