History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Anatolia


Shardana / Sherden / Serden (Sea Peoples)

Towards the end of the thirteenth century BC, the international system in the Near East began to break down. Communications between the many smaller states, especially in Syria and Canaan, and the kings of Babylonia, Egypt, Elam, the Hittites, Mitanni and the Assyrians, gradually broke down as events overwhelmed many of them.

The system was inherently unfair, often making the poor even poorer, often dispossessing them of everything. During the second millennium BC growing numbers of people left the cities to escape, often joining rogue groups which were known as habiru. These groups not only maintained a way of life which was free of the control of the major kings, they also raided their cities and supplies.

Then the region was hit by climate-induced drought and a loss of crops during the thirteenth century BC. Food supplies dwindled and the number of raids by habiru and other groups of peoples who had also banded together greatly increased until, by about 1200 BC, this flood turned into a tidal wave which destroyed the Hittites and many Anatolian and Syrian cities and states. A dark age descended on the eastern Mediterranean region.

The term 'Sea Peoples' was used to refer to the mass of raiding and migratory peoples who existed in this period. They frequently took everything with them on their attacks - wives, children, and belongings - and often settled in any territory which they managed to conquer. The Shardana (Sherden or Serden) were bold sea pirates who appear briefly in fragmentary records from the Bronze Age collapse but about whom very little is known.

The costume they wear on reliefs looks similar to, but not the same as, that of the Peleshet, as well as bearing certain similarities to Mycenaean armour. They were sometimes employed as mercenaries, owing to their superior weaponry which could better withstand chariot attacks.

They were the earliest of the Sea Peoples to be mentioned and, until recently, it was thought by their name and by archaeological finds that they migrated from Greece to Sardinia. Now it seems more likely that they originated on Sardinia and Corsica and migrated eastwards (and perhaps the Tyrsennoi with them).

A Shardana was mentioned in the Amarna letters from Eighteenth dynasty Egypt (roughly between the 1350s to 1330s BC), as an apparent renegade mercenary, while three more were slain by an Egyptian overseer. In the second year of the reign of Ramses II (1278 BC), the pharaoh repulsed a raid by the Shardana on the Nile Delta, and took Shardana prisoners. He also spoke of the continuing threat which these people posed to the Mediterranean coastline 'in their warships from the midst of the sea', so it is likely they played a notable (if largely unrecorded) part in the collapse.

Central Anatolian mountains

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Philistines and Other 'Sea Peoples' in Text and Archaeology, Ann E Killebrew (Society of Biblical Literature Archaeology and Biblical Studies, 2013), from Researches into the Physical History of Mankind, Vol 3, Issue 1, James Cowles Prichard, from The Roman History: From Romulus and the Foundation of Rome to the Reign of the Emperor Tiberius, Velleius Paterculus, J C Yardley, Anthony A Barrett, and from External Link: Listverse.)

c.1340 BC

A member of the Shardana group of peoples is mentioned in the Egyptian Amarna letters which contain correspondence with the Near East's other major leaders, including those of Arzawa and the Hittites, along with many minor city state rulers.

Habu relief at Medinet
Attacks by the Sea Peoples gathered momentum during the last decade of the thirteenth century BC, quickly reaching a peak which lasted about forty years

The Shardana are the earliest of the Sea Peoples to be mentioned, and their name and archaeological finds have long linked them to Sardinian migrants who head east to Greece. Their compatriots, the Tyrsennoi could also have an origin around the Tyrrhenian Sea, quite possibly related to the Elymi on Sicily.

c.1278 BC

Despite successfully campaigning in the Near East to conquer small states and cities such as (probably) Moab, Egypt's Ramses II is still forced to repel a raid by the Shardana, taking prisoners in the process.

c.1210 BC

Increasing drought in the Near East results in famine and the subsequent movement of peoples who are in search of new food supplies. Collectively known by chroniclers as the Sea Peoples, various groups begin raiding the Mediterranean coastline, attacking kingdoms and destroying cities and, in some cases, even settling in the conquered areas.

Sherden bronze mask
Bronze mask dated between 1400-1150 BC probably depicting a Sherden warrior, although the horns are missing from the holes at the top of the head

c.1100 BC

The Egyptian Onomasticon of Amenemope document appears to confirm that the former Sea Peoples, the Peleshet, Sherden, and Tjekker, are still settled in Philistia. There they are most likely submerged into the growing Philistine civilisation.

The age of the migratory Sea Peoples is largely over, as the turmoil and chaos (such as during Egypt's 'Third Intermediate Period' or in Syria) gives way to an already-active dark age and a gradual rebuilding of civilisation.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.