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The Seafaring Raiders / 3 – Who is Who? [2]

Original Date
June 4, 2009

The Sea Peoples – Who is Who ?  [2 from 2]

The Shardana – ?ardana

The Shardana were among the first of the peoples now categorized as “Sea Peoples” to appear in the historical record. They made their first appearance in the Amarna letters (c. mid 14th. BCE), serving as part of an Egyptian garrison in Byblos, where they provided their services to the mayor, Rib Hadda (EA 81, EA 122, EA 123 in Moran 1992: 150-1, 201-2).

They would appear next during the reign of Ramesses II, in the mid-13th century BCE. Ramesses erected a number of “rhetorical stelae” at Tanis, unfortunately undated. These texts boast in general terms about the military might of the Pharaoh. Here, the Shardana are represented as enemies of the Egyptians for the first time:

(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] – (even by)
King of S & N Egypt, Usimare Setepenre, Son of Re,
Ramesses II, given life like Re. (Rhetorical  Stela, Tanis II in Kitchen 1996: 118-122)  [1]

Later, according to the famous Battle of Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II’s 5th regnal year, Ramesses assimilated some of the Shardana into his own personal guard (Kadesh Battle Inscriptions in Lichtheim 1976: 63ff). The Papyrus Anastasi I, a satirical letter between two scribes dating to Ramesses II’s reign, also depicts the Shardana in the role of mercenaries. The author, Hori, attempts to prove his superiority and belittle his correspondent, Amenemope, by describing and discussing a series of hypothetical situations of a type often encountered by government scribes. At one point, he describes the difficulties of organizing a military expedition in Canaan:

Thou art sent on an expedition to Phoenicia (?) at
the head of the victorious army, in order to smite
those rebels who are called Nearin. The troops of
soldiers who are before thee amount to 1900; (of)
Sherden 520 (?), of Kehek 1600, of Meshwesh <100(?)>,
Negroes making 880; total 5000 in all,
not counting their officers. (P. Anastasi I, XV, p. 19 in Gardiner 1964) [2]

This text offers us an interesting glimpse into the demographics of the Egyptian military during the 13th century BCE. The Shardana seem to have formed a significant contingent of Ramesses II’s army.

The Shardana showed up in Egypt again during the reign of Merenptah, when they fought Egypt as part of a coalition of Sea Peoples and Libyans (The Great Karnak Inscription in Breasted 1906: 241-253), and again in the reign of Ramesses III, where they are featured prominently in the Medinet Habu reliefs as fighters alongside the Philistines. They are depicted both among the Sea Peoples and as allies of the Egyptians, distinguished by their horned helmets with a ball projecting from the middle, round shields, and large swords (Gardiner 1968: 196-7).

Finally, the Shardana appear in a list of Sea Peoples occupying the Phoenician Coast in a text dating from c. 1100 BCE, the Onomasticon of Amenemope. The Shardana appear in line 268 of the Onomasticon (Gardiner 1968: 194).

The role that the Shardana played with relation to Egypt varies from one text to another. They appear as a contingent of the Egyptian army in a wide array of sources, including the battle inscriptions of Ramesses II, the Anastasi Papyrus, and the Papyrus Harris of Ramesses III, and as an enemy of the Egyptians for the first time under Ramesses II, in the Tanis and Aswan Stelae, dated to year 2 of Ramesses II (Gardiner 1968: 195-6). Ultimately, they seem to have been mercenaries with no fixed alliances, who would fight either with or against Egypt (Zertal, 2001: 228) [3] .

In the late 19th century, the French scholar Gaston Maspero suggested that the Shardana were a migratory people originating in Sardis who eventually settled in Sardinia, giving their name to both places. This theory of a migrating group of Sea Peoples was generally accepted in the 19th to early 20th centuries, but, according to R. Drews (1995: 49-72) [4] , it has since come to be disputed. There is no evidence in the texts or archaeological record that the Shardana were a migratory people, or that they were migrating to Sardinia from any other place.

