Sea Peoples - Philistines

In Search of the Origins of the Philistines – Part 2

(Read Part 1 here) Commonly referred to as the modern Queen of the Philistines , archaeologist Trude Dothan, believes that in some part, the Philistines originated from the island of Cyprus to the North of Egypt and West of Canaan (Dothan, Queen of the Philistines, 59) Dothan would continue to excavate outside of Israel and on Cyprus. Working closely with Cyprus’s director of the Department of Antiquities, Dr. Vassos Karageorghis, who previously excavated the site of Kition, Dothan focused specifically on the Cypriot site of Atheniou, which eventually yielded extraordinary finds of Mycenaean IIIC 1:b pottery which date to approximately 1200 - 1025 BCE. This pottery was reminiscent of the local manufactured pottery found in land of the Philistines in Canaan. Other clues linking the Philistines to Cyprus were the Enkomi ivory made game box, their dress (i.e. the short panelled kilts with wide hem and tassels and the ribbed corselet found above the waist and over their shirts), and an image of a warrior with similar headdress as seen in Egyptian reliefs (see images above) engraved on a stone seal (Dothan, People of the Sea, 95).

Ivory game box

Ivory game box found at Enkomi Cyprus. Image source: Wikipedia

While the excavations of Dothan indicated that there was a Philistine presence on the island of Cyprus at the time and/or just prior to their invasion of Egypt and resettlement in the Levant, it still did not conclusively produce sufficient evidence to claim that they originated from Cyprus.

Based on personal research, it is this author’s opinion that the Old Testament verses may be correct on this matter.  Possible earlier references and never before associated links to the Philistines may be found on the island of Crete, but before we identify those pieces of evidence, let us briefly summarize the history of the Aegean.

During the Late Bronze Age period of the Eastern Mediterranean, at approximately 1400 BCE, the Mycenaean Greek civilization overtook the pre-existing Minoan control of the Aegean and began to occupy Crete among the other Aegean islands. In the process of extending their dominion and influences from mainland Greece to these regions, they adopted and adapted the Minoan Linear A form of writing, which has been dubbed as Linear B by modern scholars and they also resumed the Minoan trade routes throughout the Near Eastern world (Cline, 47). It is uncertain as to whether the Mycenaean expansion into Minoan territory was a peaceful integration or a violent takeover but one thing is for certain, what didn’t assimilate under the new Mycenaean regime simply vanished and traces of the older Minoan ways were to disappear completely off of the historical record until British archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, would rediscover the lost civilization at the beginning of the 20th century CE. Evans would have the privilege of naming the civilization after the mythical king Minos (Castleden, 1). Prior to the Mycenaean takeover, Minoan influence extended beyond the Aegean and their legacy would be found throughout Anatolia, Egypt, Cyprus, the Levant, and even Mesopotamia (Cline, 19). Going back to Cyprus, the Cypriot kingdom of Alashiya (the name given to this island in ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern records), most likely centered at the site of Enkomi would adopt the Minoan Linear A script and adapt it for their own use. This would give way to a new Cypro-Minoan syllabary which would later be referred to as Linear C. The undeciphered Linear C script would eventually evolve and be used to inscribe the later spoken Arcadocypriot language (read below).

Cypro-Minoan 2 script - Tablet, Philistines

Tablet inscribed with Cypro-Minoan 2 script. Late Bronze III. Photo source: Wikipedia

Archaeologists Dothan and Karageorghis may have been on the right path and not too far from the truth all along. Although they were missing a vital piece to the puzzle and that piece was to be found on the island of Crete and at Pylos on the southern Greek mainland in the Peloponnese. As mentioned earlier, the Mycenaean Greek language was recorded with the Linear B script. The syllabary was comprised of hundreds of signs that represent syllabic, ideographic, and semantic values. Linear B was deciphered and translated by Michael Ventris and John Chadwick between 1951 - 1953, providing insight into the more archaic form of Greek spoken by the Mycenaeans (Chadwick, 84). Following the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization at the end of the Bronze Age, new dialects of the Greek language emerged which included variations of Doric, Aeolic, Attic, Ionic, and Arcadocyriot; the latter of which we are concerned with at the present.

In the Late Bronze Age, the Mycenaean Greek language was established as the lingua franca of the Aegean world. When the Mycenaean civilization collapsed entering into a Dark Age (ca. 1200 BCE) and the centralized places and outlying settlements dispersed into the highlands and into more isolated communities, various dialects descending from the once unified Mycenaean Greek language emerged and would continue to evolve. Eventually Greece stepped out of that Dark Age and into the Archaic Period at approximately the 8th century BCE. In this period we can archaeologically observe the Greek colonization of (and communication with) the Aegean, Anatolia, and Cyprus to the East and also southern Italy and Sicily to the West; thus spreading the various dialects throughout the Mediterranean world. By this time, these variations of the Greek language had evolved so much that the only dialect that seemed more like its direct descendent (i.e. Mycenaean Greek) was Arcadocypriot. It was spoken in the central Peloponnese and on Cyprus. The earliest recorded evidence of Arcadocypriot Greek dates to the 11th century BCE with an inscription found on a bronze skewer in a tomb in Palaepaphos in southwestern Cyprus. The inscription is written in the same Cypro-Minoan syllabary mentioned earlier and contains the Greek proper name, Opheltas (Karageorghis, 28). This find showcases that a post-Mycenaean Greek presence existed on Cyprus during the Dark Age. Did groups of Mycenaeans migrate from the Aegean and to Cyprus following the collapse of the Mycenaean empire, between 1200 and 1100 BCE? The inscription and the Mycenaean style pottery of local manufacture seem to indicate that this is the case. That aside, our next step is to locate an origin of departure.

