Friday, February 23, 2018

The Italian Aims in the Adriatic: Dalmatia, Fiume and the Other Unredeemed Lands of the Eastern Frontier of Italy

(Written by Alberto da Giussano, taken from the magazine “Il Carroccio”, Volume 6, July 1917.)

Italy, after defeating Austria-Hungary, must claim all the lands embraced between the Adriatic and the Julian and Dinaric Alps i.e., eastern Friuli, Istria with Trieste and Fiume, and all Dalmatia; whilst leaving to the Croatians and to the Serbians commercial ports of their own on the Adriatic.

All the "unredeemed" lands of the Adriatic coast have century-old Italian traditions dating back to their earliest Latin inhabitants. Even at Fiume, where until recent years, the Latin tradition seemed least certain, recent excavations have shown that the original seed, which later on had such a vigorous fruition, was sown by Rome.

Geographically not only eastern Friuli and Istria as far as the old classic frontier of Arsa, but also Fiume and Dalmatia are Italian, for they are situated on this side of the watershed which divides the affluents of the Danube from those rivers which flow into the Adriatic.

Culture, geography and history are the factors which detract from the purely numerical importance of statistic in those parts where they seem unfavorable to the Italians. But even statistics support Italian claims in a large portion of these unredeemed lands despite the systematic bad faith of the Government which compiled them.

Friuli, Trieste and Istria

The fact that these lands belong geographically to the Appenine Peninsula is not seriously disputed even by German geographers. The fact has been universally admitted for thousands of years.

The Julian Alps clearly divide eastern Friuli and the territory of Gorizia from the Carniola. The division is distinct even as regards the character of the landscape which, on this side of the Alps, is thoroughly Italian.

Starting from Monte Nero the Julian Alps "follow, above Idria, the administrative boundary line between the coast and the province of Carniola, through the pass of Planina-Circhina. From Idria they run, mainly in a south-easterly direction, along the heights which command the road from Idria to Planina, near the river Uncia, dividing Italy from the Slav lands at the central pass of Longatico (Unterloitsch) and including, to the west, the forests of Tarnova and Piro. From Longatico skirting the western heights, they follow the Trieste-Laibach railway line as far as Postumia (which they leave to the west) following the administrative boundary line along the ridge of the Albi mountains, whence they descend, embracing Fiume and some square miles of Croatia, and join the sea at about the level of Buccari, opposite the head-land of San Marco, which is part of the Italian territory". (1)

The official Austrian statistic for 1910 return 90,119 Italian speaking inhabitants in eastern Friuli. (2) The Slovacs, according to these same statistic, number 154,564. A calculation which may be considered reliable because it is based on electoral returns, gives, on the other hand, the following figures:
Italians subject to Austria 112,000
Italians subject to Italy 8,000
Slavs 130,000
Germans 3,500
According to these figures the number of Italians is almost equal to that of the Slavs. But the Italians almost all belong to the urban population, they are the more highly educated and have therefore a distinctly higher national value. So notable is this superiority that even if they only numbered 90,000, as the Austrian statistics try to make out, the national character of these lands would not be changed, for it is and continues to be Italian.

The very name of Eastern or Austrian Friuli used in the official acts of the Vienna government, is proof that Goritian Friuli is an integral part of that Friuli already united to the mother-country.

At Trieste in 1910 the Austrian statistics show that out of 229,000 inhabitants, 118,959 are Italian, 56,916 Slovacs, and 11,856 Germans. To convince us that these, like all the other figures of the Austrian census are falsified, we need only look up the official returns of the 1900 census which gave 116,825 Italians, and 24,679 Slovacs. Nor is this all: the K. K. Central Kommission fur statistik (of Vienna) in 1913 declared that the returns of the Austrian census at Trieste exaggerated the number of the Slav inhabitants.

The truth is that in 1910 the Italians of Trieste, inclusive of those who could claim Italian citizenship (almost all of whom were natives of Trieste) numbered 182,113, and the Slovacs who mostly dwell in the hilly section of the town, numbered 37,063, of whom over 45 per cent are immigrants of recent date.

