Sardinian people

Sardinians / Sards
Sardos / Sardus  (Sardinian)
Sardi  (Italian)
Regions with significant populations
Sardinia 1,661,521 (Inhabitants of Sardinia, regardless of ethnicity)[1]
ItalianSardinian • Other languages
Mostly Christian (Roman Catholicism[2])
Related ethnic groups
Neolithic European farmers[3]
Italians and Spaniards

The Sardinians,[14] or also the Sards,[15] (Italian and Sassarese: Sardi; Sardinian: Sardos or Sardus; Gallurese: Saldi) are the native people and indigenous ethnic group[16] [17] from which Sardinia, a western Mediterranean island and autonomous region of Italy, derives its name.[18][19]


Depiction of Sardus Pater in a Roman coin (59 a.C.)

The ethnonym "S(a)rd" belongs to the Pre-Indo-European linguistic substratum. It makes its first appearance on the Nora stone, where the word Šrdn testifies to the name's existence when the Phoenician merchants first arrived.[20] According to Timaeus, one of Plato's dialogues, Sardinia and its people as well might have been named after Sardò (Σαρδώ), a legendary woman born in Sardis (Σάρδεις), capital of the ancient Kingdom of Lydia.[21][22] Pausanias and Sallust reported instead that it was a Libyan hero, Sardus Pater ("Sardinian Father") son of Hercules, the one who gave the island its name.[23] There has also been speculation that identifies the ancient Nuragic Sards with the Sherden, one of the Sea Peoples.[24][25][26] The ethnonym was then romanised as sardus (feminine sarda).



Fragment of pottery with human figures, Ozieri culture

Sardinia was first colonized in a stable manner during the Upper Paleolithic and the Mesolithic by people from the Iberian and/or the Italian peninsula. During the Neolithic period and the Early Eneolithic, people from Italy, Spain and the Aegean area settled in Sardinia. In the Late Eneolithic-Early Bronze age the "Beaker folk" from Southern France, Northeastern Spain and then from Central Europe[27] settled on the island, bringing new metallurgical techniques and ceramic styles and probably some kind of Indo-European speech.[28]

Composition of Nuragic tribes according to the Greek geographer Ptolemy

Nuragic civilization

The Nuragic civilization arose in the Middle Bronze Age, during the Late Bonnanaro culture, which shown connections with the previous Beaker culture and the Polada culture of northern Italy. At that time the island was divided into three or more major ethnic groups, the most important being the Iolei/Ilienses of the south-central plains and Barbagia, the Balares in the north-west and the Corsi in Gallura (and Corsica).[29] Nuragic Sardinians have been connected by some scholars to the Sherden, a tribe of the so-called Sea Peoples, whose presence is registered several times in ancient Egyptian records.[30]

The language (or the languages) spoken in Sardinia during the Bronze Age is unknown since there are no written records of that period. According to Eduardo Blasco Ferrer the Proto-Sardinian language was akin to Proto-Basque and the ancient Iberian, while others believe it was akin with Etruscan. Other scholars theorize that there were actually various linguistic areas (two or more) in Nuragic Sardinia, possibly Pre-Indoeuropeans and Indoeuropeans.[31]

Ancient history

In yellow the territories occupied by Carthage with the most important cities

In the 9th century BC, the Phoenicians founded cities and ports along the south-west coast, such as Karalis, Bithia, Sulki and Tharros.

The south and west part of Sardinia was conquered by the Carthaginians in the late 6th century BC and later the whole island by the Romans in the 3rd century BC, after the First Punic War.

