Sardinia is one of the most geologically ancient bodies of land in Europe.
The island was populated in waves of emigration from the Paleolithic period until recent times.
The first people to settle in northern Sardinia during the Mesolithic probably came from the Italian mainland via Corsica, particularly from Etruria (present-day Tuscany); however in the Corbeddu Cave of Oliena there are evidences that suggest a previous Paleolithic colonization of the island. In the middle Neolithic period, the Ozieri culture, probably of Aegean origin, flourished in the island.
During the early Bronze Age, the so-called Beaker culture, coming from the Continent, appeared in Sardinia. These new people settled predominantly on the west coast where the most part of the sites attributed to them had been found.
Evidence of trade with Aegean (Eastern Mediterranean) centres is present in the period 1600 BC onwards. As time passed, the different Sardinian peoples appear to have become united in customs, yet remained divided politically as various small, tribal groupings, at times banding together, and at others waging war against each other. Habitations consisted of round thatched stone huts.
From about 1500 BC onwards, villages were built around the round tower-fortresses called nuraghi, which were often reinforced and enlarged with battlements. The boundaries of tribal territories were guarded by smaller lookout nuraghi erected on strategic hills commanding a view of other territories.
Today some 7,000 nuraghi dot the Sardinian landscape. While initially these Nuraghes has a relatively simple structure, with time they became extremely complex and monumental (see for example Su Nuraxi near Barumini or Nuraghe Arrubiu near Orroli). The scale, complexity and territorial spread of these buildings attest to the level of wealth accumulated by the Nuragic people, their advances in technology and the complexity of their society, which was able to coordinate large numbers of people with different roles for the purpose of building the monumental Nuraghes.
The Nuraghes are not the only Nuragic buildings that survive, as there are several sacred wells around Sardinia and other buildings that had religious purposes such as the Giants' grave (monumental collective tombs) and collections of religious buildings that probably served as destinations for pilgrimage and mass religious rites (e.g. Su Romanzesu near Bitti).
Sardinia was at the time at the centre of several commercial routes and it was an important provider of raw materials such as copper and lead, which were pivotal for the manufacture of the time. By controlling the extraction of these raw materials and by commercing them with other countries, the Nuragic civilisation was able to accumulate wealth and reach a level of sophistication that is not only reflected in the complexity of its surviving buildings, but also in its artworks (e.g. the votive bronze statuettes found across Sardinia).
The Nuragic civilization was linked with other contemporaneous megalithic civilization of the western Mediterranean such as the Talaiotic culture of the Balearic islands and the Torrean civilization of southern Corsica. Several artefacts (e.g. pots) have been found in Nuragic sites which came from as far as Anatolia, Greece as well as from Italy, which testifies the scope of commercial relations between the Nuragic people and other people in Europe and beyond.
Circa 1000 BC the Phoenicians began visiting Sardinia with increasing frequency, presumably initially needing safe over-night and/or all-weather anchorages along their trade routes from the coast of modern-day Lebanon as far afield as the African and European Atlantic coasts and beyond. The most common ports of call were Caralis, Nora, Bithia, Sulcis, Tharros, Bosa and Olbia.
While the Phoenicians stuck to the coastline, their relationship with the Sardinians was peaceful. However, after a few hundred years of habitation, they began expanding inward. They took over valuable natural resources such as silver and lead mines, and established a military presence in the form of a fortress on Monte Sira in 650 BC. The Sardinians resented these intrusions, and in 509 BC they mounted a series of attacks against Phoenician settlements. The Phoenician settlers called upon Carthage for help, and when it arrived they successfully took control of part of the southern part of the island.
In 238 BC the Carthaginians, as a result of their defeat by the Romans in the First Punic War, surrendered Corsica and Sardinia to Rome, and together they became a Roman province. The existing coastal cities were enlarged and embellished, while Coloniae such as Turris Lybissonis and Feronia were founded. These were populated by Roman immigrants. The Roman military occupation brought the Nuragic civilization to an end. Roman domination of Sardinia lasted 694 years, during which it was an important source of grain for the capital. Latin came to be the dominant spoken language of Sardinia during this period, though Roman culture was slower to take hold, and Roman rule was often contested by the inhabitants of Sardinia's mountainous central regions.
