The Sherden (also known as Serden or Shardana) sea pirates are one of several groups of "Sea Peoples" who appear in fragmentary historical records (Egyptian inscriptions) for the Mediterranean region in the second millennium B.C.; little is known about them. On reliefs they are shown carrying a round shield and a long thrusting Naue II type sword. They are shown wearing a complicated armour corselet of overlapping bands of either leather or metal, and a horned helmet surmounted with a balled spike at the top. The corselet appears similar to that worn by the Philistines, at Medinet Habu, and is similar, though not identical to that found in tomb 12 at Dendra where Mycenaean IIB-IIIA pottery dates it to the second half of the fifteenth century BCE. The Sherden sword, it has been suggested by archaeologists since Breasted, may have developed from an enlargement of European daggers, and been associated with the exploitation of Bohemian tin. Robert Drews has recently suggested that use of this weapon amongst groups of Sharden and Philistine mercenaries, made them capable of withstanding attacks by chariotry, which made them valuable allies in warfare.

Early mentions of the Sherden

The earliest mention of the people called Srdn-w, more usually called Sherden or Shardana, occur in the Amarna Letters correspondence of Rib-Hadda, of Byblos (EA 81, EA 122, EA 123 in Moran 1992: 150-1, 201-2), to Pharaoh Akhenaten, at about 1350 BCE. At this time, they already appear as sea raiders and mercenaries, prepared to offer their services to local employers.

Ramesses II (ruled 1279-1213 BCE) defeated them in his second year (1278 BCE) when they attempted to raid Egypt's coast, together with the Lukka (L'kkw, possibly the later Lycians), and the Šqrsšw (Shekelesh), in a sea battle off the Mediterranean coast. The pharaoh subsequently incorporated many of these warriors into his personal guard. An inscription by Ramesses II on a stela 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.

After Ramesses II succeeded in defeating the invaders and capturing some of them, many 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 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.. Little more than a century later, many Sherden are found cultivating plots of their own; these doubtless rewards given to them for their military services. There is also evidence of Sherden at Beth Shean, the Egyptian garrison in Canaan.

Connection with Sea Peoples

Michael Wood suggests that the Sherden were an important part of the bands of pirates that disrupted Aegean trade in the end of the 13th century, and that their raids contributed greatly to the collapse of the Mycenaean civilisation.


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. The theory that these people came from the Western Mediterranean, suggested by some who draw attention to the etymological connections between Shardana and Sardinia, Shekelesh with Sicily, and Trs-w (Teresh or Tursci) with Etruscans, is not archaeologically satisfactory, and there is evidence that these people arrived in the areas in which they lived in classical times after the period of Rameses III, rather than before. Generally, Guidoconcludes the evidence for the Sherden, Shekelesh or Teresh coming from the western Mediterranean is flimsy.

Guido 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 Shardana, pushed by Hittite expansionism of the Late Bronze Age and prompted by the famine that affected this region of the Late Bronze Age 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 nuraghi themselves at about the turn at 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" (p.187-8).

Furthermore, recent studies by geneticists on the DNA of inhabitants of the inner areas of the island confirm the presence of elements which are in common with those of people from Anatolia, namely y-haplogroups G and I.

Despite these considerations, in Sardinia, the dating of Bronze Weapons and armour similar to the Sharden is only found several centuries after the period of the Peoples of the Sea. If the theory that the Sharden moved to Sardinia after their defeat by Rameses III, then we must assume that the finds in Sardinia are survivals of earlier types. 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, we have the problem of where they were located between the period of the Peoples of the Sea, and their eventual appearance as the Nuraghi culture of Sardinia.

These theoretical coincidences (enforced, as said, by linguistic considerations) could allow one to assume that a people of skilled sailors left the Eastern Mediterranean and established themselves in Sardinia. They very probably would have encountered some resistance on their way there. It is also possible that they were explorers. If so, it is likely that only a warrior people like the Sherden could have organised such an expedition. Nevertheless, there are still many questions needing a solution.


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