The Barbaria (in blue) and the Roman controlled regions of Sardinia (in yellow)

Sardinia, with the exception of the central mountainous area called Barbagia, was heavily "latinized" during the Roman period, and the modern Sardinian language is considered one of the most conservative Romance languages.[32][33][34] Besides, during the Roman rule there was a considerable immigration into the island from the Italian peninsula; ancient sources mention several peoples of likely Italic origin living in Sardinia, like the Patulcenses Campani (from Campania), the Falisci (from southern Etruria), the Buduntini (from Apulia) and the Siculenses (from Sicily). Roman colonies were also established in Porto Torres (Turris Libisonis) and Usellus.[35] Strabo gave a brief summary about the Mountaineer tribes of Barbagia who refused assimilation during Roman rule, Geographica V ch.2:

There are four nations of mountaineers, the Parati, Sossinati, Balari, and the Aconites. These people dwell in caverns. Although they have some arable land, they neglect its cultivation, preferring rather to plunder what they find cultivated by others, whether on the island or on the continent, where they make descents, especially upon the Pisatæ. The prefects sent [into Sardinia] sometimes resist them, but at other times leave them alone, since it would cost too dear to maintain an army always on foot in an unhealthy place.

Middle Ages

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Sardinia was ruled in rapid succession by the Vandals, the Byzantines, the Ostrogoths[36] and again by the Byzantines.

During the Middle Ages, the island was divided into four independent Kingdoms (Sardinian: Judicados; Italian: Giudicati); all of them, with the exception of that of Arborea, fell under the influence of the Genoese and Pisan maritime republics, as well as some noble families of the two cities, like the Doria and the Della Gherardesca. The Doria founded the cities of Alghero and Castelgenovese (today Castelsardo), while the Pisans founded Castel di Castro (today Cagliari) and Terranova (today Olbia); the famous count Ugolino della Gherardesca, quoted by Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy, favored the birth of the mining town of Villa di Chiesa (today Iglesias), which became an Italian medieval commune along with Sassari and Castel di Castro.

Following the Aragonese conquest of the Sardinian territories belonging to Pisa, which took place between 1323 and 1326, and then the long conflict between the Aragonese Kingdom and the Giudicato of Arborea (1353–1420), the newborn Kingdom of Sardinia became one of the states of the Crown of Aragon. The Aragonese repopulated the cities of Castel di Castro and Alghero with Iberian colonists, mainly Catalans.[37][38] A local dialect of Catalan is still spoken by a minority of people in the city of Alghero.

Modern and contemporary history

View of Cagliari from " Civitates orbis terrarum" (1572)

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the main Sardinian cities of Cagliari (the capital of the Kingdom), Alghero and Sassari appear well placed in the trades of the time. The cosmopolitan composition of its people provides evidence of it: the population was not only indigenous, but also hailing from Spain, Liguria, France and Corsica in particular.[39][40][41] Especially in Sassari and across the strip of territory that goes from Anglona to Gallura, the Corsicans became the majority of the population at least since the 15th century.[41] This migration from the neighboring island, which is likely to have led to the birth of the Tuscan-sounding Sassarese and Gallurese dialects,[41] went on continuously until the 19th century.

The Spanish era ended in 1713, when the whole island was ceded to the Austrian House of Habsburg, followed with another cession in 1718 to the Dukes of Savoy, who assumed the title of "Kings of Sardinia". During this period, Ligurian colonists, escaped from Tabarka, settled on the little islands of San Pietro and Sant'Antioco (at Carloforte and Calasetta), in the south-west area of Sardinia, bringing with them a Gallo-Italic dialect called "Tabarchino", still widely spoken there. Then, the Piedmontese Kingdom of Sardinia annexed the whole Italian peninsula and Sicily in 1861 after the Risorgimento, becoming the Kingdom of Italy.

Montevecchio mine

Since 1850, with the reorganization of the Sardinian mines, there had been a considerable migration flow from the Italian peninsula towards the Sardinian mining areas; these mainland miners came mostly from Lombardy, Piedmont, Tuscany and Romagna.[42][43] According to an 1882 census realised by the French engineer Leon Goüine, in the south-western Sardinian mines worked 10.000 miners, one third of which coming from the Italian mainland;[44] most of them settled in Iglesias and frazioni .

At the end of the 19th century, communities of fishermen from Sicily, Torre del Greco (Campania) and Ponza (Lazio) migrated on the east coasts of the island, in the towns of Arbatax/Tortolì, Siniscola and La Maddalena.