The east Germanic tribe of the Vandals conquered Sardinia in 456. Their rule lasted for 78 years up to 534, when eastern Roman troops under Cyrillus retook the island. It is known that the Vandal government continued the forms of the existing Roman Imperial structure. The governor of Sardinia continued to be called the praeses and apparently continued to manage military, judicial, and civil governmental functions via imperial procedures. (This continuity was not novel to Sardinia; like the Visigoths, the Vandals generally maintained the pretense of the empire, nominally acknowledging Constantinople and declaring themselves its deputies.) The only Vandal governor of Sardinia about whom there is substantial record is the last, Godas, a Visigoth noble. In AD 530 a coup d'état in Carthage removed King Hilderic, a convert to Nicene Christianity, in favor of his cousin Gelimer, an Arian Christian like most of his kingdom. Godas was sent to take charge and ensure the loyalty of Sardinia. He did the exact opposite, declaring the island's independence from Carthage and opening negotiations with Emperor Justinian I, who had declared war on Hilderic's behalf. In AD 533 Gelimer sent the bulk of his army to Sardinia to subdue Godas, with the catastrophic result that the Vandal Kingdom was overwhelmed when Justinian's own army under Belisarius arrived in their absence. The Vandal Kingdom ended and Sardinia was returned to Roman rule.
In AD 533 Sardinia returned under the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire (in this period sometimes referred to as the Byzantine Empire) when the Vandals were defeated by the armies of Justinian I under the General Belisarius in the Battle of Tricamarum, in their African kingdom; Belisarius sent his general Cyrillus to Sardinia to retake the island. Sardinia remained in Byzantine hands for the next 300 years., aside from a short period in which it was invaded by the Ostrogoths in 551.
Under Byzantine rule, the island was divided into districts called merèie, which were governed by a judge residing in Caralis (Cagliari) and garrisoned by an army stationed in Forum Traiani (today Fordongianus) under the command of a dux. During this time, Christianity took deeper root on the island, supplanting the Paganism which had survived into the early Medieval era in the culturally conservative hinterlands. Along with lay Christianity, the followers of monastic figures such as St. Basil became established in Sardinia. While Christianity penetrated the majority of the population, the region of Barbagia remained largely pagan. In Barbagia towards the end of the 6th century, a short-lived independent principality established itself, returning to the local traditional religions. One of its princes, Ospitone, conducted raids upon the neighbouring Christian communities controlled by the Byzantine dux Zabarda. He was later reprimanded by Pope Gregory I within a letter for "Living, all like irrational animals, ignorant of the true God and worshiping wood and stone" In 594. Ospitone was then convinced by Gregory the Great to convert to Christianity after receiving the papal letter. His followers, however, were not immediately convinced and ostracised their prince for a short time before they themselves converted.
The dates and circumstances of the end of Byzantine rule in Sardinia are not known. Direct central control was maintained at least through c. 650, after which local legates were empowered in the face of the rebellion of Gregory the Patrician, Exarch of Africa and the first invasion of the Umayyads in North Africa. There is some evidence that senior Byzantine administration in the Exarchate of Africa retreated to Cagliari following the final fall of Carthage to the Arabs in 697. The loss of imperial control in Africa led to escalating Moorish and Berber raids on the island, the first of which is documented in 705, forcing increased military self-reliance in the province. Communication with the central government became daunting if not impossible during and after the Muslim conquest of Sicily between 827 and 902. A letter by Pope Nicholas I as early as 864 mentions the "Sardinian judges", without reference to the empire and a letter by Pope John VIII (reigned 872-882) refers to them as principes ("princes"). By the time of De Administrando Imperio, completed in 952, the Byzantine authorities no longer listed Sardinia as an imperial province, suggesting they considered it lost.
Whether this final transformation from imperial civil servant to independent sovereign resulted from imperial abandonment or local assertion, by the 10th century, the giudici ( /, literally ‘judges’, a Byzantine administrative title) had emerged as the autonomous rulers of Sardinia. The title of iudice changed with the language and local understanding of the position, becoming the Sardinian giudice, essentially a king or sovereign, while giudicato, literally ‘’ or ‘’, came to mean both ‘State’ and ‘palace’ or ‘capital’.
Having escaped the barbarian conquests and mass settlement that reshaped the rest of Western Europe, early medieval Sardinian political institutions evolved from the millennium old Roman imperial structures with relatively little Germanic influence.
