Sardinia from the Middle Ages to Contemporaneity

A case study of a Mediterranean island identity profile

by Luciano Gallinari (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection VI, 200 Pages


The book offers a historical and methodological update of founding historical themes and moments, and a methodological review more than ever necessary of current interpretations of the History of Sardinia between the Early Middle Ages and the Modernity from an identitarian point of view. And that by means of a greater interaction between History, History of Art, Geography, Archaeology and Architecture.
Sardinia has been taken as a case study due to its island nature, with boundaries clearly determined by Geography and, moreover, by its extremely conservative nature. The authors’ aim is to provide scholars with new data and new reading keys to interpret Sardinian History and its Cultural Heritage. Both strongly conditioned by the permanence of Sardinia in Roman and Byzantine orbit, lato sensu, for more than a millennium (3rd c. b.C - 11th c. a.C) and by two other important elements: only about 80 years of a virtually irrelevant Vandalic domain and no Muslim lasting settlements throughout the High Middle Ages, not so far decisively confirmed by Archaeology.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Some criticalities on exegetical and methodological issues of researching the Sardinian identity profile (Luciano Gallinari)
  • Landscapes, archaeology, and identity in Sardinia (Federica Sulas)
  • The Sardinian giudici between historical memory and identity. A matter of longue durée? (Luciano Gallinari)
  • The Catalan-Aragonese Regnum Sardiniae et Corsicae and the Giudicato of Arborea in the fourteenth century. (Alessandra Cioppi)
  • Oligarchies, urban government and royal cities in late medieval Sardinia: elements for the construction of an identity (Esther Martí Sentañes)
  • The Navarro family. Mediterranean networks and activities of a family of fifteenth-century Valencian merchants (Giuseppe Seche)
  • Society and identity in fifteenth-century Cagliari testaments (Maria Giuseppina Meloni)
  • Reflections on the socio-political and cultural transmissions at the end of the Giudicato of Arborea. Identity-based resistance and (re)construction of historic memory? (Giovanni Sini)
  • The political role of noblewomen in the Kingdom of Sardinia at the time of the Camarasa Parliament (1666–1668): a preliminary study (Rafaella Pilo)
  • Passing through the Sardinian landscape in search of signs of identity and otherness (Sebastiana Nocco)
  • Figurative continuity and artistic syncretism in the wooden roofs of Romanesque churches in Sardinia (Andrea Pala)
  • “E pluribus unum. The Sardinian identity profile from the Middle Ages to Contemporaneity”. Cultural architecture of the Sardinian territory (Jorge Lobos)
  • Architecture and globalisation in Sardinia. The construction of the identity in Contemporary Sardinia, through Architecture (María Andrea Tapia / Horacio Casal)

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CNR – Istituto di Storia dell’Europa Mediterranea

Some criticalities on exegetical and methodological issues of researching the Sardinian identity profile*

1.  Some critical reflections on methodological and exegetical approaches to the History of Sardinia

It is not easy to motivate the publication of another book on Sardinian identity profile – from the Middle Ages to Contemporaneity, in this case – a theme with a very wide and articulated research literature, although with some significant differences in quality.

The present book stems from the need to disseminate some of the contributions produced by an international research project1, and also the opportunity to put forward our reflections on a theme in a constant evolutionary dynamism, and in the light of recent studies too.

This is also because of how the History of the island has been used and continues to be used in Sardinia – especially for some specific periods –, for agendas that fall outside the scholarly debate2. These purposes aim at presenting an image of the island that still suffers from rooted and ingrained stereotypes, ← 1 | 2 → or from hyper-corrections of these, leading to new interpretations that are not completely solid. Stereotypes, historical and historiographic myths that confirm how memory – and therefore identity – is the result of continuous choices – conscious or not3 – of what we want to remember, what we want to be rather than what we really are, and of how we want to represent ourselves4.

In addition to the continuous flowering and, perhaps, in some cases, to the obsessiveness of reflections on Sardinian identity, it is also the insularity which fosters this survival of stereotypes and myths, offering scholars a case study of limited size and, therefore, supposedly manageable with ease5.

In some cases, puzzling is the use made of documentary sources available, particularly scarce throughout the Middle Ages until the 14th century, when Sardinia becomes involved in political orbit of the Crown of Aragon and, therefore, its archives. The scarcity of sources is another difficulty with which the scholar of Sardinia must confront himself very scrupulously. More than ever when it comes to reconstructing the identity profile of its people, mostly only through the representation made by the Other, to which it is nearly impossible to oppose the Sardinians’ one, except from the Modern Age onwards, thanks also to the other Iberian archives that provide almost all the sources known until the beginning of the 18th century6. ← 2 | 3 →

Such diligence – even in very recent times – has not been the basis of some interpretative hypotheses that continue to propose stereotypes of isolation and remoteness of Sardinia7. In other texts, on the other hand, they fill the gaps of the sources – not just the textual ones, of course – with theories that are not sufficiently supported by primary sources, but with wide appeal for other scholars8.

