James Thomas
Jul 14, 2014 · 28 min read


The origins of “The Sea Raiders saga concludes with the following: Part Two — Narrative, Chapter VII — “THE SEA-RAIDERS IN THE LEVANT: THE TWELFTH CENTURY AND AFTER” of A.R. Burn’s Book “Minoans Philistines and Greeks” (1930).Which is reproduced in whole for the benefit of the reader.

“Woe upon the people of the sea-coast, the nation of the Cherethites; the word of the Lord is against you, O Canaan, land of the Philistines.” — Zephaniah, II.5.

Rameses III died in 1167, and within the decade the sea-raiders settled along the Syrian coast had ceased to pay the slightest attention to the desires of the Pharaohs. From the excavations at Beth-shan it appears that the Aegean colony, originally planted there as a garrison by the Pharaohs of the Nineteenth Dynasty, continued to exist as an independent city-state, one of a large number, mostly on the coast, extending from Sidon, Arvad and Byblos on the north to the famous Five Towns of Philistia on the south. Between these two groups, the Phoenician and the Philistine lay the less famous central settlements, of which Dor and Taanach are perhaps the best known.

All the cities regarded themselves as completely independent; so much so that when one of the puppet-Kings of the Egyptian Twentieth DynastyRameses IX. About 1140 — ventured to send some ambassadors along this coast, the Lord of Byblos took it into his head to detain them, and did so, for the rest of their lives — a period of some seventeen years.

In every case, the oversea settlers eventually became completely Semitized by contact with the more numerous natives, but it was a log process. Roughly speaking, the non-Semitic element in the population seems to have been weakest in Phoenicia and strongest in Philistia, were a self-conscious nation survived long enough to be named by Greek writers and fluently cursed by the Hebrew prophets.

In Phoenicia, traces of a non-Semitic immigration are scarce, and it is sometimes denied that the Phoenicians were anything but a pure Semitic race; but even here the goods from several graves excavated in the Lebanon, now in the museum of the American College at Beirut, are clearly Aegean, and of thirteenth or twelfth century date, and the fact at least of strong Aegean influence is now confirmed by the finds at Ras Shamra.


“Land Battle of the Sea-Peoples”, from the Mortuary Temple Friezes at Medinet Habu, Thebes, Egypt.”

It seems likely that the Phoenicians took to the sea only under the influence of these Aegeans; for though Byblos had been a port from very early times there is no evidence earlier than Homer for Phoenician trading by sea on their own account.

When Thothmes III in the fifteenth century required shipping, he turned not to Phoenicians but to the Keftiu. It is true, however, that the sea-raiders in Phoenicia were absorbed the earliest and have left the least trace in archaeology and tradition.

Hogarth drew attention to the fact that, in the matter of writing, Phoenicia was using Babylonic cuneiform at a time when a signary based on the Aegean linear script was still in use in Philistia.


Close-up №1. of a triumphant Ramesses III of the “Land Battle of the Sea-Peoples”, from the Mortuary Temple Friezes at Medinet Habu, Thebes, Egypt.”

Rivalry developing into hostility existed between the northern and southern settlements, and ultimately a war broke out and was fought to a finish, between the king of Askalon and the King ofSidon. The Philistines were victorious and captured Sidon, refugees from which fled to Tyre and seem to have contributed largely to that city’s future greatness.


Close-up №2. of a the chaos of battle as Sea People warriors battles Ramesses III’s forces, from the “Land Battle of the Sea-Peoples” from the Mortuary Temple Friezes at Medinet Habu, Thebes, Egypt.”

But even though weakened by such internecine feuds, the sea-raiders were quite strong enough at first to hold their ground against the Hebrew mountaineers of the hinterland, and even to expand at their expense, thanks no doubt to their Asian armour and weapons, but more especially to their possession of “chariots of iron”.


Close-up №3. of fallen Sea People warriors, from the “Land Battle of the Sea-Peoples” from the Mortuary Temple Friezes at Medinet Habu, Thebes, Egypt.”

The area in southern Syria within which Aegean remains are found do in fact correspond fairly closely with the areas which the Hebrews, in the more candid portions of their traditions of the conquest, admit that they could not master; they comprise the greater part of the coast and the few valley areas that run up into the hill-country, notably the plain of Jezreel, from Beth-shan to mount Carmel.


