Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Map (in croatian language) of the 8 Dalmatian city states, painted in the medioeval political division of Dalmatia: Crespa-Ossero in actual Cherso (Chres); Vecla in actual Veglia (Krk); Arba in actual Arbe (Rab); Jadera in actual Zara (Zadar); Tragur in actual Trau (Trogir); Spalatum in actual Spalato (Split); Ragusium in actual Ragusa (Dubrovnik); and Cattaro in actual Cattaro (Kotor). If needed, click on it to enlarge the map.

Dalmatia's neolatin population

Little is known actually about the Dalmatian city states with neolatin ethnic roots, originated from the province of Roman Dalmatia. These were a group of maritime cities where the roman population of Dalmatia took refuge from the barbarian invasions, that destroyed the Western Roman Empire. Initially these survivors got refuge in 8 places: all of them were on northern dalmatian islands (like Arbe, Ossero, Veglia) or little islands just in front of the dalmatian coast (like Zara and Ragusa, and -even now- Trau), but two of them (Spalato and Cattaro) were "isolated" by special factors (Spalato by the walls of the Diocletian "palace", and Cattaro by the "fiord" mountains surrounding the Bay of Cattaro).

These cities remained with their own latin characteristics from the seventh century until were "assimilated" by the Republic of Venice in 1409 AD. Only Ragusa maintained a form of political independence (even if nominally dependent of the Ottoman empire) until Napoleon times: the "Repubblica di Ragusa" was the last of the Dalmatia's neolatin City States and lasted until 1808 AD.
The original Dalmatian romance language disappeared from official use around the thirteenth century, according to Luciano Montali, even if the last speaker (named Tuone Udaine) died in Veglia in 1898 AD.

Thomas G. Jackson wrote an interesting book ( "Dalmatia, the Quarnero and Istria with Cettigne in Montenegro and the Island of Grado. Clarendon Press. Oxford, 1887") on coastal Dalmatia in the mid nineteenth century, that I want to resume in the sections that are related to the Dalmatia's neolatin city states:

"...Of all South Slavonic countries none in the estimation of the artist and the historian can compare with Dalmatia, the narrow strip of rock and moorland between the mountains and the sea which fenced out the Turk from the Adriatic, and stayed the tide of Moslem conquest in the south. In Dalmatia arts and letters flourished and commerce sprang up with all her civilizing influences, while the Slavonic kingdoms of the interior remained in semi-barbarism, wasting their strength in inter- necine struggles, and paving the way for the west- ward progress of the Turkish hordes. This superiority of Dalmatia is due partly to her maritime position which brought her into contact with Italy and the West, but still more to the survival along her coast of certain ancient Roman municipalities, which in the midst of a flood of barbarian colonization kept alive the traditions of civil order, settled law, and an ancient culture. Throughout the middle ages they jealously maintained the civic liberties they inherited from the Roman empire; and while outside their boundaries all the world spoke Illyric, the citizens still used the language of their Roman forefathers till it passed into its modem form of Italian. To this day they cling to their "coltura Latina" (latin culture) with passionate affection ; and though the Croats, backed by the Austrian government, are fighting hard to Slavonize the cities and reduce them to the same rule as the rural districts, the issue of the struggle is still doubtful. The survival of these waifs and strays of the Roman empire is unique; it is an historical phenomenon of almost unparalleled interest; and one cannot contemplate without regret the possibility of its disappearance.

The neolatin City States

The old Latin, or Roman, population, however did not disappear, nor did it lose its identity and become merged in the ranks of the Slav conquerors.When the first shock was over in 614 AD, the Romans either returned to their old towns or founded new ones, where they managed to live in a state between independence and vassalage till they became strong enough in time to take care of themselves. "Zara" soon rose again from its ruin, the fugitives from Epidaurus settled on an isolated rock not far from their ancient home and founded the city of "Ragusa", and the unhappy Salonitans, not daring to return as yet to the ruins of their old capital, crept back to the mainland in reduced numbers, and found a refuge within the impregnable walls of the deserted villa of Diocletian, which has grown into the modern "Spalato". The fate of "Trau" on the main land and of the island towns of "Arbe", "Veglia" and "Ossero" in the Quarnero during this general catastrophe is obscure, but we find them in the tenth century still peopled by Roman citizens and living under their own roman institutions.

It is more difficult to say what became of the ancient Dalmatian and Liburnian populations of the province of Roman Dalmatia. They probably shared to some extent the fortunes of the Roman colonists, with whom they had doubtless become a good deal intermingled, and it is supposed that their de- scendants may be found in the cities of the coast and on the islands. Lucio sees in the "Morlacchi" (Morlachs), who retired from the hill country into the plains as the Turks advanced towards the sea-coast in the sixteenth century, and who now form the peasantry of the northern part of continental Dalmatia, the descendants of the old Roman provincials who fled to the mountains and took to a pastoral life when the Slavs occupied the plains.

