Outline of the History of Sardinia

(Taken from Marco Tangheroni, “Sardegna: storia,” and Folco Quilici, L’Italia vista dal cielo: Sardegna)

9th cent. B.C.    Earliest record of the Phoenician presence on the island.

8th cent. B.C.    The foundation of the coastal towns of Nora, Caralis (Cagliari), Sulci (Sant’Antioco), Tharros, Bithia, and Bosa.

7th cent. B.C.    Phoenicians begin moving inland, colonizing the hinterland.  Their relations with the natives were not always hostile: they engaged in trade with the Sardinians.

6th cent. B.C.    Greeks try to establish colonies in northeastern Sardinia.  The town of Olbia was a Greek city founded on a pre-existing Phoenician settlement.

535 B.C.          Etruscans (from central Italy) and Carthaginians (the heirs to the Phoenician cities in the east) drive out the Greeks at the battle of Alalia.  Sardinians resist the Carthaginian presence, and at time manage to defeat it.

510-509 B.C.  The Carthaginian generals Asdrubale and Amilcare defeat the Sardinian resistance, and by the end of the 6th century the coastal towns are in the hands of the Carthaginians.  Sardinia was not only strategically important to the Carthaginians, but its wheat fields were a breadbasket for the Carthaginian empire, and its mines were also very valuable.  To this day, Sardinia produces more mineral wealth than any other region in Italy.

386 B.C.          Another Sardinian uprising against the Carthaginians is suppressed.  To quell the rebellion, the Carthaginians are forced to send their troops into the hinterland.  In the years that followed, there was a greater integration of the Sardinians by the Carthaginians thanks in part to the complex network of roads connecting major towns to smaller outposts.  The social structure of the urban centers consisted of a governing aristocracy of Carthaginian origin, and a rising merchant class of humble origins.  There was also municipal autonomy:  sufeti (city magistrates, or judges) and assemblies of elders.  The garrisons consisted of mercenary soldiers; and the religious activities, which included human sacrifices, combined both Carthaginian and Sardinian practices.

238 B.C.          Mercenary soldiers rebel; and Rome takes over the island at the end of the First Punic War.  The Romans encounter great resistance from the Sardinians who had not been assimilated by the Carthaginians.  Sardinia becomes one of Rome’s first provinces.

215 B.C.          During the Second Punic War, Sardinian rebels, supported by Carthage and the Sardo-Carthaginian cities, rise against Rome, and are defeated in the region of Campidano (southwestern Sardinia).  Rebellions against Rome, however, continued for the next 100 years.

115-111 B.C.  The last large-scale rebellion against Roman occupation.  With the exception of the temporary occupation by Caesar’s and Pompey’s troops during the Roman Civil War, the 100 years that followed were relatively peaceful in Sardinia.

27 A.D.            The emperor Augustus comes to power, and Sardinia is governed by the Roman senate.

1st & 2nd cent.   During the first two centuries A.D. the island enjoyed a degree of prosperity due to the immigration of contractors and merchants from the Italian peninsula, and the opening of trading posts along the Sardinian coast, including the new Roman colony of Porto Torres in the north.  Sardinia becomes an important breadbasket for Rome; and its silver mines are exploited.  Four main roads connect Cagliari, the Roman capital on the island, to the other important Sardinian cities.  The Civitates Barbariae (Barbaric Cities), from which the region Barbagia derives its name, are not affected by Rome’s influence as much as the coastal towns.  The Latin language, however, does have an effect on even the furthest reaches of the island.

2nd century        Christianity comes to Sardinia, and in the 3rd century the first active Christian communities take hold on the island.  Barbagia, however, is slow to convert, as attested by Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century.

455                  After the Vandals sack Rome, they invade Sardinia, without making any social changes.  The island becomes a place of exile for bishops from the mainland during the barbarian invasions.

534                  The Byzantines (from Constantinople, modern day Istambul) occupy the island and make it part of Eastern Roman Empire.

8th century        Saracens and Moors (North African Moslems) pirate the coasts of Sardinia, but the Byzantine navy keeps them from establishing themselves on the island.

9th century?      Sardinia acquires greater autonomy as the Byzantine presence on the island wanes.  The island is divided into four large regions known as giudicati, from the title of iudex (giudice, “judge”) given to the rulers of the four regions: Cagliari, Arborea, Gallura, and Torres.  Each giudicato, also known as rennu (regno, “kingdom”) or logu (luogo, “territory”) in Sardinian, is divided into curatorie, each run by a curatore (“curator”); these in turn are divided into ville (towns) each run by a maiore de villa (town mayor).  A good part of the Sardinian population lives in servitude working for the large ecclesiastic and lay landowners (latifondisti), as well as the “judges” ruling these territories.

