Was the Greco-Persian Wars Manufactured by the Greeks?

The Greco-Persian wars lasted for more than half a century in some respects. Some date the war as being from 499-448 BCE while others date the conflict from 492-448 BCE. Either or, the war itself was a disaster for both sides.

The Greeks, during the war with Persia, even fought amongst themselves in the First Peloponnesian War from 460-445 and then again in the Second Peloponnesian War from 432-404 BCE. For their part, the Persians lost territory during this conflict with the various Greek states and in doing so, lost a sense of supremacy in the region. On a darker note, Persia’s losses also fueled Greek supremacy, which would eventual lead to the rise of one Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Alexander, as we know, would invade Persia and conquer it without hesitation. Nevertheless, it is not the focus of this piece to delve into the various Greek wars or Alexander’s invasion of Persia, but rather look into how and why the Greco-Persian wars started in the first place!

Who and what caused the war that we read about today or see glamorized in Hollywood films? Was the whole thing manufactured by one side?

The Warnings of the Oracle

When Cyrus the Great of Persia defeated Astyages, the last king of the Median Empire in 559 BCE, he inherited a new problem. That problem was the western frontier in what is today the country of Turkey. Beforehand, in 585 BCE, the Medes and Lydian empires made an agreement that the Halys River would be the boundary between the two powers. The king of Lydia at the time was Croesus.

Croesus was famous for his wealth and power throughout Greece and the Near East. With his brother-in-law Astyages now defeated, he felt the need to avenge his defeat. In reality, he saw this as an opportunity to extend his borders. Nevertheless, before Croesus mobilized his forces he sent embassies with many gifts and they asked the oracle of Delphi questions concerning the Persians. The oracle turned to the men and said, “If Croesus attacked the Persians, he would destroy a great empire.” The oracle also suggested to Croesus that he should seek some allies that were powerful to assist him in his war against Persia.

Relief of Persian and Median warriors (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Croesus became overjoyed and overconfident about the news. One would think that Croesus would have understood the part about finding some allies to assist him in this war with Persia as the advice given suggests that Persia’s might was far greater.  Nevertheless, Croesus visited the oracle again and asked how long the Lydian empire would last. The oracle said to Croesus “Wait till the time shall come when a mule is monarch of Media: Then, thou delicate Lydian, away to the pebbles of Hermus: Haste, oh! Haste thee away, nor blush to behave like a coward.”

The mule, a hybrid animal of a donkey and a horse, that is mentioned symbolized none other than Cyrus, for Cyrus was part royalty due to his mother being an Umman-manda princess, while his father Cambyses was a petty vassal king or quite possibly a mere tribal chief in the eyes of Astyages. One can easily base these judgments on ethnicity, but the people we are dealing with were of semi-nomadic stock, and it seems that some had more privileges than others did due to royal status rather than ethnic diversity.

A Critical Error

In 547/46, BCE, Croesus moved his forces beyond the Halys River and entered into the province of Cappadocia. Once there, he sent envoys to Croesus’ camp with a message ordering Croesus to hand over Lydia to him. If Croesus agreed, Cyrus would allow him to stay in Lydia but would have to remove his crown as king and he’d need to accept the title Satrap of Lydia. Evidently, Croesus turned down the invitation and the two armies did battle at a place called Pteria in Cappadocia. The battle took place in the month of November and Croesus was defeated, and he retreated across the Halys River and back into Lydian territory.

Croesus then made a terrible mistake: he decided to disperse his army for the winter, thinking Cyrus would not attack until spring. Then without warning, Cyrus did the unexpected: Cyrus and his forces fell upon the Lydian camps that were in the process of demobilization. They were surprised, routed, and defeated. This was a risky move for Cyrus and his forces, due to the stories of Lydia’s army being superior, even though they did beat them at Pteria. Cyrus may have known that once the Lydian forces demobilized, they would be easier to defeat. In addition, Cyrus it would be riskier to challenge them on their home turf in spring. However, Cyrus put the theory that Lydia was far more superior to the test—and found them wanting.