Although the Giudicati were hereditary lordships, the old Roman/Byzantine imperial notion that separated personal title or honor from the state still obtained, so the Giudicato was not regarded as the personal property of the monarch as was common in later European feudalism. Like the imperial systems, the new order also preserved "semi-democratic" forms, with national assemblies called Corona de Logu. Each Giudicato saw to its own defense, maintained its own laws and administration, and looked after its own foreign and trading affairs.
In the 10th century there were five known Giudicati on Sardinia, but, the annexation of the Giudicato of Agugliastra by the Giudicato of Cagliari sometime in the 10th or 11th century stabilized the number at four, where it would remain until the Aragonese invasion of the 14th century. The history of the four Giudicati would be defined by the contest for influence between the rival rising sea powers of Genoa and Pisa, and later the ambitions of the Kingdom of Aragon.
The Giudicato of Cagliari was allied to the Republic of Genoa. It was brought to an end in 1258 when its capital, St Igia, was stormed and destroyed by an alliance of Sardinian and Pisan forces. The territory then briefly became a colony of Pisa.
The Giudicato of Logudoro (sometimes called Torres) was also allied to the Republic of Genoa and came to an end in 1259 on the death of the judikessa (queen) Adelasia. The territory was divided up between the Doria family of Genoa and the Basserra family of Arborea, while the city of Sassari became an autonomous city-republic (comune).
The Giudicato of Arborea, having Oristano as its capital, had a longer life compared to the other kingdoms. Its later history is entwined with the attempt to unify the island into a single Sardinian state (Republica Sardisca) against their relatives and former allies Aragonese.
In 1297, Pope Boniface VIII established on his own initiative (motu proprio) a hypothetical regnum Sardiniae et Corsicae ("Kingdom of Sardinia and Corsica") in order to settle the War of the Vespers diplomatically. This had broken out in 1282 between the Angevins and Aragonese over the possession of Sicily. the Pope offered this newly created crown to James II of Aragon, promising him support should he wish to conquer Pisan Sardinia in exchange for Sicily.
In 1324, in alliance with the Kingdom of Arborea and following a military campaign which lasted a year or so, the Aragonese occupied the Pisan territories of Cagliari and Gallura along with the allied city of Sassari, naming them "The Kingdom of Sardinia and Corsica".
During this period the Giudicato of Arborea promulgated the legal code of the kingdom in the Carta de Logu (‘Charter of the Land’). The Carta de Logu was originally compiled by Mariano IV of Arborea, and was amended and updated by Mariano's daughter, Queen Eleanor of Arborea. The legal code was written in Sardinian and established a whole range of citizens' rights. Among the revolutionary concepts in this Carta de Logu was the right of women to refuse marriage and to own property. In terms of civil liberties, the code made provincial 14th century Sardinia one of the most developed societies in all of Europe.
In 1353 Peter IV of Aragon, following Aragonese customs, granted a parliament to the kingdom of Sardinia and Corsica, which was followed by some degree of self-government under a viceroy and judicial independence. This parliament, however, had limited powers. It consisted of high-ranking military commanders, the clergy and the nobility. The kingdom of Aragon also introduced the feudal system into the areas of Sardinia it ruled.
The Sardinian kingdoms never adopted feudalism, and Arborea maintained its parliament called the "Corona de Logu". In this parliament, apart from the nobles and military commanders, also sat the representatives of each township and village. The Corona de Logu exercised some control over the king: under the rule of the "bannus consensus" the king could be deposed or even killed if he did not follow the rules of the kingdom.
From 1365 to 1409 the Arborean giudici Mariano IV, Ugone III, Mariano V (assisted by his mother Eleanor of Arborea), and William III (the French grandson of Eleonora) succeeded in occupying all of Sardinia except the heavily fortified towns of the Castle of Cagliari and Alghero, which for years remained as the only Aragonese dominions in Sardinia.
In 1409 Martin I of Sicily, king of Sicily and heir to the crown of Aragon, defeated the Sardinians at the Battle of Sanluri. The battle was fought by about 20,000 Sardinians, Genoese and French knights, enrolled from their kingdom at a time when the population of Sardinia had been greatly depleted by the plague. Despite the Sardinian army outnumbering the Aragonese army, they were defeated.
