Dalmatian Italians

Dalmatian Italians
Dalmati italiani
Talijani u Dalmaciji
Regions with significant populations
Dalmatia, former Albania Veneta
Primarily Italian and Croatian, formerly some Dalmatian
Roman Catholic

Dalmatian Italians are the historical Italian national minority living in the region of Dalmatia, now part of Croatia and Montenegro. Since the middle of the 19th century, the community, counting according to some sources nearly 20% of all Dalmatian population in 1840, suffered from a constant trend of decreasing presence and now numbers only around 1,000-4,000 people. Throughout history, though small in numbers in the last two centuries, it exerted a vast and significant influence on the region.

They are currently represented in Croatia and Montenegro by the Italian National Community (Italian: Comunità Nazionale Italiana) (CNI). The Italo-Croatian minorities treaty recognizes the Italian Union (Unione Italiana) as the political party officially representing the CNI in Croatia.[1] The Italian Union represents the 30,000 ethnic Italians of former Yugoslavia, living mainly in Istria and in the city of Rijeka. Following the positive trend observed during the last decade (i.e., after the dissolution of Yugoslavia), the number of Dalmatian Italians in Croatia adhering to the CNI has risen to around one thousand. In Dalmatia the main operating centers of the CNI are in Split, Zadar, and Kotor.[2]


Main article: History of Dalmatia

Roman Dalmatia and the Middle Ages

Roman Dalmatia was fully Latinized by 476 AD when the Western Roman Empire disappeared[3] During the Barbarian Invasions, Avars allied with certain Slavic tribes, invaded and plundered Byzantine Illyria. This eventually led to the settlement of different Slavic tribes in the Balkans.[4] The original Roman population endured within the coastal cities and in the inhospitable Dinaric Alps. The Dalmatian cities retained their Romanic culture and language in cities such as Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik. Their own Vulgar Latin, developed into the Dalmatian language, a now extinct Romance language. These coastal cities (politically part of the Byzantine Empire) maintained political, cultural and economic links with Italy, through the Adriatic sea. On the other side communications with the mainland were difficult because of the Dinaric Alps. Due to the sharp orography of Dalmatia, even communications between the different Dalmatian cities, occurred mainly through the sea. This helped Dalmatian cities to develop a unique Romance culture, despite the mostly Slavicized mainland.

Map of the Venetian Republic, c. 1000. The Republic is in dark red, borders in light red.

In 997 AD the Venetian Doge Pietro Orseolo II, following repeated complaints by the Dalmatian city-states, commanded the Venetian fleet that attacked the Narentine pirates. On the Ascension Day in 998, Pietro Orseolo assumed the title of "Dux Dalmatianorum" (Duke of the Dalmatians), associating it with his son Giovanni Orseolo. This was the beginning of the Venetian influence in Dalmatia, however, while Venetian influence could always be felt, actual political rule over the province often changed hands between Venice and other regional powers, namely the Byzantine Empire, the Kingdom of Croatia, and the Kingdom of Hungary. The Venetians could afford to concede relatively generous terms because their own principal aims was not the control of the territory sought by Hungary, but the economic suppression of any potential commercial competitors on the eastern Adriatic. This aim brought on the necessity of enforced economic stagnation for the Dalmatian city-states, while the Hungarian feudal system promised greater political and commercial autonomy.[5][6]