Relief at Thermopylae, Greece (CC BY 2.0)

Once the routing of the Lydian forces was complete and they were no longer a substantial threat, Croesus fled to Sardis where he took refuge. Many of his supposed allies sent no troops and instead many of the provinces in Lydia seem to have defected over to Cyrus.

The Bath-Gymnasium complex at Sardis, 2nd-3rd century AD, Sardis, Turkey. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Cyrus knew that there was no time to waste and pursued Croesus to Sardis, where he besieged the city and on the fourteenth day the city fell. It was during this time that Sparta sent forces to help Croesus, but once word reached the Spartan forces in Transnet concerning Sardis, they most likely turned back. The word that Sardis fell sent a shock wave throughout the Near East and is said to have been as great a shock as when the news of Nineveh fell in 612 BCE.

Map showing the Greek world during the Greco-Persian Wars (ca. 500–479 BC) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In addition, the Chronicle of Nabonidus also mentions the fall of Lydia, as it states, “In the month of Nisan, King Cyrus of Persia mustered his army and crossed the Tigris downstream from Arbela and, in the month of Iyyar, [march]ed on Ly[dia]. He put its king to death, seized its possessions, [and] set up his own garrison [there]. After that, the king and his garrison resided there.”

Crushing Rebellion

The conquest of Lydia as a whole was far from over, for there were still many Greek city-states such as the Ionians and Aeolians who were mad about the situation and wanted the same terms that Cyrus gave to Croesus before the battle of Pteria. Cyrus said no, and the revolts began as he left for Ecbatana, for he had other issues on his mind. To suppress the revolts taking place in Asia Minor, Cyrus sent a man by the name of Mazares back with some troops to squash uprisings and enslave those partaking in the rebellion. Mazares did just that for some time until he died of unknown causes.

The next person to take his place and keep the rebellions down was Harpagus. Harpagus put the final stamp on the rebellious situation and placed Persian garrisons in the areas affected to secure the peace. However, it was not easy, for it took four years before the establishment of Persian rule among the populace.

Therefore, what can be learned from this situation involving the Persians and the Greek Lydians is that Croesus was the main instigator of the conflict. Had Croesus not taken up arms over the death of Astyages, war with Persia may not have happened, but as previously mentioned the death of Astyages was an opportunity for Croesus to extend his borders on the gamble that Persia was far weaker then Media.

It Started with Aristagoras

In 499 BCE, citizens who were exiled from Naxos approached Aristagoras, the deputy governor of Miletus (an ancient Greek city on the western coast of Anatolia, near the mouth of the Maeander River in ancient Caria).

Map of Miletus and other cities within the Lydian Empire (CC BY-SA 3.0)

They came to Aristagoras seeking help. They wanted to know if he would supply them with troops to regain their homeland. Aristagoras liked this proposal. What he liked was that if he could take Naxos, he could then become the ruler. Seeing that he did not have the troop strength, he decided to approach the Artaphernes, the satrap of Lydia and brother of Darius. Artaphernes had many troops and a navy at his disposal.

The ruins of Miletus. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The only thing that was missing was the money to fund the military expedition. Aristagoras turned to the exiled men and asked for financial support. Once all had been agreed to, the troops and ships were provided and the expedition to take Naxos commenced.

However, an issue arose. As Aristagoras was approaching the island, Megabates, the naval commander of some 200 ships, got into an intense argument with Aristagoras. Some speculate that Megabates warned the people of Naxos to prepare for their arrival. However, this is not for certain as it could have been someone else.  Once the Persian forces arrived, the city was ready and the Persians were bogged down for four months and they ultimately had to turn back due to a lack of money.

