Dalmatia is a narrow belt of the east shore of the Adriatic Sea, stretching from the island of Rab in the north to the Bay of Kotor in the south. The hinterland (Dalmatian Zagora) ranges in width from fifty kilometres in the north, to just a few kilometres in the south; it is mostly covered by the rugged Dinaric Alps. Seventy-nine islands (and about 500 islets) run parallel to the coast, the largest (in Dalmatia) being Brač, Pag, and Hvar. The largest city is Split, followed by Zadar, Dubrovnik, and Šibenik.
The name of the region stems from an Illyrians called the Dalmatae, who lived in the area in classical antiquity. Later it became a Roman province, and as result a Romance culture emerged, along with the now-extinct Dalmatian language, later largely replaced with related Venetian. With the arrival of Croats to the area in the 8th century, who occupied most of the hinterland, Croatian and Romance elements began to intermix in language and culture. During the Middle Ages, its cities were often conquered by, or switched allegiance to, the kingdoms of the region. The longest-lasting rule was the one of the Republic of Venice, which controlled most of Dalmatia between 1420 and 1797, with the exception of the small but stable Republic of Ragusa (1358–1808) in the south. Between 1815 and 1918, it was a province of the Austrian Empire known as the Kingdom of Dalmatia. After the Austro-Hungarian defeat in the First World War, Dalmatia was split between the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes which controlled most of it, and the Kingdom of Italy which held several smaller parts, and after World War II, SFR Yugoslavia took complete control over the area.
Dalmatia is referenced in the New Testament at , so its name has been translated in many of the world's languages.
…the modern perception of Dalmatia is mainly based on the territorial extent of the Austrian Kingdom of Dalmatia, with the exception of Rab island, which is geographically related to the Kvarner area and functionally to the Littoral–Gorski Kotar area, and with the exception of the Bay of Kotor, which was annexed to another state (Montenegro) after World War I. Simultaneously, the southern part of Lika and upper Pounje, which were not a part of Austrian Dalmatia, became a part of Zadar County. From the present-day administrative and territorial point of view, Dalmatia comprises the four Croatian littoral counties with seats in Zadar, Šibenik, Split, and Dubrovnik.
"Dalmatia" is therefore generally perceived to extend approximately to the borders of the Austrian Kingdom of Dalmatia. However, due to territorial and administrative changes over the past century, the perception can be seen to have altered somewhat with regard to certain areas, and sources conflict as to their being part of the region in modern times:
The former two groups (inhabitants of the islands and the cities) historically included many Venetian and Italian language speakers, many of whom identified as Italians (esp. after the Italian unification). Their presence, relative to those identifying as Croats, decreased dramatically over the course of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. The Italian speakers constituted (according to the Italian linguist Matteo Bartoli) nearly one third of Dalmatians in the second half of the 18th century.Seton-Watson, "Italy from Liberalism to Fascism, 1870-1925". p. 107 According to the Austrian census it had decreased to 12.5% in 1865 and 3.1% in 1890.Perselli, Guerrino. I censimenti della popolazione dell'Istria, con Fiume e Trieste, e di alcune città della Dalmazia tra il 1850 ed il 1936 There remains, however, a strong cultural, and, in part, ancestral heritage among the natives of the cities and islands, who today almost exclusively identify as Croats, but retain a sense of regional identity.
The largest Dalmatian mountains are Dinara, Mosor, Svilaja, Biokovo, Moseć, Veliki Kozjak, and Mali Kozjak. The regional geographical unit of historical Dalmatia – the coastal region between Istria and the Gulf of Kotor – includes the Orjen mountains with the highest peak in Montenegro, 1894 m. In present-day Dalmatia, the highest peak is Dinara (1913 m), which is not a coastal mountain, while the highest coastal Dinaric mountains are on Biokovo (Sv. Jure, 1762 m) and Velebit (Vaganski vrh, 1757 m), although the Vaganski vrh itself is located in Lika-Senj County.
The Adriatic Sea's high water quality, along with the immense number of , islands, and strait, makes Dalmatia an attractive place for nautical races, nautical tourism, and tourism in general. Dalmatia also includes several that are tourist attractions: Paklenica karst river, Kornati archipelago, Krka river rapids, and Mljet island.
