Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dalmatia Before the Venetians

It is common for Slavs to claim that Italians did not exist in Dalmatia before the arrival of the Venetians, or that Dalmatia did not have a Latin culture until the Venetians became the rulers of the Adriatic. While no one could ever deny the impact and influence of the Venetians on the region of Dalmatia (culturally, artistically, linguistically, etc.) the fact remains that the Latinity of Dalmatia and the Italian presence in Dalmatia predates the Venetians by many centuries, and certainly predates the Slavs by several centuries as well. As the 19th century author H. R. Fairclough stated:
“It was in the same century as witnessed the destruction of Salona that the Serbo-Croatians first migrated into the Balkan peninsula. ...but the city-states along the coast still retained their Roman character, as well as their independence, for centuries afterwards. Even today many Roman family names are found in use along the coast, surviving from the Roman period... It should be distinctly understood that however much Venice has left her mark upon the whole coast in her art and architecture, yet the Latin character of these maritime cities is due more to ancient Roman tradition than to Venetian domination.”
Another author, T. G. Jackson, also writing in the 19th century, said:
“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, Traù 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 Colonna di Orlando (Orlando's Column) in Ragusa,
constructed in 1418 by Antonio da Ragusa and Bonino da Milano

Dalmatia was home to a flourishing Latin civilization before the Slavs arrived in the Balkans, and even before anyone in Europe knew who the Slavs were. Throughout the centuries Dalmatia remained home to a flourishing Latin civilization. When the Slavs invaded the Balkans in the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries, it was in the region of Dalmatia that the Romans and Latin peoples sought refuge, and founded cities such as Ragusa, after being driven out of the interior by the Slavs.

Emperor Constantine VII, writing in the 10th century in his famous ‘De administrando imperio’, said:
“The aforesaid Slavs took the Roman arms and standards and the rest of their military insignia and crossed the river... Once through, they instantly expelled the Romans and took possession of the aforesaid city of Salona. There they settled and thereafter began gradually to make plundering raids and destroyed the Romans who dwelt in the plains and on the higher ground and took possession of their lands. The remnant of the Romans escaped to the cities of the coast and possess them still [today], namely, Cattaro, Ragusa, Spalato, Traù, Zara, Arbe, Veglia and Ossero, the inhabitants of which are called Romans to this day. ... These same Ragusans used of old to possess the city that is called Epidaurum; and since, when the other cities were captured by the Slavs that were in the province, this city too was captured, and some were slaughtered and others taken prisoner, those who were able to escape and reach safety settled in the almost precipitous spot where the city now is... From their migration from Salona to Ragusa, it is 500 years till this day...”
The city of Ragusa represented in the eastern Adriatic what Venice represented in the western Adriatic: the continuation of Roman and Latin civilization. Both cities were founded by Romans who were fleeing barbarians after the collapse of the Empire, both cities were destined to form powerful and influential republics (although Venice, no doubt, was much more powerful and influential), and both cities were compelled to carry on the torch of Roman and Latin civilization against the onslaught of various hordes of Huns, Avars and Slavs.

The “Book of Roger”, written at the court of King Roger II of Sicily in 1154 (therefore three centuries before Venetian rule took firm root in the region), informs us that at that time the Dalmatian towns of Arbe, Zara, Traù, Spalato, Ragusa and Cattaro were all populated by Latins – not by Slavs. The Latin and Italian character of Dalmatia was certainly strengthened by the Venetians, but the Latin character of Dalmatia was already an established fact since antiquity, and continued on through the Middle Ages and into the Venetian period, all the way down to the 20th century.

See also:
Quotes on the Italianity of Dalmatia
Quotes on the Italianity of Fiume
Quotes on the Italianity of Istria
Quotes on the Italianity of the Quarnaro
Quotes on the Italianity of Ragusa
The Population of Dalmatia in the 12th Century