In the twelfth century BCE, civilizations across the Mediterranean came to an end.
The cause of this phenomenon—known to some as the world’s first Dark Age—is debated. Climate change, the ensuing collapse of social structures, and local uprisings all contributed the cultural apocalypse. Yet even as civilizations collapsed, a new group emerged: a shadowy group known as the Sea Peoples. They are almost unknown outside of academic circles, but this migrant group, which travelled the Mediterranean in search of homes and new lives, left a deep impression in the region. We don’t know where they came from, and we don’t know where they went, but over the course of the twelfth century they left enough of a mark to become ancient scapegoats for global catastrophe.
Almost everything we know about the Sea Peoples comes to us from Egyptian inscriptions. According to the Egyptian texts, they set up camp in Syria before proceeding down the coast of Canaan (including parts of modern Syria, Lebanon, and Israel) and into the Nile delta of Egypt. It was in Egypt that the Sea Peoples met their match. They were twice defeated—in 1207 and 1177 BCE—by Merneptah and Rameses III. But, according to the Egyptians, in their wake there was destruction: the great civilizations of the day—the Hittites, the Mycenaeans, the Canaanites, and the Cypriots all crumbled.