The historian Theodore Mommsen wrote in his book, The Provinces of the Roman Empire, that all Dalmatia was fully romanized by the 4th century AD. However, analysis of archaeological material from that period has shown that the process of Romanization was rather selective. While urban centers, both coastal and inland, were almost completely romanized, the situation in the countryside was completely different. Despite the Illyrians being subject to a strong process of acculturation, they continued to speak their native language, worship their own gods and traditions, and follow their own social-political tribal organization which was adapted to Roman administration and political structure only in some necessities.A. Stipčević , Iliri, Školska knjiga Zagreb, 1974, p. 70
The collapse of the Western Roman Empire, with the beginning of the Migration Period, left the region subject to Goths rulers Odoacer and Theodoric the Great. They ruled Dalmatia from 480 to 535 AD, when it was restored to the Byzantine Empire by Justinian I.
In the Early Medieval period, Byzantine Dalmatia was ravaged by an Pannonian Avars invasion that destroyed its capital, Salona, in 639 AD, an event that allowed for the settlement of the nearby Diocletian's Palace in Spalatum (Split) by Salonitans, greatly increasing the importance of the city. The Avars were followed by the great South Slavs migrations.Curta Florin. Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, 2006; ()
The Slavs, loosely allied with the Avars, permanently settled the region in the first half of the 7th century AD and remained its predominant ethnic group ever since. The Croats soon formed their own realm: the Principality of Dalmatian Croatia ruled by native Princes of Guduscani origin. The meaning of the geographical term "Dalmatia" now shrank to the coastal cities and their immediate hinterland. These cities were the romance-speaking Dalmatian city-states and remained influential as they were well fortified and maintained their connection with the Byzantine Empire. The original name of the cities was Jadera, Spalatum, Crespa, Arba, Tragurium, Vecla, Ragusium and Cattarum. The language and the laws were initially Latin, but after a few centuries they developed their own neo-Latin language (the "Dalmatico"), that lasted until the 19th century. The cities were maritime centres with a huge commerce mainly with the Italian peninsula and with the growing Republic of Venice. The two communities were somewhat hostile at first, but as the Croats became Christianization this tension increasingly subsided. A degree of cultural mingling soon took place, in some enclaves stronger, in others weaker, as Slavic influence and culture was more accentuated in Ragusa, Spalatum, and Tragurium.
In about 925 AD, Duke Tomislav was crowned, establishing the Kingdom of Croatia, and extending his influence further southwards to Zahumlje. As an ally of the Byzantine Empire, the King was given the status of Protector of Dalmatia, and became its de facto ruler.
In the High Medieval period, the Byzantine Empire was no longer able to maintain its power consistently in Dalmatia, and was finally rendered impotent so far west by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The Venetian Republic, on the other hand, was in the ascendant, while the Kingdom of Croatia became increasingly influenced by Hungary to the north, being absorbed into it via personal union in 1102. Thus, these two factions became involved in a struggle in this area, intermittently controlling it as the balance shifted. During the reign of King Emeric, the Dalmatian cities separated from Hungary by a treaty.cit: Hunc iste, postquam Dalmatae pacto hoc a Hungaria separati se non tulissent, revocatum contra Emericum armis vindicavit, ac Chelmensi Ducatu, ad mare sito, parteque Macedoniae auxit. AD 1199. Luc. lib. IV. cap. III. Diplomata Belae IV. AD 1269. A consistent period of Hungarian rule in Dalmatia was ended with the Mongol invasion of Hungary in 1241. The Mongols severely impaired the feudal state, so much so that that same year, King Béla IV had to take refuge in Dalmatia, as far south as the Klis fortress. The Mongols attacked the Dalmatian cities for the next few years but eventually withdrew without major success.