In the Dalmatian city states, there were almost invariably two opposed political factions, each ready to oppose any measure advocated by its antagonist.[6] The origin of this division seems here to have been economic.[6] The farmers and the merchants who traded in the interior naturally favoured Hungary, their most powerful neighbour on land; while the seafaring community looked to Venice as mistress of the Adriatic.[6] In return for protection, the cities often furnished a contingent to the army or navy of their suzerain, and sometimes paid tribute either in money or in kind.[6] The citizens clung to their municipal privileges, which were reaffirmed after the conquest of Dalmatia in 1102-1105 by Coloman of Hungary.[6] Subject to the royal assent they might elect their own chief magistrate, bishop and judges. Their Roman law remained valid.[6] They were even permitted to conclude separate alliances. No alien, not even a Hungarian, could reside in a city where he was unwelcome; and the man who disliked Hungarian dominion could emigrate with all his household and property.[6] In lieu of tribute, the revenue from customs was in some cases shared equally by the king, chief magistrate, bishop and municipality.[6] These rights and the analogous privileges granted by Venice were, however, too frequently infringed, Hungarian garrisons being quartered on unwilling towns, while Venice interfered with trade, with the appointment of bishops, or with the tenure of communal domains. Consequently, the Dalmatians remained loyal only while it suited their interests, and insurrections frequently occurred.[6] Zadar was no exception, and four outbreaks are recorded between 1180 and 1345, although Zadar was treated with special consideration by its Venetian masters, who regarded its possession as essential to their maritime ascendancy.[6]

The doubtful allegiance of the Dalmatians tended to protract the struggle between Venice and Hungary, which was further complicated by internal discord due largely to the spread of the Bogomil heresy; and by many outside influences, such as the vague suzerainty still enjoyed by the Eastern emperors during the 12th century; the assistance rendered to Venice by the armies of the Fourth Crusade in 1202; and the Tatar invasion of Dalmatia forty years later (see Trogir).[6]

Republic of Venice (1420–1796)

Main article: Venetian Dalmatia
Dalmatian possessions of the Venetian Republic and the Republic of Ragusa in 1560.

In 1409, during the 20-year Hungarian civil war between King Sigismund and the Neapolitan house of Anjou, the losing contender, Ladislaus of Naples, sold his "rights" on Dalmatia to the Venetian Republic for a meager sum of 100,000 ducats. The more centralized merchant republic took control of the cities by the year 1420 (with the exception of the Republic of Ragusa), they were to remain under Venetian rule for a period of 377 years (1420–1797).[7] The southernmost area of Dalmatia (now part of coastal Montenegro) was called Venetian Albania during that time.

In these centuries a process of gradual assimilation took place among the native population. The Romance Dalmatians of the cities were the most susceptible because of their similar culture and were completely assimilated. The Venetian language, which was already the lingua franca of the Adriatic area, was adopted by the Latin Dalmatians of the cities (speakers of the Dalmatian), as their own vernacular language. This process was aided by the constant migration between the Adriatic cities and involved even the independent Dubrovnik and the port of Rijeka.

The Slavic population (mainly Croats) was only partially assimilated, because of the linguistic unsimilarity and because the Slavs were mostly situated in the hinterland and the islands. The Dalmatian language, however, had already influenced the Dalmatian dialect of the Croatian language, the Chakavian dialect, with the Venetian dialect influencing the Albanian language.[8] Starting from the 15th century, Italian replaced Latin as the language of culture in the Venetian Dalmatia and in the Republic of Ragusa. On the other hand, more and more Slavs (Catholic and Orthodox) were pushed into Venetian Dalmatia, to escape the Ottomans. This resulted in an increase of the Slavic presence in the cities.

Napoleonic era (1797–1815)

In 1797, during the Napoleonic wars, the Republic of Venice was dissolved. The former Venetian Dalmatia was included in the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy from 1805 to 1809 (the Republic of Ragusa was included in 1808), and in Illyrian Provinces from 1809.In the census of 1808 declared to be Venetians about 29% of the Dalmatians, mostly in urban areas. After the final defeat of Napoleon, the entire territory was granted to the Austrian Empire by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. This marked the beginning of 100 years (1815–1918) of Austrian rule in Dalmatia.

Austrian Empire (1815–1918)

"Distribution of Races in Austria–Hungary" from the Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd, 1911.

During the period of the Austrian Empire, the Kingdom of Dalmatia was a separate administrative unit.

After the revolutions of 1848 and after the 1860s, as a result of the romantic nationalism, two factions appeared.

The Autonomist Party, whose political goals of which varied from autonomy within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to a political union with Italy.

The Croatian faction (later called Unionist faction or "Puntari"), led by the People's Party and, to a lesser extent, the Party of Rights, both of which advocated the union of Dalmatia with the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia which was under Hungarian administration. The political alliances in Dalmatia shifted over time. At the beginning, the Unionists and Autonomists were allied together, against the centralism of Vienna. After a while, when the national question came to prominence, they split.