Close-up №4. of Egyptian forces battling Sea People Chariot forces and attacking the baggage train, from the “Land Battle of the Sea-Peoples”, from the Mortuary Temple Friezes at Medinet Habu, Thebes, Egypt.”

“These are the nations which the lord left, to prove Israel by them…only that the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as beforetime knew nothing thereof : the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites, and the Zidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon unto the entering in of Hamath”.


Close-up №5. Chaotic scenes fill the battle-field as Sea People forces struggle against being overwhelmed by Egyptian forces, from the “Land Battle of the Sea-Peoples” from the Mortuary Temple Friezes at Medinet Habu, Thebes, Egypt.”

The pious author’s explanation of Yahweh’s purpose in omitting to do quite all that was expected of him is entertaining. “And Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shan and her towns, nor Taanach and her towns, nor of Dor and her towns…nor of Megiddo and her towns; but the Canaanite would dwell in that land… And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the hill-country; for they would not suffer them to come down into the valley.”


Close-up №6. further detail of a the chaos of battle as Sea People warriors battles Ramesses III’s forces, from the “Land Battle of the Sea-Peoples” from the Mortuary Temple Friezes at Medinet Habu, Thebes, Egypt.”


Close-up №7., from the “Land Battle of the Sea-Peoples” from the Mortuary Temple Friezes at Medinet Habu, Thebes, Egypt.”

“And the Lord was with Judah, and he drave out the inhabitants of the hill-country; for he could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron”.


Close-up №8., Egyptian forces attacking another Sea Peoples’ baggage train containing women and children, from the “Land Battle of the Sea-Peoples” from the Mortuary Temple Friezes at Medinet Habu, Thebes, Egypt.”

At Dor, on the central part of the coast, we accordingly find in the Golenischeff Papyrus (of which more hereafter) a vigorous and hard-headed sea-faring population of the tribe of the Zakkaray.


Close-up №9., more detail of the Sea Peoples baggage train as Egyptian forces attack women and children, from the “Land Battle of the Sea-Peoples” from the Mortuary Temple Friezes at Medinet Habu, Thebes, Egypt.”

It is, however, of the strong southern Philistine settlements that most is known, and here that we can see, from the Old Testament historical books themselves, how profound was the influence of the Aegean immigrants on Israelite civilization.


Captive Sea People warriors being branded on the shoulder and catalogued by Egyptian officials. (Unknown Source).


Model Shrine of the Mother-Goddess as Mistress of beasts and snakes, from Beth-shan. From A.R. Burn’s Book “Minoans Philistines and Greeks” (1930).

The culture of the Philistines is known to us, though very incompletely, both from its concrete remains and from Hebrew allusions. Their architecture, like their pottery, is reminiscent of the Aegean. Houses excavated at Gath and at Gezer show “the characteristic Cretan lightwell”; a model shrine found at Beth-shan shows a building with three storeys, reminiscent of the upper floors of Minoan houses.

Here we find the prototype of the palace at Samaria from whose upper-floor window King Ahaziah accidentally fell, and of that at Jezreel from which Queen Jezebel was thrown. So, too, Aegean prototypes have been suggested for the palace at Gaza where Samson met his end, with its theatrical area where the blinded giant “made sport” ant its roof supported on two pillars which, like those at Knossos, can be dragged of their bases. It has even been suggested that the Philistines introduced the all-important vine and olive into the land.

With the coming of the Philistines, too, dawns definitely in Syria the Iron Age. It has long been observed that weapons on Rameses III’s monuments are painted blue; and more recent discoveries confirm the belief that his weapons were in fact, whenever possible, of iron. Tutankhamen’s dagger, with its blade of iron — and very good iron, too — shows that as early as the fourteenth century there were smiths to whom the working of the metal presented no difficulties; henceforth, the only problem for Egypt was to obtain access to a supply.

Unfortunately the chief known sources of the supply in the Taurus mines were controlled by the Hittites. One ceases to wonder at Egypt’s lack of success in her Hittite wars; and even after the treaty of 1271 the Hittite kings remained chary of sharing their valuable possession with others.