In Istria the Austrian statistics place the number of Italians at 147,417, Slovacs 55,134, Croatians 168,184. It is evident that these figures also need correcting. In Istria as in eastern Friuli the number of Italians is nearly equal to that of the Slavs; but here again the former account for the educated section of the population and form one national unit, whereas the Slavs are partly Croats and partly Slovacs, that is to say they belong to peoples speaking different languages. Moreover, almost all the Slavs speak Italian and many of them speak dialects so full of Italian words that more than one glottologist has been in doubt whether to classify them among Italian or Slav dialects.

Considered as a whole, Friuli (Provinces of Gorizia and Gradisca), Trieste, and Istria, which are divided by no natural barrier and which should, therefore, be considered as forming one region, that of Julian Venetia, were inhabited in 1910 by over half a million Italians as against not more than 350,000 Croats and Slovacs. Nor does this take into account Fiume, which likewise forms part of Istria and, therefore, of Julian Venetia, and where the Italians form 65 per cent.


Fiume, situated at the eastern base of the Istrian peninsula, belongs geographically to Istria to which it belonged politically until 1776.

The eastern frontier of Istria, which some place at the Arsa, the original frontier of the tenth Augustean Region, is really formed by the watershed of the Julian Alps which descend to the sea at the Canale della Montagna, opposite the headland of St. Mark, near the island of Veglia.

The boundary line formed by the Arsa had a purely administrative value in the time of Augustus; had it been the military frontier the Romans would not have built further east, for the defence of Italy, the two great Valli of the Julian Alps. The majestic ruins of one of these works can still be seen, following for some distance the course of the Fiumara, a stream which forms the political boundary line between Fiume and Croatia.

But, as stated above, the real geographical frontier lies further to the southeast, on the crest of the Julian Alps, and includes, besides Fiume, the sea towns of Buccari and Portoré.

Until February 1914, the origin of Fiume was unknown. An arch between two houses in the old part of the town, traditionally known as the "Roman arch", and the junction on its present location of many Roman roads, as shown by the Itinerari and the geography of Claudius Ptolomy, afforded grounds for supposing it to be of Latin origin.

The majority now incline to identify Fiume with Tarsatica, rebuilt after its destruction, clear traces of which were found in the Roman foundations on which the mediaeval city was built.

The ancient Roman Oppidum, for such Tarsatica had been, reappears in the middle ages under the name of San Vito al Fiume, known later on as Fiume, a name which the Slavs translated by the word Ricka, a Croatian word for watercourse. San Vito is still the patron saint of the town to whom the principal church is dedicated.

All known documents relating to the city of Fiume bear witness to its uninterruptedly Italian character, which victoriously survived the Slav invasion in the 7th century which, for a time, seemed to have submerged every thing.

In 1776 Maria Theresa made over Fiume to Hungary and — as result of the protests of the inhabitants — a royal decree of April 23rd, 1779, proclaimed it to be a separate body annexed to the crown of the kingdom of Hungary.

In 1848 it was taken from Hungary by the Croatians of the Bano Jelacic, who held on to it for nineteen years without succeeding, spite of tenacious endeavours, in undermining its Italian character, and in 1867, on the dualistic settlements between Austria and Hungary, it was restored to this latter.

At present Fiume is governed on the basis of a "provisional arrangement".

In 1863 the so-called "deputations of the kingdom of Hungary, Croatia and Fiume" met at Budapest and decided that "the free city of Fiume and its territory" should remain, in accordance with the charter of 1779, a separate body provisionally annexed to Hungary, corpus separatum adnexum sacrae Regni coronae.

In the first years after 1868 the autonomy and the Italian character of Fiume were respected. But for nearly twenty years the Italians of Fiume, harassed on all sides, struggling against the Croatians and the Magyars who have done every thing in their power to denationalise them, have been engaged in a desperate but so far victorious fight in defence of their threatened Italian nationality.

The Italian character of Fiume is irrefutably proven, even by the government census returns.

These figures show that in 1910 there were 24,000 Italians in Fiume (exclusive of some 6000 Italian citizens most of them natives of Fiume), 12,000 Slavs (Croats, Serbs, and some Slovacs) and 6400 Magyars.

