Identification. Sardinians are the inhabitants of the island of Sardinia, today an autonomous region of Italy. Sardinians see themselves as a distinct ethnic group while being Italian by nationality.

Location. The island of Sardinia lies in the central Mediterranean Sea, 184 kilometers north of the African coast, 208 kilometers west of the Italian port city of Civitavecchia, and separated from Corsica to the north by the 11-kilometer-wide Straits of Bonifacio. With an area of 24,090 square kilometers, Sardinia is the second-largest Mediterranean island, after Sicily. The island consists primarily of mountainous Plateaus, rising gradually from the west and forming the Gennargentu Range in east-central Sardinia, with its highest peak, Punta La Marmora, at 1,834 meters; the eastern plateaus plunge dramatically into the sea. Most of the land area of Sardinia is unsuitable for agriculture; the most important exception is the Campidano Plain, a corridor of fertile lowlands in the southwest stretching from the Gulf of Cagliari to the Gulf of Oristano. Forests, too, cover a relatively small area; most of these are of cork oaks, an important natural resource of the Island. Two-thirds of the island is covered by the degraded vegetation characteristic of the Mediterranean, called maquis (Italian, macchia ), much of which is suitable for pastoralism. Sardinia has a typical Mediterranean climate of mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. At lower elevations, from sea level to 450 meters, the summer drought can last five months, although above 900 meters the dry period is reduced to three months. The mean annual rainfall (at Cagliari, sea-level) is 48 centimeters; however, the amount of rainfall is highly riable from year to year.

Demography. Sardinia has roughly 1.6 million inhabitants and is the least densely populated region of Italy. The two main urban centers are Cagliari, the regional and Provincial capital in the south, and Sassari, a provincial capital in the north; the two other provincial capitals, Oristano and Nuoro, are rapidly growing towns that serve as local urban centers.

Linguistic Affiliation. Most Sardinians speak standard Italian as well as their local Sardinian language, although Sardinian is now declining in urban areas. Sardinian is a family of related dialects that derive from the ancient Latin of the Romans. There is no standard form of Sardinian. There are small pockets of populations that speak other colonial Languages, such as Catalonian Spanish, which is still spoken in Alghero.

Sardinia has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The primary evidence of the proto-Sardic people and culture are the nuraghi, ancient, conical-shaped stone dwellings, of which about 6,500 have been identified; little else is known about these original Sardinians. The Phoenicians, mainly interested in trade, established peaceful contacts with the Sardinians around 1000 b.c. They were followed by the Carthaginians during the sixth century b.c., who warred with the Sardinians and conquered much of the island, as did the Romans from 238 b.c.; these two periods of domination were militarily, Economically, and politically quite similar. The changes imposed by these powers have influenced the development of the Island ever since. Interested only in exploiting the fertile plains and mineral-rich hills, the invaders conquered and occupied only the lowland areas, where latifundist estates and mines were established. The indigenous peoples either were subjugated or sought refuge in the highlands, which the Romans called “the land of the barbarians,” the region known as Barbagia today. Thus Sardinia was divided into two socioEconomic subregions: the foreign-dominated agricultural Lowlands and the independent but impoverished agropastoral highlands; this separation has characterized Sardinia until present times. The Vandals conquered Sardinia in a.d. 455, but throughout their eighty-year domination they, too, failed to penetrate the mountain refuge areas. Sardinia became a province of Byzantium in a.d. 534; by the eighth century, However, the authorities began gradually to withdraw, ushering in a period of autonomous government, an indigenous renaissance based on communal landholdings and administration by local assemblies of freemen. The absence of a strong military power on the island was a temptation to both the pirates and the pope: Pisa and Genoa allied with the Sardinians to oust the Arabs, staying on to compete among themselves for dominance. From 1323 to 1478, Aragon fought for control of the island, initiating four centuries of Spanish domination. Spanish feudalism was essentially parasitic, feeding an absentee aristocracy, which led to economic isolation and stagnation in Sardinia; Spanish exploitation primarily took the form of taxation, which left communities relatively free to organize production according to traditional forms. Thus, the subsistence-oriented economies based on agriculture in the Lowlands and pastoralism in the highlands persisted in Sardinia much longer than in the rest of Europe, and the island became more and more of an underdeveloped backwater. In the nineteenth century, Sardinia passed to Savoy under treaty, and was incorporated into the Italian state with unification in 1860. The greatest changes in Sardinian society have been since World War II, as the Italian state has instituted policies to stimulate development and modernization throughout the mezzogiorno (southern Italy).


