Massimo Rassu

Shardana and Philistines

in Italy

New architectures in Sardinia

at the end of the Late Bronze Age

(XII-XI century B.C.)

Contribution to History of Architecture

During the 12th century BC, between the end of the Late Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age, Sardinia was characterised by a "revolution". The nuraghes were abandoned and often partially demolished or set on fire. The known examples are several. Some nuraghes were suddenly abandoned, such as Su Sonadori (Villasor) and San Pietro (Torpé), whilst others were partially destroyed: Barumini, Pitzu Cummu (Lunamatrona), Cuccurada (Mogoro), S’Uraki (San Vero Milis), Arrubiu (Orroli), and Funtana (Ittireddu). Some were set on fire, such as Belveghile (Olbia), whilst others, such as Barumini, Cuccurada, S’Uraki, Funtana, and Belveghile, were left untouched. Some other nuraghes were abandoned and the examples are: Bruncu Madugui (Gesturi), Sa Serra, Murru Mannu (Tharros-Cabras), Baboe Cabitza (Tharros-Cabras), Majori (Tempio Pausania), and Lu Brandali (Santa Teresa), etc.

The new constructions of the Iron Age (of the 9th, 8th, and 7th century BC) are not characterised by megalithic techniques, and they show proof of abandonment, unquestionably attested by several collapses of the authentic Nuragic structures. The stratigraphy shows how Nuragic developments ended before the building of the so-called "Nuragic" villages of the Iron Age. In several sites huts were built on the demolished Nuragic structures and stones were often recycled in various ways for their construction. The mighty megalitich masonry was juxtaposed with humble dwellings and small huts. These were built with natural stone and with scarce skill, and in certain cases materials were recycled: Barumini, Cuccurada, Santa Barbara (Macomer), etc.

Evident changes in the architecture and in the elements of material culture of the Nuragic civilization were suddenly visible, but motivations are not known. Various causes have been proposed: earthquake, tsunami, famine, epidemics, etc. The only reliable explanation is related to social revolt, or to attacks by foreigner peoples coming from the sea.


Hittite and Egyptian texts show that in the 12th century BC the oriental area of the Mediterranean basin was invaded by peoples coming from the sea, also referred as Sea People.

Reliefs and inscriptions of the funeral temple of Ramses III (12th century BC), located in Medinet Habu, are the most important proof of the invasions lead by the Sea People. The inscriptions show the destruction of the Hittite empire and the attempts of the Sea People to invade Egypt. The reliefs show and describe the two great battles with the Sea People: the first is an earthen battle, fought in Phoenicia or in Syria, and the other is a naval battle, probably fought in the region of the Nile’s Delta. The Sea People felt sufficiently strong to try to invade Egypt, but they were defeated and therefore they finally conquered Palestine. This group included the Philistines, the Tjekkers, Shardana and the Denyens. The new arrival of the Philistine cultural element showed in different ways that many sites, some vast in size, were destroyed. Excavations of such ruins showed a new type of foreign pottery, clearly of Aegean derivation, the Myc IIIC. Moreover, proof of the settling of the Sea Peoples is given by new type of architecture, by new funeral customs, and by a different type of religious cult.

Ceramics decoration is mainly derived by Mycenaean prototypes. It is varied, rich in colour and it indicates developed artistic skills. A common pattern is represented by birds but the most striking and more easily recognisable characteristic is denoted by the numerous types of geometric drawings such as spirals, semicircles, zigzag and lozenges. Animal and human figures are sparse but not entirely absent. Cult vases show similar decorations, but their forms are different.


From a chronological standpoint, the occurrence of the Mycenaean pottery in Sardinia was tied up to the events of the end of the Bronze Age in Palestine and in Lebanon. Importation pottery of the Mycenaean III B type was found along the coastal area of the Middle East, a type that suddenly disappears in all the excavated sites. This happened in the archaeological levels that contain traces of violent destruction, or rather when the Sea People overwhelmed all the populations of Anatolia, Syria and Palestine.

The same occurrence is also recognisable in Sardinia where several sites showed Mycenaean pottery of the 12th century (Mycenaean III C) of the same typology of that manufactured by the Anatolian and Aegean populations (identified with the Sea People in Palestine).

Likewise to Palestine, it can be proposed that the Mycenaean presence in Sardinia was characterised by two phases:

a) the first wave (14th-13th century BC), commercial in character, was peaceful;

b) the second wave (12th century BC), characterized by immigration, was accompanied by war episodes.

The Mycenaean pottery of the 14th-13th century BC (Myc. III A, Myc. III B) was the expression of the Mycenaean commercial expansion in the Mediterranean.

The second Mycenaean wave coincided with the diffusion of the pottery Myc. III C, and with the great migration of the Sea People, who, rejected from Egypt, found shelter in the western Mediterranean, in those areas where Mycenaean commercial emporiums could be carried out. At first as fugitive, then as colonisers and merchants to Cyprus, in Greece, in Italy, in Sardinia and in Spain, the destiny of the Sea Peoples was to disappear after being assimilated by the local population or by Phoenician farmers.

