Wednesday, March 24, 2010
The tehenu and Meshwesh
The use of different names to describe the
Tehenu and Asian in the Ramses III Table of Nations is
understood in relation to the political and ethnic
conditions in Egypt and Western Asia during this
period. The research appears to indicate that the
physiognomy of the Libyans had changed by this time .
This resulted , for the most part from the invasion of
Egypt by Sea Peoples in association with the Libu
The figures on Ramses III Table of nations are
associated with the nations Ramses was dealing with
iduring his reign. The Libyans attacked Egypt during
the 5th and 11th years of Ramses III's reign.
Beginning around 1230 Sea People began to attack
Egypt. In 1180 Ramses III had his decisive battle with
the Libyans. Among the warriors fighting with the Libu
were Sea People.
Ramses III made multiple versions of his
campaigns against the Libyans. To understand the
naming method for Ramses III Table of Nations you have
to understand that the term Tehenu was a generic term
applied to the Libyans, who by this time were mixed
with Palestinian-Syrian people
(who were descendants of the Gutians), and People of
the Sea (Indo-Europeans).
The attack against Egypt in 1188 was a coalition
of tribal groups led by the Meshwesh, who are
believed to be a Tamehu nationality. As a result, we
find that the Meshwesh were referred to as
Tehenu\Tamehu. This may not be correct because the
Meshwesh are not mention in Egyptian text until the
14th Century BC.
The members of the coalition were led by
Meshesher the wr 'ruler' of the coalition.Each group
was led by a "great one" or a magnate. The Meshwesh
were semi-nomads that lived both in villages and
dmi'w 'towns'.The Tehenu lived in the Delta between
the Temehu and the Egyptians. The Egyptians referred
to all of the people in this area most often by the
generic tern "Tehenu".
The TjemhuTemehu which included the Meshwesh
controled an area from Cyrenaica to Syria. As a
result, in textual material from the reign of Ramses
II, there is mention of Temehu towns in Syria. David
O'Connor makes it clear that Ramses III referred to
these Temehu by the term Tehenu/Tjehnyu (p.64).
The Temehu were very hostile to the
Tehenu/Tjehnya. In fact, the first mention of the
Meshwesh in Ramses III inscriptions relating to 1188,
was the attack of the Tehenu, by the Meshwqesh, Soped
and Sea People . David O'Connor makes it clear that
the the records of Ramses III make it clear that the
Meshweshy "savagely" attacked the Tehenu and looted
their cities during their advance to Egypt (p.35 &
The coalition of the Meshweshy had each unit of
the army organized into "family or tribal ' units
under the leadership of a "great one". As result to
understand why the fAsian and Tehenu figures on the
Table of Nations are identified differently you have
use both the pictorical and textual material from the
reign of Ramses III to understand the representations.
As a result, Palestianian -Syrian personage or figure
D, is labled Tehenu because he was probably a member
of one Meshwesh units, thus he was labled Tehenu.
The personage that is second from the Egyptians which
is labled an Asian, eventhough he is clearly a Tehenu,
was probably a member of a Syrian Palestinian unit
when he was captured by the Egyptians thusly he was
labled Asian. You can find out more about this
reality if you check out: David O'Connor, "The nature
of Tjemhu (Libyan) society in later New Kingdom; in
Libya and Egypt c1300-750 BC, (Ed.) by Athony Leahy
(pp.29-113), SOAS Centre of Near and Middle Eastern
Studies and the Society for Libyan Studies, 1990.
In the Table of Nation figure B we see the
traditional depiction of a Tehenu, the sidelock,
shoulder cape and clean face. The Temehu, called
Meshwesh are different from the Tehenu and the
original Tamehu recorded by the Egyptians prior to the
New Kingdom. Below is a Meshwesh
The Meshwesh wore Tehenu traditional costumes but
they are not believed to be real Tehenu. The Tehenu
and the Temehu usually wore different costumes. In the
New Kingdom depictions of the Temehu, the Meshwesh
have "long chin beards", like the Syrian-Palestinians
and Peoples of the Sea. They wear kilts, sheaths and
capes open at the front tied at one shoulder. Like the
earlier Tehenu they wore feathers as a sign of High
David O'Connor makes it clear that there was
"marked hetergeneity of the Tjemhu" (p.41).
The first attack by Libyans on Egypt were led by
the Libu during the 5th year of Ramses III's reign.
Diop has provided convincing evidence that the Libu,
later migrated into Senegal, where they presenly live
near Cape Verde
The difference in dress among the Meshwesh and
their hostility toward the Tehenu, have led many
researchers to see the Temehu of the New Kingdom as a
different group from the original Temehu of Egyptian
traditions. O'Connor (p.74) in the work cited above
makes it clear that the Temehu in Ramses III
day--"[have] hairstyles, dress and apparently ethnic
type [that] are markedly different from the
Tjehnyu/tjemhu of the Old Kingdom (Osing,
1980,1018-19). Various explanations have been offered:
Wainwright, for example, concluded that 'Meshwesh was
a mixed tribe of Libu like tribesmen with their native
chiefs who become subject to a family of Tjehnu
origin'(1962,p.92), while Osing suggested that the New
Kingdowm Tjemhu had displaced or absorbed the earlier
Tjehnyu but had selectively taken over or retained
some Tjehnyu traits, in the case of the rulers for
Meshwesh (1980,1019-1020). Dr. O'Connor is of the
opinion "that some rulers of the later New Kingdom
Tjemhu deliberately adopted traits they discovered
from the Egyptians to be chracteristic of ancient
Tjehnyu/Tjemhu, so as to increase there prestige, or
in some way had these rtraits imposed upon them by the
It is my opinion that given the organiztion of
the Libyans into mhwt "family or tribal groups',
sometime prior to 1230 BC over an extended period of
time Indo-European speaking people later to be known
as Peoples of the Sea entered Western Asia and Libya
and were adopted by Tehenu families. This adoption of
the new immigrants by Tehenu/Tamehu probably led to
the Meshwesh and Soped adopting Tehenu customs but
maintaining their traditional beards,. The original
Temehu, like the Libu probably saw the integration of
Sea Peoples into Temehu society as a way to increase
their number and possibily conquer Egypt. It is
interesting to note that the Meshwesh were very sure
they might be able to conquor the Egyptians because
they brought their cattle and other animals with them
when they invaded the country. Moreover whereas the
Meshwesh, were semi-nomadic, the Sea Peoples:
Akawashu, Lukki, Tursha., Sheklesh, and Sherden
remained nomadic. and used the spear and round shield.
The Nehasyu were ancient members of the
Tehenu/Temehu. This would explain the reason why the
Meshwesh and Nehasyu were mainly bowman.
In conclusion, the names for the personages in the
Table of Nations from Ramses III tomb were labled
correctly. These personages were recorded in the the
Tables based on the military and family units were
attached too, not the country identifiable by their
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