The Sardinian Archer

The Western Mediterranean Islanders

About Sardinians and Corsicans

There are hundreds of islands throughout of the Mediterranean. But a map reveals quickly those who really stand out. Outside the Aegean sea which is dot-erred with small Islands, Cyprus and Crete are the main eastern landmasses in this category. In the center lays Sicily, the largest and most strategic point, the "hinge" of the Mediterranean, controlling access West to East. But in the West, three islands dominated the area between ancient Iberia and Italy. Immediately west of the Ilercavone coast lays the Baleares, homs of slingers quite famous in ancient times. They were the best mercenary slingers available to the Carthaginians, and soon entered history. However the Carthaginian also had special interest to other, larger Islands that could control trade between the powerful city-state of Massilia, Iberia, and Italy. These were Corsica and Sardinia. The two islands were rocky stretches of land with central mountain peaks, north to south. Both housed ancient cultures, like the Nuragi (Sardinia) and Korsai (Corsica) civilizations. The Carthaginians eventually settled in the coastal area of these islands and in their wars against Rome, recruited mercenaries among them.

About ancient Corsica

The terme "Korsai" was Punic, and designated "wood". There were apparently no Corsican mercenary described as such, so it could be assumed these were either assimilated to Sardinians or not recruited at all, perhaps seen as too backwards and fiercely independent. They originated in about the 8th millennium BC from ancient Ligurian hunter-gatherers that settled in coastal areas. But until around 5000 BC it was connected to Sardinia. In fact the island was described by Greek author Theophrastus as thickly wooded (the famous "maquis") as well as rugged and rocky. Cultivated lands were mostly on the plains and coastal areas, while pastoralists roamed the interior.

The Torrean civilization (from the "torri" of stone towers that were built by the inhabitants) appeared in the bronze age, erecting dolmens, menhirs, and statue menhirs. These were somewhat simila to the inhabitants of eastern Iberia, the Baleares, Sardinia and Malta, possibly because of cultural exchanges by the sea. But urbanization was slow to come. About the 9th century BC, Capula, Cuccuruzzu, Modria, and Araguina-Sennola were relatively developed, to the point of being considered as sizeable towns. The Carthaginians arrived around 565 BC and quickly developed urban centers and harbors. Ancient Greek colonists, perhaps the same that funded Massilia, and fleeing their Eastern city taken by the Persians, found refuge in what is now Aleria Around 545 BC. They named the island Kyrnos (Κύρνος). It was perhaps derived from kors- ("treetop") and was similar to the Phoenician Korsai. The climate was relatively mild, also on coastal areas, but the climate was considered unhealthy and malarial; Outside production and export of timber, copper, iron ore, silver, lead, pitch, wax, and honey, the island was considered poor but became a significant hub of Mediterranean trade thanks to later settlers.

Depiction of 1800 BC Nuragic warriors by Memoriae Milites

However these Phocaeans were not well considered, traders, but also keen on piracy. They in fact disrupted trade among the the Etruscans and Carthaginians. They also raided southern Gaul, Sardinia and Etruria. However in 530 BC, the Phoencians led their Etruscans allies in a rapid attack and crushed the Greeks at the battle of Alalia (Aleria), forcing them to relocate in the Campanian city of Elea by 540 BC. The Phoenicians then also led a campaign in sardinia. As a result, both islands sphere of influences were divided and the Etrucans obtained Corsica. At the start of the 4th century, the Etruscan city of Alalia was attacked by Syracuse. Greek troops were settled as a result on the southern end of the island (now Porto vecchio). The Romans themselves saw the potential of the island and tried to create a settlement in 425 BC but failed. It became a place of exile for Roman dissidents afterwards. Serious things began when the Romans landed legions in 259 BC, led by Lucius Cornelius Scipio, and captured Aleria (Alalia) while subjugating most Corsican tribes. Just like in Sardinian indeed, all these tribes competed between themselves, there was no real unity. The Romans took over the coastal areas, but resistance went on for years in the mountainous interior, culminating with a massive rebellion in 231 BC. Marius later funded a colony, and defeated the Vanacini tribe. Aleria was renamed by Sulla Colonia Veneria Alaria. During the Roman civil war, Corsica fell under Pompey's sphere of influence. Aleria was destroyed by Julius Caesar but refounded by Augustus in 36-27 BC.

