Common languagesSardinian
Historical eraEarly Middle Ages
• Established

The Byzantine age in Sardinian history conventionally begins with the island's reconquest by Justinian I in 534. This ended the Vandal dominion of the island after about 80 years. There was still a substantial continuity with the Roman phase at this time.

The invasion of the Italian peninsula by the Longobards in 568, which changed the face of Italy, only resulted in a few coastal raids on Sardinia, even if there are traces of their presence on the island, documented by the discovery of various objects, including numerous coins.[1][2]


Basilica of San Saturnino, Cagliari

The Byzantine Empire was an autocratic state, with its administration centralised around the Emperor. In addition to being the chief of the army he also had authority in the Church, often appointing the Ecumenical Patriarch. Following the Byzantine reconquest, Sardinia was part of the Praetorian prefecture of Africa.[3] The province of Sardinia was ruled by a praeses provinciae, also known as the iudex provinciae, based in Cagliari. A dux was responsible for military matters and was based at Fordongianus (Forum Traiani), which since Roman times had been a fortified bastion against the inhabitants of the Barbagia. These two most important offices, iudex and dux, were unified in the 7th century. To allow for control of the routes that crossed the Tyrrhenian Sea, the island was also home to a squadron of the Byzantine fleet.

Funerary inscription of Gaudiosus, officer of the Byzantine army, died in the 6th century at 24 years old and buried near the Basilica of San Saturnino in Cagliari[4]

Units of the Byzantine field army, the comitatenses, were based at Fordongianus. Along the border with the Barbagia region were fortresses such as those at Austis, Samugheo, Nuragus and Armungia. Soldiers of different origins (Germanic peoples, Balkan peoples, Longobards and Avars among others[5]), called limitanei (border troops), were garrisoned here. Some of the island's garrison soldiers were caballarii (horsemen) and received in compensation for their military services land parcels to farm.[6]

In the countryside there continued to be the great estates, but also smaller properties and common lands. The rural population consisted of both free people (the possessors) and slaves, mostly living in villages (vici). They worked the private and community lands with hoes and nail plows, grazed livestock and fished. Extensive vineyards were cultivated but there seemed to have been few orchards.

End of Byzantine rule

Pluteuses from the San Macario Island (Pula). National Archaeological Museum, Cagliari

Sardinia was initially constituted as a ducatus (duchy) within the Exarchate of Africa. After the fall of the African Exarchate in the 7th century, caused by the Arab conquest of Carthage, the ducatus was directly dependent on Constantinople.

Gold earrings from Bruncu e' s'Olia-Dolianova. National Archaeological Museum, Cagliari

It became then an archontate; that is, a region with the same characteristics of a theme but smaller and less rich. The governors of the island originally held the rank of hypatos and later that of protospatharios, before receiving the title of patrikios from the middle of the ninth century.[7] At this time the relations with Byzantium, if not completely interrupted, had become intermittent, however.[8] Due to Saracen attacks, in the 9th century Tharros was abandoned in favor of Oristano, after more than 1,800 years of human occupation while Caralis was abandoned in favor of Santa Igia. Numerous other coastal centres suffered the same fate (Nora, Sulci, Bithia, Cornus, Bosa, and Olbia among others). Contacts between Sardinia and the Byzantine empire didn't cease, however, as suggested by the mention of Sardinian imperial guards in Constantine VII's work De Caereimoniis (956–959 AD).[9]

The Sardinian archon had both military and civil functions. During the period of direct Byzantine rule, these were delegated to two different officers, the dux and the praeses. The office of archon became the prerogative of a specific family who transmitted the title in succession from father to a son. At the beginning of the 11th century there was a single archon for the whole island. This situation changed over the following decades. The first unequivocal attestation of four separate kingdoms in Sardinia is the letter sent on October 14, 1073 by Pope Gregory VII (1073–1085) to Orzocco of Cagliari, Orzocco d'Arborea, Marianus of Torres, and Constantine of Gallura.[8]

During the early Giudicati era, the Judicate of Cagliari was a direct descendant of the former Archontate of Sardinia. It helped many Byzantine institutions, including the Byzantine Greek language, to survive.[10] By the end of the century Greek had been supplanted by Medieval Latin and Sardinian.


Church of Nostra Segnora de Mesumundu, Siligo
Church of Santa Sabina in front of the homonym nuraghe, Silanus

The Sardinian Church followed the Eastern Rite, in which baptism and confirmation were imparted together. Baptism was carried out by submersion in tanks where water came to the knees of the catechumens. Similar baptismal tanks are found in Tharros, Dolianova, Nurachi, Cornus and Fordongianus. Alongside the secular clergy operated the Basilian monks, who spread Christianity in Barbagia.

In the Byzantine period several cross-in-square churches were erected, with the four arms around a domed roof over their junction.


Byzantine era fresco from the necropolis of Sant'Andrea Priu, Bonorva


  1. ^ La Sardegna nel Mediterraneo di VII-VIII secolo attraverso il dato archeologico, numismatico e sfragistico (in Italian), retrieved 27 December 2023
  2. ^ Monili, ceramiche e monete (bizantine e longobarde) dal mausoleo di Cerredis (Villaputzu-Sardegna) (in Italian), retrieved 27 December 2023
  3. ^ Casula 1994, p. 137.
  4. ^ "Inscription by Gaudiosus". Retrieved 26 May 2023.
  5. ^ "Neil Christie, Byzantines, Goths and Lombards in Italy: Jewellery, Dress and Cultural Interactions." (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-10-19. Retrieved 2017-09-30.
  6. ^ Pier Giorgio Spanu, La Sardegna Bizantina fra VI e VII secolo (1998) pg.126-127-128
  7. ^ Storia della marineria bizantina, pp. 85–86
  8. ^ a b Ortu, Gian Giacomo (2005) La Sardegna dei Giudici p.45-46
  9. ^ Strinna, Giovanni; Zichi, Giuseppe (30 November 2017). S. Elia di Monte Santo: il primo cenobio benedettino della Sardegna tra storia, arte e devozione popolare. All’Insegna del Giglio. p. 38. ISBN 9788878148208. Retrieved 2018-10-11.
  10. ^ Le iscrizioni greco-bizantine SardegnaCultura.itArchived 2017-10-01 at the Wayback Machine(in Italian)



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