Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

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- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Friday, March 28, 2014

Byzantine Sardinia - Imperial Province

Cabras, the church of San Giovanni di Sinis 
Early Christian church (6th century AD) of San Giovanni The building is the result of the transformation longitudinal trinavata of a Byzantine church with cross plan inscribed, dated to the sixth-seventh century, of which only the body and domed wishbones, with mullioned windows open in early Romanesque

Imperial Roman Sardinia
For over 1,000 years the island of Sardinia was an imperial province of both the Western and Eastern Roman Empires.

Circa 1000 BC the Phoenicians began visiting Sardinia with increasing frequency, presumably initially needing safe over-night and/or all-weather anchorages along their trade routes from the coast of modern-day Lebanon as far afield as the African and European Atlantic coasts and beyond. The most common ports of call were Caralis, Nora, Bithia, Sulcis, Tharros, Bosa and Olbia. .

While the Phoenicians stuck to the coastline, their relationship with the Sardinians was peaceful. However, after a few hundred years of habitation, they began expanding inward. They took over valuable natural resources such as silver and lead mines, and established a military presence in the form of a fortress on Monte Sira in 650 BC.

The Sardinians resented these intrusions, and in 509 BC they mounted a series of attacks against Phoenician settlements. The Phoenician settlers called upon Carthage for help, and when it arrived they successfully took control of part of the southern part of the island.

Conquest by the Roman Republic

In 238 BC the Carthaginians, as a result of their defeat by the Romans in the First Punic War, surrendered Corsica and Sardinia to Rome, and together they became a Roman province.

The existing coastal cities were enlarged and embellished, while Coloniae such as Turris Lybissonis and Feronia were founded. These were populated by Roman immigrants.

The Roman military occupation brought the Nuragic civilization to an end. Roman domination of Sardinia lasted 694 years, during which it was an important source of grain for the capital.

Latin came to be the dominant spoken language of Sardinia during this period, though Roman culture was slower to take hold, and Roman rule was often contested by the inhabitants of Sardinia's mountainous central regions.

A variety of revolts and uprisings occurred: however, since the interior areas were densely forested, the Romans avoided them and set them aside as the “land of the barbarians”.

Overall, Corsica and Sardinia became trivial gains compared to the Roman Empire’s Eastern gains. From Corsica, the Romans did not receive much spoil nor were the prisoners willing to bow to foreign rule, and to learn anything Roman. It was said that “whoever has bought one [Corsican] regrets the waste of his money”. The Romans regarded the islands and their people as backward and unhealthy.
Even though the Romans considered them trivial, Corsica and Sardinia ended up playing an important role in the happenings of the Empire. Sardinia provided much of the grain supply during the time of the Roman Republic. Corsica provided wax to the empire, as that was all that could be found on the island.

Vandal Warrior
The islands also indirectly contributed to the demise of the Roman Republic. Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix settled their veterans on Corsica and used the islands' grain supply to support their war efforts.

Julius Caesar had Sardinia occupied by his delegates and gained control of the grain supply. This supply of grain fed his army and ensured their victory in the civil war of 49 BC. Within the second triumvirate, Octavian received the islands as part of his share and used its grain supply to feed his armies against Brutus and Cassius.

Corsica and Sardinia also came to be recognized as a place of exile. C. Cassius Longinus, the lawyer accused of conspiracy by Nero was sent to the province as was Anicentus, murderer of the first Agrippina. Many Jews and Christians were also sent to the islands under Tiberius.

Vandal Conquest

The east Germanic tribe of the Vandals conquered Sardinia in 456. Their rule lasted for 78 years up to 534, when eastern Roman troops under Cyrillus retook the island. It is known that the Vandal government continued the forms of the existing Roman Imperial structure.

The governor of Sardinia continued to be called the praeses and apparently continued to manage military, judicial, and civil governmental functions via imperial procedures. (This continuity was not novel to Sardinia; like the Visigoths, the Vandals generally maintained the pretense of the empire, nominally acknowledging Constantinople and declaring themselves its deputies.)

The only Vandal governor of Sardinia about whom there is substantial record is the last, Godas, a Visigoth noble. In AD 530 a coup d'état in Carthage removed King Hilderic, a convert to Nicene Christianity, in favor of his cousin Gelimer, an Arian Christian like most of his kingdom. Godas was sent to take charge and ensure the loyalty of Sardinia. He did the exact opposite, declaring the island's independence from Carthage and opening negotiations with Emperor Justinian I, who had declared war on Hilderic's behalf.