Reconstructed model of a trireme, the type of ship in use by both the Greek and Persian forces. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

After Aristagoras returned home, he had to repay Artaphernes the costs of the military expedition. But he did not have the money and because of this, alienated himself from the royal Persian court. Aristagoras knew that it would not be long before Artaphernes stripped him of his position. Therefore, Aristagoras became desperate and declared war on Persia by inciting his own subjects to revolt. After defeating the Ionians and their allies, the Persians made it clear after the land had been brought back under Persian control that they intended not to harm the economy (as in pillage and ask for war reparations) but to help it re-grow, expand, and to re-establish a relationship with the citizens. After the terms with the citizens and its leaders had been agreed to, King Darius wanted to punish those who aided the Ionians which was Athens and Eretria.

Terracotta female bust, Ionian workshop, found in a tomb, Macri Langoni T 75. 525-500 BC. (Public Domain)

War for the Ages

The significance of the Ionian Revolt was that not only did Aristagoras start a provincial rebellion, he went out of his way, and understandably, and sought outside help in this endeavor. No one was interested in giving aid to Aristagoras at first, except for Athens and Eretria. This would only fuel the fire further, once the Ionian Revolt ended 493 BCE. More important was that the Greco-Persian Wars had now officially begun. The Greco-Persian War was a war for the ages, which came and went in stages. However, its impact continued long after the last one ended in 449 BCE.

Greek hoplite and Persian warrior depicted fighting. 5th century BC (Public Domain)

Men like Alexander the Great would rise up to challenge the mighty Achaemenid Empire. He conquered with such fluidity that he, himself was overcome by its sheer size due to exhaustion and sickness. One could argue that the Greco-Persian War started with Aristagoras in 499 BCE and ended with Alexander the Great in 330 BCE.

 

Top Image: Warrior Model (CC BY-SA 2.0), and an ominous Dark Sky (Public Domain); Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

Briant, Pierre. From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2002.

Dupuy, R. Ernest and Trevor N. Dupuy. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History: From 35000 B.C. to the Present. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1993.

Dupuy, Trevor N. Johnson, Curt. Bongard, David L. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography. New York: Castle Books, 1995.

Ebbott, Mary. Imagining illegitimacy in classical Greek literature. Lanham, Md: Lexington Books, 2003.

Glassner, Jean-Jacques and Benjamin R. Foster. Mesopotamian Chronicles. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004.

Herodotus. The Histories. New York: Everyman’s Library, 1997.

Herodotus, translated by George Rawlinson, edited by Hugh Bowden. The Histories. London: Everyman, 1997.

Who were the Ancient Danites & Danaan? Part II

 

The Danaan and Danites are a mystery people for many historians. Speculated to have been Greek seafarers in the late Bronze Age, they are also closely associated with the Sea Peoples who ravaged the Eastern Mediterranean during the same period. Whoever the Danaan or Danites were, they left a conflicting legacy. Looking to the Bible and its description of ancient events leads to Greek myth, and the truth behind hidden identities.

Notice the similarities between the two names Aikupitiyo and Yakubher? Now compare that to the name Jacob found in New Testament Greek in the book of Matthew 1:2, that is rendered as “Iakob,” thus the plausibility that the name Aegyptus is a variation of the name Jacob found in the Bible becomes potentially clearer in our search of the Danaan identity.

For one name is Mycenaean with Semitic influence while the other is Egyptian with Semitic influence, and when we look to the New Testament Greek, we find a link between the two names. Thus, it is possible that both names are related due to the Semitic influence that both the Mycenaean and Egyptian cultures inherited.

The Song of Deborah

The question we must ask is did the tribe of Dan have a falling out with Jacob? The answer to that question is yes! However, before going further, understand that if we are to look at the story of two brothers, the story is partially false and partially true. The false part of the story is that Dan and Jacob were brothers; according to the Bible, Jacob was Dan’s father. However, and with that said, Dan and Jacob could be considered brothers. In other words, the tribes of Israel were all brothers to one another including the tribe of Dan.

Symbol of the Tribe of Dan (Serpent in the center) (Public Domain)

This is where the story of Danaus and Aegyptus are in relation to the Biblical account of Dan and Jacob/Israel. However, we must ask ourselves what story in the Bible can be related to Danaus and Aegyptus? For that answer, one must look to the book of Judges and focus on the famed “song of Deborah.”

