I had the chance to come back to the Paradise some months ago and enjoy the Myth in the Mediterranean Sea even more. If you remember we had a walk in the northern parts of Ichnusa some two years ago. So now it’s high time we continued exploring it but this time to the South. But before doing it, surely, we should take some time and get acquainted with its very ancient and extremely interesting history. So, let us get started and dive first into the times when all other parts were already created on Earth and Lord started dealing with the creation of the Island of Sardinia.
I C H N U S A (S A R D I N I A)
He looked into his basket of heavenly treasures but unfortunately, it was almost empty and there wasn’t much left to bestow to the Island. He only found a pile of stones which he scattered here and there in the sea. When Lord saw the last one still being on the surface, He gathered them all and stamped them with his foot. That way the first shape of the island took place and consequently, it was named Ichnusa which means “footprint”. But God didn’t stop there. He knew He would have to give something to the island so that life could be possible among all these bare and unfriendly stones. That’s why He took something from all other lands and put it on the stony basis of the island thus turning it into a Paradise surrounded by a crystal clear some-shade-of-blue sea, dotted by sandy beaches, covered with wonderful wild nature and of course, He also created men and animals.
This first name of the island was widely used by the ancient Greeks and it is, actually, the Latinized form of Greek Hyknousa. Later they called it Sandalion (“sandal” in Greek), most probably relating the name to God’s footprint. As for today’s name of the island, it comes from the pre-Roman noun “sard” which was later Romanized to “sardus” (masculine) and “sarda” (feminine). You will ask me what it means, won’t you? Well, it was Sardinian Father (hero-God Sardus Pater from the Sardinian mythology).
Ta-ta-tatataaa … After this legend and short overview on the name of the island we will see that Sardinia has a very long and ancient history because it’s supposed to be one of the most ancient lands of Europe which was visited by human beings even in the Paleolithic period but the first permanent settlements appeared much later, in the Neolithic period, i.e. around 6000 BC. Soooo ….
The first human beings settled down in Gallura and in Sardinia to the north. Most probably they came from the Italian Peninsula, and in particular, from Etruria (today’s Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria). Those who inhabited the central zones of the island and more precisely i stagni di Cabras and di Santa Giusta (the marshes of Cabras and of Santa Giusta) had come from the Iberian Peninsula, through the Balearic Islands). And those who inhabited the settlements near il Golfo di Cagliari (the Gulf of Cagliari) were most likely Africans. Groups from Anatolia and the Aegean region reached the island later. That’s the reason why it’s said that there were more than one peoples in Sardinia.
In the course of time, Sardinian peoples unified culturally in terms of languages and clothes but they still remained divided politically into tribes. They sometimes formed confederations, at a time they were in war between themselves. Those tribes lived in their own villages where their houses were circular stone huts with straw roofs (those dwellings were very similar to the ones of shepherds’).
Villages started being built at the feet of a mighty fortification whose form was of a truncated conical tower reinforced and expanded with tilted towers. That building was called nuraghe (nuraghi in plural). It is a megalithic edifice or whole village that dates back to the Bronze Age when the Nuragic civilization flourished in Sardinia and nowadays it is the most distinctive cultural symbol of the island. The boarders of the tribal areas were well protected with such small observation nuraghi from enemies and they were built at high strategic places on hills, for instance. There are about 7000 such ancient edifices in Sardinia in present times.
The Phoenicians and their coastal towns in Sardinia (1000 BC – 509 BC):
The Phoenicians started “popping in” on the island and its coasts very often from 1000 BC. They originally came from Lebanon and had very strong trade positions spread out even to Britannia. Their ships needed to anchor somewhere for the night or to get repaired in case of bad weather. Phoenician traders got permissions for anchoring from local tribe leaders and principally they chose coastal settlements like Caralis (today’s Cagliari), Nora, Bithia, Sulci, Tharros, Bosa, Torres and Olbia. Those places were mainly inhabited by indigenous nuragic tribes and the minority of the people were Phoenicians. Despite this fact, those several coastal settlements turned into important and strategic points and true Phoenician towns inhabited by Phoenician families that did business and had a well-developed trading network in the Mediterranean Sea as well as they traded with nuragic tribes inland. The Phoenician expansion inland, unfortunately, became very dangerous and profound and that’s why Sardinian indigenous people attacked the coastal towns which were almost invaded by foreign traders and turned into Phoenician ones. The latter, in their turn, asked the Carthaginians to help them protect and keep those places.
This way the Carthaginian invasion of the island started. The Punics conquered the whole territory except for the mountainous part which was later called Barbagia or Barbària. Thus the splendid Carthaginian or Punic civilization “lived together” but it always opposed charming indigenous nuragic people for plus-minus 271 years.
Ancient Roman Sardinia and the beginning of the end of the Nuragic Civilization (238 BC – 456 AD):
The Punics were defeated by the ancient Romans in 238 BC, during the First Punic War and they were forced to cede the Island of Sardinia to Rome. Thus it became a Roman province and the Roman period began there.
The ancient Romans expanded and made Sardinian coastal towns more and more beautiful. They also penetrated military the island and also Barbagia (Barbària) trying to terminate the Nuragic Civilization. The ancient Roman domination was for 694 years and it was quite often opposed by i sardi from the mountains who, however, adopted the language and the Latin civilization.
In 456 AD the decay of the Roman Empire was quite tangible and the Vandals from Africa occupied Caralis and other Sardinian coastal towns on their return from a raid in Lazio. Their reign was relatively short because they were defeated by the troops of Eastern Emperor Justinian the Great near Tricamari (only 30km far away from Carthage) in 534 AD.
After that defeat the island went into the hands of the Byzantines. They divided it into districts called merèie, governed by a judex who was in Caralis. On the other hand, they were guarded by an army situated in Forum Traiani (Fordongianus nowadays) and under the command of a dux. This was the time when the Byzantines and Eastern Basilian Monks spread out Christianity on almost whole island except on the territories of Barbagia (Barbària). And why did religion skip those mainly mountainous regions of Sardinia? They recreated one ephemeral independent state which still kept Sardinian secular and pagan religious traditions and whose most important ruler was Ospitone (Hospito).
The Arabs began their occupation in the 7th AD century. They occupied North Africa, Spain and some parts of France from 640 to 732. They started their invasion of Sicily in 827. Fortunately, Sardinia remained somehow isolated and the island had to self-defend. That way the judex Provinciae became the only leader who obtained both civil and military power. The raids and attacks from the side of Islamized Berbers became more and more deadly over time and therefore, coastal villages and towns were abandoned by their inhabitants step-by-step. The judex Provinciae requested civil and military support from the four lieutenants from the four following merèie – Càlari, Torres, Gallura and Arborèa, for a better defense of the island. By the way, they themselves became judices (judikes in Sardinian dialect or king in English) of the respective states called logu.
So, this is in brief the antique history of the Island Sardinia. I would humbly advise you not to stop your journey through the history of the island but to stay tuned and take another trip to the Sardinian Medieval Giudicati.