About 1260, a letter from Khattusil III expresses diplomatic regret at being unable to supply the iron for which Rameses II has been asking, on the distinctly unlikely ground that there is no iron-working going on in the province of Kissuwadna just now.

Iron only becomes really common in North Syria after 1200, evidently introduced by the same Land-Raiders who introduced cremation of the dead and who sacked the first city of Carchemish. So also in the south, iron and cremation seem to be introduced together by the Philistines. All doubt as to the extensive use of iron by the Philistines has been laid finally to rest by Sir W. Flinders Petrie’s excavation at Gerar and Beth-pelet, in 1927 and 1929.

Here the earliest use of iron was datable no later than the fourteenth century; while in the twelfth century furnaces for smelting are found, and large tools being manufactured — plough irons, a seven-pound pick, large hoes, and swords.

All the while it remains very rare in the Aegean. It seems, in fact, that the late Minoan “Achaian” world had fallen seriously behind the times in this important matter. It is probably significant that Asia and the Balkan mainland, in both of which iron was coming into use in the twelfth century, appear in Homer as united in a great defensive alliance against the predatory Achaians. The Homeric world knows something of iron and of how it is wrought; but only small objects, such as knives, are made of it, swords are still of bronze, and it is only among Trojans, or among Achaians after they have plundered the Trojan villages, that the metal is at all common. It is a supply, not the knowledge that is lacking. Archaeology agrees with tradition, that iron had been known in Crete, as a rarity, since very early times.

Many passages in the Old Testament also suggest Philistine influence on the Chosen People in manners and customs, and even in the externals of religion. The tree-and-pillar-cults of early Israel, the heretical bull-worship, or rather calf-worship, and the “horns of the alter”, like those that decorate Cretan shrines, are all reminiscent of the Aegean and probably derived from it through Philistia; for a triple coincidence is not likely.


“Horns of Consecration”; from a late Minoan Vase from Cyprus. From A.R. Burn’s Book “Minoans Philistines and Greeks” (1930).

Israelites seem also to have picked up, along with other ”abominations of the heathen”, a taste for the gladiatorial shows that we may see depicted on the Cretan “Boxer vase”.


The Cretan “Boxer vase”, from “Aegean Bronze Age Rhyta” by Robert B. Koehl (2006).

The mixed crowd of men and women on the roof, who “beheld while Samson made sport”, seems to surprise the Jewish writer no less than the Greek narrator of the story of Theseus; but when Joab and Abner, the rival generals in the time of David, meet in friendly fashion, a gladiatorial show is given for their delectation.

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Close-up of one of the boxers from the Cretan “Boxer vase”, from “Aegean Bronze Age Rhyta” by Robert B. Koehl (2006).

“And Abner said to Joab ‘Let the young men, I pray thee, arise and play before us’. And Joab said ‘Let them arise.’ Then they arose and went over by number; twelve for Benjamin and for Ish-baal the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David. And they caught every one his fellow by the head and thrust his sword into his fellow’s side; so they fell down together.”

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Close-up of another set of boxers from the Cretan “Boxer vase”, notice the striking head-gear worn by the two individuals present in this scene, both remarkable and striking in their design. From “Aegean Bronze Age Rhyta” by Robert B. Koehl (2006).


A detailed line-drawing reproduction of the sporting events taking place on the “Boxer Vase” showing the series of boxers and Bull-leapers, from “Aegean Bronze Age Rhyta” by Robert B. Koehl (2006).

There is a Cretan seal that shows two swordsmen stabbing each other mutually, by exactly the movement here described — Please see the image below entitled “ A Pair of Gladiators”, from a Minoan Seal. (cf. 2 Samuel II. 16), From A.R. Burn’s Book “Minoans Philistines and Greeks” (1930),


A detailed close-up line-drawing reproduction of the top two events taking place on the “Boxer Vase” showing the series of boxers and Bull-leapers, note the unusual boxing-helmets warn by these individuals, and how they differ from those worn by the bottom set of boxers on the lower half of the vase. From “Aegean Bronze Age Rhyta” by Robert B. Koehl (2006).


