The Sherden in battle as depicted at Medinet Habu

The Sherden (Egyptian šrdn, š3rd3n3 or š3rdyn3, Ugaritic šrdnn(m) and trtn(m), possibly Akkadian še–er–ta–an–nu; also glossed “Shardana” or “Sherdanu”) are one of several groups of "Sea Peoples" who appear in fragmentary historical and iconographic records (Egyptian and Ugaritic) from the Eastern Mediterranean in the late second millennium BCE.

On reliefs they are shown carrying round shields and spears, dirks, or swords, perhaps of Naue II type. In some cases they are shown wearing corselets and kilts, but their key distinguishing feature is a horned helmet which, in all cases but three, features a circular accouterment at the crest. At Medinet Habu the corselet appears similar to that worn by the Philistines. The Sherden sword, it has been suggested by archaeologists since James Henry Breasted, may have developed from an enlargement of European daggers, and been associated with the exploitation of Bohemian tin. Robert Drews[1] has recently suggested that use of this weapon amongst groups of Sherden and Philistine mercenaries made them capable of withstanding attacks by chariotry, making them valuable allies in warfare, though Drews' theory has been widely criticized by contemporary scholars.[2]

Early historical references to the Sherden

Members of Ramesses II's Sherden personal guard in a relief in Abu Simbel.

The earliest known mention of the people called Srdn-w, more usually called Sherden or Shardana, is generally thought to be the Akkadian reference to "še–er–ta–an–nu" people in the Amarna Letters correspondence from Rib-Hadda, mayor (hazannu) of Byblos,[3] to the Pharaoh Amenhotep III or Akhenaten in the 14th century BCE. Though they have been referred to as sea raiders and mercenaries, prepared to offer their services to local employers, these texts do not provide any evidence of that association, nor do they shed light on what the function of these "širdannu-people" was at this time.[4][5]

The first certain mention of the Sherden is found in the records of Ramesses II (ruled 1279-1213 BCE), who defeated them in his second year (1278 BCE) when they attempted to raid Egypt's coast. The pharaoh subsequently incorporated many of these warriors into his personal guard.[6] An inscription by Ramesses II on a stele from Tanis which recorded the Sherden pirates' raid and subsequent defeat, speaks of the constant threat which they posed to Egypt's Mediterranean coasts:

the unruly Sherden whom no one had ever known how to combat, they came boldly sailing in their warships from the midst of the sea, none being able to withstand them.[7]
A rendering of two guards from the relief above, in a 19th-century drawing; their equipment is clearly visible.

After Ramesses II succeeded in defeating the invaders and capturing some of them, Sherden captives are depicted in this Pharaoh's bodyguard, where they are conspicuous by their helmets with horns with a ball projecting from the middle, their round shields and the great Naue II swords,[8] with which they are depicted in inscriptions of the Battle with the Hittites at Kadesh. Ramesses tells us, in his Kadesh inscriptions, that he incorporated some of the Sherden into his own personal guard at the Battle of Kadesh.[9]

Years later other waves of Sea People, Sherden included, were defeated by Merneptah, son of Ramesses II, and Ramesses III. An Egyptian work written around 1100 BC named Onomasticon of Amenope, documents the presence of the Sherden in Palestine.[10] After being defeated by Pharaoh Ramsses III, in fact, they, along with other "Sea Peoples", would be allowed to settle in this territory, subject to Egyptian rule.

The Italian orientalist Giovanni Garbini identified the territory settled by the Sherden in Northern Palestine as that occupied, according to the Bible, by the Israelite tribe of Zebulun where also appears a village named Sared.[11][12] Archaeologist Adam Zertal suggests that some Sherden settled in what is now northern Israel. He hypothesizes that Biblical Sisera was a Sherden general and that the archaeological site at el-Ahwat (whose architecture resembles Nuraghe sites in Sardinia) was Sisera's capital, Harosheth Haggoyim,[13] though this theory has not received wide acceptance in the scholarly community.[14]