The fact is that before the war at least 35,000 of the 54,000 inhabitants of Fiume were Italians, that is to say 65% as compared to 28% of Slavs and 6% of Magyars.

Economically speaking Fiume is of the greatest importance to any nation which wishes to command the Adriatic. Only some 50 kms. from Trieste as the crow flies, and connected up with the railway system of St. Pietro along which run the express trains from Fiume to Vienna and from Trieste to Vienna, this Adriatic town could easily gain command of all the commerce of the Trieste hinterland. It is therefore necessary that the country which is to possess Trieste, i.e. Italy, should also hold Fiume. From this point of view Fiume may be considered the economic fulcrum of the Adriatic.

Strategically Fiume is of great importance, not so much for the command of the seas — for the country which holds the Quarnero Islands holds the keys to the Adriatic — but because without Fiume Italy would be deprived of the natural barrier of the Julian Alps, the only valid obstacle to future possible invasions, and the geographic unity of Julian Venetia would be disrupted.

Nationally speaking Fiume may be considered, as Rome formerly considered Tarsatica, as an advanced sentinel of our race. Fiume is a Latin fortress which has withstood for centuries the attacks of diverse peoples; it is a centre radiating Italian culture on the borders of Italy; it is the eastern vertex of the "fated triangle" (Trieste, Pola, Fiume); it is one of the three hinges of Italianism in Istria. Should Fiume be abandoned to Croatia or to Hungary the national character of Istria would be endangered in the whole of its eastern section.

Fiume has always asserted its complete independence from all connection with Croatia. Until the end of the xvm century the Croats themselves recognized that Fiume did not belong to Croatia. In 1779 the Chancellery at Vienna recognized indirectly that Fiume belonged to Italy. In 1882 that same Chancellery denied that Fiume was Croatian. Until the outbreak of the European war the inhabitants of Fiume themselves continued admist struggles and sacrifices of all kinds to repeat this negation.

The Coast From Fiume to Dalmatia

The watershed between the Danube and the Adriatic divides the Croatian coast between Fiume and Dalmatia from the hinterland. But so inconsiderable is the distance which separates this drainage area from the coast that it could only be held with difficulty by a state which had not possession of the hinterland.

The coast line between Fiume and Dalmatia extends for a length of some 130 kms. and boasts some good harbours which would be more than sufficient for the needs of an independent Croatia.

The Croatians — if they have possession of their own coast — have not even a pretext for claiming Fiume in the name of their economic needs, just as Hungary, cut off from the sea by at least 300 kms. of Croatian territory, cannot justly lay claim to that city. It should be noted that Croatia's share in the traffic of the port of Fiume only amounts to 4 per cent of the annual movement and that to reach the port of Fiume the Croatian railway has to make a detour which it could avoid were it to run to its own sea coast.


Dalmatia is an Adriatic territory and as such belongs to the orohydrographic system of Italy.

Throughout the innumerable islands of its archipelago it displays the same geological and morphological features as Istria. It is clearly divided from the Balkan peninsula by a high chain of mountains almost everywhere rising above 1500 metres.

The studies made by Prof. Danielli of Florence on the flora and fauna of Dalmatia show that the Dinaric Alps divide two very different regions, one of which, Dalmatia, preserves all the characteristics of the Italian lands.

Dalmatia, cut off from the Balkans by the mountains, is joined to Italy by the sea, and some particulars, studied with great interest by geologists, lead to the supposition that the Adriatic, before it became a sea, was a continuation of the Paduan plain. Even now the Adriatic seems less like a sea than a great lake within the territory which is bounded to the east by the Julian and the Dinaric Alps and to the west by the Appenines.

There is only one gate open in this mountain barrier, that of the Narenta. But this does not mean that the Narenta is necessarily a frontier. South of this river, Hertzegovina stretches in two points to the sea, at the bay of Neum-Klek, north of Ragusa, and at Suttorino at the Bocche di Cattaro. The country which shall possess Hertzegovina will therefore have two natural outlets in the southern Adriatic.