Another detailed line-drawing reproduction of the sporting events taking place on the “Boxer Vase” showing the bottom two series of boxers in events, from “Aegean Bronze Age Rhyta” by Robert B. Koehl (2006).


Close-up of the top previous illustration depicting a detailed line-drawing reproduction of the sporting events taking place on the “Boxer Vase”, note the boxing-helmets warn by these individuals is markedly different from those helmeted boxers in the upper half of the vase, from “Aegean Bronze Age Rhyta” by Robert B. Koehl (2006).


A detailed line-drawing reproduction of the sporting events taking place on the “Boxer Vase”, here depicted are the bottom series of boxers from the vase, with their long hair and flowing locks and lack of boxing-helmets, from “Aegean Bronze Age Rhyta” by Robert B. Koehl (2006).


A Pair of Gladiators, from a Minoan Seal. (cf. 2 Samuel II. 16), From A.R. Burn’s Book “Minoans Philistines and Greeks” (1930).

It even seems likely that Aegean literature or traditional story-telling (of which we know nothing) has left its mark on that of Israel. It is, at any rate, a fact that the motifs of no less than four famous Hebrew stories are to be found also in the mythology of, among other races, the Greeks.

The motifs are (1) that of the betrayal of the hero whose strength lies in his hair; (2) that of the father commanded by a God to sacrifice his child, and of the substitution of an animal at the last moment; (3) that of a father’s rash vow to sacrifice the first living creature to meet him on his home-coming, and of its disastrous sequel — the “Jephthah’s daughter” story; and (4) the “Potiphar’s Wife” motif.

In any one of the four cases, taken separately, one would be inclined to suppose that the same good motif has occurred to story tellers in the two countries independently; but four such coincidences are unlikely, especially when we have the best of evidence for important migrations from the one area to the other.

The language of the Philistines, like their national consciousness, survived in Palestine for several centuries, existing as a local patois in Ashdod, if as nothing more, as late as the time of Nehemiah.

But the steady progress of Semitization seems to be shown by the number of Philistine chiefs named by the Assyrian conquerors who bear Semitic names; and though the non-Semitic names in the Old Testament have been closely scrutinized, it seems unlikely that they will ever throw much light upon the pre-Hellenic languages of the Aegean.

The only result obtained appears to be the suggestion that the apparently common Philistine name Achish may be identical with the Dardanian Anchises, the name of the father of the pious Aeneas. In this context it may be worth while to observe that an obscure chieftain from the edge of the Philistine low-lands, mentioned in the book of Joshua — one Priam of Iarmuth — bears a name more famous still; it is the very same as the name Priam, which the Aiolic Greeks who dwelt in and around the Troad rendered as “Perramos”, and with which we may compare the name Pyramus, borne by the ill-fated hero of an Asian love-story, and well-known to the modern world through its handling by Ovid and Shakespeare.

So much, and very little more, we know of the people whose late history consists for us of their efforts to maintain their independence, against heavy odds, among the more numerous surrounding tribes; Hebrews from the first, and, later, Egyptian and Assyrian imperialism.

“And it came to pass”, says the book of Judges, “when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to task-work and did not utterly drive them out”. The lines refer to the dealings of the north-central Israelite tribes with the Canaanites of the valley of Jezreel, from Beth-shan to the port of Dor.

From the point of view of the Zakkaray and the other Canaanites, the same situation might be described by saying that the surly and untameable highlanders, new arrivals from the unknown desert beyond Jordan, levied blackmail on their lowland neighbours whenever they were not kept in check.

In any case, the stage was set for a struggle which could only end with the complete victory of one or the other side.

For a time a sort of deadlock seems to have been reached, as we see from the statements of the Hebrew writer. The tribes of Israel had overrun the mountain-zone, but on the plains could never face the sea-peoples with their stalwart pikemen like Goliath, and their chariots, very terrible to the undisciplined hill-men if met on level ground.

Goliath’s panoply, it has often been remarked, is almost that of a Homeric man-at-arms, with his bronze scale-corselet, like the “lobster” armour of the Shardana, his bronze helmet and greaves, his heavy shield carried for him by a squire before action, and his heavy sword capable of severing a man’s head. And Goliath has too, what the Homeric warriors had not, a massive spear-head of iron.

