The Nuragic civilization, also known as the Nuragic culture was a civilization or culture on the island of Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, which lasted from the 18th century BCE (Bronze Age) to 238 BCE when the Romans colonized the island. Others date the culture as lasting at least until the 2nd century CE or possibly even to the 6th century CE.
The adjective "Nuragic" derives from the island's most characteristic monument, the nuraghe, a tower-fortress type of construction the ancient Sardinians built in large numbers starting from about 1800 BCE. Today more than 7,000 nuraghes dot the Sardinian landscape.
No written records of this civilization have been discovered, apart from a few possible short epigraphic documents belonging to the last stages of the Nuragic civilization. The only written information there comes from classical literature of the Greeks and Romans, and may be considered more mythological than historical.
One of the Domus de janas of the necropolis of Monte Siseri, Putifigari
In the Stone Age the island was first inhabited by people who had arrived there in the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages from Europe and the Mediterranean area. The most ancient settlements have been discovered both in central and northern Sardinia (Anglona). Several later cultures developed on the island, such as the Ozieri culture (3200−2700 BCE). 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.
Swords of the Bonnanaro culture (A2 phase) from Sant'Iroxi, Decimoputzu
The Bonnanaro culture was the last evolution of the Beaker culture in Sardinia (c. 1800–1600 BCE), and displayed several similarities with the contemporary Polada culture of northern Italy. These two cultures shared common features in the material culture such as undecorated pottery with axe-shaped handles. These influences may have spread to Sardinia via Corsica, where they absorbed new architectural techniques (such as cyclopean masonry) that were already widespread on the island.
New peoples coming from the mainland arrived on the island at that time, bringing with them new religious philosophies, new technologies and new ways of life, making obsolete the previous ones or reinterpreting them.
It is perhaps in virtue of stimuli and models (and - why not? - of some drop of blood) from the Central European and Polada-Rhone areas, that the culture of Bonnanaro I gives a jolt to the known and produces in step with the times.[...]From the generally severe, practical character and essentiality of the material equipment (in particular in the ceramics without any decoration), we understand the nature and the warlike habit of the newcomers and the conflictual thrust that they give to life on the island. This is confirmed by the presence of stone and metal weapons (copper and bronze). The metal also spreads in objects of use (copper and bronze awls), and ornamental objects (bronze rings and silver foil) [...] It seems to feel a fall of ideologies of the old pre-nuragic world corresponding to a new historical turning point
— Giovanni Lilliu, La civiltà dei Sardi p.362, La civiltà nuragica p.25-26-27
The widespread diffusion of bronze brought numerous improvements. With the new alloy of copper and tin, or arsenic, a harder and more resistant metal was obtained, suitable for manufacturing tools used in agriculture, hunting and warfare. From this period dates the construction of the so-called proto-nuraghe, a platformlike structure that marks the first phase of the Nuragic Age. These buildings are very different from the classical nuraghe having an irregular planimetry and a very stocky appearance.
Dating to the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE, the nuraghe, which evolved from the previous proto-nuraghe, are megalithic towers with a truncated cone shape; every Nuragic tower had at least an inner tholos chamber and the biggest towers could have up to three superimposed tholos chambers. They are widespread in the whole of Sardinia, about one nuraghe every three square kilometers.
Early Greek historians and geographers speculated about the mysterious nuraghe and their builders. They described the presence of fabulous edifices, called daidaleia, from the name of Daedalus, who, after building his labyrinth in Crete, would have moved to Sicily and then to Sardinia.
Modern theories about their use have included social, military, religious, or astronomical roles, as furnaces, or as tombs. Although the question has long been contentious among scholars, the modern consensus is that they were built as defensible homesites, and that included barns and silos.
