The Sea People As Cultural Vectors

In a fascinating and, for me, frustrating paper, Susan Sherratt discusses the Sea People in the context of 2nd millennium economics. Within one frame of reference, she may be correct in saying,

As it is, I am not sure that it really matters where the people that we conventionally call the “Sea People” came from. They were probably a pretty cosmopolitan bunch, as many of the coastal city dwellers of the east Mediterranean were throughout much, at least, of the second half of the 2nd millennium. [307, references deleted]

This amounts to a methodological presupposition. But it isn’t much help if one is interested in transmission vectors for concepts and traditions. As I’ve said, I’m putting the finishing touches on a paper and one of the things I’d like to know is the extent to which Aegean peoples actually interacted with East Mediterranean peoples at the end of 13th century BCE. The so-called Sea People are the prime candidates for vectors of that interaction. I’m more than willing to believe that the Sea People were a cosmopolitan bunch. In fact, I’m sure they were. I don’t even care all that much exactly were they all came from as long as part of them came from the Aegean. Heck, I don’t even care if those who came from the Aegean came from the east or west Aegean.
I’ve now read more than a dozen papers, written over the last couple of decades, on the Sea People and looked at a good deal of the primary material. And the more I read, the less I know. In the current discussion, there is considerable debate as to what even counts as evidence of such an interaction or even for the Sea People themselves. The problem extends to the possibility that developing evidence for such an interaction or for the Sea People is theoretically impossible. I do rather think that reference to the raiders of Ugarit as “Šikala who live on ships [RS 34.129]” is evidence of something in this neighborhood. But hope reigns eternal. I continue to believe that the end of the 13th century and perhaps the beginning of the 12th century was one of those periods when times were ripe for cultural exchange. I’m just not as sure why I think this as I once was. And all of this is for three or four sentences of text and a footnote. Perhaps I need to work on my priorities!

Sherratt, Susan. “‘Sea Peoples’ and the Economic Structure of the Late Second Millennium in the Eastern Mediterranean” in Mediterranean peoples in transition: thirteenth to early tenth centuries BCE: in honor of professor Trude Dothan (Seymour Gitin, Amihai Mazar and Ephraim Stern, eds.; Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1998)