The majority of the population lives in nucleated settlements situated away from the coasts, with a typical village having Between 1,500 and 4,000 inhabitants. The coasts were largely abandoned until modern times, both because malaria (endemic until 1952) was more prevalent in the low-lying coastal areas and because inland villages were safer from pirate attacks, which were common until the early 1800s. Cagliari, with its excellent natural harbor and centuries-old urban tradition, is a notable exception to this rule. Sardinian houses, which may reach several stories high, were constructed of unmortared stone; cement blocks are more common today, however.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. In the Highlands, subsistence was based on pastoralism and small-scale agriculture. In the lowlands, agriculture was more intensive and livestock of less importance. Sheep and goats provided milk, which was processed into cheese; chickens laid eggs; household gardens provided vegetables and fruits; vineyards yielded grapes, which were made into wine; olive trees were harvested to produce oil; and grain was sown for bread. Pigs were raised, wild game hunted, and, occasionally, lambs slaughtered for meat. The local economy provided all the elements of a well-balanced diet; unfortunately, until recently, most villagers were too poor to enjoy such a variety. Fishing has never been a major part of the Sardinian subsistence or economy. Donkeys provided transportation and animal power for the lower classes, horses for the well-to-do. Cows were sometimes raised for milk and dogs were kept for hunting. Today, the traditional subsistence economy has been replaced by a market economy. Agriculture has diminished because only a few crops are profitable in competition with imports from the European Community (EC) and elsewhere. Pastoralism remains an important sector in the modern Economy, although much of the milk is now sold to cooperatives that produce the distinctive pecorino sheep’s cheese in Modern dairies for sale and export.

Until recently, the Sardinian economy had been oriented primarily to subsistence, commerce was restricted to the dominating elites, and industry was limited to household handicrafts. Today, the service sector, including government employment and small business, employs more Sardinians than any other. Household handicrafts have all but disappeared, although a small-crafts industry produces items for the tourist and export markets. Industrialization has not been very successful in Sardinia, despite massive inputs from the central government. Mining (which is in decline) and petrochemical processing are the two major industries. Tourism is an important and expanding part of the economy in coastal areas.

Trade. Sardinia imports most manufactured goods and exports primary products (wine, cheese, vegetables) from the agro-pastoral sector. Sardinia also exports labor in the form of unemployed workers migrating to the industrial centers in northern Italy or west-central Europe and imports money in the form of subsidies, aid, pensions and remittances from Migrant workers.

Division of Labor. The traditional division of labor was structured along gender lines. Men’s roles were centered away from the home, while women’s were centered in the home. Peasant men worked in the fields to grow the wheat while the women worked at home to transform it into bread. The shepherds who were away with the flocks most of the time were always male; the women worked closer to home, producing cheese, raising other domestic animals, and gardening. In pastoral communities, agricultural work was shared by both men and women, although some tasks were designated as male or female. Today, women are responsible for domestic tasks and child care. This division of labor is reflected symbolically in the community, where certain areas are designated as male territory (the bars, piazza, and pasture) and others as the female domain (the house and the neighborhood) . The household is seen as having both a male and a female head, both recognized decision makers, the men directing activities outside of the household and the women inside, with the women storing, processing, and marketing much of the total product of men’s and women’s work, and, as well, mediating between the adult men of the household. Major economic expenditures are decided jointly.

Land Tenure. Land may be held privately or communally. In the agricultural lowlands most land is privately owned, but most of the pastoral communities have maintained some of their property as communal grazing land to which all village members have rights. Privately owned land is often rented out to the landless or those with inadequate land of their own.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kin Groups and Descent. Kinship is an important factor in an individual’s social network, but corporate kin groups do not exist. Descent is bilateral.

