Eleonora d’Arborea, woman, daughter, mother, ruler in medieval Sardinia

eleonora d'arborea

Tribute to Eleonora d’Arborea in Oristano, Sardinia

I live about 40 minutes drive from Oristano, central Sardinia, and I’ve gone past the imposing statue of Eleonora d’Arborea, dominating the square named after her, probably a million times.

Woman, mother, daughter, ruler, strategist, Eleonora d’Arborea is a figure of inestimable value in a male-dominated ancient Sardinia.

Like almost everything here, as many of you might have already grasped from my past posts, also her life is shrouded in mystery.

Come to power after her brother’s death, Eleonora has gone down in history as an enlightened and wise ruler and a fierce defender of the sovereignty and boundaries of her county against the Aragonese power. The most famous and precious document she conceived is called “Carta de Logu” (de Logu Constitution), through which she re-organized the judiciary system and local institutions of her time, paper that now many researchers define a concentration of modernity and wisdom.

Among the pearls included in Eleonora’s Constitution are equality of rights, protection of wife and children of “traitors” because not guilty, while according to the former law they would become “slaves” too, equality for strangers, action against usury, and protection of minors and women, also determining that the shotgun marriage of a woman victim of rape was allowed only if the woman herself would consent.

Eleonora almost managed to unite the island under her rule and chase Aragonese away confining them in their strongholds scattered around the coast, but finally her small empire succumbed due to an unplanned enemy: the plague, curse that put Sardinia back in Aragonese hands.

What makes Eleonora d’Arborea so special?

First of all, being a woman ruler in the Middle Ages was already exceptional (it is now too!), she worked and fought to make her father’s dream of uniting Sardinia under one realm come true and issued a Constitution that still now is highly regarded as a milestone in history of law. Intelligent, determined, down-to-earth, Eleonora has been a woman who made an impressive change and gave a modern imprint to her land, a woman whose personality perfectly mirrors the island’s natives.

About her, Carlo Cattaneo (1801-1869), Italian philosopher, politician, writer and patriot, wrote: “the most splendid female figure that Italian history ever had, including those of ancient Rome”.

She was so powerful that many tales were crafted around her, stories describing her as a charmer, an enchantress, the only way they could explain how she could conquer and build so many castles. She was an extraordinary leader indeed, and the fact that she was a woman added to her allure. Plus, we know Sardinia’s natives have a soft spot for mysterious tales, and it was only obvious they would see something magical around her.

I’ve studied this amazing figure of our history in school, I’ve long admired her, and I don’t know why I was yet to write about her actions and achievements. Feeling intimidated, maybe, or fear of not portraying her properly.

Now I’ve finally decided to pay this small tribute because it was just not possible that a blog by a Sardinian who strives to celebrate the beauty and the charm of her island didn’t include some words in honor of Eleonora d’Arborea.

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9 Comments
  1. I like reading about the history of a place, interesting historical character.

  2. This is really fascinating background about Eleonora d’Arborea. I never knew about her and I certainly wouldn’t have expected there to be such a powerful woman in the middle ages. I like the fact that there’s still much mystery surrounding her.

    • Sardinia gets an ancient matriarchal society, and Eleonora d’Arborea wasn’t the only woman who ruled Sardinia in the Middle Ages, she is only the most famous.
      Other Queens of Giudicatis (the independent medieval kingdoms of Sardinia) were also Benedetta of Cagliari, Adelasia of Torres, and Elena of Gallura.

      • Exactly, those women were a great example of women power in Sardinia, where most posts were indeed occupied by men. True, Sardinia was, and to some extent still is, a matriarchal society, but most of the higher ruling positions belonged to men, they hardly were 50/50.. Certainly Sardinia was never to be compared with other regions heavily men-dominated like Sicily.

    • She definitely was an amazing and strong woman in an era when the society was pretty much male-dominated.

  3. Great article, it’s interesting to read about these things. I posted something similar about Eratosthenes. He was a pretty incredible person who has been forgotten by most people.

  4. Sardinia is well known for its ancient matriarchal society, in the middle ages many women ruled the indipendent sardinian kingdoms called Giudicati, such as Benedetta of Cagliari, Adelasia of Torres, and Elena of Gallura, not only Eleonora d’Arborea.

    So i would like to know how can anyone with a culture about Sardinia claim that Sardinia was a male-dominated society, if women in the past had more liberties and power than the rest of civilized world????

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