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The name comes from Cicero, who described it as a land of barbarians (Barbaria, Βαρβαρία in Ancient Greek). This word derives from the Greek Βάρβαρος, which means "stuttering". The Sardinians from this area 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 part of Sardinia was never more than nominal.
In 594, Pope Gregory the Great wrote a letter to Hospito, a Christian whom he calls the "leader of the Barbaricini" (dux barbaricinorum). Hospito apparently permitted the evangelisation of pagan Barbagia by Christian missionaries.
The area is usually divided into five Barbagias: the Barbagia of Ollolai, the Barbagia of Seulo, the Barbagia of Belvì, the Mandrolisai, and finally the Barbagia Trigònia, the historical name by which the area of Ogliastra was once referred to. The latter two are named after a sub-region, and the others after their main villages.
The area is full of hard hills and mountains, 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. Barbagia is one of the few Sardinian regions where the Sardinian language in its own varieties, both Nuorese and Campidanese, is still spoken on an everyday basis, while the rest of the island has already undergone shift to Italian.
One of the most important villages 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, the highest town in Sardinia at 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.