In 752 AD such was the condition of Dalmatia when Ravenna was lost to the Lombards and the Imperial prefects of the Byzantine empire in the Adriatic removed themselves and their fleet to Dalmatia's Zara, which became the capital of the province and the seat of the dukes of Dalmatia.Side by side with their somewhat shadowy authority was the native organization of the Slavs, who were grouped into districts called zupys, each with a Zupan at its head. Over these were grand Zupans, or presidents of the federation, and now and then we read of a Ban, or personage of still more exalted authority. All these 'archons' acknowledged and condescended to accept dignities and titles from the Empire, and, in name at all events, professed obedience to the representative of the Emperor.

Side by side again with these organizations were the old Roman municipalities of the maritime towns, speaking the old Roman tongue, governed by the old Roman law, owning allegiance to none but the Roman Emperor and the Prior who represented him in each community, and looking to Constantinople for protection in their ancient municipal liberties against the Slavs, whose rule began beyond the narrow limits of the territory which each city claimed as its own. This was the beginning of that dual element (latin and slavic) in Dalmatian history which must be thoroughly appreciated before the after history of the country can be understood, which has continued with comparatively little difference to our own days, and which is at this moment the key to the proper intelligence of Dalmatian politics and the pivot on which they turn.

Neolatin language survival

Side by side through all the alterna- tions of Venetian and Hungarian rule the Latin and the Slav have remained as two distinct elements, mixing at the edges as it were, but never fusing into one another. In the old Roman cities the old Roman traditions, and no doubt the old Roman stock survived the shock of Slavonic conquest, and though the Croat was lord outside the city walls and beyond the narrow territory claimed by the citizens, within the gates the Dalmatian people retained their old Roman customs, governed themselves by the old Roman law, and spoke the old Latin tongue, which they still speak at the present day in its modern form.

Those who have not acquainted themselves with Dalmatian history are apt to think that the Latin fringe which borders the slavonic province has derived its language and customs from Venice, to which it was so long subject. Nothing can be farther from the truth ; Zara, Spalato, Trau and Ragusa were Latin cities when, as yet Venice was not existent, and they remained Latin cities throughout the middle ages, with very little help from her influence until the fifteenth century.

The Italian spoken in Dalmatia before that time was not the Venetian dialect; in some parts it had a distinct form of its own, in others it resembled the form into wliicli Latin had passed in the south of Italy or Umbria, and it was only after 1420 that it began to assimilate itself to the Italian of Lombardy and Venetia. At Ragusa it never became Venetian at all, and to this day resembles rather the Tuscan dialect than any other, while the patois of the common people is a curious medley of Italian and Illyric, with traces of rustic Latin, Vlach or Rouman.

It is to the Latins of Dalmatia that we must Dalmatian look for evidences of culture and intellectual progress, and not to the Slavs. Those Croatian towns that, like Sebenico, emerged from semi-barbarism did so by being gathered within the Dalmatian pale, and by copying the institutions and customs and adopting the language of the older cities of Latin descent.

Ragusa, the Dalmatian Athens, has sometimes been held up as an example of Slavonic culture, but this is only partially the case, for the history of Ragusa is uniformly that of a Latin rather thian a Slavonic city. The public acts were recorded either in Latin or Italian, never in Illyric, except in case of correspondence with a Slavonic power; Italian appears as the language of the records and laws as early as the fourteenth century; the pleadings in the law-courts in the fifteenth century were not in Illyric but in a Rouman or debased Latin dialect; the rules of the lay confraternities of goldsmiths carpenters and other trades are drawn up in Italian at least as far back as the year 1306, an incontestable proof that Italian was then the vernacular language of the working classes; and when, in 1435, the little republic set an example which many greater states might worthily have imitated, and instituted public schools, it was from Italy that she invited her professors.

Cattaro, the remotest of Dalmatian cities, which lived till the fifteenth century under the shadow and protection of the kings of Servia, preserved her Latin traditions as jealously as the rest; it was from Italy that she invited her public teachers ever since the thirteenth century, and it was to the colleges of Rome, Padua or Bologna, and not to the court of Rascia, that an appeal was provided from her municipal tribunal. This "Latin" -it would be incorrect to call it "Italian"- element which the Venetians at their advent found already existing in Dalmatia naturally became preponderant over the Slavonic element when both parties passed under the rule of an Italian power. Under the Venetian government Italian was the official language throughout the entire province, from the sea-shore to the crests of the Vellebich mountains; Italian officials were appointed to every office in both urban and rural districts, and the Illyric language was left to boors and husbandmen

Architecture and culture of Italy in Dalmatia

In the maritime cities of the mainland, and on most of the islands the traveller may well imagine himself in Italy; for the language, architecture, manners and dress of the citizens are the same as on the other side of the Adriatic.