Recent studies have underlined the magnitude and duration of contacts that tied Sardinia to the Aegean basin and the oriental Mediterranean (13th-11th century BC). Mycenaean pottery and bronze, found spread on the whole island, testify a strong presence of Cypriot and Mycenaean dwellers, and these can be identified with the Sea Peoples.

The manifold variety of warriors and armaments represented by the Sardinian bronze statuettes of the Iron Age can be taken as a more indirect proof of the presence of many kinds of sea peoples in Sardinia. In fact, these sculptures show similarities with three different sea peoples: Shardana, Philistines, and Teresh. Moreover, the arc, the round shield and the attire reproduced in these statues are similar to their prototypes produced in Cyprus at the end of the Bronze Age.

The similarity between the denominations "Shardana" and "Sardinia" is not object of discussion: the debate about the primogeniture of the name has not been solved, and current research has not studied whether the term "Sardinia" was already in use in the second millennium BC, or if it appeared only after the century 11th, when the Shardana reached the island.


Despite inaccuracy and discordance of datings, the literature review showed that the demolition or abandonment of nuraghes refers to a precise historical epoch that can be put in a period between 1200 and the 1100 BC.

The characteristic events of the dusk of the Nuragic civilization in Sardinia and the turbulent events of the Mycenaean and Eastern society are clearly related, with a time gap of only few decades.

The innovation signs, but it would be better to say of traumatic break-up, unequivocally are the traces of violent destruction or sudden abandonment recovered in several monuments (excavated nuraghes and "giants graves"). The most recent archaeological excavations show clearly that the vast destruction of the Nuragic structures happened in the centuries of the Iron Age.

Such abandonment and devastation – chronologically omnipresent – and the reconstructions that were limited to certain areas only show that the installed peoples did not hold great respect towards the existing buildings. On the contrary such peoples destroyed the structures to degrade them in their function, or, worse, to turn them into deposit of construction material of completely different buildings (in form, function and constructive system).

Research showed that in Sardinia, in Sicily, and in both Ionic and Adriatic Italy took place similar developments to those that saw the disappearance of the various civilisations of the Peloponnese, Palestine, Canaan and Anatolia .

Raids of a foreign installation for looting were not unusual during the Late Bronze Age; according to the Iliad, it was undoubtedly an honor to be called "looter of city". Achilles and Agamemnon in the first book of the Iliad discuss some looting raids and plundering of countries. The Odyssey records numerous adventures, vagabondages and lootings in the whole Near East (including several raids in Egypt) undertaken by Ulysses and by other survivors of the Troy War.

It is extraordinary how the area of abandoned nuraghes (or submitted to demolition, fire or reconstruction) coincides with the distribution of recovery of the "Aegean" or "Mycenaean" materials (metal and pottery) and partially with those of diffusion of the toponimis Sard-Serd.


Both Sardinian and Palestina pottery and metal finds of the second half of the 11th C show an abandonment of Cypriot or Mycenaean stylistic reference, whilst a new style was introduced. Such style has several affinities with the past: the Sea People were by now deeply embedded to local cultures. In so doing a new civilisation was born and bloomed, and the most important aspect is that it was unrelated to the tradition of the builders of nuraghes, to their economy and, inevitably, to the religious traditions.

The metamorphosis did not concern pottery production only. Between the end of the Late Bronze Age and the first period of the Iron Age, changes influenced every aspect of civilisation: dwellings, their constructive system, and the elements of material life.

This period knew a new phenomenon: the presence of Sardinian fictile material in the archaeological areas of the Central and Eastern Mediterranean. Such finds are all dated after 1150 BC, some others are dated after 900 BC. Therefore they should not be listed from a scientific standpoint amongst those of Nuragic Age, because when they were manufactured the Nuragic civilisation had already disappeared.

During the final phases of the preceding Late Bronze Age, several sites and monuments chronologically follow those of the Nuragic period. They consist of circular huts with basin with purification function, cemeteries made of pits dug in the earth, single burials, great statues of stone (similar to the most known bronzes representing warriors), buildings of different plan and structure from those of the previous ones, and to the buildings technique that is substantially different from the Nuragic one.

A detailed typological and architectural study of cult sites was completed. These can be in caves but mostly are structures built in the open, and the latter are known as "well temple". Similar structures were found in Lipari Island, in the Aegean Lands, in Palestine and even in Bulgaria.

The graves built in the Iron Age are not similar to the burials (giants’ graves) of the Bronze Age. It should be also said that these are not even an architectural evolution of such structures, since burials were carried out singly inside small wells clad in stone, probably inhumed in sat position.

There is a deep analogy between the Sardinian deity called Sardus Pater, whose cult in Sardinia was strong in the Carthaginian and Roman Age (8th century BC - 1st AC), and the Philistines national god, Dagon.

Bronze statues and coins typically portray the god Sardus Pater with Philistine attire and headgear. Above all the helmet is represented covered with feathers, exactly as in the sketches of Medinet Habou. Resemblance is striking especially when Azius Balbus’s coin is compared to the Egyptian pictures.


The Shardanas' epic in Egypt of the Faraonis