In the south, due to its protected location, Kotor became a major city for the salt trade. The area flourished during the 14th century under the rule of Serbian emperor Dušan the Mighty, who was notorious for his aggressive law enforcement, and made the Bay of Kotor a particularly safe place for doing business. Rick Steves Snapshot Dubrovnik by Rick Steves and Cameron Hewitt In 1389 Tvrtko I, the founder of the Bosnian Kingdom, was able to control the Adriatic littoral between Kotor and Šibenik, and even claimed control over the northern coast up to Rijeka, and his own independent ally, Dubrovnik (Ragusa). This was only temporary, as Hungary and the Venetians continued their struggle over Dalmatia after Tvrtko's death in 1391. By this time, the whole Hungarian and Croatian Kingdom was facing increasing internal difficulties, as a 20-year civil war ensued between the Capetian House of Anjou from the Kingdom of Naples, and King Sigismund of the House of Luxembourg. During the war, the losing contender, Ladislaus of Naples, sold his "rights" on Dalmatia to the Venetian Republic for a mere 100,000 . The much more centralized Republic came to control all of Dalmatia by the year 1420, it was to remain under Venetian rule for 377 years (1420–1797).
The southern city of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) became de facto independent in 1358 through the Treaty of Zadar when Venice relinquished its suzerainty over it to Louis I of Hungary. In 1481, Ragusa switched allegiance to the Ottoman Empire. This gave its tradesmen advantages such as access to the Black Sea, and the Republic of Ragusa was the fiercest competitor to Venice's merchants in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Republic of Venice was also one of the powers most hostile to the Ottoman Empire's expansion, and participated in many wars against it. As the Ottomans took control of the hinterland, many Christians took refuge in the coastal cities of Dalmatia. The border between the Dalmatian hinterland and the Ottoman Bosnia and Herzegovina greatly fluctuated until the Morean War, when the Venetian capture of Knin and Sinj set much of the borderline at its current position.
After the Great Turkish War and the Peace of Passarowitz, more peaceful times made Dalmatia experience a period of certain economic and cultural growth in the 18th century, with the re-establishment of trade and exchange with the hinterland. This period was abruptly interrupted with the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797. Napoleon's troops stormed the region and ended the independence of the Republic of Ragusa as well, saving it from occupation by the Russian Empire and Montenegro.
In 1805, Napoleon created his Kingdom of Italy around the Adriatic Sea, annexing to it the former Venetian Dalmatia from Istria to Kotor. In 1808 he annexed to this Italian Kingdom the just conquered Republic of Ragusa. A year later in 1809 he removed the Venetian Dalmatia from his Kingdom of Italy and created the Illyrian Provinces, which were annexed to France, and created his marshal Nicolas Soult Duke of Dalmatia.
Napoleon's rule in Dalmatia was marked with war and high taxation, which caused several rebellions. On the other hand, French rule greatly contributed to Croatian national awakening (the first newspaper in Croatian was published then in Zadar, the Il Regio Dalmata – Kraglski Dalmatin), the legal system and infrastructure were finally modernized somewhat in Dalmatia, and the educational system flourished. French rule brought a lot of improvements in infrastructure; many roads were built or reconstructed. Napoleon himself blamed Marshal Auguste Marmont, the governor of Dalmatia, that too much money was spent. However, in 1813, the Habsburgs once again declared war on France and, by the following year, had restored control over Dalmatia.
In the same year, the first issue of the Dubrovnik almanac appeared, Flower of the National Literature ( Dubrovnik, cvijet narodnog književstva), in which Petar Preradović published his noted poem "To Dubrovnik". This and other literary and journalistic texts, which continued to be published, contributed to the awakening of the national consciousness reflected in efforts to introduce the Croatian language into schools and offices, and to promote Croatian books. The Emperor Franz Joseph brought the so-called Imposed Constitution which prohibited the unification of Dalmatia and Croatia and also any further political activity with this end in view. The political struggle of Dubrovnik to be united with Croatia, which was intense throughout 1848–49, did not succeed at that time.
In 1861 was the meeting of the first Dalmatian Assembly, with representatives from Dubrovnik. Representatives of Kotor came to Dubrovnik to join the struggle for unification with Croatia. The citizens of Dubrovnik gave them a festive welcome, flying Croatian flags from the ramparts and exhibiting the slogan: Ragusa with Kotor. The Kotorans elected a delegation to go to Vienna; Dubrovnik nominated Niko Pucić, who went to Vienna to demand not only the unification of Dalmatia with Croatia, but also the unification of all Croatian territories under one common Assembly.