Connection with Sea Peoples

The Sherden seem to have been one of the more prominent groups of pirates that engaged in coastal raiding and the disruption of trade in the years surrounding the 13th century BC. They are first mentioned by name in the Tanis II rhetorical stele of Ramesses II, which says in part “As for the Sherden of rebellious mind, whom none could ever fight against, who came bold-hearted, they sailed in, in warships from the midst of the Sea, those whom none could withstand; but he plundered them by the victories of his valiant arm, they being carried off to Egypt.”[15] It is possible that some of the Sherden captured in the battle recounted in Tanis II were pressed into Egyptian service, perhaps even as shipwrights or advisers on maritime technology, a role in which they may have assisted in the construction of the hybrid Egyptian warships seen on the monumental relief at Medinet Habu showing the naval battle between Egyptians and Sea Peoples.[16]

Michael Wood has [17] suggested that their raids contributed greatly to the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization. However, while some Aegean attributes can be seen in the material culture of the Philistines, one of the Sea Peoples who established cities on the southern coastal plain of Canaan at the beginning of the Iron Age, the association of the Sherden with this geographic area is based entirely on their association with this group and the Sea Peoples phenomenon writ large, rather than on physical or literary evidence (of which almost all testifies to their presence in Egypt rather than their port of origin).[18]


No mention of the Sherden has ever been found in Hittite or Greek legends or documents, suggesting that they did not originate from either sphere of influence. Some, who draw attention to the etymological connections between Sherden and Sardinia, Shekelesh with Sicily, and Trs-w (Teresh or Tursci) with Etruscans, suggested that these people came from the Western Mediterranean. Others think that this theory is archaeologically not satisfactory, arguing that there is evidence that these people arrived in the areas in which they lived after the period of Ramesses III, rather than before.

Eastern origin theory

Theorized Sea Peoples migrations from the East

Archaeologist Margaret Guido[19] concludes the evidence for the Sherden, Shekelesh or Teresh coming from the western Mediterranean is flimsy. Guido in 1963 suggests that the Sherden may ultimately derive from Ionia, in the central west coast of Anatolia, in the region of Hermos, east of the island of Chios. It is suggested that Sardis, and the Sardinian plain nearby, may preserve a cultural memory of their name. Until recently it was assumed that Sardis was only settled in the period after the Anatolian and Aegean Dark Age, but American excavations have shown the place was settled in the Bronze Age and was a site of a significant population. If this is so, the Sherden, pushed by Hittite expansionism of the Late Bronze Age and prompted by the famine that affected this region at the same time, may have been pushed to the Aegean islands, where shortage of space led them to seek adventure and expansion overseas. It is suggested that from here they may have later migrated to Sardinia. Guido suggests that if a "few dominating leaders arrived as heroes only a few centuries before Phoenician trading posts were established, several features of Sardinian prehistory might be explained as innovations introduced by them: oriental types of armour, and fighting perpetuated in the bronze representation of warriors several centuries later; the arrival of the Cypriot copper ingots of the Serra Ilixi type; the sudden advance in and inventiveness of design of the Sardinian nuraghes themselves at about the turn of the first Millennium; the introduction of certain religious practices such as the worship of water in sacred wells - if this fact was not introduced by the Phoenician settlers".[20]

Weapons and armour similar to those of the Sherden were found in Sardinia dating only to several centuries after the period of the Sea Peoples. If the theory that the Sherden moved to Sardinia only after their defeat by Ramesses III is true, then it could be inferred from this that the finds in Sardinia are survivals of earlier types of weapons and armour. On the other hand, if the Sherden only moved into the Western Mediterranean in the ninth century, associated perhaps with the movement of early Etruscans and even Phoenician seafaring peoples into the Western Mediterranean at that time, it would remain unknown where they were located between the period of the Sea Peoples and their eventual appearance in Sardinia.

