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Dalmatia (Serbo-Croat: Dalmacija, Italian: Dalmazia) is a region of the Balkan Peninsula along the Adriatic Sea.

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Up to the 12. century

The history of Dalmatia began when the tribe from which the country derives its name declared itself independent of Gentius[?], the Illyrian king, and established a republic. Its capital was Delminium[?]; its territory stretched northwards from the Narenta[?] to the Cetina[?], and later to the Kerka[?], where it met the confines of Liburnia[?]. In 156 BC the Dalmatians were for the first time attacked by a Roman army and compelled to pay tribute; but only in the time of Augustus (31 BC-AD 14) was their land finally annexed, after the last of many formidable revolts had been crushed by Tiberius in AD 9. This event was followed by total submission and a ready acceptance of the Latin civilization which overspread Illyria.

The collapse of the Western Empire left this region subject to Gothic rulers, Odoacer and Theodoric the Great, from 476 to 535, when it was added by Justinian to the Eastern Empire. The great Slavonic migration into Illyria in the first half of the 7th century, wrought a complete change in the fortunes of Dalmatia. In other parts of the Balkan Peninsula these invaders (Serbs, Croats or Bulgars) found little difficulty in expelling or absorbing the native population. But here they were baffled when confronted by the powerful maritime city-states, highly civilized, and able to rely on the moral if not the material support of their kinsfolk in Italy. Consequently, while the country districts were settled by the Slavs, the Latin or Italian population flocked for safety to Ragusa, Zara[?], and other large towns, and the whole country was thus divided between two frequently hostile communities. This opposition was intensified by the schism between Eastern and Western Christianity (1054), the Slavs as a rule preferring the Orthodox or sometimes the Bogomil creed, while the Italians were firmly attached to the Papacy. Not until the 15th century did the rival races contribute to a common civilization in the literature of Ragusa. To such a division of population. may be attributed the two dominant characteristics of local history -- the total absence of national as distinguished from civic life, and the remarkable development of art, science and literature. Bosnia, Servia and Bulgaria had each its period of national greatness, but remained intellectually backward; Dalmatia failed to attain political or racial unity, but the Dalmatian city-states, isolated and compelled to look to Italy for support, shared perforce in the march of Italian civilization. Their geographical position suffices to explain the relatively small influence exercised by Byzantine culture throughout the six centuries (535-1102) during which Dalmatia was part of the Eastern empire. Towards the close of this period Byzantine rule tended more and more to become merely nominal. In 806 Dalmatia was added to the Holy Roman Empire, but was soon restored; in 829 the coast was ravaged by Saracens. A strange republic of Serb pirates arose at the mouth of the Narenta. These Pagani, or Arentani (Narentines), utterly defeated a Venetian fleet despatched against them in 887, and for more than a century exacted tribute from Venice itself. In 998 they were finally crushed by the doge Pietro Orseolo II[?], who assumed the title duke of Dalmatia, though without prejudice to Byzantine suzerainty. Meanwhile the Croatian kings had extended their rule over northern and central Dalmatia, exacting tribute from the Italian cities, Trail, Zara and others, and consolidating their own power in the purely Slavonic towns, such as Nona or Belgrad (Zaravecchia). The Church was involved in the general confusion; for the synod of Spalato, in 1059, had forbidden the use of any but Greek or Latin liturgies, and so had accentuated the differences between Latin and Slav. A raid of Norman corsairs in 1073 was barely defeated with the help of a Venetian fleet.