In the 20th century, a large immigration flow from the Italian peninsula during the Fascist period occurred, as a result of a government policy: a number of people hailing from Veneto but also from Marche, Abruzzo and Sicily came to Sardinia to populate the island, especially the new mining town of Carbonia and the villages of Mussolinia di Sardegna (now Arborea) and Fertilia; besides, after World War II, Istrian Italian refugees were relocated in the Nurra region, along the north-west coastline. Today Istriot, Venetian and Friulan are spoken by the elderly in Fertilia, Tanca Marchese and Arborea.[45] In the same period, few Italian Tunisian families settled in the sparsely populated area of Castiadas, east of Cagliari.[46]

Following the Italian economic miracle, a historic migratory movement from the inland to the coastal and urban areas of Cagliari, Sassari-Alghero-Porto Torres and Olbia, which today collect most of the people, took place.


With a population density of 69/km2, slightly more than a third of the national average, Sardinia is the fourth least populated region in Italy. The population distribution is anomalous compared to that of other Italian regions lying on the sea. In fact, contrary to the general trend, urban settlement has not taken place primarily along the coast but towards the centre of the island. Historical reasons for this include repeated Saracen raids during the Middle Ages (making the coast unsafe), widespread pastoral activities inland, and the swampy nature of the coastal plains (reclaimed only in the 20th century). The situation has been reversed with the expansion of seaside tourism; today all Sardinia's major urban centres are located near the coasts, while the island's interior is very sparsely populated.

It is the region of Italy with the lowest total fertility rate[47][48] (1.087 births per woman), and the region with the second-lowest birth rate;[49] The Sardinian fertility rate is actually the lowest in the world.[50] However, the population in Sardinia has increased in recent years because of massive immigration, mainly from the Italian mainland, but also from Eastern Europe (esp. Romania), Africa and China.

As of 2013, there were 42.159 foreign (that is, any people who have not applied for Italian citizenship) national residents, forming 2.5% of the total population.[51]

Age expectancy and Longevity

Diagram of longevity clues in the main Blue Zones

Average life expectancy is 81.9 years (84.9 for women[52] and 78.9 for men[52]).

Sardinia is the first discovered Blue Zone, a demographic and/or geographic area of the world where people live measurably longer lives.[53] Sardinians share with the Ryukyuans from Okinawa[54][55] (Japan) the highest rate of centenarians in the world (22 centenarians/100,000 inhabitants). The key factors of such a high concentration of centenarians are identified in the genetics of the Sardinians,[56][57][58] lifestyle such as diet and nutrition, and the social structure.[59]

Demographic indicators

Historical population

Historical population
1485 157,578    
1603 266,676+69.2%
1678 299,356+12.3%
1688 229,532−23.3%
1698 259,157+12.9%
1728 311,902+20.4%
1751 360,805+15.7%
1771 360,785−0.0%
1776 422,647+17.1%
1781 431,897+2.2%
1821 461,931+7.0%
1824 469,831+1.7%
1838 525,485+11.8%
1844 544,253+3.6%
1848 554,717+1.9%
1857 573,243+3.3%
1861 609,000+6.2%
1871 636,000+4.4%
1881 680,000+6.9%
1901 796,000+17.1%
1911 868,000+9.0%
1921 885,000+2.0%
1931 984,000+11.2%
1936 1,034,000+5.1%
1951 1,276,000+23.4%
1961 1,419,000+11.2%
1971 1,474,000+3.9%
1981 1,594,000+8.1%
1991 1,648,000+3.4%
2001 1,632,000−1.0%
2011 1,639,362+0.5%
Source: ISTAT 2011, – D.Angioni-S.Loi-G.Puggioni, La popolazione dei comuni sardi dal 1688 al 1991, CUEC, Cagliari, 1997 – F. Corridore, Storia documentata della popolazione di Sardegna, Carlo Clausen, Torino, 1902