In 1867, the Empire was reorganized as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Rijeka and the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia were assigned to the Hungarian part of the Empire, while Dalmatia and Istria remained in the Austrian part.

The Unionist faction won the elections in Dalmatia in 1870, but they were prevented from following through with the merge with Croatia and Slavonia due to the intervention of the Austrian imperial government.

The Austrian century was a time of decline for the Dalmatian Italians. Starting from the 1840s, large numbers of the Italian minority were passively croatized, or had emigrated as a consequence of the unfavorable economic situation.

According to the Italian linguist Matteo Bartoli, by the end of the Venetian rule, 33% of the Dalmatian population was Venetian-speaking.[9]

According to two Austro-Hungarian censuses,[10] the Dalmatian Italians formed 12.5% of the population in 1865 and 3.1% in 1890.

The interwar period (1918–1941)

Following the conclusion of World War I and the disintegration of Austria-Hungary, the vast majority of Dalmatia became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia).

Italy entered the war on the side of the Entente in 1915, after the secret London Pact, which granted to Italy a large portion of Dalmatia. The pact was nullified in the Treaty of Versailles due to the objections of American president Woodrow Wilson and the South Slavic delegations. However, in 1920 the Kingdom of Italy managed to get after the Treaty of Rapallo, most of the Austrian Littoral, part of Inner Carniola, some border areas of Carinthia, the city of Zadar along with the island and Lastovo. A large number of Italians (allegedly nearly 20,000) moved from the areas of Dalmatia assigned to Yugoslavia and resettled in Italy (mainly in Zadar).

Relations with the Kingdom of Yugoslavia were severely affected and constantly remained tense, because of the dispute over Dalmatia and because of the lengthy dispute over the city-port of Rijeka, which according to the Treaty of Rapallo had to become a free state according to the League of Nations, but was annexed to Italy on 16 March according to the Treaty of Rome.

In 1922 Fascism came to power in Italy. The fascist policies included strong nationalistic policies. Minority rights were severely reduced. This included the shutting down of educational facilities in Slavic languages, forced Italianization of citizen's names, and the brutal persecution of dissenters.

In Zadar most Croats left, due to these oppressive policies of the fascist government. Same happened with the Italian minority in Yugoslavia. Although the matter was not entirely reciprocal: the Italian minority in Yugoslavia had some degree of protection, according to the Rapallo Treaty (such as Italian citizenship and primary instruction).

All this increased the intense resentment between the two ethnic groups. Where in the 19th century there was conflict only on the upper classes, there was now an increasing mutual hatred present in varying degrees among the entire population.

World War II and post-war

Flag of the Italian minority in Yugoslavia

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded by the Wehrmacht in 1941 and parts of Dalmatia were annexed to Italy as the Governatorate of Dalmatia with Zadar as its capital. The local population was subject to violent forced italianization by the fascist government. Several concentration camps were established by Italian authorities to house these "enemies of the state", including the infamous Gonars and Rab concentration camps. The Italian authorities were not able to maintain full control over the hinterland and the interior of the islands, however, and they were partially controlled by the Yugoslav Partisans after 1943.

Following the Italian capitulation of 1943, the German Army took over the occupation after a short period of Partisan control (officially, the Governorship of Dalmatia was handed to the control of the puppet Independent State of Croatia). During this period a large proportion of the coastal city population volunteered to join the Partisans (most notably that of Split, where a third of the total population left the city), while many Italian garrisons deserted to fight as Partisan units and still others were forced to surrender their weapons and equipment. As Soviet troops advanced in the Balkans in 1944, a small-scale evacuation took place in Zadar, while Marshall Josip Broz Tito's Partisans (since 1942 recognized as Allied troops) simultaneously moved to liberate the remainder of Axis-occupied Dalmatia. Split was henceforth the provisional capital of Allied-liberated Croatia.

