Gaston Maspero and the Sea Peoples

This famous scene from the north wall of Medinet Habu is often used to illustrate the Egyptian campaign against the Sea Peoples in what has come to be known as the Battle of the Delta

This famous scene from the north wall of Medinet Habu is often used to illustrate the Egyptian campaign against the Sea Peoples in what has come to be known as the Battle of the Delta

On June 23, 1846French egyptologist Gaston Camille Charles Maspero was born. Maspero is best known for popularizing the term “Sea Peoples“. He was director general of excavations and antiquities for the Egyptian government, who was responsible for locating a collective royal tomb of prime historic importance.

Gaston Maspero studied at the École normale and met Egyptologist Auguste Mariette in 1867, back then the commissioner for the Egyptian section of the Exposition universelle in Paris. When Mariette gave Maspero two newly discovered hieroglyphic texts of considerable difficulty to study, the young scholar was able to tanslate them quickly. After publishing the texts during that year, Gaston Maspero was able to establish his academic reputation. During 1869, Maspero became a teacher of Egyptian language and archeology at the École pratique des hautes études. In 1874 he was appointed to the chair of Champollion at the Collège de France, succeeding Emmanuel de Rougé.

The Sea Peoples were a purported seafaring confederation of groups known to have attacked ancient Egypt and other regions of the East Mediterranean prior to and during the Late Bronze Age collapse (1200–900–BCE). Even though their origin is unclear, the various Sea Peoples have been proposed to have originated from places that include western Asia Minor, the Aegean, the Mediterrannean islands and Southern Europe. Even though there is only little evidence, the Sea peoples are believed to have sailed around the eastern Mediterranean and invaded Anatolia, Syria, Canaan, Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Egypt toward the end of the Bronze Age.

The concept of the Sea Peoples was first described by Emmanuel de Rougé in 1855. He was back then the urator of the Louvre and in his work ‘Note on Some Hieroglyphic Texts Recently Published by Mr. Greene’, Rougé explained the battles of Ramesses III described on the Second Pylon at Medinet Habu, and based upon recent photographs of the temple by John Beasley Greene. The scientist then noted that “in the crests of the conquered peoples the Sherden and the Teresh bear the designation of the ‘peuples de la mer'”, in a reference to the prisoners depicted at the base of the Fortified East Gate. When Rougé published his ‘Excerpts of a mémoire on the attacks directed against Egypt by the peoples of the Mediterranean in the 14th century BCE’ in 1867 he mainly focues on the battles of Ramesses II and Merneptah. When Rougé was appointed chair of Egyptology at the Collège de France, Maspero took over his position and Maspero continued Rougé’s work.

‘The Struggle of the Nations’ was published in 1895-1896 and in it, Gaston Maspero described the theory of the seaborne migrations in detail for a wide audience. Maspero’s theory  was taken up by other scholars such as Eduard Meyer, and became the generally accepted theory amongst Egyptologists and orientalists. However, since the 1990s, it has been brought into question by a number of scholars.

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