In the second half of the 2nd millennium BCE, 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. Nuragic people became skilled metal workers; they were among the main metal producers in Europe  and produced a wide variety of bronze objects. New weapons such as swords, daggers and axes preceded drills, pins, rings, bracelets, statuettes and the votive boats that show a close relationship with the sea. Tin may have drawn Bronze Age traders from the Aegean where copper is available but tin for bronze-making is scarce; The first verifiable smelting slag has come to light, its appearance in a hoard of ancient tin confirms local smelting as well as casting. The usually cited tin sources and trade in ancient times are those in the Iberian Peninsula or from Cornwall. Markets included civilizations living in regions with poor metal resources, such as the Mycenaean civilization, Cyprus and Crete, as well as the Iberian peninsula, a fact that can explain the cultural similarities between them and the Nuraghe civilization and the presence in Nuragic sites of late Bronze Age Mycenaean, west and central Cretan and Cypriote ceramics, as well as locally made replicas, concentrated in half a dozen findspots that seem to have functioned as "gateway-communities.
The late Bronze Age (14th–13th–12th centuries BCE) 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.
Bronze model of nuraghe, 10th century BCE
Recently the archaeologist Adam Zertal has proposed that the Harosheth Haggoyim of Israel, home of the biblical figure Sisera, is identifiable with the site of "El-Ahwat" and that it was a Nuragic site suggesting that he came from the people of the Sherden of Sardinia.
Archaeologists traditionally define the nuragic phase as ranging from 900 BC to 500 BCE (Iron Age) as 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 (many were abandoned or partially dismantled starting from 1150 BCE) 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.
The Roman historian Justin describes a Carthaginian expedition led by Malco in 540 BCE 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 BCE, after the Sardinians attacked the Phoenicians' coastal cities. According to Piero Bartoloni, it was Carthage that attacked the Phoenician cities in the coasts, rather than the natives who lived in those cities with the Phoenicians, for the Phoenician cities which were destroyed like Sulky or Monte Sirai which he believes were inhabited mostly by native Sardinians. 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 culture may have survived in the mountainous interior of the island.
In 238 BCE 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 Nuragic culture even in Imperial times.
Religion had a strong role in Nuragic 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.
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 stone roundhouses with straw roofs, similar to the modern pinnettas of the Barbagia shepherds.
In the late final Bronze Age and in the Early Iron Age phases, the houses were built with a more complex plan, with multiple rooms often positioned around a countryard; in the Nuragic settlement of Sant'Imbenia, located by the coast, some structures were not used for living purposes, but for the storing of precious metals, food and other goods and they were built around a huge square, interpreted by archaeologists as a marketplace.The construction of rectangular houses and structures built with dried bricks is attested in some sites across the island since the late Bronze Age.
Water management was essential for the Nuragic people, most complex Nuraghi were provided with at least a well; Nuraghe Arrubiu, for example, presented a complex hydraulic implant for the drainage of waterAnother testimony to the Nuragic prowess in the creation of hydraulic implants is the aqueduct of Gremanu, the only known Nuragic aqueduct yet.
During the final phase of the Bronze Age and the early Iron Age Sardinia saw the development of proto urban settlements, with open spaces such as paved squares and streets, and structures devoted to specific functions such as metal workshops, the individual houses were provided with storing facilities and were served by infrastructures.
Throughout the second millennium and into the first part of the 1st millennium BCE, Sardinia was inhabited by the single extensive and uniform cultural group represented by the Nuragic people.
Centuries later, Roman sources describe the island as inhabited by numerous tribes which had gradually merged culturally. They however maintained their political identities and the tribes often fought each other for control of the most valuable land. The most important Nuragic populations mentioned include the Balares, the Corsi and the Ilienses, the latter defying the Romanization process and living in what had been called Civitatas Barbarie (now Barbagia).
The Ilienses or Iolaes (later Diagesbes), identified by ancient writers as Greek colonists led by Iolaus (nephew of Heracles) or Trojan refugees, lived in what is now central-southern Sardinia. Greek historians reported also that they were repeatedly invaded by the Carthaginians and the Romans, but in vain.
The Balares have been identified with the Beaker culture. They lived in what are now the Nurra, Coghinas and Limbara traditional subdivisions of Sardinia. They were probably of the same stock from which the Talaiotic culture of the Balearic Islands originated.
