Poseidon, god of the Mediterranean Sea

Poseidon’s Wrath - The Scourge of the Sea Peoples

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Perhaps 3 000 years from now archaeologists will be debating the reasons for the diaspora that occurred in the lands around the Mediterranean Sea during the early 21st century. What would have accounted for the mass migration of foreigners from the near Middle East and Africa to far northern European countries, they might ask?  Would they know about the brutal civil war in Syria causing families to hastily flee with the few possessions they could carry; would they find some of the remnants of 100s of rubber dinghies that littered the shores of Rhodes? Would they consider famine and political-religious conflict in Africa causing families to hand over their life savings in desperation to pirates for sea passage? Would they find some artifacts such as a plastic doll, the last sentimental keepsake of a child that drowned in the perilous sea? About 3 000 years ago, a similar situation occurred when Poseidon in a bout of anger stirred the Mediterranean basin and today we still speculate as to the origins of the so-called Sea Peoples.

Reconstruction of a part of the Hittite city wall, Lower City of Hattusa, Turkey

Reconstruction of a part of the Hittite city wall, Lower City of Hattusa, Turkey (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The Late Bronze Age

The Late Bronze Age was a marked prosperous era.  One only has to visit the enormous palace-temple complex at Knossos (Crete), the fortified royal settlement at Mycenae (Greek Peloponnese), the magnificent Hittite capital of Hattusa (northern Turkey);  the bustling near-eastern Mediterranean sea ports of Ugarit, (Syria)  Byblos, Sidon and Tyre (Lebanon);  the wealthy Mesopotamian cities located on the fertile banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates, such as Nippur, Ur, Lagash and Babylon; (Iran and Iraq); down to  the royal residences of Memphis, Akhentaten and Thebes along the Nile (Egypt), to realize they all flourished and benefitted from trade.  Hugging Poseidon’s Mediterranean coastline merchant ships traded in tin from what is today England, copper from Cyprus, Turkey and the fertile crescent, glass, cedar and incense from the Levant, lapis from north of the Indus valley, gold from Egypt and ivory from Africa. But wealth breeds envy, which leads to war and Ares challenged Poseidon’s supremacy.

The Battle of Kadesh

In 1274 BC the mighty Hittites led by King Muwatalli (1295 – 1272 BC) and the equally powerful Egyptians led by Ramesses II (1279 – 1213 BC) faced each other at the Battle of Kadesh (located on the Orontes river on the border of modern Syria and Lebanon). This battle is famous for being the first recorded battle where two-wheeled chariots were employed as war machines. The battle was undecisive and both sides claimed victory. The Egyptians claimed: “(King Ramesses II) cast them into the river like crocodiles, and he slew whomever he desired,” while the Hittite version reads: “at the time when King Muwatalli made war against the king of Egypt, when he defeated the king of Egypt.”

Mural in Ramesses II's temple in Tebes, depicting the Battle of Kadesh (Public Domain)

Mural in Ramesses II's temple in Tebes, depicting the Battle of Kadesh (Public Domain)

The war, like most wars, depleted the resources of the empires, which opened the door to exterior threats.  In 1280 BC, Egypt had to ward off an attack from Libya, who had formed an alliance with the Sherdans.  These fierce warriors were identified as probably Mycenaeans, due to depictions of their Mycenaean horned helmets. The Sherdans settled at Akko and later bequeathed their name to Sardinia. (There is some speculation that they may have originated from Sardinia’s Nuragic civilization.)  The Sherdan became mercenaries, fighting on both sides during the Battle of Kadesh.  The Libyans were defeated, but they remained a menace. The rising power of Assyria in northern Mesopotamia posed a more serious threat to both the Hittites and the Egyptians, which led the previous adversaries (represented by Pharaoh Ramesses II and King Hattusilis III) to sign a peace treaty in 1269 BC, where they agreed to become allies against aggressive acts.

