Hyksos and Sea-Peoples
Dolphins and Sharks

During the second millennium BCE, Egypt experienced two separate incursions by land and sea, that would prove of major historical significance, although modern concensus is not unanimous as to the identities of the assailants. That both incursions involved mass transport by sea, and from afar, indicates the presence of a major naval power in the Mediterranean, no less significant than a fleet of air or space craft today, that can no longer be discounted.

Hyksos

The invasion of Egypt by the so-called Hyksos is dated around 1700 BCE, which coincides with the catastrophic eruption of the volcano underlying the small Aegean island of Thera (modern Santorini), located about 100km due north of Knossos (modern Heraklion) on Krete (Crete). With its crater exceeding 10km in diameter, Thera ("Wild") represents one of the largest and most powerful volcanoes on Earth. Over the course of many centuries, if not millennia, the ancient Kretens had developed an understanding that Thera was a volcano, and could tell from afar when it was active from a faint reddish glow and peculiar cloud-forms upon the horizon, and from eerie rumblings and screechings not unlike a distant thunderstorm torturing herds of animals. They even told tales and made artistic representations of the volcano, such as a queen bee or wasp, a bare-breasted woman wearing a long flounced skirt, and later a horned red bull-monster. Whenever the volcano grew violent many would flee to the supposed safety of the mountains, while others might escape to the mainland on either side of the Aegean. But when the volcano threatened untold violence, they knew it was time to vacate the Aegean altogether. Thus, while Knossos may have developed as a centre of volcanic knowledge (from ancient Greek gnosis = "knowledge"), the same name may have been reinterpreted as "Sleepy Hollow" (from ancient Greek knosso = "slumber" and kenosis = "vacant") during dormant periods.

Dolphins and Boats - Thera
Fig.1. Boats and Dolphins departing Thera

On the southern shore of Thera, the ancient city of Akrotiri was completely buried and thus preserved by a fallout of volcanic ash. In one of its many multi-storeyed townhouses, a wall fresco depicts a pod of dolphins escorting a fleet of pentekontoroi ("fifty-oared sailing ships") around the harbour of Thera. (Fig.1) In the post-eruption Mukenaian (Mycenaean) period, dolphins continued to be depicted on walls and floors at numerous locations around the Aegean, including within the rebuilt palace complex at Knossos. But whereas our word "dolphin" comes as a direct borrowing of ancient Greek delphis or delphinos, ancient Greek also had delphax and delphos for "pig", which suggests an ancient association between pigs and dolphins. Indeed, our word "porpoise", also of Mediterranean origin, comes to us from Latin (or possibly Etruscan) porcopiscus, which translates directly as "pig-fish". Although porpoises are now classed as small whales of genus phocaena and are generally differentiated from dolphins by a stouter beak, in ancient times porcopiscus seems to have been but another word for dolphin. Interestingly, the ancient Greek "oracle" (manteia) at Delphi lay within the deme of Phokis ("Porpoise"?, "Whale" maybe, but surely not "Seal"). The ancient Greeks continued the pig-fish tradition by extending the keels of their ribbed and hog-trussed ships forwards to form a battering ram called uopropos ("pig-nose"), painting an eye on each side of the prow, and installing a pair of horizontal rudders astern, whereby their ships more closely resembled dolphins. However, ancient Greek also had ukes for "sea-fish", and os and sos for "pig", which when combined like porcopiscus to form ukesos ("fish-pig"), is remarkably similar to the name Hyksos, or uksos (since ancient Greek had no "H" as we do). The pronounciation of ukes may have imitated the peculiar clicking sound voiced by dolphins. But with the name "Hyksos" widely deemed to derive from an ancient Egyptian hierograph transliterated as heqa khasewet and interpreted as "Rulers of Foreign Lands", it is quite possible that the ancient Egyptian priest-scribes, with a disdain for swine and no hieratic inkling for "fish-pig", rendered "ukesos" into a form more suited to their culture, thus henceforward obfuscating the identity of the Hyksos. Yet insofar as the Ptolemaic Egyptian priest-scribe Manethos is widely discredited as having misinterpreted the "Hyksos" hierograph as "Shepherd-Kings", dolphins and porpoises are themselves "shepherd kings" of aquatic realms.

The absence of human and animal remains and other valuable items in the ash at Akrotiri suggests that its population had plenty of time to escape and inform others of the pending disaster. Taking heed of the situation, a great mass of Aegean peoples gathered to abandon their homeland by ship, wagon or on foot, as recounted by the ancient Greek myth of cow Io and her sojourn to Egypt via the Bosphoros ("Cow-Carrying"). As news of the eruption of Thera spread, even greater population movements ensued, some as far away as to India, thus paving the way for several new civilisations to emerge across this region. But while many believe the catastrophic eruption of Thera utterly destroyed the old Minoan civilisation centred on Krete, its people appear to have largely survived and greatly prospered within the Nile delta, where some would stay to sponsor the New Kingdom of Egypt. Establishing their headquarters at Avaris along the eastern branch of the Nile, this little bastion of Europe ("euros/evros", see Form Follows Fungus) in Egypt would later be redeemed by the Ramessid dynasty. The hegemony of the Kreten Minoan Hyksos in Egypt was no doubt guarded by a fleet of sea-going ships hidden amongst the rushes.

Sea-Peoples

The attack on Egypt by the so-called Sea Peoples is dated around 1200 BCE and probably occured in response to an eruption of the Methana volcano complex, which lies about 60km south of Athens along the north shore of the Argive peninsula. Straddling the same volcanic arc as Thera and Etna, which indicates where the African plate is sliding beneath the European plate, a major eruption of Methana would have spelled doom for the Mukenaian Greeks. Armed with a memory of the catastrophic eruption of Thera and the Kreten Minoan Hyksos migration, the Mukenaians executed plans for their evacuation to Egypt, that would include mustering a fleet of a thousand or more ships, many more oxcarts, tons of bronze and iron armour and weaponry, and their most valuable possessions. It is principally the armour and weaponry, especially the round shields, decorated helmets and long swords, as depicted on the walls of the Ramessid temple complex at Medinet Habu near Egyptian Thebes (Fig.2), that reveals the aggressors as distinctly Mukenaian or Aegean.

However, New Kingdom Egypt was vastly improved and much better organised than pre-Hyksos Egypt, had a better understanding of the Nile Delta, and had all the resources of a home team. Nevertheless, Mukenaian might was formidable, was well trained and equipped, and had surprise and cunning and all the resources of the northern Mediterranean on its side. In short, there was no other naval force in the Mediterranean or Black Sea regions capable of combating Egypt by sea, and any naval force that may have tried to undermine or usurp Mukenaian control of the Mediterranean Sea was promptly neutralised or exterminated by the far-ranging Mukenaians.

Although the Egyptians claimed success in this battle, they were unable to dent Mukenaian control of the Mediterranean, and were henceforward greatly constrained to within their borders by Mukenaian establishments in Libya, Palestine, Cyprus and elsewhere (See Proto-Aeolic). Indeed, Mukenaian control of the Mediterranean, although soon to be based no longer solely in southern Greece, would survive largely intact until the advent of the Carthaginians ("shark-born", Greek karxadons = "shark-people") in the tenth century BCE or so.

Sea People Battle - Medinet Habu
Fig.2. Sea-People Battle - Medinet Habu

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