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The David and Goliath confrontation indicates the importance of single combat as a substitute for full battle in the Iron Age Near East, emphasising the sling’s effectiveness even against an armoured infantryman. From “Heroes and Warriors — King David, Warlord of Israel”, by Mark Healy and illustrations by Richard Hook, Firebird Books, 1989.

For a time, highlander and lowlander let one another alone, and the earliest border-wars of Israel when settled in the promised land were, if we may trust the order of events given in the book of Judges, fought against the Trans-Jordan nations of the desert-edge.

But at last the “tribute”, which the Israelite regarded it as his right to levy on the Gentile, became intolerable, and the Canaanites of the valley of Jezreel, under a vigorous leader — the famous Sisera — made a determined attempt to subdue the neighbouring portions of the hill-country one and for all.

At a venture, this episode may be dated round about 1100; it is apparently a considerable length of time after the first settlement of Israelites and of sea-raiders in the distracted land of Canaan, and a considerable time before the wars of the southern Philistines against Saul and David. The result of the movement is described in two of the most famous and splendid chapters of Hebrew poetry and narrative; here we need only indicate baldly and prosaically the chief facts that seem to emerge from the Old Testament epic.

A wonderful depiction of Goliath and the Philistines mocking the shepherd boy David who accepts the challenge of Goliath to single combat, (Artist unknown).

At first the Canaanites met with a considerable measure of success; whole tracts of the highlands are pacified — “mightily oppressed” as the Hebrews put it — and considerable quantities of their not easily replaceable weapons confiscated; “Was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?” But in due course the Israelites also find a leader, Barak, “the Lightening”, who with the backing of a prophetess of Ephraim raises a considerable army. Most of his men naturally came from the surrounding district, from Zebulon, and from his own tribe, Naphtali; but though the more distant Israelites were not interested, all the four central tribes — Issachar, Benjamin,Manasseh (Machir) and the powerful Ephraim — seem to have sent contingents.

Sisera marched by Taanach and “the waters of Megiddo” to disperse the rebel concentration on mount Tabor; and there Nemesis befell him for his attempt to follow the Israelites into the hills. So far as can be seen from the magnificent but obscure allusions of Deborah’s Song, a sudden storm burst over his line of march, bringing the hill-streams down in furious spate; and then as his great column of chariotry labours along the stony slopes among the roaring gullies, with the storm came Barak and his half-armed fighters, driving the whole array, with its prancing terrified horses, downward to hopeless ruin in the swollen waters of the Kishon.

Sisera, as the famous story runs, escaped alone and on foot, failing to extricate his chariot from the jammed confusion by the river; escaping only to be treacherously murdered, in violation of every tie of hospitality known to the desert code, by a Bedouin woman whose family had remained neutral so long as the issue hung in the balance.

Thus ended abruptly Sisera’s attempt to pacify Mount Ephraim; “the land had rest” for the conventional forty years. But we are not told that Israel thereafter captured any of the Canaanite cities; probably the central group of the oversea settlers came to depend henceforth more and more upon the help of the Philistines; certainly in their wars with Saul we find even the inland Beth-shan regarded as a Philistine outpost.

The later philistine attempt to pacify both the central and lowland regions of IsraelEphraim and Judah — was a more serious affair and won a less short-lived success. Here again the story has been told once and for all in the Old Testament of how two men of the tribes chiefly threatened — Saul of Benjamin and David of Judah — began and carried to completion the movement for Israelite Independence. As literal history, the narrative teems with difficulties, and in one or two places flatly contradicts itself; but there can be no question that in broad outline it appears to tell us very much what must in fact have happened, quite apart from its literary merits as one of the finest stories ever told by man.

It is clear at any rate that the effort to be rid of the Philistines made of Israel for the first time a nation and a state, and not merely a group of tribes. It is also beyond reasonable doubt that the Philistine danger stimulated a spontaneous demand on the part of the tribesmen for a king to lead them and rule them; hitherto they have been content with the universal primitive form of government that of the head of each family, that of the village elders in council and that of some self-appointed and more or less widely accepted war-leader in a time of crisis.