Bronze sculpture of a warrior with four eyes and four arms
The representations of animals, such as the bull, belong most likely to pre-Nuragic civilizations, however they kept their importance among the Nuraghe people, and were frequently depicted on ships, bronze vases, used in religious rites. Small bronze sculptures depicting half-man, half-bull figures have been found, as well as characters with four arms and eyes and two-headed deers: they probably had a mythological and religious significance. Another holy animal which was frequently depicted is the dove. Also having a religious role were perhaps the small chiseled discs, with geometrical patterns, known as pintadera, although their function has not been identified yet.
A key element of the Nuragic religion was that of fertility, connected to the male power of the Bull-Sun and the female one of Water-Moon. According to the scholars' studies, there existed a Mediterranean-type Mother Goddess and a God-Father (Babai). An important role was that of mythological heroes such as Norax, Sardus, Iolaos and Aristeus, military leaders also considered to be divinities.
S'Arcu 'e Is Forros
The excavations have proved that the Nuragic people, in determinate periods of the year, gathered in common holy places, usually characterized by sitting steps and the presence of a holy pit. In some holy areas, such as Gremanu at Fonni, Serra Orrios at Dorgali and S'Arcu 'e Is Forros at Villagrande Strisaili, there were rectangular temples, with central holy room housing perhaps a holy fire. The deities worshipped are unknown, but were perhaps connected to water, or to astronomical entities (Sun, Moon, solstices).
Some structures could have a "federal" Sardinian role, such as the sanctuary of Santa Vittoria near Serri (one of the biggest Nuragic sanctuaries, spanning over 20 hectares), including both religious and civil buildings: here, according to Italian historian Giovanni Lilliu, the main clans of the central island held their assemblies to sign alliances, decide wars or to stipulate commercial agreements. Spaces for trades were also present. At least twenty of such multirole structures are known, including those of Santa Cristina at Paulilatino and of Siligo; some have been re-used as Christian temples (such as the cumbessias of San Salvatore in Sinis at Cabras). Some ritual pools and bathtubs were built in the sanctuaries such as the pool of Nuraghe Nurdole, which worked through a system of raceways.
The holy wells were structures dedicated to the cult of waters. Though initially assigned to the 8th–6th centurie BC, due to their advanced building techniques, they most likely date to the earlier Bronze Age, when Sardinia had strong relationships with the Mycenaean kingdoms of Greece and Crete, around the 14–13th century BC.
The architecture of the Nuragic holy wells follows the same pattern as that of the nuraghe, the main part consisting of a circular room with a tholos vault with a hole at the summit. A monumental staircase connected the entrance to this subterranean (hypogeum) room, whose main role is to collect the water of the sacred spring. The exterior walls feature stone benches where offerings and religious objects were placed by the faithful. Some sites also had sacrificial altars. Some scholars think that these could be dedicated to Sardus, one of the main Nuragic divinities.
A sacred pit similar to those of Sardinia has been found in western Bulgaria, near the village of Garlo.
Nuragic fountain at Sa Sedda e Sos Carros
Roundhouses with basin
Starting from the late Bronze Age, a peculiar type of circular structure with a central basin and benches located all around the circumference of the room start to appear in Nuragic settlements, the best example of this type of structure is the ritual fountain of Sa Sedda e Sos Carros, near Oliena, where thanks to a hydraulic implant of lead pipes water was poured down from the ram shaped protomes inside the basin. Some archaeologists interpreted these buildings, with ritual and religious function, as thermal structures.
Megaron temple of Domu de orgia
Located in various parts of the Island and dedicated to the cult of the healthy waters, these unique buildings are an architectural manifestation that reflects the cultural vitality of the nuragic peoples and their interaction with the coeval mediterranean civilizations. In fact, many scholars see in these buildings foreign Aegean influences.
They have a rectilinear form with the side walls that extend outwardly. Some, like that of Malchittu at Arzachena, are apsidal while others such as the temple of Sa Carcaredda at Villagrande Strisaili culminate with a circular room. They are surrounded by sacred precincts called temenos.Sometimes multiple temples are found in the same location, such as in the case of the huge sanctuary of S'Arcu e sos forros, where many megaron temples with a complex plant were excavated.The largest and best preserved Sardinian Mégara is that called Domu de Orgia at Esterzili.
