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Oldest history

In 1980, stone tools were found near Perfugas. They were found to be from the Old Stone Age and more specifically from the Interglacial period (180,000-120,000 BC). Little is known about these inhabitants. Much more is known about the young Stone Age, the period from 6.000 to 2.000 B.C. During the late Neolithic period intricate burial chambers were carved out of volcanic rocks along the northeast coast of Sardinia. During the bell-cup period (ca. 2000 BC) the first dolmens and menhirs appeared near Cagliari. On several places weapons, remains of habitation and household goods have been found that resemble finds from other parts of Europe and even the Near East.

Around 1800 BC a new group of inhabitants arrived, probably from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal). These people left many large defendable stone towers that are called nuraghi. A nuraghe was a building for the village chief and a shelter for the people when danger threatened. About 6500 nuraghi have been preserved on the island. Often a few dozens of huts were built against the ring wall. The most interesting and complete nuraghe of Sardinia is the "Nuraghe Su Nuraxi" from ca. 5th-6th century B.C. The people of Sardinia also cultivated large fields of grain and used the tin found in Sardinia to make bronze weapons and utensils. From this time also trade contacts with the Greeks existed, who did not possess tin themselves.

The name Corsica was first found on a tombstone, the "Nora stele". On this tombstone there is one of the oldest fragments of Etruscan writing. This seafaring people founded the first trading settlements on Sardinia. From the 12th century B.C. they controlled all the main trade routes in the Mediterranean. In that time the inhabitants of Sardinia also had trade contacts with the Etruscans from Italy. Eventually the Etruscans and the Phoenicians pushed the original inhabitants inland. Meanwhile the North-African Carthage had become an independent power. However, these Phoenicians were called Punics, the Latin name for Phoenicians. Also the Greeks took an interest in Sardinia again and attacked Sicily around 540 BC. They did this from their colony Alalia on Corsica. The Etruscans and Punics held them back. The Etruscans left the island and settled in Corsica, thus bringing Sardinia permanently under the influence of Carthage.

Roman time

Of course Sardinia also had to deal with the expansion urge of the Romans, who were lured by the minerals, the grain fields and the strategic location of Sardinia in the Tyrrhenian Sea. After the Punic Wars Sardinia came into Roman hands in 227 B.C. and together with Corsica it formed one province, but it would not really become the favourite province of the Roman Empire. The hostile population, the many marshes along the coast that were inhabited by malaria mosquitoes caused this. Sardinia was eventually used as a place of exile for criminals and also persecuted Christians sought refuge on the island.

It took the Vandal king Geiserik in 460 A.D. no trouble at all to take Sardinia. The downfall of the Roman Empire was already in full swing at that time. In 534 the Byzantine general Belisaurius conquered Sardinia again on behalf of the emperor Justinian. Justinian set up for Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearic Islands with Spain an "iudex provincae" that together governed the islands. From 700 on Sardinia was attacked by Arabs who at that time terrorised the whole Mediterranean area but also built fortresses on the various islands.

Sardinian chivalry and Italian influences

In the 10th century, the power of the Byzantine Empire weakened and the original inhabitants were able to strengthen their grip on the island again and the so-called Sardinian era of chivalry began. Around the year 1000, this resulted in four judicates (judik=knight). Four powerful families emerged of which the knight of Arborea was the most important. Together, they succeeded in keeping the Arabs off the island. In 1015, the Arab Mugahid of the Caliphate of Cordoba in Spain succeeded in occupying Cagliari and large parts of the southern coast.

Pope Benedict VIII called in the help of the Pisans and Genoese to drive out the Arabs. This succeeded, but also cost the Sardinians part of their freedom. The Italians gained more and more influence on the island and eventually even took over the positions of the four families. Only the Knight of Arborea retained his independent position until the end of the 15th century. At the end of the 13th century the families got into a fight with each other and Sardinia was assigned by pope Bonifacius to Jaime II of Aragon in Spain. Although he was even proclaimed king of Sardinia, the Spaniards did not show up and the Sardinians had every opportunity to put up a good defence. In 1323 the Spaniards invaded Sardinia with an army of about 15.000 men and with the help of the knight Ugone of Arborea.

The Genoese and Pisans were quickly expelled but the Sardinians went from bad to worse. The Spaniards turned out to be real tyrants and many battles were the result. Important in this was Eleanor of Arborea who became a national heroine. It was also she who in 1395 finally translated the "Carta de Logu", the civil and criminal law, into the Sardinian language. After the death of Eleonora the Sardinians lost the battle of Macomer in 1478 and also their independence.

Sardinia suffers from different rulers

Sardinia remained Spanish territory until 1708. The population was suppressed, which kept the island unsettled. In addition, various epidemics raged and the island was regularly attacked by Saracen pirates. These attacks lasted until the beginning of the 19th century. At the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century, Spain lost its powerful position in Europe. In 1708, a fleet of English and Austrians invaded the port of Cagliari. With the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the Habsburgs gained control of the island. After a short Spanish period in 1717 Sardinia was assigned to the House of Savoy by the Treaty of London. Vittorio Emanuele I received the title king of Sardinia, but even he hardly interfered with the island, that was left to queen María Antonieta 'Bourbon' of Spain, who was married to Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia.

In 1789, the year of the French Revolution, French troops tried to liberate Sardinia. One of the soldiers was one Napoleon Bonaparte, the later emperor of France. The invasion, however, failed. In 1836 the feudal power of the Spanish nobility was abolished by king Carlo Alberto. From 1820, the land was already privatised but ended up in the hands of a small group of rich people, which eventually led to an exodus of Sardinians who saw no future on the island. In 1847 a group of Sardinians travelled to Genoa and asked Carlo Alberto to extend the jurisdiction of the mainland to Sardinia.

On 20 December 1847 Sardinia was formally annexed to Piedmont. It was not a real solution for the population though. The heavy oppression and high taxes continued. Under Vittorio Emanuele II the Italian kingdom came into being on 17 March 1861, but Sardinia remained in the doldrums. The prime minister of the time, Cavour, would have preferred to give the island to the French, but this met with resistance from the English who were afraid that the French would gain too much power in the region.

Twentieth century

The First World War cost the lives of around 14,000 Sardinians, on average far more than in other Italian provinces. In the 1930s, the Italy of dictator Benito Mussolini tried to improve the economic situation on the island. He built new towns like Carbonia and Fertilia and established new industries on the island. This attention faded again at the beginning of the Second World War.

The population had risen to over a million, but changing circumstances led to a new wave of emigrants. During the war cities like Malcomer, Sassari and Cagliari were largely destroyed. On 26 August 1946 Sardinia became an autonomous region (regione autonomica). South Tyrol, Sicily and Friuli also received this status. With the help of American aid, Sardinia also succeeded in becoming malaria-free. The most important development in the sixties was the rise of tourism, which would make Sardinia economically better.

See also the history of Italy.


Ardito, F. / Sardinië
Van Reemst

Bülow, F. von / Sardinië

Vries, W. de / Sardinië

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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