Samuel the priest, says a rather awkward and self- contradictory narrative, more or less unwillingly acceded to the demand for a king, which implied among other things dissatisfaction with the administration of justice by Samuel’s sons; and he proceeded to anoint Saul, a Benjamite, a man with fully-grown sons but still in the full vigour of manhood, and a person of magnificent physique and presence. Saul makes a brilliant start, silencing envious criticism by a crushing defeat of an Ammonite foray, and showing himself in the hour of victory not less generous than brave.

But in spite of this the new king was not at all points psychologically fitted for his position. By nature he was shy, sensitive, and liable to black hours of melancholia; and he was afraid of Samuel and of the occult powers that Samuel represented. He could and did beat the Philistines, with the help of his valiant son Jonathan; but when he fell foul of Samuel over such matters as sacrificing in person when Samuel failed to keep his appointment to do so, or sparing the life of a captured Bedouin chief whom Samuel had marked down for slaughter (and did slaughter, in cold blood) then Saul cringed and cowered; and when he is met by curses and assurances that his kingship would end in disaster, his self-confidence gives way and he is at once ready to believe that “an evil spirit from the Lord” is troubling him.

Samuel’s method of atoning for his mistake in the choice of a king was to assure himself, against his better nature, that it had all been Saul’s fault, and to anoint — secretly, for the best of reasons — another candidate, assuring him that it was God’s will that he should be the future king.

The recipient of these seditious communications was David of Bethlehem, an attractive and unscrupulous young soldier with a talent for music, fighting, and the leadership of men. The splendid group of adventure-stories of which he is the hero assures us, however, that he remained loyal to his king and to Jonathan, his sworn comrade, until Saul, jealous of his rising fame and popularity, had more than once attacked him murderously, in one of his black moods, and at last definitely proscribed him.

The follow the episodes of David’s career as a successful brigand in the cave of Adullam and elsewhere in the wilderness of Judah, until after numerous hair-breadth escapes he finally goes over to the enemy and rises high in the service of Achish, the lord of Gath.

David’s defection, or banishment, brought temporary disaster to the nationalist cause in Israel; for though David himself contrived, throughout sixteen months’ service with Achish, never to do violence to any Israelite, the band of gallant desperadoes who had followed him over the border could ill be spared, and the defection of larger bodies of men was not unknown.

Presently the Philistines attacked the now weary and disillusioned Saul again, marching this time not by the direct route into the highlands to the scene of their former defeat at Machmash, but round by the north through the friendly territory of the vale of Jezreel. David and his band marched with them, with the contingent from Gath, and we read of how part of Manasseh went over to him as the army passed through their territory in the course of this very campaign.

It seems almost certain that David must already have been making some pretentions to be something more than an exiled brigand chief.

Achish trusted David implicitly, but the other Philistine chiefs, perhaps fortunately for themselves, refused to risk his presence in a battle against his countrymen; so he and his followers were sent back to their frontier-post in the south, found it sacked and burnt by the Bedouin in their absence, and were engaged in a desperate pursuit of the spoilers into their native desert while the last act of Saul’s tragedy was played out to its end.

Weakened by desertion and led by an embittered neurotic, no longer the Saul of yesterday, the national levies were scattered by the Philistine chariots and archers on the slopes of Mount Gilboa.

Saul and his sons fought gallantly: “From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Johnathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty”; but it was no purpose, and presently the King, “sore wounded of the archers”, was constrained to fall on his sword, above the bodies of his sons, while the rout fled past “and lo, the chariots and the horsemen followed hard after him”.


As the battle of Mount Gilboa drew to its tragic end, the Philistines closed in on Saul. With his three sons lying dead around him, he chose death by his own hand rather than the disgrace of capture, From “Heroes and Warriors — King David, Warlord of Israel”, by Mark Healy and illustrations by Richard Hook, Firebird Books, 1989.

David, having lamented in beautiful and moving verses the disaster which he had done so much to hasten, immediately gave point to his lament by moving up into the hill-country and allowing his fellow-tribesmen of Judah to proclaim him king in Hebron, in the far south, in opposition to the house of Saul in the person of Ish-baal, his youngest son.

It was the darkest hour for Israelite national hopes since the struggle against the Philistines had started. At the beginning of Saul’s reign there had been a Philistine garrison at the strategic point of Geba — Johnathan’s capture of the post had been the first action of the successful rebellion — and Israel had been to a great extent disarmed; but things were far worse now.

