The Other Golden Age of Piracy —- The Era of the Sea Peoples,
When Spain conquered much of Central and South America a golden age of piracy occurred as buccaneers and privateers flocked to the Caribbean to steal their share of Spanish gold. However piracy is a phenomenon as old as seafaring itself, and thousands of years before notorious pirates such as Blackbeard and Bartholomew Roberts, another band of pirates known as “The Sea Peoples” terrorized the ancient Mediterranean, creating an earlier golden ages of piracy that rivaled that of the pirates of the Caribbean.
The Sea Peoples terrorized the Mediterranean around the 12th and 11th century BC. Very little detailed information is known about the Sea Peoples, and most of what is in recorded history comes from Egyptian sources, especially from the court of Ramses III. Essentially the Sea Peoples were a large band of pirates who raided ships, stole treasure, and murdered all who got in their way. However the Sea Peoples were much more than just mere buccaneers. The extent of their raiding was such that entire cities, kingdoms, and empires were sacked by the marauders. It was not uncommon for the Sea Peoples to show up unannounced, massacre any military forces that protected a city, take everything of value, then disappear as quickly as they had arrived. Even whole nations and empires fell to the Sea Peoples. An inscription at the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III the notes the nature of a Sea People’s invasion,
"The lands were removed and scattered to the fray. No land could stand before their arms, from Hatti, Kode, Carchemish, Arzawa, Alashiya all being cut down.”
The Sea Peoples were even responsible for the fall of the Hittite Empire, a superpower that rivaled Egypt during the Bronze Age. After the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC, the Hittites (modern day Turkey) became a victim of a series of massive raids by the Sea People’s. The Sea Peoples ravaged all ports and cities along the Mediterranean coast and Black Sea. They even ventured inland, sacking various cities all over Anatolia. When nothing of value was left to take, the Sea Peoples disappeared and never returned. However the Hittite Empire was left so weakened by the attacks, that the empire eventually collapsed, being conquered by the Assyrians. The only empire noted for being able to successfully fend off the Sea Peoples were the Egyptians, where Ramses III personally destroyed a marauder fleet and army at the mouth of the Nile River.
What is most perplexing is that no one knows for certain who the Sea Peoples were. The prevailing theory, based on modern archaeological evidence and ancient records, suggests that the Sea Peoples were not one people, but a multitude of different ethnicity’s. The time period around the 12th and 11th century BC today is known as the “Bronze Age Collapse”, a tumultuous period caused by famine, war, the fall of civilizations such as Mycenaean Greece and Troy, and the migration of new Indo-European nomads from the east, such as the Dorians and Persians. As a result, a large population of disaffected people from all over the Mediterranean who became pirates and marauders in order to make a living. Archaeological evidence of many Sea People sites show that they were an odd mix of Mycenaean Greeks, Hittites, Philistines, Proto-Celts, Trojans, exiled Minoans, Sicilians, Italic peoples, and Phoenicians.
Sea People attacks occurred far and wide, evidence suggests that the Sea Peoples may have gone as far as Spain, Britain, and even the Baltic. By the end of the 11th century BC Sea People raids began to dwindle and cease, as the political and environmental situation in the region settled, and the Sea Peoples began to settle colonies throughout the Mediterranean.