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Prehistory and history of Sardinia


The research about the prehistory of Sardinia begins with the analysis of the traces left on the territory by the first Paleolithic social organizations, dated in 150000 BC.

In the first phase of prehistory man made his appearance on the island crossing the short flows of water which then linked the island to the mainland. Nature supplied them with appropriate materials to produce the first stone tools to use in particular in the practice of hunting.

The Homo Sapiens Sapiens in Sardinia was contemporary to the presence of a rich wild fauna, of which there are still traces in the subsoil. Scholars, in fact, have found remains of the Prolagus Sardus, which was a little rodent now disappeared, and of the Megaceros Cazioti, allocated in the family of the present deer.


During the Neolithic, that is usually dated starting from 6000 BC, man invented some new more developed agricultural and pastoral activities, fundamental for his survival. Furthermore, he learned to bury his deceased inside complex graves named Domus de Janas. The original name of the necropolis, which in Italian means “House of the Fairy”, was recently created by the local population which tried to explain its origin through its own imagination.
Current archaeologists agree in believing that the abodes of this primitive period of prehistory were close to necropolis and streams. Huts were surely built with a perishable material like wood.

For this reason today’s isle is rich of grave tokens, but has not maintained remains of villages able to give us more information about this mysterious people.

A strong symbolism ruled this primitive chronologic period, with the etching on stone of stylized horns, connectable to the god Bull, and false doors, also present in Egyptian tombs, which, according to lore, should have opened passages to the afterlife.

Some small stone statues, representing Mother Goddess and fertility, have been frequently found in the grave goods. Architectonic elements carved in the rock reproduce in the burial the same shapes of the house of the living, which should have allowed the dead to live there even after the end of life.

The originality of those expressions of the past characterized all the history of Sardinian population up to our days, influencing its cultural traditions, religious and pagan feasts.

Nuragic period

With the bronze age began the famous Sardinian protohistory, characterized by the construction of high nuragic towers and beautiful Giants’ Tombs.

Until now circa 7000 Nuraghes have been surveyed, spread all over the island.
Around the conical structure of the Nuraghe it is possible to visit, even today, the village of the community, made of round stone huts. Scholars believe that the main tower was used as military fortress in the event of an enemy siege or, later, as house of the ruling family.

Giants’ Tombs were the burials of the period, built with big stones with the megalithic technique spread over the island.
This part of Sardinian past is not usually included into history, but into prehistory or protohistory because the island lacked the use of writing.

Phoenician period

Only by the 10th or 9th century BC the influence of more evolved Mediterranean people arrived in Sardinia, like the Phoenicians or the Punics, who colonized the island destroying the previous social structure.

The Phoenicians were a Semitic population of skillful seafarers, who came from Lebanon and travelled around the Mediterranean to the trading posts of Spain and the Balearic Islands.

The products they brought on their fast ships had a great handcrafted value and often little weight and volume, like glass, gold, silver and fabrics.

Among the Sardinian centers in the Gulf of Cagliari which still maintain today the traces of their commerce, we find Villasimius. Many cities were founded by the Phoenicians, in particular in the south of the island, like Caralis, which is the current Cagliari, Nora, Bithia and Sulcis.

The city of Tharros, in the west- center of the isle, is still today one of the biggest Phoenician-Punic attractive in the Gulf of Oristano.

Carthaginians adopted more aggressive politics than the Phoenician one, conquering the island and emphasizing the strong difference between agricultural economy in the Campidano and the pastoral one in the mountain area.

Roman period

Sources narrate of a violent rebellion of people allocated in the center of Sardinia which forced Carthaginians to ask help to the Romans. The famous consul Tiberio Sempronio Gracco ordered to occupy the island.
Historiography reminds in 19 BC a contingent of 4000 soldiers, sent to the center of the isle to force the inhabitants to surrender and pay taxes.

Sardinia was hardly conquered despite the death of a large part of soldiers, infected by malaria and plague.
With the Romans, also the princes of Christian faith arrived in Sardinia and they led the inhabitants to use the old prehistoric or pagan-punic tombs to turn them into Christian sanctuaries.
In 284 the Emperor Diocleziano renewed the administration of the provinces and later the edict of the Emperor Costantino liberalized Christian religion in the entire empire.

From Medieval age to the 19th century

After the end of the West Roman Empire, occurred in 476 AD, the East emperor Giustiniano declared the island, along with the Balearic Islands and Corsica, to be one of the seven Provinces of Bisanzio. Its dominion lasted only three centuries until the constitution of the Giudicati.

Then there was a long period of autonomy in the territories of Cagliari, Arborea, Logudoro and Gallura, which became real and proper kingdoms ruled by local authorities.

Between 1365 and 1409 there was a period of wellness on the island with the extension of civil and penal laws of the Carta de Logu, written by Eleonora d’Arborea. The history of successive centuries was characterized by contrasts between Genoese and people from Pisa for the hegemony on the isle. The Spanish dominion followed until the Piemontese one, which led to the constitution of the Reign of Italy in 1861.

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