The kingdom of Arborea disappeared in 1420, when his rights were sold by the last king for 100,000 gold florins, and after some of its most notable men switched sides in exchange for privileges. For example, Leonardo Cubello, with some claim to the crown being from a family related to the Kings of Arborea, was granted the title of Marquis of Oristano and feudal rights on a territory that partly overlapped with the original extension of the Kingdom of Arborea in exchange for his subjection to the King of Aragon.
The conquest of Sardinia by the Kingdom of Aragon meant the introduction of the feudal system throughout Sardinia. Thus Sardinia is probably the only European country where feudalism was introduced in the transition period from the Medieval to the Modern Era, at a time when feudalism had already been abandoned by many other European countries.
In 1479, as a result of the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabel of Castile, the "Kingdom of Sardinia" (which was separated from Corsica) became under the control of the Habsburg dynasty (mostly under Spanish branch), with the state symbol of the Four Moors. Following the failure of the military ventures against the Muslims of Tunis (1535) and Algiers (1541), Charles V of Spain, in order to defend his Mediterranean territories from pirate raids by the African Berbers, fortified the Sardinian shores with a system of coastal lookout towers.
The Kingdom of Sardinia remained Spanish for approximately 400 years, from 1323 to 1720, assimilating a number of Spanish traditions, customs and linguistic expressions, nowadays vividly portrayed in the folklore parades of Saint Efisio in Cagliari (May 1), the Cavalcade on Sassari (last but one Sunday in May), and the Redeemer in Nuoro (August 28).
Many famines have been reported in Sardinia. According to Stephen L. Dyson and Robert J. Rowland, "The Jesuits of Cagliari recorded years during the late 16th century "of such hunger and so sterile that the majority of the people could sustain life only with wild ferns and other weeds" ... During the terrible famine of 1680, some 80,000 people, out of a total population of 250,000, are said to have died, and entire villages were devastated..."
In 1708, as a consequence of the Spanish War of Succession, the rule of the Kingdom of Sardinia passed into the hands of the Austrians who occupied the island. In 1717 Cardinal Giulio Alberoni, minister of Philip V of Spain, reoccupied Sardinia. In 1718, with the Treaty of London, Sardinia was handed over to the House of Savoy.
In 1793 Sardinians repelled two French invasions. In February 23, 1793, Domenico Millelire, commanding the Sardinian fleet, defeated near the Maddalena archipelago the fleets of the French Republic, of which then-lieutenant Napoleon Bonaparte was a leader. Millelire became the first recipient of the Gold Medal of Military Valor of the Italian Armed Forces. In the same month, Sardinians stopped the attempted French landing on the beach of Quartu Sant'Elena, near the Capital of Cagliari. Because of these successes, the representatives of nobility and clergy (Stamenti) formulated five requests addressed to the King Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia, but they got a refusal. Because of this discontent, on 28 April 1794, during an uprising in Cagliari, two Savoyard officials were killed. That was the start of a revolt (called the "Moti rivoluzionari sardi" or "Vespri sardi") in the island, which culminated in the expulsion of the officers for a few days from the Capital Cagliari. On 28 December 1795 in Sassari insurgents demonstrating against feudalism, mainly from the region of Logudoro, occupied the city. On 13 February 1796, in order to prevent the spread of the revolt, the viceroy Filippo Vivalda gave to the Sardinian magistrate Giovanni Maria Angioy the role of Alternos, which meant a substitute of the viceroy himself. Angioy moved from Cagliari to Sassari, and during his journey almost all the villages joined the uprising, demanding an end to feudalism, but once he had lost much of his support he fled to Paris and sought support for a French annexation of the island.
In 1798 the islet near Sardinia was attacked by the Tunisians and over 900 inhabitants were taken away as slaves. The final Muslim attack on the island was on Sant'Antioco on 16 October 1815, over a millennium since the first.
In 1799, as a consequence of the Napoleonic Wars in Italy, the Dukes of Savoy left Turin and took refuge in Cagliari for some fifteen years. In 1847 the Sardinian parliaments (Stamenti), in order to get the Piedmontese liberal reforms they couldn't afford due to their separated legal system, spontaneously renounced their state autonomy and formed a union with Piedmont, Savoy, Nice and Liguria in order to have a single parliament, a single magistracy and a single government in Turin.
