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Texts from the Medinet Habu Temple with Reference to the Sea Peoples

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« on: September 26, 2008, 03:18:12 pm »

Texts from the Medinet Habu Temple with Reference to the Sea Peoples

    The following texts are adapted from the translation by James Henry Breasted (2001). Breasted's original translation of the Medinet Habu texts, with commentary, can be found on pp. 3-85 in Breasted, J. H. 2001/1906. Ancient Records of Egypt vol. 4. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. 

Excerpt from Ramesses III's speech about the war against the Sea Peoples, year 8 (Breasted 2001: 37-39: sections 64-66):

    The countries -- --, the [Northerners] in their isles were disturbed, taken away in the [fray] -- at one time. Not one stood before their hands, from Kheta, Kode, Carchemish, Arvad, Alashia, they were wasted. {The}y {[set up]} a camp in one place in Amor. They desolated his people and his land like that which is not. They came with fire prepared before them, forward to Egypt. Their main support was Peleset, Tjekker, Shekelesh, Denyen, and Weshesh. (These) lands were united, and they laid their hands upon the land as far as the Circle of the Earth. Their hearts were confident, full of their plans.
    Now, it happened through this god, the lord of gods, that I was prepared and armed to [trap] them like wild fowl. He furnished my strength and caused my plans to prosper. I went forth, directing these marvelous things. I equipped my frontier in Zahi, prepared before them. The chiefs, the captains of infantry, the nobles, I caused to equip the river-mouths [1], like a strong wall, with warships, galleys, and barges, [--]. They were manned [completely] from bow to stern with valiant warriors bearing their arms, soldiers of all the choicest of Egypt, being like lions roaring upon the mountain-tops. The charioteers were warriors [-- --], and all good officers, ready of hand. Their horses were quivering in their every limb, ready to crush the countries under their feet. I was the valiant Montu, stationed before them, that they might behold the hand-to-hand fighting of my arms. I, king Ramses III, was made a far-striding hero, conscious of his might, valiant to lead his army in the day of battle.
    Those who reached my boundary, their seed is not; their heart and their soul are finished forever and ever. As for those who had assembled before them on the sea, the full flame was in their front, before the river-mouths, and a wall of metal upon the shore surrounded them. They were dragged, overturned, and laid low upon the beach; slain and made heaps from stern to bow of their galleys, while all their things were cast upon the water. (Thus) I turned back the waters to remember Egypt; when they mention my name in their land, may it consume them, while I sit upon the throne of Harakhte, and the serpent-diadem is fixed upon my head, like Re. I permit not the countries to see the boundaries of Egypt to [--] [among] them. As for the Nine Bows, I have taken away their land and their boundaries; they are added to mine. Their chiefs and their people (come) to me with praise. I carried out the plans of the All-Lord, the august, divine father, lord of the gods.

Texts found with the year 8 relief scenes of the Sea Peoples war (Breasted 2001: 41-49: sections 70-82):

    1. A scene depicting Ramesses overseeing the distribution of weapons to the soldiers:

    Text behind the king: All the gods are the protection of his limbs, to give to him might against every country.

    Text before the king: -------- king; he saith -- -- to the princes, every leader of the infantry and chariotry who are before his majesty: "Bring out the weapons --------. Let the archers march to destroy the enemies, who know not Egypt, with might."

    Text over the officials: Utterance of the princes, companions, and leaders of the infantry and chariotry: "Thou art the king who shinest upon Egypt. When {thou} ristest, the Two Lands live. Great is thy might in the midst of the Nine Bows. Thy roaring is as far as the circuit of the sun. The shadow of thy sword is over thy army. They march, filled with thy might. Thy heart is stout, (for) thy excellent plans are established. Amon-Re appears, leading the way. He lays low for thee every land beneath thy feet; {thy} heart is glad -- forever. [Thou art] the protection which comes forth without delay. The heart of the Temeh is {dis}turbed, the Peleset are hung up, [--] in their towns, by the might of thy father, Amon, who has decreed to thee --------."

    Text over officers by the weapons: -------- {Give} the weapons to the infantry, the chariotry and the archers --------.

    Text over officers distributing weapons: Take ye the {weapon}s of {King} Ramses III.

    Text over soldiers receiving weapons: The infantry and chariotry who are receiving {weapons}.