The so-called "giant's graves" were collective funerary structures whose precise function is still unknown, and which perhaps evolved from elongated dolmens. They date to the whole Nuragic era up to the Iron Age, when they were substituted by pit graves, and are more frequent in the central sector of the island. Their plan was in the shape of the head of a bull.
Large stone sculptures known as betili (a kind of slender menhir, sometimes featuring crude depiction of male sexual organs, or of female breasts) were erected near the entrance. Sometimes the tombs were built with an "Opus isodomum" technique, where finely shaped stones were used, such as in the giant tombs of Madau or at Iloi.
Nuragic bronze statuettes, Archaeological and Ethnographic National museum G. A. Sanna (Sassari)
The so-called bronzetti (brunzittos or brunzittus in Sardinian language) are small bronze statuettes obtained with the lost-wax casting technique; they can measure up to 39 cm and represent scenes of everyday life, characters from different social classes, animal figures, divinities, ships etc.
The Giants of Mont'e Prama are a group of 32 (or 40) statues with a height of up to 2.5 m, found in 1974 near Cabras, in the province of Oristano. They depict warriors, archers, wrestlers, models of nuraghe and boxers with shield and armed glove.
They feature disc-shaped eyes and eastern-like garments. The statues probably depicted mythological heroes, guarding a sepulchre; according to another theory, they could be a sort of Pantheon of the typical Nuragic divinities.
Their finding proved that the Nuragic civilization had maintained its peculiarities, and introduced new ones across the centuries, well into the Phoenician colonization of part of Sardinia.
In the ceramics, the skill and taste of the Sardinian artisans are manifested mainly in decorating the surfaces of vessels, certainly used for ritual purposes in the course of complex ceremonies, perhaps in some cases even to be crushed at the end of the rite, as the jugs found in the bottom of the sacred wells.
Ceramics also display geometric patterns in the lamps, in the pear-shaped vessels (exclusive of Sardinia) and the askos. Imported (e.g. Mycenaeans) and local forms were found in several sites all over the island. Also found in the Italian peninsula, Sicily, in Spain and in Crete everything points to a Sardinia very well integrated in the ancient trade of the Mediterranean sea.
The language (or the languages) spoken in Sardinia during the Bronze Age is unknown since there are no written records of that period, although recent research suggests that around the 8th century BC, in the Iron Age, the Nuragic populations may have adopted an alphabet similar to that used in Euboea.
The Nuragic economy, at least at the origins, was mostly based on agriculture (new studies suggest that they were the first to practice viticulture in the western Mediterranean) and animal husbandry, as well as on fishing. Alcoholic beverages like wine and beer were also produced, the cultivation of melons, probably imported from the Eastern Mediterranean, proves the practice of horticulture. As in modern Sardinia, 60% of the soil was suitable only for breeding cattle and sheep. Probably, as in other human communities that have the cattle as traditional economic base, the property of this established social hierarchies. The existence of roads for wagons dating back to the 14th century BC gives the impression of a well organized society The signs found in the metal ingots testify the existence of a number system used for accounting among the Nuragic people.
Navigation had an important role: historian Pierluigi Montalbano mentions the finding of nuragic anchors along the coast, some weighing 100 kg. This has suggested that the Nuragic people used efficient ships, which could perhaps reach lengths up to 15 meters. These allowed them to travel the whole Mediterranean, establishing commercial links with the Mycenaean civilization (attested by the common tholos tomb shape, and the adoration of bulls), Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Lebanon. Items such as Cyprus-type copper ingots have been found in Sardinia, while bronze and early Iron Age Nuragic ceramics have been found in the Aegean region, Cyprus, in Spain (Huelva, Tarragona, Málaga, Teruel and Cádiz) up to the Gibraltar strait, and in Etruscan centers of the Italian peninsula such as Vetulonia, Vulci and Populonia (known in the 9th to 6th centuries from Nuragic statues found in their tombs).
Sardinia was rich in metals such as lead and copper. Archaeological findings have proven the good quality of Nuragic metallurgy, including numerous bronze weapons. The so-called "golden age" of the Nuragic civilization (late 2nd millennium BC, early 1st millennium BC) coincided perhaps with the apex of the mining of metals in the island.