A statue of prophetess Deborah in Aix-en-Provence, France. She was the only female judge mentioned in the Bible.

A statue of prophetess Deborah in Aix-en-Provence, France. She was the only female judge mentioned in the Bible. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The song of Deborah states, “Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships?” Judges 5:17. The answer to this verse is due to a man named Sisera, found in the book of Judges 5:20, whom the Israelites were at war with. Dan refused to fight and remained in his ships. Dan could either care less or was being cautious as to what was going on and the same can be said for a portion of the Manassehites living in Gilead, according to the verse.

This is where we get the story of Danaus fleeing with his daughters from his brother Aegyptus and sons. As for why Dan fled, one must look to the story of Hypermnestra and her husband Lynceus to find the answer. In this story, one will notice a similar law between the Hebrews and Greeks, and that the names Hypermnestra and Lynceus are a metaphor for places connected to the Bible.

‘The Danaides’ (1903) by John William Waterhouse.

‘The Danaides’ (1903) by John William Waterhouse. (Public Domain)

Law and Marriage

The story of how Hypermnestra allowed her husband to live may be connected to Biblical events that took place. According to Greek law, if a woman had no brothers then the next of kin was obliged to marry her so that the land her father left her stayed in the family. Aegyptus, according to Greek legend, was the brother of Danaus. Aegyptus had fifty sons, Danaus had fifty daughters. If Danaus refused to marry his daughters to his brother’s sons, the inheritance would have gone to someone else, not of the tribe. This Greek law bears great resemblance to the Hebrew law wherein if a woman had no brothers to take over the family’s lands, then she had to marry someone of her kin in order to keep the land within the family. This was also the case with Zelophehad and his five daughters found in the book of Numbers (26:33, 27:3), and in the book of Joshua (17:3).

The Daughters of Zelophehad

The Daughters of Zelophehad (Public Domain)

These five daughters were not married when Joshua presided over Israel and the land was being divided up among the chieftains. The men of Israel were concerned over this, that if these daughters did not marry, then there was a possibility that other men may take them and thus divide up the inheritance. Like the Greek story, one will notice that not only did the daughters of Danaus marry their kin, so did the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:11).

Besides the similarities in the law, the Greeks and Hebrews seemed to share their stories. We now focus on the names Hypermnestra and Lynceus. Hypermnestra, according to the story, was the daughter of Danaus. However, her name may be in relation to the name or place known as Gilead. The word “hyper” in Greek means over, above, or exceeding, which is similar to and may have originated from the Hebrew word Gilead. In Hebrew, Gilead can mean, hill, mound, or rugged, you could say. The word Gilead can also be considered “upper Manasseh”, and is the reason is that the land the tribe of Manasseh is allotted extends far north when one looks at a map as to where the twelve tribes of Israel were located.

Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel.

Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel. (Public Domain) Tribe of Dan is top row, third from right.

 

Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North.

Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

One will notice that part of the tribe of Manasseh dwells on the east side of Jordan River where you will find the land of Gilead if you look north. When you compare the two names’ definitions, you see that Hyper means over, as in over a river, as in the Jordan River, and above, as in hilly or mountainous region, like the region of Gilead which means hill, mound, or rugged.

Now the name Lynceus is also interesting, for the name Lynceus in Greek may be derived from lynx or leopard in association with a lion, just as the Hebrew word Laish, which is also a city of the tribe of Dan, and is said to mean “lion,”; “for Dan is a lions whelp,” (Deuteronomy 33:22). It becomes possible that the story of Hypermnestra and Lynceus is a story not about two people, but about how the tribe of Dan refused to join his brothers Jacob/Israel in their fight against Sisera. In addition, it also shows how a part of Manasseh living in Gilead near the Danite city of Laish refused to follow Jacob/Israel and thus allowed the city of Laish to live as it may. This event may have served as the story or background for the famed story of Hypermnestra and Lynceus—that Hypermnestra and Lynceus were tribal brothers and tribal allies who shared interests in opposing Jacob/Israel against Sisera. The Greeks may have viewed the alliance as a marriage, but through tribal relations, and over time the story went from two tribes related through marriage as in terms of having the same founding father, to just two people related.