Western origin theory

The theory that postulates a migration of peoples from the Eastern Mediterranean into Sardinia during the Late Bronze Age had been firmly rejected by Italian archaeologists like Massimo Pallottino [21] and, more recently, Giovanni Ugas, that identifies the Sherden with the indigenous Nuragic peoples.[22] He excavated the so-called Hypogeum of Sant'Iroxi, discovered accidentaly in 1987, where were found several arsenical bronze swords and daggers dating back to 1600 BC, that suggested that the Nuragic peoples of Sardinia actually used these types of weapons since the mid 2nd millennium BC, as is also demonstrated by the Nuragic bronze sculptures depicting warriors wearing an horned helmet and a round shield dating back, the earliest examples, to 1200 BC. Similar swords are depicted on the statue menhir of Filitosa, in southern Corsica.[23] Giovanni Lilliu noted that the period in which the Sherden are mentioned in the Egyptian sources coincides with the apogee of the Nuragic civilization.[24]

In 2010 Nuragic pottery had been found at Kokkinokremnos, Cyprus, a site attributed to the Sea Peoples.[25][26]

See also


  1. Drews, Robert (1993), "The End of Bronze Age" (Princeton University Press)
  2. Cline, Eric H. (1997), "Review of Robert Drews, The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 BC," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 56.2, 127-129; Dickinson, Oliver T. P. K. (1999), "Robert Drews's Theories About the Nature of War in the Late Bronze Age," in R. Laffineur (ed.), Polemos: Le Contexte Guerrier en Egee a l'Age du Bronze (Aegaeum 19, Universite de Liege), 21-25
  3. EA 81, EA 122, EA 123 in Moran 1992: 150-1, 201-2
  4. "Emanuel, Jeffrey P. "Sherden from the Sea: The Arrival, Integration, and Acculturation of a Sea People"". Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 5-1: 14-27. 2013.
  5. "Emanuel, Jeffrey P. "Šrdn of the Sea: A Reassessment of the Sherden and their Role in Egyptian Society"". AIA annual meeting. 2012.
  6. Grimal, N. "A History of Ancient Egypt", pp.250-253
  7. Kenneth Kitchen, Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II, King of Egypt, Aris & Phillips, 1982. pp.40-41
  8. Gardiner 1968: 196-7
  9. Battle Inscriptions in Lichtheim 1976: 63ff
  10. Giovanni Garbini, cit., p. 52
  11. cf. Garbini, G., I Filistei, Rusconi, Milano, 1997: passim
  12. Contu 2001 b/37-38 and 41-45; Contu 2002: 537 and 546-547
  13. "Archaeological Mystery Solved". University of Haifa. July 1, 2010.
  14. "Emanuel, Jeffrey P. "Review of Adam Zertal (ed.), El-Ahwat: A Fortified Site from the Early Iron Age Near Nahal 'Iron, Israel: Excavations 1993-2000 (Brill 2012)"". Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 5-2, 57-60. 2013.
  15. Kitchen, Kenneth A., "Ramesside Inscriptions Translated and Annotated: Translations: Volume II: Ramesses II, Royal Inscriptions," (Cambridge: Wiley, 1996), p. 120 §73
  16. "Emanuel, Jeffrey P. "The Sea Peoples, Egypt, and the Aegean: Transference of Maritime Technology in the Late Bronze–Early Iron Transition (LH IIIB–C)"". Aegean Studies 1, 21-56. 2014.
  17. Wood, Michael, In Search of the Trojan War, BBC Books.
  18. "Emanuel, Jeffrey P. "Šrdn of the Strongholds, Šrdn of the Sea: The Sherden and their Role in Egyptian Society, Reassessed"". American Research Center in Egypt annual meeting. 2012.
  19. Guido, Margaret (1963), The Sardinians (Thames Books: People and Places)
  20. Margaret Guido, The Sardinians, p.187-188
  21. Massimo Pallotino, La Sardegna Nuragica p. 119
  22. "SP INTERVISTA>GIOVANNI UGAS: SHARDANA". Retrieved 3 May 2015.
  23. Giovanni Ugas, L'alba dei Nuraghi, 2005
  24. Giovanni Lilliu, La Civiltà Nuragica p.111
  25. V. Karageorghis, J. Karageorghis, L´Isola di Afrodite, Archeologia Viva, 2013, Nr. 159 pp. 40-53
  26. Gale, N.H. 2011. ‘Source of the Lead Metal used to make a Repair Clamp on a Nuragic Vase recently excavated at Pyla-Kokkinokremos on Cyprus’. In V. Karageorghis and O. Kouka (eds.), On Cooking Pots, Drinking Cups, Loomweights and Ethnicity in Bronze Age Cyprus and Neighbouring Regions, Nicosia.

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