According to D. Redford, the Shardana can be equated with the Sardonians of the classical era, a people from the Ionian coast who were skilled in fighting (1992: 243). A battle between the Phocaeans and the Sardonians is recorded in Herodotus’ History, book I, 165 [5] , in which we are told that the Sardonians were a formidable naval force. In the 14th-13th centuries BCE, the Shardana also had a reputation as pirates, and it is possible that their success in this occupation provided one of the motivations for the activities of other groups of Sea Peoples. However, this idea is tied to the theory that the primary factor in the Late Bronze Age-Iron Age transition was massive pillaging and piracy on the part of certain groups in the Aegean (Redford 1992: 244).  A. Zertal (2001) proposes that the Shardana, who have been connected by some scholars with classical Sardinia, may have occupied certain sites of central Israel for a short period of time.
This theory is based on a marginal similarity between unusual stone corridors and false domes built into the Iron Age I settlement at El-Ahwat (c. 10 miles / 15 Km. east of Caesarea m.d. Israel) and later architectural elements found on Sardinia. Zertal (2001: 228-230) theorizes that these sites may have been established for the Shardana by the Egyptians during the transitional period from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age. However, as Zertal points out, the resemblance between the Sardinian sites and El-Ahwat are marginal, and no Shardana pottery has turned up at the sites in Israel. El-Ahwat is located at some distance from the coast, which does not match the historical image of the Shardana as maritime people (2001: 229).

I. Finkelstein convincingly refutes Zertal’s thesis in a article in the Israel Exploration Journal (2002) [6] . Most significantly, he points out that the distinctive “fortification” – the main feature that Zertal uses to identify El-Ahwat with the Shardana – which surrounds the Iron I city actually overlaps some of the buildings in the Iron Age settlement (189-190). This suggests that the wall was built at a later date than the Iron I settlement. Furthermore, the wall is of a type common to hilly areas in the Levant and the Mediterranean, particularly in the Roman period. Furthermore, all of the material remains excavated at El-Ahwat seem to be typical of Iron I Age hill-country settlements, suggesting that the population was indigenous to the area. It is unlikely, therefore, that El-Ahwat represents a settlement of the Shardana. They are still not attested with any certainty in the archaeological record.

The Tjekker

 The Tjekker represented a large contingent of the invading peoples in the battle against the Egyptians in year eight of Ramses III. They, along with the Philistines, were a major group depicted in the battle reliefs and texts at Medinet Habu (Pritchard 1969: 261-62).

The Tjekker are also mentioned in the Wen-Amon story of the 11th century BCE, set in the reign of Ramesses XI (Lichtheim 1976: 224-230). Wen-Amon, an assistant to the high priest of Amun, is sent on a mission to retrieve wood from Byblos. Along the way, he stopped in the city of Dor, “a town of the Tjeker” (Lichtheim 1976: 225). The prince of Byblos himself is named Tjekerbaal.

The Tjekker appear in classical texts as the Teukroi, a people of Western Cilicia whose domain, according to legend, was established by Ajax, son of Teucer (Wainright 1963: 148). In artistic depictions, the Tjekker are nearly indistinguishable from the Philistines (Wainwright 1963: 146). The Tjekker warriors are depicted with “Hoplite-like plumes” on their helmets, and are armed with long swords, spears, segmented body armor, and rounded shields (Redford 1992: 251-252).

Modern scholars trace the origins of the Tjekker to the Troad, the eastern coast region of Asia Minor. N. Sandars (1978: 158) [7] connects the Tjekker with the Teucri people of the Troad, possibly having been displaced after the Trojan War. Sandars also suggests a connection to the hero Teucer, the traditional founder of Salamis on Cyprus.