With that said, it should also be noted that the story concerning Zelophehad and his daughters may have been used as a backdrop in explaining the law when the Danites made it to Greece, and over time that story transformed into the story we have today. Whatever the case maybe, it is plausible that the events and stories that took place in Israel during the time of Judges could have been passed unto the Greeks through the tribe of Dan.

Betrayal and Murder

Let us focus on the other part of the story that many find horrendous, and that is the forty-nine daughters of Danaus murdering their forty-nine husbands on the night of their wedding.

Danaus’ 49 Daughters, the Danaid.

Danaus’ 49 Daughters, the Danaid. (Public Domain)

According to myth, on the wedding night Danaus give instructions to his fifty daughters to murder their husbands. As you have already read, one daughter spared her husband’s life. However, the question that needs addressing is, is there a connection to another story found in the Bible concerning both the forty-nine daughters murdering their forty-nine husbands? According to the book of Judges and during the same time that the tribe of Dan and a part of the tribe of Manasseh turned their backs on their kin, there lived a woman named Jael. In the book of Judges 4:17-22, Jael is not a Hebrew but a Kenite. The name Kenite comes from the Hebrew word qayin, which means smith or metalworker. The Kenites were well-known metalworkers and their craftsmanship was acknowledged from the lands as far south as Arad in Negreb and as far north as Kedesh near Elon-bezaanannim in Naphtali. The Kenites were friends with those of Sisera.

As the story goes, Sisera fled, probably from a lost battle, until he reached an area were the Kenites lived, such as Jael. It was there that she offered him a place to rest his head. Once asleep, Jael killed him with a tent peg through his temple, till it came out the other side and into the ground, as the story says.

The gruesome death of Sisera at the hands of Jael.

The gruesome death of Sisera at the hands of Jael. (Public Domain)

What is fascinating about this story is that the act parallels that of the Greek myth. The only difference between the two is that the Biblical story praises Jael for a job well done and she is showered with blessings, while the Greek story paints the women who murdered their husbands at night as villains and castaways for such an act. What else becomes evident, and something already discussed, is that Dan refused to fight when Sisera arrived, but once Jael ended Sisera’s life the war ended, and the same goes for when the forty-nine daughters of Danaus murdered their husbands while they were asleep; the war between the Danaus and Aegyptus had been settled.

In conclusion, it seems fair to say that there is a possible connection to the Biblical accounts mentioned. So, let us back track briefly. Danaus=Dan, Aegyptius=Jacob, Greek law and Hebrew law on marriage and land grants are nearly the same, Hypermnestra and Lynceus are a metaphor for a people and a city allowed to live, and the women who murdered their husbands are a metaphor for Jael and her actions. It is worth looking into further as there are more scraps and tidbits of information throughout the famed Greek story. However, it will require further investigation, but what has been presented should be considered and weighed – for behind ever myth is a general truth.

If interested in such proposals concerning the Greek-Hebrew connections, see the writings of John R. Salverda.

Top Image: A mosaic in the Jewish Quarter representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, including the Danites (CC BY 2.0) and Danaus’ 49 Daughters, the Danaid. (Public Domain); Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

Anonymous. The Wesleyan Sunday-School Magazine [Afterw.] the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School Magazine. London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1873.

Cairns, Ian. Word and presence: a commentary on the book of Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Cheyne, Thomas Kelly. Black, John Sutherland. Encyclopaedia biblica : a critical dictionary of the literary political and religious history, the archaeology, geography, and natural history of the Bible. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1899-1903.

Davidiy, Yair. Lost Israelite Identity: The Hebrew Ancestory of Celtic Races. Shiloh-Hebron-Susia-Jerusalem: Russel-Davis Publishers, 1996.

—. The Tribes. Jerusalem: Russell-Davis, 2004.

Gabriel, Richard A. The Military History of Ancient Israel (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969.

