Date Presented:5-8 Jan.
The association of the Sherden with their fellow “Sea Peoples,” the more well-known and better-attested Philistines, has led to several assumptions about this group, its members’ origin, and their role in the events that marked the end of the Late Bronze Age and the transition to the Iron Age. Despite a broad temporal presence in ancient Near Eastern records, there exists limited information about who these Sherden were and where they came from, the circumstances of their entry into the Egyptian and Ugaritic records in which they appear, and where they eventually settled. Further, addressing these questions in traditional fashion relies on the assumption that they were a homogeneous ethnic group with a single shared culture, point of origin, and geographic destination. This study separates the Sherden from the Aegean migration and greater “Sea Peoples” phenomenon of the Late Bronze–Early Iron Age transition in an effort to challenge long-held assumptions about their initial encounter with Ramesses II in the early years of his rule, their role in the famous land battle and naumachia of Ramesses III’s eighth year, their participation in the migrations that marked the end of the Late Bronze Age, and their status as foreigners to the Levant whose main function was to serve as mercenary soldiers and pirates. Through a close reading of the extant material and literary evidence from the Amarna and Ramesside periods in Egypt, and with support from relevant Ugaritic texts, the role of the Sherden within broader Near Eastern society in general, and amesside Egypt in particular, is shown to be very different from that of the more famous Philistines: one of initial, small-scale intrusion of heterogeneous warriors who originated elsewhere within the eastern Mediterranean world, followed by relative geographic stability over multigenerational periods that was marked by rapid and enduring acculturation and assimilation into Egyptian society.