In this sense, it is paradigmatic the historiographic debate on a theme of great importance for the island history: the possible Islamic presence in Sardinia in the Middle Ages.

In recent years, hypotheses have been formulated – much more interesting for the exegetical methodology of their authors than for the few sources cited. These hypotheses envisage a certain and considerable presence of Muslims in parts of the island between the 8th and the 10th c., which would confirm the opening of Sardinia to the Mediterranean with its capital, endowed with a multicultural, perhaps even a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional society ‘which is the perfect image of the Mediterranean world of those centuries’9. Perhaps here lies the historiographic problem: ← 3 | 4 → the adherence of events to the “perfect” model, according to current scholars’ parameters10.

As if, the starting institutional dependency and, the later formal one on the Byzantine Empire, the diplomatic relations with the Holy Roman Empire in the first half of the 9th century, and with the Caliphate of Cordoba in the mid-10th c., were not sufficient elements to believe that Sardinia had a multiethnic Mediterranean society. These are all relations proved by numerous written and epigraphic sources of Western and Eastern origin.

But we go even further. On the basis on abovementioned sources and interpretations, and adding arguments of logic, admissibility and presumption, there is someone who goes as far as claiming a sure Muslim presence on the island. Simultaneously, the same scholar even questions the Christianity of Sardinia between the 8th and 10th centuries. All of this, after having underlined at the beginning on his writing that ‘the problem of verifying sources is therefore crucial to the development of research on medieval Sardinia’11. ← 4 | 5 →

These interpretative hypotheses are linked to what we mentioned before on the reconstruction of memory, according to choices that respond to the purpose – conscious and not – of those who rebuild it: to show how Sardinian society was aligned with contemporary Mediterranean society, revealing that, for them, this was not the case neither in that historical period nor today.

Once again, we see surfacing the belief, very widespread in Sardinia – sometimes even unconsciously, as it emerges in the texts –, that the island must always be “special”, detached from the “normal” course of the surrounding events, despite statements in the opposite direction12.

If we want to find a sort of “original sin” in the delicate relationship between historiography and sources on Sardinia – and not only the one on the Middle Ages – we have to go back to the story of “Arborea’s Forgeries (Falsi d’Arborea)”in the second half of the 19th century. This was an operation that lends itself to a twofold interpretation: 1) a fraudulent reconstruction of a historical memory with two purposes: a clearly economic one for the counterfeiters and another cultural and psychological one, responding to the needs of counterfeiters and the contemporary Sardinian society13; 2) the Falsi are not historical memory, but a medium of the ← 5 | 6 → ‘illusory language of identification, ambition to omnipotence, and the not-yet-achieved access to the reality’ (‘linguaggio illusorio dell’identificazione, dell’aspirazione all’onnipotenza e del non ancora raggiunto accesso al reale’)14. These needs and ambitions are present to some extent also in today’s Sardinian society15.

Current historiographic problems also concern scholars who transform themselves into primary sources, not satisfied with what these contained therein16. Or, in other cases, scholars deny the sources’ contents even in the titles of their essays17.

Such attitudes are found with regard to another fundamental theme of Sardinian medieval history, concerning the alleged kingship of Sardinian ← 6 | 7 → judges and their “states”. A topic that is also at the centre of recent publications, and clearly full of of present-day identitarian and nationalistic aspects, giving the impression that they choose to ignore some authoritative medieval legal sources, that are contemporary to the Giudicati.

In addition to the Notae de Mathilda Comitissa already mentioned, let us consider the Siete Partidas, the legal encyclopaedia wanted by the King of Castile Alfonso X el Sabio in the second half of the 13th century. In the Second Partida, Title I, Law XI, dedicated to emperors and kings, their powers and origins, the lack of royal status for Sardinian judges is manifested by a precise reference that leaves no room for misunderstandings:


VI, 200
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (November)
Medieval History Modern History Contemporary History History of Art Archaeology Architecture Geography Cultural Anthropology Sociology Byzntine Sardinia Crown of Aragon
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. VI, 200 pp., 15 fig. col., 1 tables

Biographical notes

Luciano Gallinari (Volume editor)

Luciana Galliari is a researcher at the Istituto di Storia dell’Europa Mediterranea of the Italian Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR); Ph.D. in Medieval History; Ph.D. in Histoire et Civilisations (EHESS - Paris, France).


Title: Sardinia from the Middle Ages to Contemporaneity