1015-1016       At the end of the 10th century, the Saracens resume their raids on the Sardinian coastline.  The maritime republics of Pisa and Genoa intervene, at the request of Pope Benedict VIII, and defeat the Saracens.  Pisa and Genoa slowly establish themselves on the island, first by receiving land from the Church, and later by acquiring commercial and trading rights.  These two cities also exploit the rivalry and internal problems of the four giudicati in order to take control of the island.  Pisa and Genoa transform the social structures of the island to suit their commercial interests: wheat, cheese, hides, silver and salt are exported from the island, and finished goods are imported.

11th century      Monastic orders from the Italian peninsula establish abbeys and monasteries on the island thereby transforming the religious culture from Greek Orthodox to Roman Catholic.  Their presence on the island will also transform the agriculture.

1164                The Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I Barbarossa, makes the giudice Barisone II king of Sardinia.  Barisone attempts to unify the island, with financial help from Genoa, but fails.  The giudicato of Arborea, with its capital at Oristano, will remain independent for the next two hundred years, despite various attempts by the Church, Pisa, and Genoa to bring it under their respective spheres of influence.

1187                Guigliemo di Massa, a Pisan, makes himself king of Cagliari (the giudicato of Cagliari had always been under the Pisan sphere of influence).  Several of his successors, including the giudichessa (female giudice) Benedetta and the giudice Chiano, try to break away from Pisan rule by siding with Genoa.

1256                Pisa defeats these attempts at independence, and the giudicato of Cagliari is terminated.  The noble families of Pisa (especially the Gherardesca, Capraia, and Visconti) divide among themselves the defunct giudicato of Cagliari.  The city of Cagliari itself, with its Pisan merchant class families, passes under direct control of Pisa.  When Count Ugolino della Gherardesca (immortalized by Dante in Inferno 33) is defeated, the mines of Sulcis and the newly founded city of Iglesias pass under Pisan control.

13th century      The giudicato of Gallura suffers a similar fate, the Visconti of Pisa conquer it, and it later passes under direct control of Pisa.  The giudicato of Logudoro is fought over by Pisans and the Genoese families of Doria, Spinola, and Malaspina.

1241                King Enzo, the son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, marries Adelasia, the giudichessa of Porto Torres; but his presence on the island is short lived.

1284                Genoa defeats Pisa in the naval battle of Meloria and takes control of the giudicato of Logudoro.

1295                Pope Boniface VIII exercises the Papacy’s claims to the island by giving Sardinia to King James II of Aragon in exchange for Sicily.

1325-26           After years of diplomatic negotiations, James II decides to occupy Sardinia with a large naval expedition headed by his son Alfonso.  When Iglesias and Lucocisterna fall to the Aragonese, Pisa is left with only a few smaller towns in the southwest.  The giudicato of Arborea, however, remained independent as did the territories occupied by the two important Genoese families, the Doria and Malaspina.  The Aragonese abolish the ancient statutes, and transfer local privileges and feudal possessions to Catalan, Valencian, and Aragonese nobility, thereby angering the native population.

1345                Years of guerilla resistance against the Aragonese turn into outright war.  Mariano, giudice of Arborea, sides with the enemies of Aragon; after his death the war is waged by the giudicatessa Eleonora d’Arborea, by her husband Brancaleone Doria, and then by the viscount of Narbona.

1409                The long war comes to an end with the Aragonese victory at Sanluri.  During the course of the war, Aragon was at times left with only the cities of Cagliari and Alghero, the latter populated entirely by Catalonians.  (To this day, Catalan is still spoken in Alghero.)  The long years of war, the Bubonic Plague of 1348, and the great dichotomy between the mercantile cities along the coast and the feudally administered territories in the hinterland, brought about a major downturn in the Sardinian economy.

1470-1478       The giudice Leonardo Alagon of Oristano revolts against the Aragonese, but is defeated at Macomer.  During the 15th century the mining industry around Iglesias comes to an end, and Sardinia is cut out of the trade routes in the Mediterranean, a source of wealth during Pisan and Genoese occupation.  The population declines and many smaller towns were abandoned.

16th century      An Aragonese viceroy is sent to Sardinia to reorganize the island, which serves as a base from which the Aragonese navy launches its expeditions against Tunisian and Algerian marauders.  The viceroy is aided by a parliament which consists of three branches [stamenti]: one representing the clergy, another representing the feudal nobility, and the third representing the cities that were not under feudal control.