As we sift through the surviving inscriptions of Mycenaean Linear B tablets, a recurring word seems to hold a link. Transliterated by both Ventris and Chadwick, the terms in question is still undeciphered. These terms are, pe-ri-te and pe-ri-te-u. Based on the Pylos inscription number Vn 130, Pe-ri-te is written in the dative case (Ventris, 571), that is stating that a product came from a region known as Pe-ri-te; suggesting that it was a town of some sort. Another inscription from Pylos, number An 654 speaks of a “Klumenos, a senior coast guard officer, of Pe-ri-te,” however, in this case, it would seem that it is written in the toponym case, Pe-ri-te-u (author’s interpretation). This second form is also observed on two separate tablets found at Knossos on Crete: C 594 and B 5025. One of those two tablets seems to indicate a possible offering of sheep from this town or region. The second is too badly damaged to interpret.

Now, if we recall the Egyptian rendering of the term Philistine, that is Peleset. It is written with hieroglyphs as p-r-s-t; where the letter ‘R’ is sometimes interchangeable with the letter ‘L.’ The same can be said with Mycenaean Greek. The syllabary does not account for the letter ‘L’ which is why in some cases, the letter ‘R’ can be rendered as such. Another interesting fact about Mycenaean Greek and Linear B is that there are cases in which the letter ‘T’ can be rendered as ‘ST.’ An excellent example for both cases can be observed with the Mycenaean word te-re-ta which equates with the later Greek word, telesta translating to “an official” (Ventris, 585). If we apply the same logic to the word pe-ri-te and pe-ri-te-u, we would read Peliste and Pelistu which shows an uncanny similarity to the Egyptian Peleset, the Hebrew Pelishtim (the ‘im’ ending indicates that it is an ethnic term in the Hebrew dialect, thus translating to “people of Pelesht”), and even the Akkadian Palastu. If we continue to follow the clues with the few surviving inscriptions containing the two variations of this word, there seems to be some sort of indication that this town or province may have been located outside of the Greek mainland and local to the island of Crete.

If what is being proposed here for the first time is true, then we have the earliest reference to the Philistines within the historical record; that is, dating to before 1200 BCE. This would either mean that the Philistines that eventually migrated to the Levant were either Mycenaean or the product of the intermingling of the Mycenaean and indigenous Minoan stock, from a town or province on the island of Crete, proving the Bible’s claim to be true. As they moved eastward, some would have stopped on the island of Cyprus either permanently or briefly before moving on to Egypt and the Levant.

Featured image: A relief carving of the ‘Sea Peoples’. Image source .

Part 1

By Petros Koutoupis


Castleden, Rodney. Minoans: Life in Bronze Age Crete. London: Routledge, 2002. [Print]

Chadwick, John. The Decipherment of Linear B . New York: Cambridge UP, 1958. [Print]

Cline, Eric H. 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed . Princeton: Princeton UP, 2014. [Print]

Dothan, Trude. "Queen of the Philistines. BAR Interviews Trude Dothan." Interview by Hershel Shanks. Biblical Archaeology Review Sep/Oct. 2010: 58-64. [Print]

Dothan, Trude and Moshe Dothan. People of the Sea: The Search for the Philistines . New York: Macmillion Publishing Company, 1992. [Print]

JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh . Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2003. [Print]

Karageorghis, Vassos. “Exploring Philistine Origins on the Island of Cyprus.” Biblical Archaeology Review Mar/Apr. 1984: 16-28. [Print]

Ventris, Michael and John Chadwick. Documents in Mycenaean Greek . 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge UP, 1973. [Print]


In Search of the Origins of the Philistines - The Minoans WERE the Philistines, the traders, merchants and civil leaders than manage to escape the eruption and destruction of the Minoan civilization when the island of Santorini blew. The re engagement of the trade routes made sense and since the Minoans guarded their trade routes and the Phoenicians made sharing that sort of knowledge a criminal offence, we can conclude that the Minoans not only established the nation that became Philistine also create the Phoenicians and others groups that later specialized in the sea and commerce. You can track it clearly from the point of destruction.

pkoutoupis's picture


Thank you very much for your interest in my article and your comment. Please correct me if I misunderstood your comment. While I do not argue that the surviving Minoan population, at least in some part, could have become the later Philistines (whom we see over two centuries after the Mycenaean takeover of everything Minoan in the historical record). With regards to the Phoenicians, in every way shape and form they were of a Semitic origin. That is, from language, the names of its peoples, their manufactured products (including pottery), religion, and everything else inbetween was 100% Canaanite in origin.

While it is true that the Philistines spoke an ancient western semitic dialect, this was a product of their later years in Canaan. The few words and proper nouns that have come to light in the archaeology of the 4 (out of 5) discovered Philistine sites and a few cryptic passages in the old testament show that they were of an Indo-European origin. Also, a semitic inscription of a later date found at Ekron indicates that they continued to worship Aegean deities, such as the mother goddess, Potnia. Their pottery which constrasted greatly from that of the Phoenicians was also of Aegean origin. The Phoenicians worshipped the traditional Canaanite El, Ba`al, Asherah, etc.


Petros Koutoupis


Goof wrap up to part one. It was an interesting subject and still leaves us with questions that need answered.

Thanks again for this excellent article! Very informative & well-written.

malisa wright

pkoutoupis's picture


You are very welcome. I am glad you enjoyed it.


Petros Koutoupis



Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Next article