The body of the king hung mutilated and naked from the walls of Beth-shan, until rescued by some of those whom he had delivered from a cruel fate long ago; and the vassal of a Philistine lord ruled in Hebron with Philistine acquiescence and carried on war against the remnant that still clung to the house of Saul.

Beyond Jordan, and in the North, and in the fastnesses of the Ephraimite highland, Abner, Saul’s marshal, still kept an army together on behalf of Ish-baal; but even this territory was being gradually diminished by warfare that went on the whole in favour of David, and by the desertions that had long since affected even Benjamin, Saul’s own tribe. It is noteworthy that the historian refers always to Ish-baal’s side as “Israel”; their enemies are merely “the servants of David”.

This was the high-water mark reached by Philistine arms and diplomacy; for before long, Abner himself had deserted to David and been murdered by Joab the marshal in satisfaction of a blood-feud, and the hapless Ish-baal himself was at last killed by two of his own men. The Joab, by a daring coup-de-main, took the independent stronghold, Jerusalem of the Jebusites, and David made it his capital; he was now acknowledged king of Israel, reigning from an all but impregnable fortress in the heart of the hills, and the Philistines recognized the fact that he might well prove more dangerous to them than Saul had ever been.


David danced before the Ark processing through Jerusalem’s streets. This earned him the contempt of his wife Michal, but was a masterstroke in fusing political and religious life, under his protection, in the ‘City of David. From “Heroes and Warriors — King David, Warlord of Israel”, by Mark Healy and illustrations by Richard Hook, Firebird Books, 1989.

While he dwelt at Hebron, within easy reach, they had let him alone, thinking of him no doubt as their catspaw. Now they attacked him, but he was already too strong for them. Two successive invasions of the hill-country met with disaster in the valley of Raphaim, at the place thence named by David Baal-perazim; and in a third campaign David carried the Hebrew arms for the first time down into the plain of Philistia.

Baal-perazim is the decisive battle of Philistine history; after it the losers were never again a danger to the independence of their neighbours. Beth-shan and the whole plain of Jezreel, too, were lost and became an integral part of the Hebrew kingdom; and the wars of the Philistines henceforward are defensive. It is clear, however, in spite of the Hebrew historian’s claim that David “subdued” the Philistines that the latter long remained independent within the territory of their original Five Cities.

In the tenth century their fortress of Gezer passes into the hands of Solomon, but only as the dowry of his Egyptian bride, and after being taken with difficulty by a Pharaoh of Lower Egypt.

In the eighth century Amos prophesises and Uzziah of Judah campaigns against them, and even the great Assyrian conquerors count a Philistine campaign worthy of a place in their records.

Nehemiah records, as we have seen, the late survival of at least a Philistine patois; and Amos, echoed by Joel centuries later, bears indirect witness to Philistine activity in commerce. An active slave-trade passed through the Philistine as well as the Phoenician ports, and Joel heaps curses upon both as having “sold the children of Judah and Jerusalem to the sons of the Grecians, that ye might remove them far from their border”.

As late as Roman imperial times, as we have already seen, the men of Gaza were proud to claim their “Minoan” descent by the legends on their coins; and they continued far into the Christian era to worship Marnas, “Zeus the Cretan-born”.

In a word, the Philistines were a civilized people, proud and tenacious of their civilization; while as to their warlike prowess, one other instance of it may be given — in addition to the bare fact of their survival, in a fertile plain among numerous and covetous neighbours. After their wars with David were over, David was glad to recruit his bodyguard from among the “Cherethites and Pelethites”Cretans and Philistines — of the coast; and they for their part, with the same readiness to sell their swords that their ancestors had shown in the service of the great Rameses long before, had no objection to serving under their late enemy.

The Pelethites and Cherethites were indeed the corps d’elite, the professional house-carles, of David’s establishment; their command was a most important post, held by the great warrior Benaiah, whose adventures are recorded in the Catalogue of David’s mighty men; and it was they under one of their own officers, Ittai, one of a regiment of six hundred men who followed David from Gath, who stood loyally by him, even though offered free and honourable discharge, in the dark hour when David’s own people rebelled against him under Absalom. Ittai is thereafter found, along with Joab and his brother Abishai, in command of a third part of the army.

