Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Population of Dalmatia in the 12th Century

The following is a description of Dalmatia from the “Book of Roger” (Tabula Rogeriana), written by the Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi at the court of King Roger II of Sicily in 1154.

In his descriptions Idrisi makes a clear distinction between the Slavs and the Dalmatians – the term ‘Dalmatian’ refers to the autochthonous Latin-speaking population who descend from the original Roman inhabitants.

He tells us which towns and cities were inhabited by Slavs and which were inhabited by Dalmatians. The Dalmatians predominated in almost all the major towns and cities of Dalmatia (Zara, Spalato, Traù, Ragusa), while the Slavs inhabited only one city (Antivari) and couple minor towns.

According to Idrisi, this was the ethnic composition of Dalmatia in the 12th century:
Segna - Populated by Slavs
Castelmuschio (Veglia) - Populated by Dalmatians
Arbe - Populated by Dalmatians
Zatton - Populated by Dalmatians
Zara - Populated by Dalmatians
Zaravecchia - Populated by Dalmatians and Slavs
Traù Vecchia - Populated by Dalmatians
Traù - Populated by Dalmatians
Spalato - Populated by Dalmatians
Stagno - Populated by Slavs
Ragusa - Populated by Dalmatians
Antivari - Populated by Slavs
Cattaro - Populated by Dalmatians
Dulcigno - Populated by Latins (Dalmatians)
His contemporary William of Tyre, in his chronicle Historia, described Dalmatia this way:
“Dalmatia is inhabited by a very fierce people, given over to plunder and murder. ...with the exception of those who live on the coast and who differ from the rest in customs and language. Those on the coast use the Latin language, while the others (in the hinterland) use the Slavonic tongue and have the habits of barbarians.”
Also in the 12th century the chronicler Raymond of Aguilers, in his Historia Francorum, described Dalmatia in the same way. He makes a distinction between the civilized Latins who inhabit the cities and urban centres of the Dalmatian coast and speak a Latin language, and on the other hand the rural Slavs who live in the countryside, whom he describes as “primitive people, barbaric robbers, ignorant of God” (“rudes, latrones, aggrestes hominem qui deum ignorabant”).

These testimonies make clear that the Dalmatian coast in the 12th century was not Slavic, but overwhelmingly Latin and belonged to Latin civilization. The cities of Zara, Spalato, Traù, Ragusa, Cattaro and Arbe, among others, were Latin cities whose population spoke Latin and later Italian. These Latin cities would remain Italian-speaking until the modern period.