Division by gender and age

Total population by age

Geographical distribution

Most Sardinians are native to the island but a sizable number of people have settled outside Sardinia: it had been estimated that, between 1955 and 1971, 308.000 Sardinians have emigrated to the Italian mainland.[67] Sizable Sardinian communities are located in Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Tuscany and Latium.
Sardinians and their descendants are also numerous in Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland. In the Americas Sardinians migrated almost all in Southern part of the continent, especially in Argentina (between 1900 and 1913 about 12,000 Sardinians lived in Buenos Aires and neighbourhoods)[68] and Uruguay (in Montevideo in the 1870s lived 12,500 Sardinians). Between 1876 and 1903 the 92% of Sardinians that moved towards the Americas settled in Brazil.[69] Between 1876 and 1925 34,190 Sardinians migrated to Africa, in particular towards the French colonies of Algeria and Tunisia.[69] Small communities with Sardinians ancestors, about 5000 people, are also found in Brazil (mostly in the cities of Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo),[70] the UK and Australia.

The Region of Sardinia keeps a register of overseas Sardinians that managed to set up, in the Italian mainland and across the rest of the world, a number of cultural associations: these are meant to provide the people of Sardinian descent, or those with an interest on Sardinian culture, an opportunity to enjoy a wide range of activities. As of 2012, there are 145 clubs registered on it.[71]

Sardinians residing in European countries 2008[72]
Germany 27,184
France 23,110
Belgium 12,126
Switzerland 7,274
Netherlands 6,040
Others 17,763
Total 93,497

Unlike the rest of Italian emigration, where migrants were mainly males, between 1953–1974 an equal number of females and males emigrated from Sardinia to the Italian mainland.


The most common Sardinian surnames are Sanna (fang), Piras (pears) and Pinna (feather, pen): while most derive from the Sardinian language, some others are of Corsican, Spanish (including Catalan) and Italian origin.[73][74]

Most Common Surnames
1 Sanna
2 Piras
3 Pinna
4 Serra
5 Melis
6 Carta
7 Manca
8 Meloni
9 Mura
10 Lai
11 Murgia
12 Porcu
13 Cossu
14 Usai
15 Loi
16 Marras
17 Floris
18 Deiana
19 Cocco
20 Fadda



Geographic distribution of traditional languages and dialects spoken in Sardinia

Alongside Italian (Italiano) that, once first introduced in the island by law in July 1760,[75][76] became the official language of the Piedmontese Kingdom at the expense of Spanish (Español), Sardinian (Sardu)[14][77] is the other most widely spoken language of the island and is the aboriginal language of indigenous Sards.[78][79] However, because of a rather rigid model of standardized education system that strongly discouraged the Sardinian youth from learning and speaking the language,[80] the numbers of people retaining Sardinian as their first language have gradually decreased in their own island. As a result of that, Sardinian is currently facing similar challenges as other minority languages across Europe,[81] and both the Logudorese and Campidanese dialects (the main varieties of Sardinian) have been designated as definitely endangered by UNESCO.[82] The other languages spoken on Sardinia, all also endangered but with much fewer speakers than Sardinian, are not indigenous to the island but developed after the settlement of certain ethnic communities, namely Corsicans, Catalans and Genoese, in different regions of the island over recent centuries; these include Sassarese (Sassaresu),[83] Gallurese (Gadduresu),[84] Algherese Catalan (Alguerés),[85] and Ligurian Tabarchino (Tabarchin).[86]

The Sardinian flag


Main article: Flag of Sardinia

The so-called flag of the Four Moors is the historical and official flag of Sardinia. The flag is composed of the St George's Cross and four Moor's heads wearing a white bandana in each quarter. Its origins are basically shrouded in mystery, but it is presumed it originated in Aragon to symbolize the defeat of the Saracen invaders in the battle of Alcoraz.[87]

National Day

The Sardinian day (Sa die de Sa Sardigna in Sardinian) is a day-long festival celebrated each 28 April, which commemorates the revolt occurring from 1794 to 1796 against the feudal privileges, and the execution or expulsion of the Savoyard officials (including the Piedmontese viceroy, Balbiano) from Sardinia on 28 April 1794. The rebellion was spurred by the King's refusal to grant the island the autonomy the locals demanded in exchange for defeating the French.[88][89][90] The festival has been formally recognised by the Sardinian Council since 14 September 1993.[91]


Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria in Cagliari

The vast majority of the Sardinians is baptized as Roman Catholic, however the church attendance is one of the lowest in Italy (21.9%).[92] Our Lady of Bonaria is the Patroness Saint of Sardinia.