Hard, Robin. he Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology: Based on H.J. Rose’s Handbook of Greek Mythology. London & New York: Routledge, 2004.

Hathom, Richmond Yancey. Greek Mythology. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1977.

Haubrich, William S. Medical meanings: a glossary of word origins. Philadelphia: American College Of Physicians, 2003.

Killebrew, Ann and Gunnar Lehmann, The Philistines and Other “Sea Peoples” in Text and Archaeology (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013.

Pritchard, James B. The Ancient Near East Vol 1: An Anthology of Text and Pictures (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.

Rose, Herbert Jennings. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Routledge, 2005.

Salverda, John R. “The Danaans” [Online] Available at: http://ensignmessage.com/articles/the-danaans/ (accessed 3 March 2010).

Who were the Ancient Danites & Danaan? Part I

 

The Danaan and Danites are a mystery people for many historians. Speculated to have been Greek seafarers in the late Bronze Age, they are also closely associated with the Sea Peoples who ravaged the Eastern Mediterranean during the same period. Other evidence suggests they originated somewhere along the coast of the Levant, or they were an Israelite tribe that fled with Moses during the biblical Exodus from Egypt. Whoever the Danaan or Danites were, they left a conflicting legacy.

The warriors who sacked Egypt for its spoils, or Homer’s Troy may explain the mysterious identity and origins of these people, along with the use of Greek mythologies and the Bible itself. Let us first look at the Bible and its description of the events that took place before delving into the Greek story about Danaus and Aegyptus.

Who are the Danites?

According to the Book of Genesis, Dan was the fifth son of Jacob and was mother Bilhah’s first son. He was the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Dan. In the biblical account, Dan’s mother is described as Rachel’s handmaid, who becomes one of Jacob’s wives. (Genesis 30:1-6). The tribe of Dan fled Egypt with the rest of the Israelites led by Moses during the Exodus.

The Dan tribe's serpent plate

The Dan tribe’s serpent plate (CC BY 2.0)

Afterwards, the Danites along with their Israelite brethren fought and defeated many foes, such as the Canaanites, Ammonites, Moabites and the most troublesome: the Philistines. Dan’s territorial allotment, recorded in Joshua 19:40-46, only gives a list of towns:

The seventh lot came out for the tribe of Dan according to its clans. The territory of their inheritance included:

Zorah, Eshtaol, Ir Shemesh, Shaalabbin, Aijalon, Ithlah, Elon, Timnah, Ekron, Eltekeh, Gibbethon, Baalath, Jehud, Bene Berak, Gath Rimmon, Me Jarkon and Rakkon, with the area facing Joppa.

While verses 42-46 describe settlements, verses 47-48 mention that the Danites left and “went up to fight against Leshem, and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and possessed it, and dwelt therein, and called Leshem, Dan, after the name of Dan their father.” However, verses 40-48 were likely added later. The reason the author of Joshua did not describe borders but provided a list of settlements and a quick mention of their move to the north is that the borders of Dan were constantly changing due to the rift they had with the Philistines, which caused them to pack up and migrate north. However, Dan’s relationship with the Philistines may not have always been hostile.

When the Danites had settled between the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim, a problem arose; their territory was too small. They could not expand north, south, or east, for that was their brethren’s territory. Therefore, they looked west but ran into another problem. Further expansion west was not possible due to the powerful city-states along the coast of southern Canaan. Because of this, the Danites were landlocked.

A mosaic in the Jewish Quarter representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, including the Danites

A mosaic in the Jewish Quarter representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, including the Danites (CC BY 2.0)

The elders of Dan sought a means to acquire more territory. However, Joshua 19:47 suggests that they were not militarily capable on their own to push out the Canaanites along the coast. While the elders probably considered asking their kin to assist them in their endeavor to expand further, the Israelite tribes around Dan had problems of their own. Because of this, they understandably refrained from any military action that could jeopardize their holdings. This would change when the Philistines arrived.

Philistines, or Peleset, captives of the Egyptians, from a graphic wall relief at Medinet Habu. Circa 1185-52 BC, during the reign of Ramesses III.