Rivalry of Venice & Hungary in Dalmatia, 1102-1420

Unable amid such dissensions to stand alone, unprotected by the Eastern empire and hindered by their internal dissensions from uniting in a defensive league, the city-states turned to Venice and Hungary for support. The Venetians, to whom they were already bound by language and culture, could afford to concede liberal terms because their own principal aims was not the territorial aggrandizement sought by Hungary, but only such a supremacy as might prevent the development of any dangerous political or commercial competitor on the eastern Adriatic. Hungary had also its partisans; for in the Dalmatian citystates, like those of Greece and Italy, there were almost invariably two jealous political factions, each ready to oppose any measure advocated by its antagonist. The origin of this division seems here to have been economic. The farmers and the merchants who traded in the interior naturally favoured Hungary, their most powerful neighbour on land; while the seafaring cornmunity looked to Venice as mistress of the Adriatic. In return for protection, the cities often furnished a contingent to the army or navy of their suzerain, and sometimes paid tribute either in money or in kind. Arbe, for example, annually paid ten pounds of silk or five pounds of gold to Venice. The citizens clung to their municipal privileges, which were reaffirmed after the conquest of Dalmatia in 1102-1105 by Coloman of Hungary. Subject to the royal assent they might elect their own chief magistrate, bishop and judges. Their Roman law remained valid. They were even permitted to conclude separate alliances. No alien, not even a Hungarian, could reside in a city where he was unwelcome; and the man who disliked Hungarian dominion could emigrate with all his household and property. In lieu of tribute, the revenue from customs was in some cases shared equally by the king, chief magistrate, bishop and municipality. These rights and the analogous privileges granted by Venice were, however, too frequently infringed, Hungarian garrisons being quartered on unwilling towns, while Venice interfered with trade, with the appointment of bishops, or with the tenure of communal domains. Consequently the Dalmatians remained loyal only while it suited their interests, and insurrections frequently occurred. Even in Zara four outbreaks are recorded between 1180 and 1345, although Zara was treated with special consideration by its Venetian masters, who regarded its possession as essential to their maritime ascendancy. The doubtful allegiance of the Dalmatians tended to protract the struggle between Venice and Hungary, which was further complicated by internal discord due largely to the spread of the Bogomil heresy; and by many outside influences, such as the vague suzerainty still enjoyed by the Eastern emperors during the 12th century; the assistance rendered to Venice by the armies of the Fourth Crusade in 1202; and the Tartar invasion of Dalmatia forty years later. The Slavs were no longer regarded as a hostile people, but the power of certain Croatian magnates, notably the counts of Bribir, was from time to time supreme in the northern districts and Stephen Tvrtko, the founder of the Bosnian kingdom, was able in 1389 to annex the whole Adriatic littoral between Cattaro and Fiume, except Venetian Zara and his own independent ally, Ragusa. Finally, the rapid decline of Bosnia, and of Hungary itself when assailed by the Turks, rendered easy the success of Venice; and in 1420 the whole of Dalmatia, except Almissa, which yielded in 1444, and Ragusa, which preserved its freedom, either submitted or was conquered. Many cities welcomed the change with its promise of tranquillity.

Venetian and Turkish Rule, 1420-1797

An interval of peace ensued, but meanwhile the Turkish advance continued. Constantinople fell in 1453, Serbia in 1459, Bosnia in 1463, and Herzegovina in 1483. Thus the Venetian and Ottoman frontiers met; border wars were incessant; Ragusa sought safety in friendship with the invaders. In 1508 the hostile league of Cambrai compelled Venice to withdraw its garrison for home service, and after the overthrow of Hungary in 1526 the Turks were able easily to conquer the greater part of Dalmatia. The peace of 1540 left only the maritime cities to Venice, the interior forming a Turkish province, governed from the fortress of Clissa by a Sanjakbeg, or administrator with military powers. Christian Slavs from the neighbouring lands now thronged to the towns, outnumbering the Italian population and introducing their own language, but falling under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. The pirate community of the Uskoks had originally been a band of these fugitives; its exploits contributed to a renewal of war between Venice and Turkey (1571-1573). An extremely curious picture of contemporary manners is presented by the Venetian agents, whose reports on this war resemble some knightly chronicle of the middle ages, full of single combats, tournaments and other chivalrous adventures. They also show clearly that the Dalmatian levies far surpassed the Italian mercenaries in skill and courage. Many of these troops served abroad; at the Battle of Lepanto, for example, in 1571, a Dalmatian squadron assisted the allied fleets of Spain, Venice, Austria and the Papal States to crush the Turkish navy. A fresh war broke out in 1645, lasting intermittently until 1699, when the peace of Carlowitz gave the whole of Dalmatia to Venice, including the coast of Herzegovina, but excluding the domains of Ragusa and the protecting band of Ottoman territory which surrounded them. After further fighting this delimitation was confirmed in 1718 by the Treaty of Passarowitz; and it remains valid, though modified by the destruction of Ragusan liberty and the substitution of Austria-Hungary for Venice and Turkey.

Dalmatia after 1797

After the fall of the Venetian republic in 1797, the treaty of Campo Formio gave Dalmatia to Austria. The republics of Ragusa and Poglizza retained their independence, and Ragusa grew rich by its neutrality during the earlier Napoleonic wars. By the peace of Pressburg in 1805 the country was handed over to France, but its occupation was ineffectually contested by a Russian force which seized the Bocche di Cattaro and induced the Montenegrins to render aid. From 1918 until 1992 it belonged to Yugoslavia, and later it was part of the now independent Croatia.

For further detail see Yugoslavia.

See also: Dalmatian language, dalmatian (the dog)

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