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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States


Danya / Dannuna / Denyen (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 Danya are mentioned in passing in the Amarna letters from fourteenth century BC Egypt, in reference to the death of their king.

The next time they appeared they were part of the combined force of Libyans and Sea Peoples which attacked Nineteenth dynasty Egypt in 1208 BC (as well as later). Once defeated and captured, they were subsequently settled along the coast of early Palestine to help guard Egypt's 'way of the Philistines' between Egypt and the Syrian city states.

They may be related to the Greek Danoi (another name for Homer's Achaeans in Mycenae), as well as to fairly recent settlers in Kizzuwatna, the Denyen (or Danuna/Dannuna). A less well-explored theory is that they were Dorians, but their appearance in the eastern Mediterranean is too early for that.

Those who settled in Palestine are generally believed by scholars to be the founders of the Israelite tribe of Dan. This group is supposed to have settled with their ships between Ekron and Joppa, and this despite the early Israelites clearly approaching the region from the inland side, and certainly without any ships. It would seem that these coastal 'Israelites' were soon forced inland by the newly-arrived Philistines who seemingly bore them a grudge. This would explain their lack of any Israelite land to their name, as well as their integration into Israelite society.

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 Heidelberg Historic Literature: Ramses III Papyrus (Heidelberg University Library).)

1340s - 1330s BC

During the reign of Amenhotep IV of Egypt the Amarna letters are written - diplomatic correspondence with Assur-Uballit I of Assyria, the Kassite rulers of Babylonia, plus Mitanni, the Hittites, Alashiya, Arzawa, and the city states of Syria and Canaan - which includes descriptions of the disruptive activities of the 'habiru'.

Luwian bronze seal
Shown here is a bronze seal which was written in the almost-universal Anatolian language of Luwian, and which was discovered at the site of Troy in 1995

The Danya are also mentioned in passing, in connection with the death of their ruler. Around the same time - in the late years of the Hittite empire - the ancient city of Adaniya in the Anatolian region of Khilikku is settled by a people called the Denyen or Dannuna. They could be connected to the Sea Peoples who are known as the Danya. Other groups of Denyen are also believed to settle in Cyprus.

fl c.1340s BC


Danya ruler. Died, as noted in Amarna letters.

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.1200 BC

In Syria and Canaan, various raids and attacks take place over a period of time. Alalakh, Amurru, and Hazor are all destroyed and Arvad is sacked. The group of Sea Peoples who are known as the Peleshet grabs territory on the coast of the Levant in the region of Gaza.

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

Other groups settle alongside them - the 'Denyen', Shekelesh, Tjekker, and Weshesh - either permanently or while they launch attacks against Egypt. If the Denyen and the Danya are one and the same, and they are the progenitors of the Israelite tribe of Dan, then it would seem that at least some of their number are soon forced inland (or voluntarily migrate there), as the Philistines seem to bear them a particular grudge.

1176 BC

Egypt fights a successful campaign against attackers from the north - not the first time it has had to do this. This time it is against the 'Denyen', Peleshet, Shekelesh, Tjekker, and Weshesh who are operating from a base in Amurru. It seems the victorious Egyptians use their fleet to mount attacks on some of the bases which are being used by their attackers.

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)

1172 BC

Ramses III records his final (believable) campaign against raiders who are identified as Sea Peoples, with these again being noted as being the 'Denyen', Peleshet, Shekelesh, Tjekker, and Weshesh. Once again defeated by a surprise Egyptian attack, their power seems to wane and their threat appears to fade as they found new settlements on captured territory in the Levant and elsewhere.

This is the period of Israelite settlement after the traditional exodus from Egypt. The general regional instability has seen the end of the Hittite empire, Canaanites are being reduced to owning the shores of Lebanon (eventually to become the sea traders known as the Phoenicians), the Philistines and other Sea Peoples are first settling on the lower coast of the Levant, and various neo-Hittite city states are arising in northern Syria, many of which come into contact with the Israelites.

As they arrive and settle in the region, these Israelites may join up with the habiru who have settled in the hill country, and they may be joined by late additions to their confederation of tribes: the tribes of Asher and Dan appear to originate from the Weshesh and Danya.

Medieval German manuscript depicting Shagmar of the Israelite judges
The third of the Israelite judges is Shagmar or Shamgar ben Anath, who slaughters six hundred of the Israelites' enemies using an ox goad, as depicted in this medieval German manuscript

According to the Old Testament, the Israelites go on to conquer a large number of cities, mostly Canaanite, and including Dor, Gezer, Megiddo, Shimron-meron, and Tirzah (the original capital of the later kingdom of Samaria). What follows is a period of history in which the Israelite Judges govern the Israelite settlements in place of the tribal patriarchs.

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