In 1943-44 the city of Zadar suffered 54 air raids by the Allies and it was severely damaged, with heavy civilian casualties. Many civilians had already escaped to Italy when the Partisans controlled the city.

After World War II Italy ceded all remaining Italian areas in Dalmatia to the new SFR Yugoslavia. This was followed by a further emigration, referred to as the Istrian exodus, of nearly all the remaining Italians in Dalmatia. Italian language schools in Zadar were closed in 1953, due to a dispute between Italy and Yugoslavia over Trieste. In 2010 a kindergarten for the small Italian community of Zadar was going to be opened, promoted by the local Italian association, but the local Croatian authorities refused to open the school because the number of attending children was too small. Indeed, the issue was of administrative nature because the administration claimed that the Italian ethnicity had to be proved by the ownership of an Italian passport. Due to the restrictions imposed too the double nationality of the Italian minority in Yugoslavia after 1945, this requirement could only be met by a limited number of children. This administrative difficulty has been solved in 2012 and the opening of the kindergarten took place in 2013.

Population decline


There are several reasons for the decrease of the Dalmatian Italian population following the rise of European nationalism in the 19th century:[11]


The process of the decline had various stages:[12]

Modern-day presence in Dalmatia

The Dalmatian Italians were a fundamental presence in Dalmatia, when the process of political unification of the Italians, Croats and Serbs started at the beginning of the 19th century. The 1816 Austro-Hungarian census registered 66,000 Italian speaking people between the 301,000 inhabitants of Dalmatia, or 22% of the total Dalmatian population.[13]

The main communities are located in the following coastal cities:

Following the Italian emigration from Dalmatia and the events [14] following World War II, the Dalmatian Italians communities were drastically reduced in their numbers. Today according to the official censuses only a few hundred citizens in Croatia and Montenegro declared themselves of Italian ethnicity. It is claimed by the Italian Communities in Dalmatia that the official census of 2001 underestimates the real number of Italian Dalmatian because several Croatian citizen of Italian descendency might not declare their real ethnicity for various reasons. If it is difficult to assess if this claim is correct, but it has to be noticed that the Italian Community of Zadar counts currently around 500 members even if during the last census in 2001 in the entire Zadar county only 109 inhabitants declared to be of Italian ethnicity.

Main Dalmatian Italian associations

In contemporary Dalmatia there are several associations of Dalmatian Italians, mainly located in important coastal cities:


Old Zadar city gates.

The British Encyclopedia states that:

"....The monuments left in Dalmatia by the Romans are numerous and precious. They are chiefly confined to the cities; for the civilization of the country was always urban, just as its history is a record of isolated city-states rather than of a united nation. Beyond the walls of its larger towns, little was spared by the barbarian Goths, Avars and Slavs; and the battered fragments of Roman work which mark the sites of Salona, near, and of many other ancient cities, are of slight antiquarian interest and slighter artistic value. Among the monuments of the Roman period, by far the most noteworthy in Dalmatia, and, indeed, in the whole Balkan Peninsula, is the Palace of Diocletian at Split. Dalmatian architecture was influenced by Constantinople in its general character from the 6th century until the close of the tenth. The oldest memorials of this period are the vestiges of three basilicas, excavated in Salona, and dating from the first half of the 7th century at latest. Then from Italy came the Romanesque. The belfry of S. Maria, at Zadar, erected in 1105, is first in a long list of Romanesque buildings. At Rab there is a beautiful Romanesque campanile which also belongs to the 12th century; but the finest example in this style is the cathedral of Trail. The 14th century Dominican and Franciscan convents in Dubrovnik are also noteworthy. Romanesque lingered on in Dalmatia until it was displaced by Venetian Gothic in the early years of the 15th century. The influence of Venice was then at its height. Even in the relatively hostile Republic of Ragusa the Romanesque of the custom-house and Rectors' palace is combined with Venetian Gothic, while the graceful balconies and ogee windows of the Prijeki closely follow their Venetian models. In 1441 Giorgio Orsini of Zadar, summoned from Venice to design the cathedral of Šibenik, brought with him the influence of the Italian Renaissance. The new forms which he introduced were eagerly imitated and developed by other architects, until the period of decadence - which virtually concludes the history of Dalmatian art - set in during the latter half of the 17th century. Special mention must be made of the carved woodwork, embroideries and plate preserved in many churches. The silver statuette and the reliquary of St. Blaise at Dubrovnik, and the silver ark of St. Simeon at Zadar, are fine specimens of Italian jewelers' work, ranging in date from the 11th or 12th to the 17th century ...".