Perhaps because of their links with the Mycenaneans in the past, the Torri people were described as having horned helmets. Some said these Torreans were the same as those "sea peoples" that invaded and fought the Eastern mediterranean, plunging the whole area and beyond into a "dark age" and making some civilizations disappear (1966 Antiquity Journal Vol.XL.). What we know about the ancient Torreans warriors came from the statue-menhirs of Cauria. Their weapons, the equipment and the clothing are very well represented. Their particular gear recalled the warrior class of the nuraghi, and talayotos from the Baleares; Torri builders. Evidence from bronze statues showing horned helmets (like Sardinians) related to the invading Torreans that conquered the local megalithic civilization and their possible connection with the Horned Warriors of the Sea Battle frieze at Medinet-Habu, Egypt, are an interesting subject by themselves. The Torreans were skilled navigators, excellent warriors and builders (hence the numerous towers they left behind). Civilians were stock-breeders, cattle-breeders especially, wearing leather garments; They were also addicted to a bull-cult but never represented human figures in their art. There are numerous possible connections about their origin -through the bull cult- from the Cretans, Minoans to some Iberian tribes so it's difficult to make any statement. By contrast the former inhabitants (apparently pushed back after the invasion to the North of the Island. They were shepherds and goatherds, wearing woollen garments and their religion was based on special funerary ceremonies while their art which included representation of human beings, as shown by their numerous statue-menhirs.

There was a clash of civilization, and several sites shows signs of battles, where the megalithic peoples used bow and arrow as many arrowhead typical of the Megalith Builders were found. But others shows also enemy swordsmen, and these statue-menhir were often painted red. They were planted at burial sites. The statues shows the physiognomy of these Torrean warriors, having horned helmets, short-size bronze swords, round shields, possible armor (straps on their chest), and had naked arm and legs (no armband, no greaves) and either a representation of a metal articulated groin piece or the folded ends from a tunic. These short sword were slung in a scabbard from the shoulder. On the back could be seen possibly a lanyon joining the baldrick to the girdle. These are unmistakably close to the Nuragic culture of Sardinia and Talayotic culture of the Balearic Islands, all also corresponding to the "sea peoples". But we will dive in particular on the Sardinians instead, that were indeed, namely, recruited as mercenaries.

CATW's own Sardinian mercenaries rendition

About ancient Sardinia

When diving into depiction of the "sea peoples" as immortalized by the Egyptians, we encounter the term of "Shardana", linked also to people like the "Shekelesh" which sounds eerily like the Punic "Shardanim", which designated the mercenaries recruited in the fourth and third century BC. Although there is still no proof of that, many historian dared to connect the Sardinians to these ancient invaders that brings the middle east to a "dark age". This dreadful era which ws likely to have multiple causes, and not just a serie of sea-borne invasions - ended or eclipsed many famous civilizations, but also incidentally also allowed the city-states of ancient Greece to raise and flourish into the Greek classical age, a golden age of advancement and thinking the like had no equivalent for almost two thousand years.

The Neolithic Ozeri culture

To complicate matters however the "Shardanim" or Sardinians designated the island inhabitants, not a precise civilization. The Nuragic peoples were such civilization. Pre-nuragic culture was called the beaker culture. Stone Age islanders arrived in the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages from Europe and the Mediterranean area. They settled first in the central and northern Sardinia, close to milder climates and sources of running water from the summits, as wooded areas. They were therefore more likely hunter-gatherers. From there, the Ozieri culture (3200−2700 BCE) developed, claiming new lands in the coastal plains. Their economy was based on agriculture and animal husbandry, fishing, and sea trading. Metallurgy through silver and copper also developed and weapons were found, but no massive (defensive) structures. Hundreds of menhirs (perdas fittas) and dolmens and about 2,400 hypogeum tombs (domus de Janas) as well as Corsican-like anthropologic statue menhirs of warriors or female figures were also found from this era. Also a stepped pyramid (Monte d'Accoddi) showed some similarities with the monumental complex of Los Millares, close to the talaiots of the Balearic Islands. These were links to ancient Mesopotamia possibly sea-borne cultural influences from the Eastern Mediterranean. About circa 2000 BCE, the Beaker culture spread in almost all western Europe, and also made its way on the island, from Iberia and southern Gaul, but also from Central Europe, through Italy.

The Bronze age Nuragic culture

Before this civilization appears, the late Beaker culture saw the emergence of the Bonnanaro culture around 1800–1600 BCE. It displayed several similarities with the Polada culture of northern Italy. They shared the same type of undecorated pottery with axe-shaped handles in particular. They came with some architectural techniques such as cyclopean masonry. However invaders from the mainland arrived with new beliefs and philosophies, new technologies and ways of life. They gradually rendered inhabitants though systems obsolete and reinterpreting old local cults. This also coincided with the massive introduction of bronze, improving agriculture, hunting and warfare. These so-called proto-nuraghe built platform-like structures which characterized the first phase of the Nuragic Age that would dominate the Island.