The widespread use of bronze, an alloy which used tin, a metal which however was not present in Sardinia if not in a single deposit, further proves the capability of the Nuragic people to trade in the resources they needed. A 2013 study of 71 ancient Swedish bronze objects dated to Nordic Bronze Age, revealed that most of copper utilized at that time in Scandinavia came from Sardinia and the Iberian peninsula. Iron working is attested on the island since the 13th century BC.
^ abUgas, Giovanni (2016). "Shardana e Sardegna. I popoli del mare, gli alleati del Nordafrica e la fine dei Grandi Regni". Cagliari, Edizioni Della Torre.
^Rowland, R. J. “When Did the Nuragic Period in Sardinia End.” Sardinia Antiqua. Studi in Onore Di Piero Meloni in Occasione Del Suo Settantesimo Compleanno, 1992, 165–175.
^<<Da parte imperiale era dunque implicito il riconoscimento di una Sardegna barbaricina indomita se non libera e già in qualche modo statualmente conformata, dove continuava a esistere una civiltà o almeno una cultura d'origine nuragica, certo mutata ed evoluta per influenze esterne romane e vandaliche di cui nulla conosciamo tranne alcuni tardi effetti politici.>> Casula, Francesco Cèsare (2017). La storia di Sardegna, I, Evo Antico Sardo : Dalla Sardegna Medio-Nuragica (100 a.C. c.) alla Sardegna Bizantina (900 d.C. c.), p.281
^There is no complete census, but the figure of 7,000 in E. Contu, "L'architettura nuraghica", in E. Atzeni et al., Ichnussa, 1985:5, is often repeated, and 'the Provincia di Cagliari website, estimates more than 7,000.
^Parole di segni, L'alba della scrittura in Sardegna, Sardegna archeologica, Guide e Itinerari, M.Monoja, C.Cossu, M.Migaleddu, Carlo Delfino Editore, Sassari, 2012
^ abGiovanni Ugas, I segni numerali e di scrittura in Sardegna tra l'Età del Bronzo e il i Ferro, In: Tharros Felix 5, a cura di Attilio Mastino, Pier Giorgio Spanu, Raimondo Zucca. Roma : Carocci, 2013, pp. 295-377
^La Sardegna nelle fonti classiche, M.Perra, S'Alvure editrice, Oristano, 1993
^The strict patterning in the landscape of tombs and nuraghes was analyzed by Blake, Emma (April 2001). "Constructing a Nuragic Locale: The Spatial Relationship between tombs and towers in Bronze Age Sardinia". American Journal of Archaeology. 105 (2): 145–161. 10.2307/507268. 507268.
^Tin as a draw for traders was first suggested in the essay on Sardinian metallurgy by N. Gale and Z. Gale in Miriam S. Balmuth, ed. Studies in Sardinian Archaeology 3 (Oxford, 1987).
^R.F. Tylecote, M.S. Balmuth, R. Massoli-Novelli, "Copper and Bronze Metallurgy in Sardinia", Historia Metallica17.2, (1983:63–77).
^Miriam S. Balmuth, ed. Studies in Sardinian Archaeology 3: Nuragic Sardinia and the Mycenaean World (Oxford, 1987) presents papers from a colloquium in Rome, September 1986; the view of "gateway-communities" from the Mycenaean direction is explored in T.R. Smith, Mycenaean Trade and Interaction in the West Central Mediterranean, 1600–100 B.C., 1987.
^Gale, N.H. 2011. 'Source of the Lead Metal used to make a Repair Clamp on a Nuragic Vase recently excavated at Pyla-Kokkinokremos on Cyprus'. In V. Karageorghis and O. Kouka (eds.), On Cooking Pots, Drinking Cups, Loomweights and Ethnicity in Bronze Age Cyprus and Neighbouring Regions, Nicosia.
^Mossa, Alberto (8 June 2017). "San Sperate (Ca-Sardegna), Via Monastir. Le ceramiche nuragiche del Bronzo recente II e finale: caratteristiche formali ed aspetti funzionali". Layers. Archeologia Territorio Contesti. 0 (2). 10.13125/2532-0289/2668.
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