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Open letter to science editors
KRONOS Vol II, No. 4
PHILISTINES, PERSIANS, AND "PEOPLES OF THE SEA": A Problem of Ethnic Identity
ROGER W. WESCOTT
Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics
Drew University, Madison, N. J.
In Peoples of the Sea,(1) Immanuel Velikovsky continues to stimulate his readers and
to invite reconsideration of conventional historical assumptions. Among the most provocative
of his reformulations of antiquity is his assertion that the PRST(2) who led the sea-borne
assault on the Egypt of Ramses III were Persians rather than, as has generally been supposed,
In purely linguistic terms, there is little question that the equation of PRST with
Philistines (or Palestinians) causes fewer difficulties than with Persians (or Farsis), since in the
former case the t is part of the base, while in the latter it must be interpreted as a suffix. To be
sure, Classical (Middle Kingdom) Egyptian(3) had a commonly used nominal t-suffix, and if it
had functioned to convert place names into ethnic designations, there would be no problem.
Unfortunately, however, it served to mark feminine nouns and pronouns.(4)
One way to support the Velikovskyan interpretation here is to note that, in some cases,
personal names of non-Egyptian origin were, at least in Hellenistic times, Egyptianised by the
addition of a -t. An example is BRNKT for the Macedonian name Berenike.(5) But since all
such names are those of females, the t-suffix here may not be onomastic, as it at first seems,
On the other hand, if we may interpret PRST as an ethnic slur, Velikovsky's reading
can be buttressed. For it would not have been unreasonable for non-Iranians to deride the long
skirts of Persian archers by labelling such warriors "Persian women."
Yet the ambiguity of Egyptian spelling, when considered in conjunction with the
acknowledged ethnic diversity of the incursive "Sea Peoples," leads me to feel that an either/or
choice between Persians and Philistines constitutes a premature foreclosure of options. If the
PRST originated in Perusia(6) (modern Perugia, in Italy), they could have been Etruscans; if in
the valley of the Porsuk (or Pursak) river of Turkey(7), they could have been Anatolians; and
if in Pharos or in Pelusium from the Nile Delta, they could have been anything from Libyans to
In the Aegean area, moreover, there were a plethora of potentially related place names:
Pharsalos in Thessaly, Palaeste in Epirus, Pras(s)o on Rhodes, and Paros among the islands.(8)
What is more, Hellenic mythology contains a Series of legendary personages, such as Perse,
Perses, Perseis, and Perseus, which might reasonably have led, at least in pre-Achaemenid
times, to the use of a term like *Perseans for Greeks. The attested alternative ethnonym
Danaans, coupled with the Greek heroic names Danaus and Danae, makes this possibility far
1. Doubleday and Co., Garden City, N. Y. 1977
2. Since early Egyptian scribes wrote no vowels, it seems less prejudicial, especially in cases of
uncertain reference, to cite unvocalised forms. (For details see Alan Gardiner, Egyptian
Grammar, 3rd ed., Griffith Institute, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, U.K., 1957, reprinted
1976, p. 26.)
3. Formal inscriptions continued to be written - though with decreasing accuracy - in Classical
Middle Egyptian long after this form of the language had ceased to be the vernacular of the
Nile Valley (Carleton T. Hodge, "Egyptian Language," Encyclopedia Britannica, Chicago, Ill.,
1971, p. 90B.)
4. Gardiner, op. cit. (fn. 2), p. 34.
5. E. A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Language, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, U.K., 1910
(reprinted by Dover Publications, N.Y., 1970), p. 23. Other examples offered by Budge are
"A.R.R.S.N.A.T., i.e., Arsinoe and T.R.A.P.N.T., ie., Tryphaena"
6. N. G. Hammond, ed., The Oxford Classical Dictionary, Clarendon Press, Oxford, U.K., 2nd
ed., 1970, p. 806.
7. Arthur J. Stevenson, editorial director, Webster's New Geographical Dictionary, G. and C.
Merriam Co., Springfield, Mass., 1972, pp. 966 and 986.
8. E. H. Blakeney, ed., A Smaller Classical Dictionary, J. M. Dent and Sons, London, U.K.,
1910 (reprinted 1949), passim.