Dalmatians - History and Cultural Relations

Dalmatia's position on the fringe of the Balkan peninsula has given it a tempestuous history and has made it the scene of many migrations, wars, and conquests. For millennia, Dalmatia has provided a link between the cultures of the East and the West. The first traces of humankind in Dalmatia date back 5,000-6,000 years, when archaeological evidence indicates that the people living here had links with other Mediterranean areas. The first historically recorded inhabitants of Dalmatia were the Illyrians, an Indo-European people who ruled the northwestern part of the Balkan peninsula. Many traces of their stone-piled grave sites ( gomila ) and fortified towns, surrounded by connecting circles of dry-stone walls, still stand today on the summits of the steep hills on both sides of the mountain chains that stretch down the coast. The Illyrians were not strong enough to stand up against the culturally more advanced, better organized, and materially stronger states of Greece and Rome, whose rulers became very interested in their opposite shores along the Adriatic. The Greeks spread up the coast from the fourth century B.C. and founded their colonies on both the mainland and islands: Issa (Vis), Pharos (Hvar), Corcyra Melaina (Korčula), Epidaurum (Cavtat), ladera (Zadar), Tragurion (Trogir), and Salonia (Solin). During this time, the first vineyards were planted, olive groves cultivated, and southern fruit and vegetables grown. However, the Illyrian tribes did not relinquish their autonomy easily and continued to oppose Greek rule until the Roman Conquest in the first century A.D. With the coming of the Romans, the whole coastal region began to develop rapidly. The conquerors organized administration, justice, and trade on the Roman model and built new towns in accordance with Roman city planning. With the building of new towns the Roman Empire began expanding into the hinterland toward the Dinaric range, as well as into the southern edges of the Pannonian Plain. Then, hard pressed by the barbarians, the Roman frontier fortifications on the Danube cracked, marking the disintegration of an empire already decaying from within. The Avars with their Slav allies pressed down into the Balkans, destroying what Rome had built over the centuries. But the Avar Kingdom soon disintegrated and the Avars disappeared from the Balkans, leaving their dead empire to the Slavs, who became Christianized and formed Several small medieval states on the eastern shores of the Adriatic: Duklja, Zahumlje, and Croatia. Croatians settled the greatest part of the coast, where they remain to this day. The Franciscan, Dominican, and Benedictine Orders had a great effect on cultural development, to which schools, various libraries, and archives still bear witness. City administrators began to appoint public notaries and draft city statutes in the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. During the Renaissance, Dalmatia was a treasury of architecture, art, and literature. Venetian rule over Dalmatia (1420-1797) was established when the Croatian King Ladislav of Naples ceded part of the country to the Venetian republic. Warfare against the Turks also marked this period. (Ragusa [Dubrovnik], however, maintained its independent city-republic for centuries by skillful maneuvering and trade Between the East and the West, until it was subjugated by Napoleon in 1808.) After the defeat of Kosovo (1389) and the fall of Constantinople (1453), Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Albania gradually fell under Muslim Turkish domination. Dalmatia seemed likely to be the next victim. To avert this fate, a Croatian knight, Peter Kruzić, formed a corps of guerrillas called uskoci (fugitives) at his stronghold of Klis (near Split) and was able to keep the Turks at bay for a time. However, from 1515 to 1540 Dalmatia was left to its own resources and almost the whole area—except the coastal cities and the islands—fell to the Turks. During later wars, Dalmatia's frontier with Turkey was continually changing, until 1718 when Dalmatia again came under Venice's dominion. Venice, however, was taken by the French and given to Austria. In 1805 Austria had to cede Dalmatia to Napoleon. In 1815, after the fall of Napoleon, Dalmatia was assigned to Austria again, following the Congress of Vienna. It remained part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. After World War I Dalmatia, as well as the rest of Croatia, along with Slovenia and Serbia made up the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. However, Zadar and four islands were given to Italy. At the end of World War II, in 1945, this remainder of Dalmatia also became part of Yugoslavia.

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