In 1848 the confederation of states powered by the kings of Sardinia became a unitarian and constitutional state and moved to the Italian Wars of Independence for the Unification of Italy that were led by the kingdom of Sardinia for thirteen years. In 1861, being Italy united by a debated war campaign, the parliament of the Kingdom of Sardinia decide by law to change its name and the title of its king in Kingdom of Italy and King of Italy.
During the First World War the Sardinian soldiers of the Brigata Sassari distinguished themselves, several being decorated with gold medals and other honours. It was the first and only Italian military unit constituted mainly from Sardinian soldiers. The Sardinian writer Grazia Deledda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926.
During the Fascist period, and implementation of the policy of autarky, several swamps were reclaimed around the island and agrarian communities founded. The main communities were in the area of Oristano, where the village of Mussolinia (now called Arborea) was located, and in the area adjacent the city of Alghero, within the region of Nurra, Fertilia was founded. Also established during that time was the city of Carbonia, which became the main centre of mining activity. Works to dry the numerous waste lands and the reprise of mining activities favored the arrival of settlers and immigrants, at first from Veneto, and after World War II Istrian Italians and Dalmatian Italians from territories lost to Yugoslavia.
The oppression by the Fascist regime of its opponents in Sardinia was ruthless. Antonio Gramsci, one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party, was arrested and died in prison. Michele Schirru was executed on 29 May 1931, after a failed assassination plot against Benito Mussolini. The authorities also banned the Sardinian language under threat of imprisonment.
During the Second World War Sardinia was an important air and naval base and was heavily bombed by the Allies, especially the city of Cagliari . German troops left island on 8 September 1943, a few days after the Armistice of Cassibile, and retired in Corsica without fighting and bloodshed, after a bilateral agreement between the general Antonio Basso (Commander of the Armed Forces of Sardinia) and the German Karl Hans Lungerhausen, general of the 90th Panzergrenadier Division.
In 1946 by popular referendum Italy became a republic, with Sardinia administered since 1948 by special statute of autonomy. By 1951, malaria was successfully eliminated by the ERLAAS, Anti-malaric Regional Authority, and the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, which facilitated the commencement of the Sardinian tourist boom, mainly focused on beach holidays and luxury tourism.
With the increase in tourism, coal decreased in importance but Sardinia followed the Italian economic miracle. However, in the early 1960s an industrialisation effort was commenced, the so-called Piani di Rinascita (rebirth plans), with the initiation of major infrastructure projects on the island. These included the construction of new dams and roads, reforestation, agricultural zones on reclaimed marshland, and large industrial complexes (primarily oil refineries and related petrochemical operations). With the creation of petrochemical industries, thousands of ex-farmers became industrial workers. Nevertheless, the 1973 oil crisis caused the termination of employment for thousands of workers employed in the petrochemical industries, which aggravated the emigration already present in the 1950s and 1960s. In the same years were created many military bases in the island, like Decimomannu Air Base and Salto di Quirra, due to the growing international tension in the Cold War.
In 1970s the economic crisis, unemployment aggravated the crime rate, with increasing kidnappings and political subversion, and ended only in the 1990s. Communist groups flourished, the most famous being Barbagia Rossa, which perpetrated several terrorist actions between the 1970s and the early 1980s.
In 1983 a militant of an autonomist-independentist party, the Sardinian Action Party (Partito Sardo d'Azione), was elected president of the regional parliament, and in the 1980s several independentist movements were born; in the 1990s some of them became political parties. In 1999 the local languages (Sardinian, Sassarese, Gallurese, Algherese and Tabarchino) received official status together with Italian. The 35th G8 summit was planned by Prodi II Cabinet to be held in Sardinia, on the island of La Maddalena, in July 2009. However in April 2009, the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, decided, without convoking the Italian parliament or consulting the Sardinian governor of his own party, to move the summit, even though the works were almost completed, to L'Aquila, provoking heavy protests.
Today Sardinia is phasing in as an EU region, with a diversified economy focused on tourism and the tertiary sector. The economic efforts of the last twenty years have reduced the handicap of insularity, especially in the fields of low-cost air travel and advanced information technology. For example, the CRS4 (Center for Advanced Studies, Research and Development in Sardinia) developed the second European website and 1st in Italy in 1991 and webmail in 1995. CRS4 allowed several telecommunication companies and internet service providers based on the island to flourish, such as Videonline in 1994, Tiscali in 1998 and Andala Umts in 1999.
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