In AD 533 Gelimer sent the bulk of his army to Sardinia to subdue Godas, with the catastrophic result that the Vandal Kingdom was overwhelmed when Justinian's own army under Belisarius arrived in their absence. The Vandal Kingdom ended and Sardinia was returned to Byzantine rule.

Church of Santa Sabina, Silanus, Sardinia
The church of Santa Sabina located in the plane of Silanus. The church has circular plan, with room central apse flanked by two cells. The church was built between X and XI century, in Byzantine period.
(Silanus, Sardinia)

The Byzantine Re-Conquest

In AD 533 Sardinia returned under the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire when the Vandals were defeated by the armies of Justinian I under the General Belisarius in the Battle of Tricamarum, in their African kingdom; Belisarius sent his general Cyrillus to Sardinia to retake the island.

Sardinia remained in Byzantine hands for the next 300 years, aside from a short period in which it was invaded by the Ostrogoths in 551.

Under Byzantine rule, the island was divided into districts called merèie, which were governed by a judge residing in Caralis (Cagliari) and garrisoned by an army stationed in Forum Traiani (today Fordongianus) under the command of a dux.

The praeses stood at the head of the civil bureaucracy and the judicial system as a supreme judge, the iudex provinciae, and was seated at Cagliari. The dux was the supreme commander of the military and was responsible for the defense of the island. His base was at Forum Traianus (Fordongianus). As the jurisdiction and mandate of both functions overlapped in many areas the function of praeses soon disappeared and both civil and military power concentrated in the hands of the dux which subsequently moved to Cagliari. The dux was at that time also referred to as ipatos and in letters of the pope as iudex (judge).

Walls of the Byzantine castrum at Tharros

The Byzantine Castra

Under Byzantine rule the towns changed as Christianity played a more central role in town life and in town planning. Because of continuous military threats there was a need to build new fortifications, the Byzantine castra (sing. castrum), to defend the troops stationed on the island.

The Byzantine castra can be found near the old towns on the coast and in strategical locations inland to protect urban centres and the fertile lowlands. The reason the dux was initially stationed at Forum Traianus would have been to contain the barbaric tribes of the interior. This may have concerned a tribe of Maurs, deported by the Vandals from north-Africa to Sardinia.

A Byzantine castrum has been found near the Roman bridge that connected Sant'Antioco to the mainland and the fortifications on the hill of the tower of San Giovanni at Tharros are ascribed to a Byzantine castrum where older, punic, sandstone blocks have been reused. It is known that at Santa Vittoria di Serri soldiers of the exercitus Sardiniae were stationed there, and in other places like the Castello di Medusa near Samugheo, the Castello di Barumele near Ales and the castrum at Oschiri, all sites where the military presence has been found as a result of archaeological excavations.

During this time, Christianity took deeper root on the island, supplanting the Paganism which had survived into the early Medieval era in the culturally conservative hinterlands. Along with lay Christianity, the followers of monastic figures such as St. Basil became established in Sardinia. While Christianity penetrated the majority of the population, the inland region of Barbagia remained largely pagan.

Arab Warrior
The Arab conquest of Sicily cut
Sardinia off from Byzantium.

In Barbagia towards the end of the 6th century, a short-lived independent principality established itself, returning to the local traditional religions. One of its princes, Ospitone, conducted raids upon the neighbouring Christian communities controlled by the Byzantine dux Zabarda. He was later reprimanded by Pope Gregory I within a letter for "Living, all like irrational animals, ignorant of the true God and worshiping wood and stone" In 594.

Ospitone was then convinced by Gregory the Great, to convert to Christianity after receiving the papal letter. His followers, however, were not immediately convinced and ostracised their prince for a short time before they themselves converted.

The dates and circumstances of the end of Byzantine rule in Sardinia are not known. Direct central control was maintained at least through c. 650, after which local legates were empowered in the face of the rebellion of Gregory the Patrician, Exarch of Africa and the first invasion of the Umayyads in North Africa.

The Incursions of the Arabs

There is some evidence that senior Byzantine administration in the Exarchate of Africa retreated to Cagliari following the final fall of Carthage to the Arabs in 697.

The loss of imperial control in Africa led to escalating Muslim Moorish and Berber raids on the island, the first of which is document in 705, forcing increased military self-reliance in the province. 

Raiding on Sardinia, Sicily and Southern Italy continued in the eighth century and increased in intensity in the ninth century. The incursions lead to devastation in coastal towns like Sant'Antioco, Nora and Tharros and many Sards would have been enslaved or killed. But apart from some short periods in time and on small parts of Sardinia there has never been an Arab domination of the island in this whole period of time.