17th century      The decline of Spain and its empire affected Sardinia.  During this century, King Philip II founded the University of Sassari, and King Philip III founded the University of Cagliari.  The Sardinian nobility of Spanish heritage begins seeking independence from Spain.

1708                Sardinia is caught in the war of succession between Philip V and Charles II.  Two political parties prevail on the island: one pro-Iberian (Spanish) and the other anti-Iberian.  After bombing Cagliari, the British navy occupies Sardinia on behalf of Charles II.

1714                The Treaty of Rastadt recognizes the passage of Sardinia from Spain to Austria as compensation for Charles II’s renunciation of his claim to the Spanish throne.

1718-1720       The island passes into the hands of King Victor Amedeo II of Savoy (modern day Piemonte), in exchange for Sicily.  The king appoints a viceroy to rule the island, but does not try to bring about any social or political change.

1730-73           During the “enlightened absolutism” of King Charles Emmanuel of Savoy, attempts to resuscitate the Sardinian economy are made.  Banditry is dealt with, and the Monti di Frumento (a credit union for seed grain) is re-structured in order to improve agriculture.  The Universities of Sassari and Cagliari, which had been closed, are reopened.  The population on the island grows to half a million.

1780                Popular revolts triggered by famine occur in Sassari.

1796                Gian Maria Angioj leads anti-feudal uprisings in and around Sassari.

1799-1814       During Napoleon’s conquests of Italy, the royal house of Savoy took refuge in Sardinia.  The years that followed saw administrative reforms in government, schools, the judiciary, and infrastructure (especially roads).

1821                The Chiudende edict is enacted; all private property to be closed (chiusi) by stone walls.  This edict, imposed by another region of Italy (Piemonte) on Sardinian peasants, clashed with a millennia old tradition of open borders which allowed the peasants to use the land collectively.  As a result, shepherds were unable to move freely with their flocks, and the peasants who owned the land did not gain anything from the law.  This law only increased tensions between nomadic shepherds and fixed farmers.

1836-39           King Charles Albert of Savoy abolishes feudalism, bringing about a violent reaction by both the nobility and the shepherds.

1848                With revolutionary movements taking place throughout the European continent, liberal factions within Sardinia obtained from the Savoy monarchy the “perfect equality [of the monarchy] with the continental states [Savoy, etc.].” As a result, both the monarch and the island’s nobility lost their autonomy in Sardinia.  The position of viceroy was abolished, and the local parliament, which had represented the interests of the upper classes, ceased to exist.  Sardinian representatives now sat in the Piedmontese Parliament in Turin.

1860-1870       The years of unification, when Italy became one kingdom, did nothing to improve the socioeconomic situation on the island, which began to deteriorate during the second half of the 19th century.  The socioeconomic decline was due in part to heavy taxation, credit problems in agriculture, lack of communication with the Italian peninsula, and brigandage. Sardinia was cut-off from trade with the Italian peninsula, and its traditional socioeconomic structures were overturned.  By the end of the century, the traditional balance between agriculture and herding was broken, and there was a lack of modern industrialization, notwithstanding the birth of Monteponi, a mining company on the island.

1906                Social uprising are brought about by rising prices; and many Sardinians advocate autonomy for their island.

1915-1918       World War I.  In the years after the war, several veterans found the Partito sardo d’azione, and demands for autonomy resume.

1921-1926       Mussolini comes to power in 1922 and sponsors land reclamation, land development, irrigation, and hydroelectric energy on the island.  As a result of these initiatives, many members of the Partito sardo d’azione join the Fascist movement.  A year earlier (1921), the Sardinian intellectual, Antonio Gramsci, founds the Italian Communist Party.  As a result of his anti-Fascist activities, he spends many years in jail where he writes his famous Quaderni dalle carceri (Prison Notebooks).  In 1926, another famous Sardinian, Grazia Deledda, becomes the first woman ever to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

1941-45           During World War II, Sardinian cities, especially Cagliari, are bombed by the Allies.

1948                The new Italian Constitution grants Sardinia the status of autonomous region.  In the postwar years the Rockefeller Foundation funds a very successful campaign to eradicate malaria on the island.

1964                The Italian government invests heavily in the industrialization of the island, especially in the petrochemical industry.  Tourism invades the coast; and several private developer, most notably the Aga Khan, make the Costa smeralda (Emerald Coast) one of Europe’s top vacation resorts.  Despite the island’s significant economic progress, parts of Sardinia have seen little change.