In the 19th century the cultural influence from Italy originated the editing in Zadar of the first Dalmatian newspaper, in Italian and Croatian: Il Regio Dalmata – Kraglski Dalmatin, founded and published by the Italian Bartolomeo Benincasa in 1806.

The Il Regio Dalmata – Kraglski Dalmatin was stamped in the typography of Antonio Luigi Battara and was the first done in Croatian language.

The Dalmatian Italians contributed to the cultural development of theater and opera in Dalmatia. The Verdi Theater in Zadar was their main symbol until 1945.[23]

Contessa Gabriella De Lupi Painter, Philosopher, Philanthropist Humanitarian

Contemporary notable Dalmatian Italians

Across the centuries Dalmatian Italians made with their life and their works a large influence on Dalmatia. However, it would somehow arbitrary to attribute a nationality to the Dalmatians living before the Napoleonic time. Indeed, only at the beginning of the 19th century the concept of national identity started to build up. For this reason, hereafter are reported only the notable Dalmatian Italians living after 1800, in chronological order of birth.

Organizations and periodicals

Many Dalmatian Italians are organized in associations such as:

The most popular periodical for Dalmatian Italians is Il Dalmata, published in Trieste by Renzo de' Vidovich.[15]

See also


  1. "Comunità Nazionale Italiana, Unione Italiana". Unione-italiana.hr. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 4, 2010. Retrieved November 18, 2010.
  3. Theodor Mommsen in his book "The Provinces of the Roman Empire"
  4. Florin Curta (31 August 2006). Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250. Cambridge University Press. pp. 2–. ISBN 978-0-521-81539-0.
  5. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 7, 2013. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 7, 2013. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  7. "WHKMLA : History of Croatia, 1301-1526". Zum.de. Retrieved 2016-04-21.
  8. Bartoli, Matteo. Le parlate italiane della Venezia Giulia e della Dalmazia
  9. Seton-Watson, "Italy from Liberalism to Fascism, 1870-1925". pag. 107
  10. Perselli, Guerrino. I censimenti della popolazione dell'Istria, con Fiume e Trieste, e di alcune città della Dalmazia tra il 1850 ed il 1936
  11. Seton-Watson, Italy from Liberalism to Fascism, 1870-1925. pag. 47-48
  12. Colella, Amedeo. L'esodo dalle terre adriatiche. Rilevazioni statistiche. p. 54
  13. Montani, Carlo. Venezia Giulia, Dalmazia - Sommario Storico - An Historical Outline
  14. Petacco, Arrigo. L'esodo, la tragedia negata degli italiani d'Istria, Dalmazia e Venezia Giulia
  15. 1 2 "Fondazione scientifico culturale Eugenio e Maria Rustia Traine". Dalmaziaeu.it. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  16. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 11, 2008. Retrieved February 24, 2008.
  17. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 1, 2008. Retrieved February 24, 2008.
  18. "LE NOSTRE SEDI". Ladante.it. Retrieved 2016-04-21.
  19. "LE NOSTRE SEDI". Ladante.it. Retrieved 2016-04-21.
  20. "LE NOSTRE SEDI". Ladante.it. Retrieved 2016-04-21.
  21. "LE NOSTRE SEDI". Ladante.it. Retrieved 2016-04-21.
  22. "Comunita degli Italiani di Zara Zajednica Talijana Zadar" (PDF). Italianidizara.eu. Retrieved 2016-04-21.
  23. "Home". Anvgd.it. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  24. "Lussinpiccolo : Home". Lussinpiccolo-italia.net. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  25. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  26. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 10, 2009. Retrieved November 17, 2010.


External links

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