Dalmatia was a strategic region during World War I that both Italy and Serbia intended to seize from Austria-Hungary. Italy joined the Triple Entente Allies in 1915 upon agreeing to the London Pact that guaranteed Italy the right to annex a large portion of Dalmatia in exchange for Italy's participation on the Allied side. From 5–6 November 1918, Italian forces were reported to have reached Lissa, Lastovo, Sebenico, and other localities on the Dalmatian coast.Giuseppe Praga, Franco Luxardo. History of Dalmatia. Giardini, 1993. Pp. 281. By the end of hostilities in November 1918, the Italian military had seized control of the entire portion of Dalmatia that had been guaranteed to Italy by the London Pact and by 17 November had seized Rijeka as well.Paul O'Brien. Mussolini in the First World War: the Journalist, the Soldier, the Fascist. Oxford, England, UK; New York, New York, USA: Berg, 2005. Pp. 17. In 1918, Admiral Enrico Millo declared himself Italy's Governor of Dalmatia. Famous Italian nationalist Gabriele d'Annunzio supported the seizure of Dalmatia, and proceeded to Zadar in an Italian warship in December 1918.A. Rossi. The Rise of Italian Fascism: 1918-1922. New York, New York, USA: Routledge, 2010. Pp. 47. However, in spite of the guarantees of the London Pact to Italy of a large portion of Dalmatia and Italian military occupation of claimed territories of Dalmatia, during the peace settlement negotiations of 1919 to 1920 the Fourteen Points of Woodrow Wilson that advocated self-determination of nations took precedence, with Italy only being permitted to annex Zadar from Dalmatia, while the rest of Dalmatia was to be part of Yugoslavia.
At the end of the First World War, the Austrian Empire disintegrated, and Dalmatia was again split between the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) which controlled most of it, and the Kingdom of Italy which held small portions of northern Dalmatia around Zadar and the islands of Cres, Lošinj, and Lastovo. Italy entered the First World War in a territorial gamble, mostly to gain Dalmatia. But Italy got only a small part of its pretensions, so Dalmatia mostly stayed Yugoslav until Benito Mussolini invaded Yugoslavia in 1941 and occupied the region.
In 1922, the territory of the former Kingdom of Dalmatia was divided into two provinces, the District of Split ( Splitska oblast), with its capital in Split, and the District of Dubrovnik ( Dubrovačka oblast), with its capital in Dubrovnik. In 1929, the Littoral Banovina ( Primorska Banovina), a province of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, was formed. Its capital was Split, and it included most of Dalmatia and parts of present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina. The southern parts of Dalmatia were in Zeta Banovina, from the Gulf of Kotor to Pelješac peninsula including Dubrovnik. In 1939, Littoral Banovina was joined with Sava Banovina (and with smaller parts of other banovinas) to form a new province named the Banovina of Croatia. The same year, the ethnic Croatian areas of the Zeta Banovina from the Gulf of Kotor to Pelješac, including Dubrovnik, were merged with a new Banovina of Croatia.
During World War II, in 1941, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria occupied Yugoslavia, redrawing their borders to include former parts of the Yugoslavian state. A new Nazi puppet state, the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), was created, and Fascist Italy was given some parts of the Dalmatian coast, notably around Zadar and Split, as well as many of the area's islands. The remaining parts of Dalmatia became part of the NDH. Many Croats moved from the Italian-occupied area and took refuge in the satellite state of Croatia, which became the battleground for a guerrilla war between the Axis forces and the Yugoslav Partisans. Following the surrender of Italy in 1943, most of Italian-controlled Dalmatia was taken over by German forces and reverted to control under the puppet Independent State of Croatia. Zadar was razed by the Allies during World War II, starting the exodus of its Italian population. After WWII, Dalmatia became part of the People's Republic of Croatia, part of the SFR Yugoslavia (then called the Federative People's Republic of Yugoslavia).
The territory of former Kingdom of Dalmatia was divided between two Federal republic Republics of Yugoslavia and most of the territory went to Croatia, leaving only the Bay of Kotor to Montenegro. When Yugoslavia dissolved in 1991, those borders were retained and remain in force. During the Croatian war of Independence, most of Dalmatia was a battleground between the Croatian government and local Serb rebels, with much of the region being placed under the control of Serbs. Croatia did regain southern parts of these territories in 1992 but did not regain all of the territory Operation Storm.