R. D. Barnett (1975: 376) also traces the Tjekker through Cyprus. He cites archeological evidence in depictions of warriors found on Cyprus. These depictions, found in tombs in Enkomi, show warriors wearing what he calls “Philistine type” headdresses. Barnett suggests that the Tjekker may have destroyed and rebuilt the city sometime in the 12th century BCE.
Recent excavations at Tel Dor directed by E. Stern, and more recently by I. Sharon and A. Gilboa, have uncovered small quantities of Philistine style bichrome pottery on the site. In addition, the excavations revealed cow scapulae and bone-handled iron knives similar to those found at Philistine sites. Stern believes this is evidence of a Tjekker (or Sikel) settlement (Stern 2000: 198-203)[8] . However, the evidence is slight (there is certainly not enough present to suggest any massive settlement of Sea Peoples at Dor), and it is impossible to be certain whether the Sea Peoples represented by these remains were even Tjekker as opposed to Philistines or some other related group.

G. A. Wainwright (1963: 146-151) argues on the basis of a combination of artistic evidence from Cyprus, later classical legend, and archaeological evidence, that while the Tjekker invaded Salamis ca. 1200 BCE, their origins were in fact Anatolian. The legend of Teucer placed the Teukroi in Westen Cilicia in the 16th century BCE (Wainwright 1963: 148). Wainwright also points out that the Danuna, some of the Tjakker’s closest relatives, were present in Cilicia in the 16th century (1963: 150). From the evidence discussed above, it appears that, while the Tjekker migrated into Cyprus, Phoenicia and Canaan in the Iron Age, they came originally from Anatolia.

The Shekelesh  -  ?ekele?

The Sea Peoples group known as the Shekelesh are one of the less well-known and obscure groups.  Not much is known about them and they are only mentioned in passing in the ancient texts, such as the annals of Ramesess III from his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu (Pritchard 1969: 261-262) and the Ugaritic Texts.  The group is also mentioned in the Kom el-Ahmar Stela from the reign of Merneptah.  But what we do know of this group is quite impressive and the Shekelesh officially make an appearance around 1220 BCE attacking Egypt and again in 1186 BCE invading the Delta.  It appears, that although not much is said on this group of people, that they were still a force to be reckoned with.

One of the earliest accounts of the Shekelesh occurs early in the reign of the pharaoh Merneptah.  In the beginning of his fifth year of rule, the pharaoh had to face off with a Libyan invasion; which he boasts of his victory in his annals at Karnak (Barnett 1975: 366).  When Merneptah confronted his enemy, he not only faced one hostile tribe, but an alliance of Sea People groups, which consisted of the Meshwesh, the people of the island Kos, and the Lycians, who were the major forces and urged smaller tribes like the Shardana, Trysenoi, and the Shekelesh to assist in the fight against the Egyptians (Redford 1992: 148).  When the two armies met, the Egyptians, who had suffered major losses, essentially slaughtered over nine thousand members of the Sea Peoples coalition.  Merneptah records that he took hundreds of prisoners, and he claims to have taken 222 Shekelesh warriors prisoner among the ranks of those taken (Barnett 1975: 367).  

Years later, Ramesess III would finish the job that Merneptah began and completely wipe out the Sea Peoples, or so he tells us.  He would enjoy a much more complete victory over the Labu, who in their attack of Ramessess III did not have the time or opportunity to call up the coalition that Merneptah had faced.  Ramesess gives us an account of his victory in the Harris Papyrus (Pritchard 1969: 261):

See! I (Ramessess III) destroyed them and slew
them at one stroke.  I overthrew them, felled them
in their own blood, and turned them into heaps of
corpses.  I turned them back from treading the frontier
of Egypt…I brought the rest…as numerous prisoners,
pinioned like fowl before my horses, and their wives and
children by tens of thousands (Pritchard 1969:261).