    2. A scene depicting Ramesses setting out in a chariot for Zahi, accompanied by both Egyptian and Shardana infantry:

    Text over the horses: Great first span of his majesty (named): "Amon-He-Giveth-the-Sword."
    Text behind the king and over the Shardana: His majesty marches out in victorious might, to destroy the rebellious countries. His majesty {marches out} for Zahi, like the form of Montu, to crush every country that has transgressed his boundary. His infantry are like bulls, ready for battle upon the field. {His} horses are like hawks in the midst of his fowl before him. The Nine Bows are under (his) power. Amon, his august father, is for him a shield, King -- --, Lord of the Two Lands, Ramses III.
    3. A scene depicting Ramesses charging the Sea Peoples with a drawn bow in his chariot with Egyptian and Shardana troops (the land battle relief):

    Text over the battle: -------- {at} the sight of him, as when Set is enraged, overthrowing the enemy before the celestial barque, trampling the lands and countries prostrate, crushed [--] before his horses. His heat consumes {them} like fire, desolating their gardens -- --.

    Text over the kings horses: Great first span of his majesty (named): "Beloved-of-Amon."
    4. A scene depicting the naval battle between the Egyptians and the Sea Peoples, with the king in his chariot on the shore:
    Text by the king: The Good God, Montu over Egypt, great in might, like Baal in the countries, mighty in strength, far-reaching in courage (lit., heart), strong-horned, terrible in his might, a -- wall, covering Egypt, so that every one coming shall not see it, King Ramses III.

    Text over the chariot: Lo, the northern countries, which are in their isles, are restless in their limbs; they infest the ways of the river-mouths. Their nostrils and their hearts cease breathing breath, when his majesty goes forth like a storm-wind against them, fighting upon the strand like a warrior. His puissance and the terror of him penetrate into their limbs. Capsized and perishing in their places, their hearts are taken, their souls fly away, and their weapons are cast out upon the sea. His arrows pierce whomsoever he will among them, and he who is hit falls into the water. His majesty is like an enraged lion, tearing him that confronts him with his hands (sic), fighting at close quarters on his right, valiant on his left, like Set; destroying the foe, like Amon-Re. He has laid low the lands, he has crushed every land beneath his feet, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Lord of the Two Lands, Usermare-Meriamon.

    5. A scene depicting Ramesses, along with soldiers and court officials, overseeing the counting of Sea People captives and hands from slain enemies before a palace:

    Text by the king: Utterance of his majesty to the king's-children, the princes, the king's butlers, and the charioteers: "Behold ye, the great might of my father, Amon-Re. The countries which came from their isles in the midst of the sea, they advanced to Egypt, their hearts relying upon their arms. The net was made ready for them, to ensnare them. Entering stealthily into the river-mouth, they fell into it. Caught in their place, they were dispatched, and their bodies stripped. I showed you my might which was in that which my majesty wrought while I was alone. My arrow struck (lit., seized), and none escaped my arms nor my hand. I flourished like a hawk among the fowl; my talons descended upon their heads. Amon-Re was upon my right and upon my left, his might and his power were in my limbs, a tumult for you; commanding for me that my counsels and my designs should come to pass. Amon-Re established the -- of my enemies, giving to me every land in my grasp."

    Text over the officials: Utterance of the king's-children, the princes, and the companions; they reply to the Good God: "Thou art Re, shining like him. Thy might crushes the Nine Bows, every land trembles at thy name, thy fear is before them every day. Egypt rejoices in the strong-armed, the son of Amon, who is upon the throne, King Ramses III, given life, like Re."

    Text over the palace: Migdol of Ramses, Ruler of Heliopolis.

    Text over the king's horses: Great first span of his majesty (named): "Strong-is-Amon."

    Text over the grooms: Live the Good God, achieving with his arms, making every country into something that exists not, strong-armed, mighty, skilful of hand, King Ramses III.

    Text over the prisoners: Said the vanquished chieftains of Tjekker: "-------- like Baal -------- give to us {the breath that thou givest] --------."

    6. A scene in which the king leads captive Tjekker and Libyans before Amon, Mut, and Khonsu:

    Text over Amon: Utterance of Amon-Re, lord of heaven, ruler of gods: "Come thou with joy, slay thou the Nine Bows, lay low every opponent. Thou hast cast down the hearts of the Asiatics, thou takest breath from their nostrils, -- -- -- by my designs."

    Text before the king: Utterance of Ramses III before his father, Amon-Re, king of gods: "I went forth, that I might take captive the Nine Bows and slay all lands. Not a land stood fast before me, . . . . . . . . and my hands took captives in the van of every country, by the decrees which came forth from thy mouth, . . . . . . that I might overthrow my every opponent. The lands behold me with trembling, (for) I am like Montu, -- -- -- him who relies upon thy designs, O protector, lord of might --------."

    Text over the Tjekker: Said the fallen, the great ones of Tjekker, who were in the grasp of his majesty, while praising this Good God, Lord of the Two Lands, Usermare-Meriamon: "Great is thy strength, victorious king, great Sun of Egypt. Greater is thy might than a mountain of gritstone, and thy terror is like Set. Give to us breath, that we may breathe it, the life that is in thy grasp, forever."

