The Sherden (also known as Serden or Shardana) 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. At Medinet Habu the corselet appears similar to that worn by the Philistines 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 James Henry 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, making 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, occurs in the Amarna Letters correspondence of Rib-Hadda, of Byblos, 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 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.
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, 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 are 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 BCE, and that their raids contributed greatly to the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization.
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.
The theory that these people came from the Western Mediterranean, suggested by some who draw attention to the etymological connections between Sherden 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 after the period of Ramesses III, rather than before. Archaeologist Margaret Guido concludes 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 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”.
However, weapons and armour similar to those of the Sherden are 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 as the Nuragic civilization of Sardinia.
These theoretical coincidences (enforced, as said, by linguistic considerations) could allow to suppose 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.