Although Ramessess III gives the impression that he has completely eradicated the enemy, the Sea People groups were still a major threat in the Mediterranean.  The Harris Papyrus is also an important account because it seems to indicate that the Shekelesh were used as garrison forces and mercenaries by Ramessess III, along with other Sea People groups (Sandars 1985: 167).

Although not much is known about the Shekelesh, it is clear that they were an important element in the “invasion” of the Sea Peoples and played an important role in the military conquests of the coalition.  I view this group as a strong and proud group of people, despite the fact that they are a more or less obscure group, mentioned infrequently in ancient texts.

The Meshwesh  -  Me?we?  – Maxyes

The tribe of “Sea Peoples” known as the Meshwesh rose to prominence during the reign of Ramses III in Egypt. Some of the first references to this group appear in the Harris Papyri and the Anastasi Papyri. They are also depicted in several reliefs detailing the battles the Egyptians fought against the Sea Peoples. During the recurring, incessant border wars of the time, the Meshwesh first appeared as kindred tribes of the Tehenu and Temehu, but began to play increasingly substantial roles in the later campaigns. In 1182 BCE, Egypt was under threat from an alliance between the Libyans and the Meshwesh—who possibly also coordinated an attack with the Philistines and the Tjekker (Drews 1995: 51). Following Ramses III’s victory in the second Libyan war, the Meshwesh were left with enough strength and numbers to become Egypt’s chief opponent for the remainder of the conflict (Nelson-Hölscher 1931: 8-9) [9] . Another historical record of the Meshwesh comes from inscriptions found at Karnak from Merneptah’s victory in Libya during the fifth year of his reign—when he fought against an army composed of the Libyans, Meshwesh, and other northern sea-borne forces (Barnett 1975: 366).

The Meshwesh are again found in the Classical writings of Herodotus, over a thousand years later. He refers to this group of peoples as the “Maxyes”, and offers the most physical description outside of the pictorial reliefs. Herodotus describes their semi-barbaric hairstyle—consisting of shaving one side of the head while leaving the other—and the fact that they paint their bodies and lay claim to Trojan heritage (Selincourt 1954: 306) [10] .  He goes on to talk about the land from which they came (eastern Libya), all the while making sure to guard himself by saying that he cannot vouch for any of these statements, he is merely passing along what he himself has heard.

These are the two major sources for description, both physical and cultural, for the Meshwesh. They are initially identified in Egyptian battle records as having fought alongside the Libyans and their allies, but also recognized as having risen to their own respective seat of power following these skirmishes. The fact that they are again specifically singled out by Herodotus in his Histories serves notice to the fact that they were indeed a significant socio-political entity in the Eastern Mediterranean at this time.

The Labu  -  Libu  -  Rebu

This tribe from which the land of Libya takes its name is sometimes called the Labu, Libu, or Rebu, and appears in many Egyptian texts, such as the inscriptions on the temple at Medinet Habu.  The earliest of these texts is the Papyrus Anastasi II in Dynasty XVIII and appear in texts, if only rarely, up until Dynasty XXI (Gardiner 1968: 121, 122).

We see one of these campaigns documented in the “Israel Stela” of the fifth year of Merneptah’s reign, in which Merey, the chief of the Labu, has led his people along with other tribes against the Egyptians, and Merey and his troops were defeated (Pritchard 1969: 376-378).  It has been suggested that the Labu fought against the Egyptians during the reign of Merneptah because there was no food (Gardiner 1968: 121).  This seems like a reasonable explanation since we know that during the politically troubled years in Egypt after the reign of Merneptah, both the Labu and the Meshwesh took the opportunity and settled in western Egypt as far as the west bank of the Nile (Redford 1992: 249).  Then, during the reign of Ramesses III, the Labu attacked Egypt because the pharaoh refused to give back one of the Labu chief’s children, but the Labu were defeated, which is documented in the Papyrus Harris I, 77, 3-7 (Redford 1992: 249). The Labu are characterized by a number of features when they are depicted in Egyptian reliefs, such as pail skin, red hair, and blue eyes.  They also wore ornamental cloaks, had one lock of hair, and were tattooed on their arms and legs.  Some of these characteristics the Labu also shared with the Meshwesh, but unlike the Meshwesh the Labu wore kilts instead of loincloths and were uncircumcised (Gardiner 1968: 122).

