What is the history of Italian cultural presence in Dalmatia?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The beginnings of Italian cultural influence in Dalmatia can be traced back to when the Romans conquered Illyrian Dalmatia, an area of the eastern Adriatic coast, part of the Balkans, inhabited by the Illyrian tribe known as the Dalmatae ("Dalmatia"). The Romans conquered Illyria in 168 BC. Prior to that time, the Illyrians had been feared warriors who owned kingdoms in much of the western Balkans. After the Roman conquest, according to historian Theodore Mommsen, all of Dalmatia "was fully Romanised and Latin speaking by the fourth century [AD]" and thereby also Italianized (as cited in "Italian cultural and historical presence in Dalmatia"). However, also during the fifth and sixth centuries, meaning the early Middle Ages, the Barbarian Invasions occurred, driving the Latin Dalmatians to strictly the coastal cities and islands ("Italian cultural"). The Barbarian Invasions refers to the migration period, starting from Late Antiquity and lasting into the Early Middle Ages, in which Germanic tribes invaded the Roman Empire and later were pushed westward by the Huns, Avars, Slavs, Bulgars, and Alans ("Migration Period"). Hence, it was specifically the Slavic invasion of Dalmatia that pushed the Latin Dalmatians to the coast, creating both Latin Dalmatia and Slavic Dalmatia. However, by the tenth century, the Republic of Venice took control of Dalmatia, calling it Venetian Dalmatia, and though some of Dalmatia's Slavic population still retained the Slavic language, between 1420 and 1797, even Dalmatia's Slavic population became Italianized. Within Venetian Dalmatia, the Italian Renaissance had significant cultural influence, giving rise to Italian Renaissance period "buildings, churches and cathedrals" as well as to the Venetian language becoming the dominant language ("Italian cultural"). But the Italian language became the dominant language and even the language taught in schools when Napoleon conquered the Republic of Venice in 1797 and made Dalmatia part of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy.

It was during the Italian Renaissance under the Republic of Venice that Dalmatia was most notably influenced culturally by the Romans and thereby the Italians. The most noteworthy Roman monument in Dalmatia and in the entire Balkan Peninsula is the Palace of Diocletian at Spalato. The influence of Constantinople on Dalmatian architecture can be seen in many buildings, such as three basilicas that have been excavated in Salona, the belfry of Saint Maria in Zara, and many others ("Italian cultural").

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