Philistines, or Peleset, captives of the Egyptians, from a graphic wall relief at Medinet Habu. Circa 1185-52 BC, during the reign of Ramesses III. (Public Domain)

Who are the Sea Peoples?

The Philistines were of Aegean origin, possibly originating from Cyprus or Crete. They were known in Egyptian inscriptions as the Peleset, and were a part of a conjectured conglomerate of sea raiders that Egyptologist Gaston Maspero came to call Sea Peoples. They took part in a large migration/invasion towards the end of the Bronze Age.

The Danites may have joined this conglomerate. While there is no proof that they ever did, the Medinet Habu inscriptions of Ramses III, mention a group known as the Denyen who were defeated by his forces at the Battle of the Djahy (1179):

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, Qode, Carchemish, Arzawa and Alashiya on, being cut off at one time. A camp was set up in Amurru. They desolated its people, and its land was like that which has never come into being. They were coming forward toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared before them. Their confederation was the Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denyen and Weshesh, lands united. They laid their hands upon the land as far as the circuit of the earth, their hearts confident and trusting: ‘Our plans will succeed!’

Whether the Denyen were, in fact, the Biblical tribe of Dan will remain disputed. However, one could argue from a military and political perspective that the Danites did aid the Philistines against the Egyptians.

Philistine Bichrome pottery, theorized to be of Sea Peoples origin.

Philistine Bichrome pottery, theorized to be of Sea Peoples origin. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

As mentioned, the Danites allotted territory was too small. Their desire to expand was cut short because they had not the military means to go it alone. When the Philistines and company were making their way south, the Danites saw an opportunity. They joined this coalition of marauders, who were possibly led by the Philistines, in an attempt to expand territorially along the coast of southern Canaan around 1179 BCE. However, as this conglomerate made their way south, they attacked the Canaanite city-states subject to the Egyptians and took them. Afterwards, they continued south, where they engaged the Egyptian army at Djahy and were defeated.

One would think that the Egyptians would have executed or enslaved the defeated forces. Even though the Philistines lost the battle, they won the spoils. Instead, Ramses III decided that since he lost his garrison in southern Canaan, he would use the Philistines to regarrison the coastal fortified cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Gaza—not only to secure the land but also to secure the trade route. The Philistines were assigned to govern and protect a stretch of land along the coast 40 miles long (64 km) and roughly 15 miles (24 km) wide.

Outer gate wall at Ashkelon. Original mud bricks of the outer gate structure of Philistine Ashkelon. The bricks are from the middle bronze age, roughly 4000 years ago.

Outer gate wall at Ashkelon. Original mud bricks of the outer gate structure of Philistine Ashkelon. The bricks are from the middle bronze age, roughly 4000 years ago. (Ian Scott/CC BY-SA 2.0)

While the Philistines won the land grab, the tribe of Dan during this ordeal was thwarted twice. Dan’s first setback was the defeat at Djahy (1179 BCE) by the Egyptians.

Sea Peoples in conflict with the Egyptians in the battle of Djahy.

Sea Peoples in conflict with the Egyptians in the battle of Djahy. (Public Domain)

Their second setback was that after the defeat, their allies, the Philistines, were given land and were now the allies of Egypt. With Egyptian backing, the Philistine occupation of southern Canaan denied the tribe of Dan and that of Judah any hopes to expand. Besides the Biblical account, we can look at the Greek account regarding another people who have a similar name.

Who are the Danaan?

According to the Greeks, the Danaan were a branch of what would become the Greek people over time. In Greek mythology, the Danaan originally dwelt next to the Nile River in Egypt. Their founder was a man by the name of Danaus, who was a descendant of Io.

Zeus and Io

Zeus and Io (Public Domain)

Danaus had fifty daughters, and his brother Aegyptus had fifty sons. Aegyptus wanted to marry off his fifty sons to the daughters of Danaus. Danaus gathered his daughters and fled by ship from the marriage proposal offered by his brother, and settled in a place called Argos where they found safety among the Argives. Aegyptus, furious that Danaus had fled, gathered his fifty sons and followed suit only to be repulsed by the Argives once they landed. It is said that eventually, the daughters of Danaus married their cousins—how this happened is unknown.