Up to the 2nd millennium BCE, the nuraghe culture developed from the proto-nuraghe, megalithic towers builders that showed truncated cone shapes. These were defensive structure, ancestors of castles. Each had at least an inner tholos chamber, some having up to three superimposed tholos chambers. Widespread in Sardinia, density was about one of these nuraghe tower every three square kilometers. Early travelling Greeks already described these impressive daidaleia (from Daedalus) which allegedly moved from Sicily to Sardinia. These towers exact rile is still debated among historians. Could have been used for social, military, religious, or astronomical puposes, ad well as furnaces (industrial centers) and tombs. Their precise geographical disposition calls some military purposes however. Indeed a bonfire at the top could be seen from the next towers. They could have been indeed alarm towers to help populations organize in times of invasions. This is the modern consensus. Many of these were large enough to house a dozen of warriors, a small armory, fundry, barns and silos. They were not large enough to protect any population.

Nuragic forts

bronze age Nuragic village Towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE, size of the settlements built around these Nuraghe grew, especially those located at the summit of hills. Indeed new towers were added to the first, connected by walls, the whole making a a complex Nuraghe. Much smaller than Oppida, they resemble no other fortified structures but those Sicilian "eagle's nests" and some italic hill-tops. Famous sites identified were the Su Nuraxi at Barumini, Santu Antine at Torralba, Nuraghe Losa at Abbasanta, Nuraghe Palmavera at Alghero, Nuraghe Genna Maria at Villanovaforru, Nuraghe Seruci at Gonnesa and Arrubiu at Orroli. Nuraghe Arrubiu (which has been reconstituted) was the largest, culminating at 25–30 meters with 5 main towers and multiple walls, a dozens of additional towers surrounding them. Some current Sardinian villages were based on these ancient sites when Nur-/Nor- was associated in their name.

Nuragic weaponry

Sardinian industry was vibrant, helped by rich copper and lead mines. Numerous furnaces existed and the alloys produced were traded across the Mediterranean. Nuragic people were also skilled metal workers, and main metal producers in Europe at that stage. Of course they produced a wide array of weaponry, such as swords, daggers, axes, but also many usual objects, and bronze statuettes showing ancient warriors, horsemen and ships such as a votive bronze boat showing a bridge and row emplacements. Tin for bronze-making however was scarce locally and could have been imported. But it confirms local smelting as well as casting, nearby large deposits, and Tin could have been imported from the Iberian Peninsula or ancient Cornwall (the "Tin islands"). Their main customers were the Mycenaean civilization, Cyprus and Crete, even possibly the Iberian peninsula. This went with cultural influence as well, as Nuragic sites of late Bronze Age was found in Mycenaean, west and central Cretan and Cypriot ceramics, replicas, around ancient "gateway-communities". Since there is a strong inclination to consider these Nuraghe ancient "sea-peoples", there is not long to think their Bronze age technology gave them an edge in case of invasion, and their widespread trade culture along the Mediterranean gave gradually way to fully-fledge military campaigns.

bronze statuette Nuragic aristocrat The late Bronze Age indeed (1400-1200 BC) as noted by ancient Egyptian sources saw a wave of these peoples destroying Mycenaean and Hittite sites before turning against Egypt. The Sherden were indeed one of the most important tribes of the sea peoples, identified as Nuragic Sardinians. Similar raids are noted against the island of Crete about the same time Egypt was threatened. Nuragic Sardinians apparently rampaged the eastern Mediterranean. When the Iron age started, about 900 to 500 BC, the Nuragic culture evolved into a form of feodalism, with the rise of a new aristocracy. Fine ceramics indeed were produced, more elaborate tools appeared, and for what we are concern with, the quality of weapons increased notably also, not only in material but also in shapes. Trade renewed and flourishing again and metallurgical goods were exported again, and even farther than before, allowing these aristocrats to be richer than never. Villages increased in number and size, with a large increase in population and more specialized classes, going along a more refined civilization. The construction of the nuraghes stopped however. A new political organization appeared, revolving around a village assembly of notables to discuss important issues. There was no proper city-state but a likewise organization with clans led by a chief who resided in the complex nuraghe, dominating villages around. bronze sword guard Border clashes between clans were probably current. Also at this era, proto urban settlements appeared with open spaces, paved squares, streets, and specialized buildings. Eventually the tribes united into larger nation-like groups called the Balares, the Corsi and the Ilienses. The former inhabited the north-central part of the Island (near as Balearic Talaiotic culture), the second, the northern part -same stock as Corsica Torres inhabitants- and the Ilienses dominated the southern part of the Island. Both the Carthaginians and later Romans tried to subdue them, but in vain. They were indeed formidable warriors. They use a language related to Proto-Basque, ancient Iberian with some Indoeuropean traces, traduced in the Euboan alphabet.