    Text over the Libyans: Said the fallen of Libya, who were in the grasp of his majesty: "Breath, breath! O victorious king, Horus, great in kingship."

    7. A scene of Amon, with Mut, presenting a sword to Ramesses, who leads three lines of captives:

    Text before Amon: Utterance of Amon-Re, lord of heaven: "Come thou in peace! Thou hast taken captive thine adversary, and slain the invader of thy border. My strength was with thee, overthrowing for thee the lands. Thou cuttest off the heads of the Asiatics. I have given to thee thy great might, I overthrow for thee every land, when they see thy majesty in strength like my son, Baal in his wrath."

    Text before the king: Utterance of king Ramses III to his father, Amon-Re, ruler of the gods: "Great is thy might, O lord of gods. The things which issue from thy mouth, they come to pass without fail. . . . . . Thy strength is behind as a shield, that I may slay the lands and countries that invade my border. Thou puttest great terror of me in the hearts of their chiefs; the fear and dread of me before them; that I may carry off their warriors, bound in my grasp, to lead them to thy ka, O my august father, -- -- -- -- --. Come, to [take] them, being: Peleset, Denyen, Shekelesh. Thy strength it was which was before me, overthrowing their seed, -- thy might, O lord of gods. He who relies upon him whom thou hast entrusted with the kingship, and everyone who walks in thy way are in peace. Thou art the lord, strong-armed for him who leans his back upon thee, a Bull with two horns, ready, conscious of his strength. Thou art my august father, who createdst my beauty, that though mightest look upon me, and choose me to be lord of the Nine Bows. Let thy hand be with me, to slay him that invades me, and ward off every enemy that is in my limbs."

    Text over the captives: Utterance of the leaders of every country, who are in the grasp of his majesty: "Great is thy might, victorious king, great sun of Egypt. Greater is thy strength than a mountain of gritstone; thy might is like Baal. Give to us the breath that we breathe; the life which is in thy hands."
    Text over the middle line of captives: Utterance of the vanquished of Denyen: "Breath! Breath! O good ruler, great in might {like} Montu, residing in Thebes."

    Text over the lower line of captives: Utterance of the vanquished Peleset: "Give to us the breath for our nostrils, O king, son of Amon."

1. Here Breasted (2001: 38) gives the translation "harbor-mouths," since he takes the view that the wars with the Sea Peoples took place in Syria rather than in the Egyptian Delta. He notes, however, that the Egyptian phrase r'-kh'wt is used in the year 5 text to refer to the "river-mouths" (38, note h). Throughout this adaptation, "river-mouths" will be used where Breasted uses "harbor-mouths."


Breasted, J. H.
    2001/1906.     Ancient Records of Egypt vol. 4. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
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« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2008, 03:20:03 pm »

The Inscriptions of Medinet Habu
By Michele MacLaren, Liam McManus, and Megaera Lorenz

Ramesses III's temple at Medinet Habu. Image from the Theban Mapping Project website.
    When studying the Sea Peoples, scholars turn to one of the most detailed and well known texts concerning the Sea Peoples, the inscriptions from Medinet Habu.
    Medinet Habu is a mortuary temple that was constructed for Ramesess III at Thebes, in Upper Egypt. The temple decoration consists of a series of reliefs and texts telling of the many exploits of the king, from his campaign against the Libyans to, most importantly, his war against the Sea Peoples.
    The texts and reliefs that deal with the Sea Peoples date to year eight of Ramesess III’s reign, approximately 1190 BCE. The significance of these texts is that they provide an account of Egypt’s campaign against the “coalition of the sea” from an Egyptian point of view. In the inscriptions, Ramesses alludes to the threat the Sea Peoples posed, as can be seen in this portion of text:

…the foreign countries made a conspiracy in their islands. All at once the lands were removed and scattered in the fray.  No land could stand before their arms from Hatti, Kode, Carchemish, Artawa, and Alashiya on being cut off [at one time].  A camp was [set up] in one place in Amor.  They desolated its people and its land was like that which has never come into being.  (Medinet Habu, Year 8 inscription.)

