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The name comes from Cicero, who described it as a land of barbarians. This word derives from the Greek Βάρβαρος-ου, which means stuttering. The inhabitants were also known, by the ancient Romans, with the pejorative term latrones mastrucati, which means "thieves with a rough garment in wool". Roman domination in this area of Sardinia was never more than nominal.
The area is usually divided into four Barbagias: the Barbagia di Ollolai, the Barbagia di Seulo, the Barbagia di Belvì and the Mandrolisai. The latter is named after a sub-region, and the others after their main villages.
The area is full of hard hills, and there is little human presence. Barbagia is one of the least populated areas in Europe, which has allowed Barbagia to preserve its cultural and natural treasures. The language spoken is Sardinian, including its internal varieties (both Nuorese and Campidanese dialects).
One of the most important towns is Gavoi. Orgosolo was famous for its bandits and kidnappers and typical murals. Oliena is well known for its wines (especially the Nepente, a wine made with Cannonau grapes). Another well known town is Fonni, being the highest town in Sardinia, More than 1,000 meters above sea level. Fonni is also the gateway to the Gennargentu mountain system.
The economy consists of agriculture, sheep breeding, art and tradition related business, tourism and light industry.