The Nuragic civilisation, born and developed in Sardinia, lasted from the Bronze Age (18th century BC) to the 2nd century AD. The civilization’s name derives from its most characteristic monument, the nuraghe, a tower-fortress type of construction built in numerous exemplars starting from about 1800 BC. Today some 7,000 nuraghes dot the Sardinian landscape.
No written records of this civilisation have been discovered. The only written information that we have comes from classical literature of the Greeks and Romans and may be considered more mythological than historical.
In the Stone Age, the island was inhabited by people who had arrived there in the P and Neolithic ages from several parts of Europe and the Mediterranean area.
The economy was based on agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing and trading with the mainland. With the diffusion of metallurgy, silver and copper objects and weapons also appeared on the island.
Remains from this period include hundreds of Menhirs (called perdas fittas) and dolmens, more than 2400 hypogeum tombs called domus de janas, the statue-menhirs warriors or female figures, and the stepped pyramid of Monte d’Accoddi, near Sassari.
Dating to the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, the nuraghe, which evolved from the previous proto-nuraghe, are megalithic towers with a truncated cone shape; they are widespread in the whole of Sardinia, about one nuraghe every three square kilometers.
There has long been controversy among scholars. Theories about their utilization have included social, military, religious, astronomical role, as furnaces or sepulture places, but the modern agreement is that they were defensible homesites that included barns and silos
In the second half of the 2nd millennium BC, archaeological studies have proved the increasing size of the settlements built around some of these structures, which were often located at the summit of hills. Perhaps for protection reasons, new towers were added to the original ones, connected by walls provided with slits forming a complex nuraghe.
Soon Sardinia, a land rich in mines, notably copper and lead, saw the construction of numerous furnaces for the production of alloys which were traded across the Mediterranean basin and nuragic people became skilled metal workers; they were among the main metal producers in Europe and with bronze they produced a wide variety of objects and new weapons as swords, daggers, axes, and after drills, pins, rings, bracelets, typical bronze statuettes, and the votive bronze boats that show a close relationship with the sea.
he late Bronze Age (14th-13th-12th centuries BC) saw a vast migration of the so-called Sea Peoples, described in ancient Egyptian sources. They destroyed Mycenaean and Hittite sites and also attacked Egypt. According to Giovanni Ugas the Sherden, one of the most important tribes of the sea peoples, are to be identified with the Nuragic Sardinians.
Another hypothesis is that they arrived to the island around the 13th or 12th century after the failed invasion of Egypt. However, these theories remain controversial. Simonides of Ceos and Plutarch spoke of raids by Sardinians against the island of Crete, in the same period in which the Sea People invaded Egypt.
This would at least confirm that Nuragic Sardinians frequented the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Further proofs come from 13th-century Nuragic ceramics found at Tiryns, Kommos, Kokkinokremnos and in Sicily, at Lipari and the Agrigento area, along the sea route linking western to eastern Mediterranean.
Archaeologists define the nuragic phase as ranging from 900 BC to 500 BC (Iron Age) the era of the aristocracies. Fine ceramics were produced along with more and more elaborate tools and the quality of weapons increased.
With the flourishing of trade, metallurgical products and other manufactured goods were exported to every corner of the Mediterranean, from the Near East to Spain and the Atlantic. The huts in the villages increased in number and there was generally a large increase in population. The construction of the nuraghes stopped and individual tombs replaced collective burials (Giant’s Tombs).
But the real breakthrough of that period, according to archaeologist Giovanni Lilliu, was the political organization which revolved around the Parliament of the village, composed by the heads and the most influential people, who gathered to discuss the most important issues.
Around 900 BC the Phoenicians began visiting Sardinia with increasing frequency. The most common ports of call were Caralis, Nora, Bithia, Sulcis, Tharros, Bosa and Olbia.
The Roman historian Justin describes a Carthaginian expedition led by Malco in 540 BC against a still strongly Nuragic Sardinia. The expedition failed and this caused a political revolution in Carthage, from which Mago emerged. He launched another expedition against the island, in 509 BC, after the Sardinians attacked the Phoenicians’ coastal cities. The Carthaginians, after a number of military campaigns in which Mago died and was replaced by his brother Hamilcar, overcame the Sardinians and conquered coastal Sardinia, the Iglesiente with its mines and the southern plains. The Nuragic civilization survived in the mountainous mainland of the island.
In 238 BC the Carthaginians, as a result of their defeat by the Romans in the first Punic War, surrendered Sardinia to Rome. Sardinia together with Corsica became a Roman province (Corsica et Sardinia), however the Greek geographer Strabo confirms the survival, in the interior of the island, of the Nuragic civilization even in Imperial times.
The Nuragic civilization was probably based on clans, each led by a chief, who resided in the complex nuraghe, with common people living in the nearby villages of roundhouses with straw roofs, very similar to the modern pinnettas of the Barbagia shepherds. Religion and fighting both had a strong role in this society, which has led scholars to the hypothesis that the Nuragic civilization was a theocracy.
Some Nuraghe bronzes clearly portray the figures of chief-kings, recognizable by their wearing a cloak and carrying a staff with bosses. Also depicted are other classes, including miners, artisans, musicians, wrestlers (the latter similar to those of the Minoan civilizations) and many fighting men, which has led scholars to think of a warlike society, with precise military divisions (archers, infantrymen). Different uniforms could belong to different cantons or clans, or to different military units.
The priestly role may have been fulfilled by women.
Some small bronzes also give clues about Nuragic personal care and fashion. Women generally had long hair; men sported two long braids on each side of the face, while their head hair was cut very short or else covered by a leather cap.