Reconstruction of Nuragic outfit and costumes. (Cagliari-Elmas Airport)

Nuragic warfare

Although Nuragic civilization is related to the late bronze age and iron age, it permeated the island's culture well after 500 BC. The appearance of Nuragic warriors is well fixed, but through bronze statuettes, which were numerous and helped secured many details about the Nuragic warrior's oputif and armament. One such statuette (now at Rome, Villa Giulia Museum) shows some sort of pointed hat, and a large curvilinear "shield". Another, at the Museo nazionale preistorico etnografico Luigi Pigorini, shows a typical hornet helmet, with a cylindrical base and possible cheeks extensions, some kind of layered armour (massive crossed shoulder straps like for southern gallic lether armor), leg-bands of partial greaves, and a typical, fairly common scuta, the traditional roundshield (see scutari). They are also many archers, either with short tunics or kilts, showing Western straight arrows. The profusion of these representations tend to prove that archery took a very important place in this warrior culture. Cavalry was quite rare, as there mostly rugged and mountainous lands. These depictions dated back from the Bronze Age to the early Iron Age, 500 have been discovered so far, chiefly in holy wells and temples, villages and nuraghes. Many represents everyday life and various social classes, animals but also chiefs and divinities, and of course warriors. some dated back from 900 to 400 BC and thus gave precious information about the look of Sardinian mercenaries.

About Sardinian mercenaries

No doubt that the strong Carthaginian presence in coastal areas led to recruit Mercenaries among local warrior classes. It's difficult however to obtain precise accounts of their use in the first Carthaginian war. In the second, that was excluded, as the Island was controlled by Rome. No account of the Sicily campaign is saying anything about the use of Sardinian mercenaries, nor their outfit and/or way of warfare and specialty. Polybius indeed -which covers extensively the conflict- could be relatively precise in his descriptions. Should the Sardinians have been cited they would have form probably a kind of specialized infantry, alongside the Iberian swordsmen, Balearic slingers. Archers are likely since they represents most statuettes as described above. One shows a kind of soft hat or flat helmet and large "plastron" of leather apron dotted with iron knobs. Another shows a body armor akin greek or gallic composite armors, but no scales, and a horned helmet.

Sardinian mercenaries are cited by Polybius about the Sardinian mercenary war of local garrisons (79). Perhaps exited by the example of Matho and Spondius in Africa, Sardinian mercenaries seized upon the person of Bostar, commander of the citadel of Olbia and massacred the garrison. (The Cyclopaedia; Or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences and Literature : Volume 6). For "Great Power, Diplomacy in the Hellenistic World" by John D Grainger, the aftermath of the peace in 241 BC between the Romans and Carthaginians. The Island in 238 BC saw an outburst of revolt in many ways similar to the mamertines back in Sicily. Unpaid, a bunch of African, Iberians and Italians apparently led by Sardinian mercenaries rebelled and seized control of all Carthaginian outposts and were thrown into a violent man-hunt against Carthaginians all over the Island. But their conduct, rampage and chaos only bring hatred from the local Sardinian populations that in turn, fought this rebellion. These mercenaries called Rome for help. Knowing the fact, and that the Carthaginians planned to take back the Island, Rome intervened and also doubled the talents that had to be paid. Rebuffed, Hamilcar Barca setup to create another empire in Iberia. Rome eventually only seize the island in 237 BC, its independence until then was "guaranteed".

Sources/Read More

The ancient horned warriors of Corsica
Studies in Sardinian Archaeology, Volume 2
About the Torrean civilization
Video demo of Nuragic warriors
Conference about nuragic warriors
Rome's enemies 700 BC-AD 46 (Men-at-Arms)

Previous entries

Carthaginian Hoplite Corsico-Sardinians Thracian Peltast Caetrati Ensiferi Hippakontistai Hastati Gaesatae Cretan Archer Thorakitai Soldurii Iphikrates Kardaka The thureophoroi