Eleanora of Arborea

At a Glance:

“Iudici” Ruler Judge


Arborea (Kingdom on modern Sardinia)

Bird names: 1

Eleonora of Arborea [link]

The Bird:

Eleonora’s Falcon (Falco eleonorae)

Eleonora’s Falcon (Dark Morph) [link]

The Name:

Eleanora of Arborea (1347-1404) was one of the last rulers of the Judicate of Arborea; an independent nation on the Mediterranean Isle of Sardinia that lasted from the 9th to the 15th Century. Previously a part of the Byzantine Empire, when the central Empire proved ineffective as repelling pirate incursions, the four local iudici (judges/magistrates) of the island were left to manage the island. After about a century, the position of the iudici had functionally metamorphosed to that of hereditary monarchs of four small states in all but name. By the time of Eleanora, the other three Judiciates had vanished due to diplomatic wrangling of Genoa and Pisa, only for the latter to be driven out by Arborea, leaving Sardinia almost entirely under Arborean control.

Born into the family of the Arborean iudici, her path to the role was a somewhat odd one – her father Marianus IV had recieved the position upon the death of her uncle who lacked descendents, and she in turn, despite being the older child, only recieved it on the death of her brother Ugone and his daughter. Even then, she technically only ruled as regent for her own male children. She for diplomatic reasons, and seems to have been generally regarded as a well liked ruler.

But where Eleanora justifiably achieves most acclaim is the raft of what were for the time incredibly progressive laws that she enacted. The most noted of which is her Carta de Logu (first page seen left [link]) a huge text of 198 chapters that would define Sardinian law for the next 400 years. One of it’s more noteworthy aspects including establishing that all men were equal before the law regardless of social class – a law incredibly far ahead of it’s time. Similarly for the first time, daughters and sons had equivocal inheritence rights.

She also put into place laws that significantly legally empowered women who had been raped. By the laws given in the Carta de Logu, marriage to their rapist was no longer considered an acceptable redress to their crime unless the woman wanted to. Even if they did, the rapist now also had to choose between a very high fine or having his foot cut off. In instances where the woman didn’t want to marry that man, he had to pay her a dowry appropriate to her social status in addition to making the existing fine / chopped off foot decision.

Eleanora’s Carta de Logu would also, centuries later, provide the reason this eponym would come into being. Sardinia as a whole had a reputation as the source of valuable falcons for falconry, with even wealthy foreign rulers seeking to get one of these birds. As such they made a tempting prize to poach from their nests for those seeking to make a hefty profit. The Carta de Logu banned the removing of chicks of young birds from the nest for personal use in falconry, and this was clearly considered an incredibly serious crime – the punishments were equivalent to those given to murderers! This represents some of the earliest known conservation laws. Knowing of this story, centuries later the ornithologist Giuseppe Gené would name the falcon – a Summer migrant to Sardinia – after her. This actually makes her the earliest historical figures to have a “possessive” eponym by a considerable amount of time, and third earliest person in general to be memorialised in one.

She would however die at the comparatively young age of only 57 from bubonic plague, and within 16 years of her death, the Kingdom of Aragon would take over the island, and Alfonso V of Aragon would purchased the remaining land rights for 100,000 florins. But her legacy lived on in the progressive laws she enacted in the Carta de Logu, and the falcons whose cliffside homes were made safe.

In some ways, as eponyms go Eleanora represents a high bar. She avoids a lot of the dubious territory many of the others fall into. She was from the place these birds breed, so has a geographical connection, and the fact she implemented laws that would have protected these elegant birds it a more tangible positive connection than the usual colonial “discovery”. Neither can it be claimed to be croneyism when they wouldn’t be named as such until nearly four centuries after her death. Perhaps if all honorifics met those simple tests, many of the more troubling figures to have been immortalised this way could have been avoided.

Alex Holt


Women in Law by Virginia Lalli [link]

Eleanora’s Carta de Logu – full text in Sardinian [link]