Communication with the central government became daunting if not impossible during and after the Muslim conquest of Sicily between 827 and 902.

The Sardinians had to ask often for help from outside. There was even a Sardinian delegation at the court of the Frankish king Louis the Pious asking for his support against the Arabs. Eventually in the tenth century when the Arabs conquered Sicily and cut off the Byzantine empire from its possessions in the west Sardinia became really isolated.

At the beginning of the eleventh century the island turned to the upcoming naval powers Genua and Pisa for support and protection at sea. In Arab and Pisan chronicles an Arab prince is mentioned, called Mugiahid (Museto), who attacked the island in 1015 and managed to conquer parts of the south of Sardinia. The next year he could be defeated with the help of Genua and Pisa ending this brief experience of occupation. It marked one of the ugliest moments for Sardinia in this period.

Ending Byzantine Rule

A letter by Pope Nicholas I as early as 864 mentions the "Sardinian judges", without reference to the empire and a letter by Pope John VIII (reigned 872-882) refers to them as principes ("princes").

By the time of De Administrando Imperio, completed in 952, the Byzantine authorities no longer listed Sardinia as an imperial province, suggesting they considered it lost.

The final transformation from imperial province to independent sovereign resulted from imperial abandonment or local assertion, by the 10th century, the giudici had emerged as the autonomous rulers of Sardinia.

The Giudicati of Sardinia.
The Giudicati (Sardinian: Judicados, literally: judgeships or judicatures) were the indigenous kingdoms of Sardinia from about 900 until 1420, when the last was sold to the Crown of Aragon. The rulers of the Giudicati were the giudici.
The title of iudex was that of a Byzantine governor (praeses or judex provinciae) dating from the creation of the Exarchate of Africa in 582. The Byzantines were totally cut off from the Tyrrhenian Sea by the Muslim conquest of Sicily in 827. A letter of Pope Nicholas I in 864 mentions for the first time the "Sardinian judges," and their autonomy was clear in a later letter of Pope John VIII in which he referred to them as principes ("princes"). The local authority was exercised initially by curatores - who each ruled over a curatoria - who were subject to the judges, whose responsibilities included the administration of justice and command of the army.
Originally the giudicati' were Byzantine districts that became independent due to the Arab expansion in the Mediterranean, that obstructed connections between Sardinia and Byzantium.

The Eastern Roman Empire
The Empire at the accession of Leo III, c. 717.  Striped area indicates land raided by the Arabs.  The imperial islands of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica were subjected to endless raids and invasion by armies of Jihadi Arabs bent on conquest.
Flag of Sardinia
The flag shows the heads of Muslim Moors from North Africa blindfolded and facing to the left.  The Moors represent the era of the Muslim invasions of Italy starting about 827 AD.
Before the Kingdom of Sardinia was founded, the rulers of the island were known as archons (ἄρχοντες in Greek) or judges (iudices in Latin and Sardinian, giudici in Italian). The island was organized into one "judicatus" from the 9th century on. After the Muslim conquest of Sicily, in the 9th century, the Byzantines, who ruled Sardinia before, couldn't manage to defend their far west province.
Probably, a local noble family acceded to the power, still identifying themselves as vassal of the Byzantines, but independent "de facto" as communications with Constantinople were very difficult. This family adopted as its own coat of arms, the Byzantine one, that can be seen in several Sardinian sculpture of the period. It was a silver cross patonce on a blue field similar to the contemporaneous flag of the Duchy of Amalfi.
At the beginnings of the 11th century an attempt to conquer the island was made by Spanish Muslims. We have very little information on that war, but the Christians won and retained control of the island.

(TomySardinia.com)      (Giudicati)      (Flag of Sardinia)      (History of Sardinia)

(murighingius)      (Exarchate of Africa)      (Exarchate of Ravenna)

(historyfiles.co.uk-Sardinia)      (Tharros.info)      (Sardinia Byzantine Era)


AlessandroP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AlessandroP said...

Some additional information:

In Costantine VII's De cerimoniis, probably composed around 956-959, there's a text dedicated to the chant that the Sardinian imperial guardsmen sang to the emperors, and in the same book (De cerimoniis) the archon of Sardinia is mentioned as he received a a diploma sealed with a two-dollar golden bull.

Another mention of Sardinians in the byzantine empire is that made by
Theophylact of Ohrid, who mentions a group of Sardinians in Hagia Saphia, who lamented the fact that the pope had ordered them to eat unleavened bread.