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Top Image: Poseidon, god of the Mediterranean Sea (CC0)

By Dr Micki Pistorius

Comments

Spot on.
The Minoan demise after the Thera eruption slow. This may have led to civil war with the Carian (the marines) that changed sides, being elite fighters for hire, working for the Mycenaeans to bring about the demise. This war is well recorded in iconography, the Griffin Warrior seal being recorded over and over again. The tactics and weaponry of both sides those on Crete and Delos (Carian - that gave the Greeks battle dances (drill), shield tech, being the most disciplined fighters).
The Minoans may have enjoyed peace at home, but they ruled the waves, and are known to have suppressed piracy before the sea peoples. When you consider they had Priestess at peak sanctuaries, that could observe all the shipping lanes: Minos white hulled merchant ships (composite hulls of linen in a pine resin matrix and covered in white limestone powder) observable from 100kms on a clear day. Any (unlicensed) plain wooden hulls could be intercepted and boarded, whether they confiscated the cargo or levied duty unknown. They didn't need fortification, they had a highly organised Navy being the worlds first. Poseidon, Zeus, etc all representing those that held sway over the Greeks (daily lives for the things they most desired), the Minoans never recognised them as gods, they were just the war chief (with a fixed 8.5 years in office).
By analysing the logistical network academics have established that the trade collapses without Thera, it's a slow demise. With multiple disasters: global crop failure (as far a China from thera) and the loss of probably the majority of the fleet with the tsunami. Minoan metal reserves couldn't be exchanged for surplus food, no-one had any to spare, it is an ancient great depression that the region never recovered from. The Minoans couldn't pay the professional military (Carians) either, leading to civil war. This chaos is going on everywhere, everyone scrambling for anything they could get and in comes the infighting between nations and the piracy of the sea peoples two centuries later, that may have also included a former Minoan contingent!
The sensible ones up sticks (if they could), built ships, some taking their advanced knowledge east becoming Philistines (possibly later becoming Phoenicians), the sensible ones followed the metal: tin under Potnia Theron who protected those undertaking a bold expedition West under moonlight. The Greeks knew her as Athene, recognising the technical arts, but then again, Greeks never really did understand long distance navigation or how to work the most useful metals or transferred all of the knowledge after the conquest. The invasions in pre-history of the British Isles may be referring to the echos of an expeditionary colony establishing trading posts, they favoured the islands. The protectress become Diana when latinised – but the good Mistress little net hunting friend Britomaris (Brittania) may represent the name used to refer to the tin island due North from Iberia (pillars of Hercules). Potnia (West) to Iberia also a source of tin, but she is always shown with Britomartis above. This trade is confirmed by DNA in the absence of records, but well presented in art and architecture in all the islands in-between. The source of tin being a closely guarded and a profitable pursuit (Phoenicians would scuttle their ships rather than be followed by a foreign fleet after the source). Nor do you need to go on a huge voyage (only the pioneers), if you have friendly trading outposts, in short legs between the trading ports (islands) to move the goods. Then as now, Ares has piracy to deal with or did he start the wars. The collapse of the trading empire (with it an abundant supply to tin to make bronze: tools (and weapons), stifled the med economy, there was no money – metal was the store of transferable value to facilitate exchange) demanding innovation but also a dark age of warring kingdoms around, at this time and with the lack of trade – another metal was needed leading to the iron age (probably first processed in Troy, that seems a close trading partners of Minoans before the eruption) – the Greeks raising to the ground the advanced civilisations that once held sway over them and which they once relied for the most precious commodities. The minoan trading outposts becoming the thalassocracies centuries and even many millennia later: Phoenicia, Spain and Britain, themselves attempting to crush piracy. The rivalry of the later, showing the principles: the Crown’s coffers low, gave licence to go privateer and take the Spanish gold reducing her ability to wage war, and trade with the world. The seas peoples a chaotic time, because everyone had the same idea. History is a good teacher, but the world hasn’t change that much just the commodities: tin, iron, oil, ???. What is describes is the context which led to the sea peoples, follow the money to find out what’s really going on, then as now.

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