Dalmatia, the present-day Croatian coastal region, has some of the most well preserved Roman ruins and sites in the world, perhaps rivaling the South of France, Turkey/Asia Minor, as well as most of Spain. However, my historical education rarely, if ever, discussed Roman Dalmatia, often receiving anecdotal status at best.

The largest surviving Roman imperial palace in the world is in the Dalmatian city of Split and one of the best-preserved Roman coliseums is also in Dalmatia. Yet, despite the surviving historical presence of Roman architectural antiquity, Roman Dalmatia has often been of parenthetical significance when compared with Roman Provence, Asia Minor, much of Spain, Greece and Egypt. In other words, why has Roman Dalmatia been marginalized or even excluded from our historical and educational discourse?

  • We certainly discussed Dalmatia (and Pannonia) when I studied the Roman empire. I remember that our tutor had a lot of slides from the tours he ran there, and a number of my fellow students worked there on archaeological digs in the late 1980s. – sempaiscuba Nov 18 '17 at 5:21
  • If my memory is correct, I believe you are British? I bring this up because without sounding too stereotypical, the British historical education system-(and I suspect much of the European historical education system), has been and is probably still, far ahead of our U.S. historical education system. Unless someone is studying the Classics, Archaeology or Ancient History at a post-secondary level, the familiarity many Americans-(as well as some Educators) may have with the more obscure regions of the Roman Empire is rarely taught, if at all-(again, without sounding too stereotypical). – user26763 Nov 18 '17 at 5:30
  • Yep, I'm a Brit. If you are asking about the US education system in particular you should probably make that clear in the question. Otherwise the question will probably be closed for being primarily opinion based. – sempaiscuba Nov 18 '17 at 5:34
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    Perhaps because before 1989, it was rather difficult for people from western Europe or the US to visit these places? – jamesqf Nov 18 '17 at 6:40
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    @jamesqf Actually, it was quite a popular holiday destination for Brits (and lots of other western Europeans) throughout the 1980s - before the Yugoslavian break-up. – sempaiscuba Nov 18 '17 at 11:49

This is a legitimate question regardless (despite some posted comments) of whether you are British. It is surely a fact that when people in any country study or read about the Roman Empire they normally learn less (if anything at all) about Roman Dalmatia than they do about, say, Roman Gaul, Roman Britain, Roman Egypt etc.

Most people who know much about the Romans probably know that Gaul was conquered for Rome by Julius Caesar, fighting against tribal leaders like Vercingetorix, and that Egypt was added to the Roman Empire by Octavian after he defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium. Far fewer people know when or how Dalmatia became part of the Roman Empire.

However, at least by the early 4th Century AD, the Emperor Diocletian presumably considered Dalmatia a sufficiently civilized place that he chose to retire there, building a palace at what is now Split in Croatia.

This will not be an complete list but I suspect reasons we do not hear more about Roman Dalmatia (and its predecessor Province out of which it was created, Illyria) include:

-While there is archaeology, much of our knowledge and understanding of the Roman world depends on what the relatively small number of Romans whose writings survive chose to record. Romans historians tend to be more interested in what we call events of political and military history than more gradual, general and harder to measure things like growth of population, trade and prosperity.

Extensive Roman remains in the area may indicate that it mostly prospered peacefully under Roman rule. However, unless, say, an Emperor or a general fought a major battle or was assassinated there, or for some reason a major Roman literary figure like Vergil wrote a poem or Cicero made a speech about it, Roman writers whose work survives will tell us little about it.

In late Roman times we also have Christian sources but, perhaps because Christianity began in Palestine so tended to reach places further south and east initially, there is no Letter of St Paul to the Illyrians/ Dalmatians. The recorded debates by which early Christians sorted out their doctrines, like the Arian controversy and the Council of Nicaea, tended to be in places closer to the birthplace of Christianity like Egypt and Asia Minor.

-Which parts of history receive most attention now can be shaped by modern concerns, including attempts to build national identity. The French were taught in schools for generations that 'our ancestors were the Gauls', and the French language is mostly derived from Latin. Consequently Roman Gaul is at least more likely to mean something to them, even if mainly through 'Asterix the Gaul' cartoons in some cases.

Dalmatia did once have its own Latin-based language (Google 'Dalmatian language') but it died out in the nineteenth century. Its pre-Roman language, presumably Illyrian, has long ago died out in the area even if, further south in the Balkans, Albanian may be descended from it. Others who know more may correct me but the now Slavic-speaking Croats may not feel as strong an identification with Roman Dalmatians as 'our ancestors' and tend to identify themselves as a Slavic rather than an Albanian or Latin people, the Slavs having invaded and conquered the area centuries later in Early Medieval times.

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    Excellent answer; it is much appreciated. With regard to the "Slavic speaking Croats", it is certainly true that the Croatians primarily view and identify themselves as Slavs. However, Croatians, Dalmatian Croatians, in particular, are, "South Slavs" as opposed to being, "North Slavs"-(and there are cultural, historical and even anthropological differences)..... – user26763 Nov 18 '17 at 19:00
  • I have a professional background in Historical Geography and Ethnic Taxonomy and would be glad to discuss this topic in further detail, however, this is a history based site and a limited amount of space to work with. The short answer is that the South Slavs, are Slavophonic, that is to say, they speak Slavic languages. However, one could argue that Dalmatian Croats, like many South Slavs, are more closely related to Italians, Greeks, Provencal French & most Spaniards in anthropological terms. In other words, South Slavs, including, Dalmatian Croats, are generally a part of the larger....... – user26763 Nov 18 '17 at 19:05
  • (and so-called), "Mediterranean race"-(a micro race within the larger Caucasian race). Yet, much of the Croatian interior, is primarily populated with peoples who may have a Mediterranean-Slavic admixture, as well as a population who are primarily or universally Slavic-(in anthropological terms). It is essentially, a region with anthropologically mixed populations. The historical, anthropological and demographic character of the Croatian interior is distinguishable from the Dalmatian coastal region. This is probably attributable to the long and complex history of Dalmatia and the wider.... – user26763 Nov 18 '17 at 19:13
  • Balkan region. However, the cultural, linguistic and especially, the religious character of Croatians, both the Dalmatian region, as well as the Croatian interior, is united. And yes, in the final analysis, whether from Dalmatia or Zagreb, the Croatians, are a self-identifying Slavic peoples with cultural and especially, linguistic links with the larger Slavic race. – user26763 Nov 18 '17 at 19:17
  • Note: I wanted to say, "the majority of Italians" in the 2nd paragraph and on the latter part of the 4th line. – user26763 Nov 18 '17 at 19:21