Dalmatia was Roman from the 2nd century B.C. until the fall of the Western Empire. Four Roman Emperors were Dalmatian, amongst whom Diocletian, founder of Spalato.

On the fall of Rome it was in Dalmatia that the Western Empire still survived for some decades.

The Dalmatian cities, prosperous Latin communities, governed themselves freely even after the fall of Rome, obeying their own laws and statutes which were purely Italo-Roman in character, untainted by German barbaric feudalism. At first they were under the protection of the Roman Empire of the East, and subsequently they became independent republics, following the example of the free Italian communes. In 1409 they passed definitely under Venetian rule, which retained suzerainty over them until 1797, though they always retained their municipal autonomy. Like Rome, Venice conquered Dalmatia, determined thereto by the absolute necessity of commanding the Adriatic, a command essential to the life of Italy.

In [1815] Dalmatia came under Austrian rule as having formed part of the Kingdom of Italy of Napoleon I.

Austria respected the Italian character of Dalmatia until 1866; but after the loss of Lombardy and Venetia a policy was adopted which aimed at fostering the Croatian element in this region. Little by little, by means of unheard of violence and fraud, the municipalities of the Dalmatian cities, which had been Italian for centuries, passed into the hands of the Slavs. Courageous Zara alone managed to hold out, and preserved intact its Italian patrimony and Italian municipality.

Dalmatia, like Fiume, has been Catholic ever since the days of the Apostles. The members of the Orthodox Church in Dalmatia are about 90,000 almost all descendents of fugitives who settled at Cattaro or on the Bosnian frontier, driven there by the Ottoman armies.

Dalmatian civilization is solely and exclusively Latin and Italian. The eastern Balcanic civilization begins on the further side of the Dinaric watershed, which forms the natural frontier between the Balkans and Dalmatia.

The contribution which Dalmatia has in all times given to the Italian motherland in sciences, letters, civil and military arts, is indeed notable.

All the Dalmatian cities, even the small towns of the archipelago, are real gems of Latin and Italian art. One of the most beautiful is Ragusa, situated in a picturesque and highly fertile district. The palace of Diocletian at Spalato, and the two cathedrals of Traù and Sebenico, the cathedral of Zara, and the palace of the Rectors at Ragusa, are undoubtedly real masterpieces in the national art treasury of Italy.

The economic life of Dalmatia is almost entirely in the hands of the Italian bourgeoisie, and consequently is part of the national wealth of Italy.

Landed property in the north and the centre as far as the Narenta, is two thirds Italian, and in the islands is entirely so. The Slavs are peasants, either renters or metayers. And even south of the Narenta there are large Italian estates.

As stated above the Italians of Dalmatia are autoctonous, the descendents of Roman settlers and of Illyrian (not Slavonic) natives Latinised by the Roman conquest. In the 4th century of our era all Dalmatia was Latin. The Czech professor, Jirecek, in his Denkschriften of the Vienna Academy (Number 48-49 a, 1901), the German Mayer Lubke, and the Istrian Matteo Bartoli in the proceedings of the Academy, spite of the wishes and requests of the Austrian government, have shown the uninterrupted continuity in the evolution of the Latin language and nationality in Dalmatia from the times of the Romans to our day. In the middle-ages Dalmatia had a neo-Latin dialect of its own, designated by these writers as "neo-Dalmatic", later on absorbed and transformed by the Venetian dialect which spread all along the eastern coast of the Adriatic.

It is well to remember that Milovanovic, Serbian minister of foreign affairs, in October 1909, when interviewed at Belgrade by Dr. Alexander Dudan, correspondent of the Tribuna, in the presence of the Serbian poet Ducic, now secretary to the Serbian legation at Athens, made the following declaration: "The Croatians of Dalmatia in their anti-Italian agitation are the mere agents and tools of the Austrian police, to make mischief between Italy and the Slav world, more especially between Italy and Serbia."