According to the tale, Danaus gave his daughters daggers at the wedding feast and instructed them to kill their husbands the night of the wedding.

The Danaides kill their husbands.

The Danaides kill their husbands. (Public Domain)

The daughters agreed to this very act— all except one. Her name was Hypermnestra, she was moved by pity, and thus let her husband Lynceus live. She was the only daughter to marry and have a child within her own family, and thus by Greek law, which will discuss shortly, their child inherited not only the spoils of Aegyptus but also the spoils of Danaus.

Woodcut of 49 of the Danaids killing their husbands, while Hypermnestra tells Lynceus to flee.

Woodcut of 49 of the Danaids killing their husbands, while Hypermnestra tells Lynceus to flee. (CC BY 2.0)

What is striking about this story is that it may be three stories made into one, and possibly of Hebrew origin. Let us first begin with the names Danaus and Aegyptus.

The Possible Connection

The name Danaus, which the Danaan tribes are named after, bears a striking resemblance to the Hebrew tribe of Dan, and may possibly be associated with the tribe of Dan due to name and phonetic similarities. The name Aegyptus is of great interest also.

First, one must understand that the Pharaohs of Egypt did not use the term Egypt, it was the Greeks who called them Egypt or in Greek “Aigyptos”. However, it seems that the name Aigyptos was used in reference to the Nile country from which our story first takes place between Danaus and Aegyptus and not Egypt as a whole, which opens another possibility that will be discussed shortly. In addition, many of the near eastern kingdoms and small nations never used the name “Aigyptos” when referring to Egypt, either. instead, nations like Assyria/Babylonia used the terms “Mutsri,” “Musur,” and “Misir” when referring to Egypt, while the Hebrews referred to them as “Mitsrayim” or “Mizraim.” However, the Mycenaean Linear B text mentions the name Egypt/Egyptian twice: the first name is Misirayo, while the second in the text is Aikupitiyo — two names considered by modern scholars to mean the same thing. Both names have major differences, and yet no modern scholar can tell us why Egypt is referred to by these two vastly different renderings of the name.

The first name mentioned in the Linear B text, “Misiryo” is very similar and connected to the Semitic variations of the name already mentioned. However, it is the second name, Aikupitiyo, which is in dispute, since it has no connection to Egypt. Both names seem to be personal names that point to an identity. If Misiryo means “The Egyptian” then the name Aikupitiyo is alien to the land of Egypt and does not indicate that this person is Egyptian. Another solution to this person’s identity can be demonstrated.

Remember the story of Danaus and Aegyptus, both are said to be brothers, and both dwelt by the Nile; both could escape by sea as well, as in the case of Danaus fleeing with his fifty daughters, and evidently so could Aegyptius when he pursued Danaus. With that said, it seems plausible to suspect that both Danaus and Aegyptus lived in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites dwelt. Thus, Danaus represents the Danites, and Aegyptus represents the Israelite as a whole, including the tribe of Dan, for the name Aikupitiyo could very well be a rendering of the name “Jacob”, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.

For further consideration, that the name Aikupitiyo is a rendering of Jacob, one must take notice that the name Jacob is “Ya’aqov” in Hebrew. In Ancient Egypt, a certain Hyksos ruler bears a very similar name, and that name is “Yakubher” also rendered as “Yak-Baal,” and “Yakeb-Baal”.  Notice the similarities between the two names Aikupitiyo and Yakubher? Now compare that to the name Jacob found in New Testament Greek in the book of Matthew 1:2, that is rendered as “Iakob,” thus the plausibility that the name Aegyptus is a variation of the name Jacob found in the Bible becomes potentially clearer in our search of the Danaan identity.

Top Image: A mosaic in the Jewish Quarter representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, including the Danites (CC BY 2.0)  and Philistines (Public Domain); Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

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