    The inscriptions go on to specify the groups which were involved in the "confederation": Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denyen, and Weshesh.
    Although Ramesses III boasts of his defeat of the Sea Peoples' coalition on land and sea, the portion of text quoted above gives the impression that the Egyptians were facing a great and strong military presence.  However, some scholars believe that the battles described at Medinet Habu were not one coherent event, but were actually small skirmishes between the Sea Peoples and the Egyptians at different intervals that were conflated in Ramesses' account into two grandiose battles.  Barbara Cifola (1988: 275-306) concluded that, due to the vague manner in which the northern enemies were described, they could not possibly represent one force, and were probably never joined into a clearly defined confederation (see also O’conner 2000: 94).
    The Medinet Habu inscriptions are also significant for their artistic depictions of the Sea Peoples. These provide valuable information about the appearance and accoutrements of the various groups, and can lend clues towards deciphering their ethnic backgrounds (Redford 1992: 251).
    From the textual evidence on the temple walls, it appears that the Peleset and the Tjeker made up the majority of the Sea Peoples involved in the year 8 invasion.  In the artistic depictions, both types are depicted wearing a fillet, from which protrudes a floppy plume and a protective piece down the nape of the neck.  Their armament included long swords, spears and circular shields, and they are occasionally shown wearing body armor.  Other groups, such as the Shekelesh and Teresh, are shown wearing cloth headdresses and a medallion upon their breasts.  The weaponry that they carried consisted of two spears and a simple round shield.  The Shardana soldiers are most obviously armored in the artistic depictions, due to the thick horned helmets that adorn their heads (Redford 1992: 252).
    The land battle and sea battle scenes provide a wealth of information on the military styles of the Sea Peoples.  The reliefs depicting the land battle show Egyptian troops, chariots and auxiliaries fighting the enemy, who also used chariots, very similar in design to Egyptian chariots.  Although the chariots used by the Sea Peoples are very similar to those used by the Egyptians, both being pulled by two horses and using wheels with six spokes, the Sea Peoples had three soldiers per chariot, whereas the Egyptians only had one, or occasionally two.
    The land battle scenes also give the observer some sense of the Sea Peoples’ military organization. According to the artistic representations, the Philistine warriors were each armed with a pair of long spears, and their infantry was divided into small groups consisting of four men each.  Three of those men carried long, straight swords and spears, while the fourth man only carried a sword. The relief depicting the land battle is a massive jumble of figures and very chaotic in appearance, but this was probably a stylistic convention employed by the Egyptians to convey a sense of chaos. Other evidence suggests that the Sea Peoples had a high level of organization and military strategy (O’Conner 2000: 95).
    A striking feature of the land battle scene is the imagery of ox-pulled carts carrying women and children in the midst of a battle. These carts seem to represent a people on the move (Sandars 1985: 120).
    The other famous relief at Medinet Habu regarding the Sea Peoples is of the sea battle.  This scene is also shown in a disorganized mass, but as was mentioned earlier, was meant to represent chaos, again contradicting the Egyptians’ descriptions of the military success and organization of the Sea Peoples.  The sea battle scene is valuable for its depictions of the Sea Peoples' ships and their armaments.  The Egyptians and the Sea Peoples both used sails as their main means of naval locomotion. However, interestingly, the Sea Peoples' ships appear to have no oars, which could indicate new navigation techniques (Dothan 1982: 7).  Another interesting feature of the Sea Peoples' ships is that all the prows are carved in the shape of bird heads, which has caused many scholars to speculate an Aegean origin for these groups. Wachsmann (2000) speculates that the sea battle relief shows the battle in progression, from beginning to end.
    Medinet Habu still remains the most important source for understanding the Sea Peoples, their possible origins, and their impact on the Mediterranean world.  To this day, no other source has been discovered that provides as detailed an account of these groups, and this mortuary temple still provides the only absolute date for the Sea Peoples.

Proceed to excerpts from the Medinet Habu Texts.

Primary Source Bibliography:

Medinet Habu Inscriptions, reign of Ramesses III. Pp. 262-263 in:

Pritchard, J.
    1969     Ancient Near Eastern Texts. New Jersey: Princeton Univeristy Press.

Secondary Sources:

Cifola, B.
    1988     Rameses III and the Sea Peoples: A Structural Analysis of the Medinet Habu Inscriptions.
              Orientalia 57 (3): 275-306.

Dothan, T.
    1982     Philistines and Their Material Culture.  London

O’Conner, D.
    2000     The Sea Peoples and the Egyptian Sources, pp. 85-102, in E. Oren (ed.) The
                 Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum Press.

Redford, D.B.
    1992     Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Sandars, N.K.

    1985     The Sea Peoples Warriors of the Ancient Mediterranean. London.

Wachsmann, S.
    2000     To the Sea of the Philistines. pp. 103-143, in E. Oren (ed.) The Sea Peoples
                 and Their World: A Reassessment. Philadelphia:University of Pennsylvania Museum Press.
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« Reply #2 on: July 16, 2021, 08:22:01 pm »

awesome article! I love it! thank you so much for this
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