We cannot conclude the history of the Sea-Raiders in their settlements in the Levant without some mention of an all-important invention dating from these centuries, though its precise origin is still matter for discussion; the invention of our alphabet.

As compared with such earlier scripts as cuneiform or the Egyptian and Aegean syllabaries, the alphabet combines simplicity with precision in an extraordinary degree. As an instrument of the advance of culture it has been hardly less important than the Aryan Languages themselves with their marvellous beauty and exactness. With the twenty-odd letters of one of our Greek scripts before him, no longer need the scribe spend the energy of his most impressionable years in acquiring the art of notation alone, no longer need kings and merchants be dependent on the services of a not always competent secretary at every turn; no longer need the art of writing itself be a mystery hid from ordinary men.

With the perfecting by the Greeks of this older Levantine script, a great stride forward was taken towards the freeing of the human reason for systematic thought, and towards the creation of what will one day exist, an educated public. It is not too much to say that the alphabet is third, along with Aryan speech and the age-old perfection of Aegean craftsmanship, among the pre-existing human achievements that made possible the “Greek miracle”.

It is beyond reasonable doubt that the Greeks took over the rudimentary alphabet from the Phoenicians, the sea-going “Canaanites”, as the called themselves, of Tyre and Sidon. The tradition that in its earliest form it was introduced by Kadmos is worth little, since most of the blessings of civilization associated with that hero are such as we know to have come from Minoan Crete. If “Kadmos” really introduced writing, it was one of the old Minoan syllabaries. But we are given unimpeachable evidence by the names of the letters themselves, meaningless in Greek but significant in Phoenician, and often recognizably descriptions of an early form of the letter concerned; Aleph “ox”, Beth “house”, and so on.

The alphabet, too, in a primitive form and written, as, at first, in Greece, from right to left, can also be traced back further in Syria than in the Aegean; the Moabite Stone was until recently the oldest important inscription in it known to modern times. The one very important improvement which the Greeks, characteristically, made for themselves, was the trans-mutation of certain breathings and auxiliary signs, such as the “Jot”, “Iota”, into the vowels that we know. It was this step that perfected as a true alphabet what had hitherto been in reality simply a very simple syllabary, in which with every consonant any vowel might, but need not, be understood.


A wonderful depiction of a later period Phoenician Bireme galley shown off to its full extent in this colourful and accurate depiction by the late Military Illustrator Angus McBride.

Beyond the last millennium B.C. we seek for certainty as to the origins of our alphabet in vain. Did the Phoenicians — least original of folk — invent it entirely for themselves? And if not, whence did it develop?

Various suggestions have been made, none of which can as yet be finally accepted. The forms of several of our letters, notably “H”, are anticipated in the Minoan linear script; possibly the sea-peoples made an advance in the direction of simplifying this. Again, certain inscriptions from Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai Peninsula, an ancient Egyptian mining district, show a remarkable resemblance to the alphabet in several points; so much so that many scholars regards the Sinaitic as our parent script.

But two things we know; first, that if the usually accepted date be accepted for the construction of the recently-discovered coffin of Ahiram, prince of Byblos, then the Phoenician alphabet dates from the age of the Sea-Raids; and second, that in the Golenischeff Papyrus we meet, about 1118 B.C., a chief of the sea-peoples of Syria who keeps, duly filed, his father’s business accounts, and can turn up entries in them for himself.

By his time, at any rate, some simplified script is in existence; but perhaps it is only the simplified “alphabetic cuneiform” of Dr. Schaefer’s discoveries at Ras Shamra.

So much for the fortunes of the Sea-Raiders after their establishment on the coasts of the Levant; valiant, hard-headed men, to whom we are perhaps indebted for the ease with which we read and write.

Zakar-Baal of Byblos, consulting the ancestral ledgers and importing his papyrus from Egypt, is already more a “modern” Phoenician than a figure of the older world.

It is time to pass on; and conditions in the Levant during the Dark Age of the tenth and ninth centuries must form the subject of a later chapter.


A study of the Bronze Age by James Thomas

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