The architecture of Dalmatia has so much in it that is peculiar and distinctive that it is entitled to rank as a style by itself among the various national styles of mediaeval Europe. It is entirely urban, and confined to the maritime cities, for the sea has in all ages been the parent of Dalmatian civilization; the history of the country is in fact the history of the neolatin maritime towns, and it was in them alone that art and letters found a congenial soil and took root. The Slavonic conquerors came in as barbarians with everything to learn and nothing to teach; they gradually received the religion and in a rude way imitated the art of the Byzantine Empire to which they paid a nominal subjection, but they never developed an art of their own, and the silversmith's work which has been produced in purely Slavonic districts in modern times is but little removed from the Byzantine art of the eighth and ninth century.

The (neolatin) Dalmatians of the maritime cities on the contrary were brought into contact with the nations of western Europe, and above all with Italy, and though their architecture bears traces of Byzantine influence as late as the twelfth century, they developed after that period a native art of their own, and have left us a series of architectural monuments not inferior in interest to those of any country of Europe. Their style is principally based on that of Italy ....."

Fiume and Sebenico

Historian Lucio added to the "Dalmatia Pale" (somewhat similar to the "English Pale" in Ireland) of these City states even Fiume (actual Rijeka) and Sebenico (actual Sibenik), after the year 1000 AD when Venice started to take control of the region.

Indeed Fiume was the former Roman 'Tarsatica': the city of that medioeval period was a small fortified town under the italian Aquileia/Pola bishop, enclosed within the town walls which had several defense towers. The town was granted authonomy in the eleventh century by the bishop and was divided into two parts: in the upper part, there was a medieval castle and the church of St. Vitus (thus the name 'Flumen Sancti Viti'), while in the lower part - the popular- there was a commercial and trading center where around the year 1000 AD many Italian merchants settled.

Furthermore about Sebenico Thomas Jackson wrote that:

"....In 1167 Stephen III raised Sebenico to the rank of a 'free city' conferring on it a charter and privileges similar to those enjoyed by the old Dalmatian cities of Trau and Spalato, and from that time forward Sebenico must be reckoned as within the 'Dalmatian Pale', though a Croatian town by descent and tradition. Lucio says the Sebenzani were some time in learning to wear their new privileges easily; accustomed for so long to be governed despotically, they accommodated themselves with difficulty to the Dalmatian (latin) laws; they had Counts appointed for life, and not for a short term like the other cities, who were with difficulty restrained from their old habits of piracy, and they were more exposed than the other cities to the arbitrary interference of the Ban. Gradually however the Sebenzani became Latinized, and in later ages the city was described by Fortis as next to Zara the best built in Dalmatia, and inhabited by the greatest number of noble families, as far removed from the barbarous manners of ancient pirates as their houses are unlike the former cottages or sibice; and the same writer tells us that in the sixteenth century the arts and sciences flourished in this city more than in any other of Dalmatia...."
Actual situation

According to the "1911 Encycledia Britannica" in 1508 AD the hostile league of Cambrai compelled Venice to withdraw its garrisons for home service in the Veneto region, and after the overthrow of Hungary at Mohacs in 1526 AD the Turks were able easily to conquer the greater part of Dalmatia. The peace of 1540 AD left only the maritime cities to Venice, the interior forming a Turkish province, governed from the fortress of Clissa.

Christian Slavs from the neighbouring lands now thronged to the maritime city states, outnumbering the Italian population and introducing their own language, but falling under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. Since then only in Zara the Italians remained the full majority of the population of the former city states, now under venetian control untill the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797 AD. Indeed in the first decades of the 1800s the Italians were outnumbered by the Slavs in the territories around the cities (with the exception of the one of Zara, of course), but were still the reduced majority (of approximately 51%-71%) inside the walls of the cities of Arbe, Veglia, Cherso (that substituted Ossero, mostly abandoned because of malaria problems), Pago, Trau, Spalato, Cattaro & Perasto and in some islands like Lussino, Lissa and Zuri & Ziarin (both in front of Sebenico).

It is interesting to note that the italian academic Bartoli in the last decades of the nineteenth century calculated that the Italians were nearly 12.5% of the Dalmatian population (according to Austro-hungarian census) and he even did a classification of the Dalmatian cities based on an index of 3 groups related to the "italian language spoken": first group of fully italian (Zara, Veglia, Ossero, Arbe, Lussinpiccolo, Lesina); second group of partially italian with a minority of slavs (Cherso, Pago, Lussingrande, Cittavecchia di Lesina, Curzola, Sebenico, TraĆ¹, Spalato, Almissa, Cattaro); third group of italian minority (Nona, Scardona, Macarsca, Stagno Grande, Ragusa, Castelnuovo di Cattaro, Perasto, Budua). So, without doubts this index showed that Zara, Veglia and Arbe were the only original neolatin city states where the neolatin society had totally survived centuries of "attacks" from the slav assimilation in Dalmatia. But during the XX century, with the two world wars, even these cities lost their neolatin characteristics (Arrigo Petacco: Istria & Dalmatia, a Tragedy revealed)