Traditional clothes

Colourful and of various and original forms, the Sardinian traditional clothes are a clear symbol of belonging to specific collective identities. Although the basic model is homogeneous and common throughout the island, each town or village has its own traditional clothing which differentiates it from the others.

In the past, the clothes diversified themselves even within the communities, performing a specific function of communication as it made it immediately clear the marital status and the role of each member in the social area. Until the mid-20th century the traditional costume represented the everyday clothing in most of Sardinia, but even today in various parts of the island it is possible to meet elderly people dressed in costume.

The materials used for their packaging are among the most varied, ranging from the typical Sardinian woollen fabric (orbace) to silk and from linen to leather. The various components of the feminine apparel are: the headgear (mucadore), the shirt (camisa), the bodice (palas, cossu), the jacket (coritu, gipone), the skirt (unnedda, sauciu), the apron (farda, antalena, defentale). Those of the male are: the headdress (berritta), the shirt (bentone or camisa), the jacket (gipone), the trousers (cartzones or bragas), the skirt (ragas or bragotis), the overcoat (gabbanu, colletu) and the mastruca, a sort of sheep or lamb leather jacket without sleeves ("mastrucati latrones" or "thieves with rough wool cloaks" was the name by which Cicero denigrated the Sardinians who rebelled against the Roman power).


Sardinians, although part of the European gene pool, differ from other Europeans[93] because of particular phenomena that are often found in isolated populations, such as the founder effect and the genetic drift. The data seem to suggest that the current population is derived in large part from the Stone age settlers,[56] with some other minor contributions in the Chalcolithic and the early Bronze age; very scarce, in terms of gene flow, appears instead the contribution of the historical colonizers.[94][95]

Recent comparisons between the Sardinians' genome and that of some individuals from the Neolithic and the early Chalcolithic, who lived in the Alpine (Oetzi), German, and Hungarian regions, showed considerable similarities between the two populations, while at the same time consistent differences between the prehistoric samples and the present inhabitants of the same geographical areas were noted.[96] From this it can be deduced that, while central and northern Europe have undergone significant demographic changes due to post-Neolithic migrations, presumably from the eastern periphery of Europe (Pontic-Caspian steppe) and possibly from Scandinavia,[97] Southern Europe and Sardinia in particular were affected less; Sardinians and Basques appear to be the populations that have best preserved the Neolithic legacy of Western Europe.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][96] A 2015 study estimated that roughly 84% of the Sardinian ancestry derives from the Neolithic Europeans (a hybrid population of Mesolithic Europeans and Anatolian farmers) while the remaining 16% derives from Late Neolithic/Bronze age Central Europeans (Neolithic Europeans mixed with steppe pastoralists).[98]

However, Sardinians as a whole are not a homogeneous population genetically: some studies have found micro-differences between the various regions of the island;[99] in this regard, the mountainous region of Ogliastra is more distant from the rest of Europe and the Mediterranean than other Sardinian sub-regions located in the plains and in the coastal areas,[100] in part because these more accessible areas show, like the rest of much of Europe, a moderate genetic influx from the Yamna culture pastoralists, thought to be the carriers of Indo-European languages into Europe, while Ogliastra has retained unaltered Mesolithic/Neolithic roots.[101]

According to a study released in 2014, the genetic diversity among some Sardinian populations from different regions of the island is between 7 and 30 times higher than that found among other European ethnicities living thousands kilometers away from each other, like Spaniards and Romanians.[102] A similar phenomenon occurs even among some isolated populations of Veneto and the alpine area, such as the Ladins,[103][104] where, like in Sardinia, the complex orography of the territory has made difficult relationships and communications with neighboring peoples for millennia.