Marriage. Marriage is monogamous and indissoluble; Divorce, although legal today, is rare. Marriage has been village-endogamous, but this custom is now in decline. In pastoral communities young people typically married late, the female average age being 25 and the male 35. A shepherd proved his ability to support a family by supplying the house, and (Ideally) assuming independent control of a flock. Postmarital residence is neolocal with a preference for living near kin.

Domestic Unit. The household is the most fundamental unit in Sardinian society. The household is minimally composed of a husband and wife; no unmarried person leaves the natal household to live alone. Unmarried adults may form households with siblings or other close relatives; widows often live with their married daughters (but never with their married sons), while widowers with no unmarried close kin constitute the only category of individuals who typically live alone (but they will be cared for by a close female relative). All adult household members are expected to contribute to the household economy.

Inheritance. Property is divided equally between the surviving members of the nuclear family, including the spouse and all children. Inheritance may be divided before death, retaining only a portion for subsistence, which will be divided after death.

Socialization. The primary responsibility for socialization rests with the mother, although the father may be responsible for teaching his livelihood (e.g., shepherding) to his sons. The moral conduct of the children is considered to reflect on the mother most strongly. Socialization emphasizes one’s community reputation and the fulfillment of one’s social roles. For example, young boys are encouraged to spend their free time away from home with other young boys, and young girls are expected to spend their free time with other girls and women within the domestic/neighborhood sphere as much as possible. Both boys and girls risk ridicule if they fail to fulfill these gender-specific expectations.

Social Organization. The most important social institutions in an individual’s life are the household and the village/commune, each with specific rights and obligations of membership. Social relations beyond the household consist primarily of ego-centered networks of individuals: much time and effort is expended to develop and maintain these kin and friendship networks as these provide the people to whom one turns in times of need. Shepherds and others whose occupations take them beyond village boundaries extend their networks to selected individuals in other villages and/or in regional centers. Collectively the shepherds of a region form a moral community called noi pastori, “we shepherds,” which sets the norms within which cooperation and competition in the pastures take place. Relations between poorer and richer and less and more powerful take the form of patron-client ties.

Political Organization. Sardinia is an autonomous region of Italy, the regional government having limited authority over internal affairs. The region is divided into four provinces. The lowest level in the hierarchy of authority is the commune, one or two settlements and an associated territory, which democratically elects a council to govern local affairs. Affiliation to regional and national political parties—Christian Democrats, Socialists, Communists, Sardinian Nationalists—often corresponds to alliances and factions in villages and vertical patronage ties to government authorities.

Social Control. At the community level, social control is primarily informal, directed toward the high cultural value accorded to one’s honor, or social reputation, which is based upon fulfilling social obligations toward others and effectively protecting the resources of one’s family (but not focused upon the “purity” of women). Gossip is therefore an Important element of social control. This is effective because one’s social networks rest on one’s honor: a man without honor is a man without friends and without support in difficult times. In fact, in the highland areas, the code of honor continues a complex legal tradition, including the ethics of sheep rustling and the vendetta, retaliation against another family for offences against the property and well-being of one’s own Family. Today, these local traditions of social control are often in conflict with the state-level controls, national law and police enforcement; the traditional forms of social control persist, however, because the people continue to find them more effective than state intervention.
Religion and Expressive Culture

Report Advertisement

Religious Beliefs and Practices. Sardinia was converted to Christianity in the Middle Ages and continues to be predominantly Roman Catholic. Every village has one or several churches. Religious ceremonies include both official church rituals and popular local feasts (feste ), such as saint’s day celebrations. Life-cycle rituals continue to be church-sponsored, even among Sardinians who are otherwise not active in Religious affairs.

Arts. Local handicrafts such as weaving, basketry, woodwork, and leatherwork are still appreciated by most Sardinians, but are today the work of specialists. Sardinian music and poetry also continue to be popular. New art forms are also being incorporated, often in such distinctive ways as the politically inspired murals painted on houses in many villages and towns.