The "Jugoslav" claims to Dalmatia are as recent as they are unfounded. "Jugoslavism" is the latest Austrian find, which aims at drawing the Serbians within its orbit; absorbing them in a triplicist movement (Austria-Hungary-Jugoslavia). There is no such thing as a Jugoslav nation, and there is no history, nor language, nor literature which bears that name. The newly-coined word (jug — south; Jugoslavi — southern Slavs) is a mere longitudinal indication. The people neither knows nor understands it. It includes Bulgarians, Serbians, Croatians, Montenegrans, and Slovacs, that is to say five histories, three languages (Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovac), two religions (Orthodox for the Bulgarians, Serbians, and Montenegrans; Catholic for the others), five separate national consciences. Dalmatia cannot be included in any way in this artificial conception of a Jugoslav nation.

The few Croatian and Slovac agitators who, under the pretext of Jugoslavism tour the capitals of the allied countries, carrying on a propaganda directed more especially against Italian aspirations on the Adriatic, be said to represent either the Croatians or the Slovacs of Austria-Hungary, and still less can they be said to represent the friends or the allies of the Entente. This is so because, in the first place, until the European war broke out these very agitators were the instruments of Austrian policy directed against Italy and against Serbia. In the second place, because the very Croatian and Slovac political parties to which they belonged until the outbreak of the war, and their political colleagues (presidents of provinces, and of provincial parliaments, deputies and podestàs) still continue, after years of war, to be the agents and servants of the Austrian and Hungarian governments; they still continue to support Vienna and Budapest, and consequently Berlin in the war against Italy and all the Allies.

The Austrian census, drawn up by Austro-Croatian agents, only returns 20 thousands Italians out of a population of 620 thousand inhabitants. But there are at least 60 thousand Italians in Dalmatia exclusive of those who are Italian subjects. This figure is obtained from the electoral returns for 1911 in which the Italian candidates obtained 10 per cent of the total poll and by other competent statisticians. The Italian speaking inhabitants amount to 200,000, and it may be said that the only Dalmatians who do not understand Italian are the illiterates who can neither read nor write. (3)

Dalmatia is essential to the safety of Italy on the Adriatic. And, be it noted, we say Dalmatia and not only the islands, which it would be impossible to defend economically and strategically if they were divided from the mainland. Such a division would be a national injustice to the Dalmatians, and a source of constant unrest.

If Dalmatia were to remain separated from Italy, the Italian nationalist movement, which has always existed, would continue to subsist, and would become all the more vigorous, passionate and turbulent as the growing importance of Italy would render its ideal ever more vivid, intense, and fascinating.

It must be remembered that from a military standpoint the coast is the key to power on the Adriatic. Pola is of importance only for the protection of Trieste and Fiume, and its value is defensive.

The ports which are valuable for an offensive against the Italian coast are the two formidable harbors of Sebenico and Cattaro. The islands are only the outlying works of those ports.

The purpose of Italy is not to defend herself against a danger which threatens her in the Eastern Adriatic but to do away once and for all with that danger. Her purpose is to secure for herself absolute freedom in her own sea.

Like Rome and Venice, Italy needs Dalmatia to ensure her peace and safety.


(1) Scipio Slataper — "I confini necessari all'Italia", Turin, 1915.

(2) In speaking of figures and numerical comparisons of populations we should remember to note the great importance of the fact that we can only refer to statistics compiled before the war. We are therefore discussing a situation which has since been profoundly modified, and which owing to these modifications, cannot be used as the basis for Italian claims. The Slav population immigrated, largely at the instigation of the Vienese government, into Italian lands and very probably it will follow this same government in its retreat. Thus the Carso to-day is deserted. How many Slovacs will wish to return to this corner of Italy become once more politically Italian? At Gorizia there were some thousands of Slavs (Slovacs, Croats, Serbs, Poles, Ruthenians, and Bohemians) whom Austria had forcibly placed in the government bureaus. Will any of these return? It is thus evident that under these conditions figures are poor arguments devoid of meaning.

(3) Those who raise conscientious objections with regard to the Slav-speaking populations who would be embodied in greater Italy, would do well to remember the 2 million German speaking inhabitants of Alsace-Lorraine who will return to France, the 3 to 4 million Germans who will form part of the future kingdom of Bohemia, the Germans of Poland, the Bulgarians in Serbian Macedonia, the Turks and Greeks in Constantinople and Asia Minor, to mention only the transformations of the near future.