SardiNIA study in 2015 showed, by using the FST differentiation statistic, a clear genetic differentiation between Sardinians (whole genome sequence of 2120 individuals from across the island and especially the Lanusei valley) and mainland Italian populations (1000 genomes), and reported a difference being even greater between Sardinians from the Lanusei valley and the other European populations. Also this pattern of differentiation is evident in the lengths for haplotypes surrounding rare variants loci, with a similar haplotype length for Sardinian populations and shorter length for populations with low grade of common ancestry.[105]

Notable Sardinians

Main article: List of Sardinians


See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to People of Sardinia.



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  76. Sardinian is generally considered to be the most conservative Romance language, and was also the first language to split off genetically from the rest of the others, possibly as early as the 1st century BC. Most of the academic community usually subdivides Sardinian into two groups: the first one would be Logudorese (Sardu logudoresu) and the second one would be Campidanese (Sardu campidanesu).
  77. Danver, Steven. Native peoples of the world - An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues
  78. Eduardo Blasco Ferrer, ed. 2010. Paleosardo: Le radici linguistiche della Sardegna neolitica (Paleosardo: The Linguistic Roots of Neolithic Sardinian). De Gruyter Mouton
  79. Lavinio, 1975, 2003
  80. Sardinia, Lonely Planet, Damien Simonis, pg. 44
  81. UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger
  82. It's a language born as a lingua franca of Tuscan-Corsican origin, with minor Ligurian, Catalan and Spanish influences and major Logudorese Sardinian influence.
  83. It's a Corsican dialect with Logudorese Sardinian influence.
  84. It's a Catalan dialect spoken in Alghero by the time Catalan invaders repopulated the town and expelled the indigenous population.
  85. It's a Ligurian dialect spoken in Carloforte and Calasetta.
  86. B. Fois, The crest of the four Moors, brief history of the Sardinian emblem, Carlo Delfino, Sassari 1990
  87. Alberto Loni e Giuliano Carta. Sa die de sa Sardigna - Storia di una giornata gloriosa. Sassari, Isola editrice, 2003.
  88. Massimo Pistis, Rivoluzionari in sottana. Ales sotto il vescovado di mons. Michele Aymerich, Roma, Albatros Il Filo, 2009.
  89. Adriano Bomboi, L'indipendentismo sardo. Le ragioni, la storia, i protagonisti, Cagliari, Condaghes, 2014.
  90. Sa die de sa Sardigna, Sardegna Cultura
  91. ISTAT
  92. Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Paolo Menozzi, Alberto Piazza - The History and Geography of Human Genes, 1994, Princeton University Press, pp.272
  93. Franco Germanà, L'uomo in Sardegna dal paleolitico all'età nuragica p.202-206
  94. Genetica, malattie e caratteri dei sardi, Francesco Cucca - Sardegna Ricerche
  95. 1 2 Genome flux and stasis in a five millennium transect of European prehistory
  96. Lazaridis et al., Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans p.10
  97. Massive migration from the steppe is a source for Indo-European languages in Europe, p.118
  98. High Differentiation among Eight Villages in a Secluded Area of Sardinia Revealed by Genome-Wide High Density SNPs Analysis
  99. Genome-wide scan with nearly 700 000 SNPs in two Sardinian sub-populations suggests some regions as candidate targets for positive selection
  100. Chiang et al., Using whole-genome sequencing to shed insight on the complex prehistory of Sardinia
  101. Il Dna sardo è il più vario d'Europa Ricerca sugli abitanti di Benetutti – Unione Sarda
  102. Italiani, i più ricchi in Europa … di diversità genetica – Uniroma
  103. Gli italiani sono il popolo con la varietà genetica più ricca d'Europa – La Repubblica
  104. Sidore, C., y colaboradores (2015). "Genome sequencing elucidates Sardinian genetic architecture and augments association analyses for lipid and blood inflammatory markers". Nature Genetics. 47: 1272–1281. doi:10.1038/ng.3368.
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