It is unclear for certain where the Labu originated, but they may have originated from west of the region of Libya.  It is clear, however, that along with other tribes such as the Meshwesh they replaced the pervious inhabitants of Libya at some time during the New Kingdom (Redford 1992: 247).  If the Labu are from the west of Libya, then it seems strange to associate them so closely with the Sea Peoples, even if the Labu do fight alongside the Sea Peoples against the Egyptians.  Another theory, though, is that the Libu originated in the Balkans and were driven to migration by the Illyrians, with the Libu finally settling in Libya (Drews 1993:  58).  The other Sea Peoples are generally thought to have originated in the Aegean, in the case of the Philistines, or in Anatolia, in the case of many of the other Sea Peoples tribes.

The end of the Labu people seems to be as much a mystery as their origins are because there are two differing viewpoints concerning their end.  Redford says that the Libyans were no longer a menace after the aforementioned battle with Ramesses III (Redford 1992: 250), whereas Gardiner says that the Libu were still a problem for the Egyptians at least up until the reign of Ramesses X (Gardiner 1968: 122).  There is no evidence from either author as to why there is such a substantial difference in time regarding the end of the Labu people.

The Philistines – P’li?tim  – Palusata  – Palastu

The etymology of the word into English is from Old French Philistin, from Late Latin Philistinus, from Late Greek Philistinoi, from Hebrew P’lishtim, (See, e.g., 1 Samuel 17:26, 17:36; 2 Samuel 1:20; Judges 14:3), “people of P’lesheth” (”Philistia”); cf. Akkadian Palastu, Egyptian Palusata; the word probably is the people’s name for itself. Biblical scholars often trace the word to the semitic root p-l-sh  (palash) which means to divide, go through, to roll in, cover or invade , with a possible sense in this name as “migrant” or “invader”. A detailed description about the Philistines in a future post.


[1]  Kitchen , K.A. Ramesesside Inscriptions I-VII Oxford 1996
[2]  Gardiner, A. H. Egyptian Hieratic Texts. Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung Hildesheim. 1964
[3]  Zertal, A “Corridor-builders” of Central Israel: Evidence for the Settlement of the ‘Northern Sea Peoples?’ Pp. 215-232 2001; Karageorghis, V. and Morris, C. E., eds. Defensive Settlements of the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean After c. 1200 B. C. Dublin: The Anastasios G. Leventis Foundation.An analysis of the peculiar archaeological features of the site of El-Ahwat, with a proposal that the unusual features can be attributed to Sea Peoples settlement. Includes a good summary of the historical sources on the Shardana.
[4]  Drews, R. The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 B. C. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1995
[5]  Herodotus. History, I:166: History, Books I & 2. Trans. by A. D. Godley. New York: G.P. Putnam’s sons1960
[6]  Finkelstein, I. El-Ahwat: A Fortified Sea People City? Israel Exploration Journal 52(2): 187-199. 2002
[7]  Sandars, N.K. Sea Peoples: Warriors of the Ancient Mediterranean. London: Thames and Hudson. 1978
[8]  Stern, E. Settlement of Sea Peoples in Northern Israel. Pp. 197-212 in E. Oren, Ed.: The Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment. Philadelphia: The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania. 2000
[9]  Nelson H. H. and Hölscher, U. Medinet Habu Reports: I The Epigraphic Survey 1928-31; II The Architectural Survey 1929/30 (OIC 10; Chicago, 1931)
[10]  Selincourt, A. Herodotus: The Histories. (Baltimore, 1954.) A translation of the writings of  Herodotus.


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