Where Is Dalmatia? And Where Do Dalmatian Dogs Really Come From?

Many Croatians, including myself, take the term Dalmatia for granted. And use it as if everybody should know what they mean by Dalmatia. So, where is Dalmatia? And what is the origin of Dalmatian dogs?

  • Dalmatia is situated by the Adriatic Sea, in Croatia.
  • Dalmatia is about a spirit, a frame of mind, an atmosphere
  • Dalmatian dog is officially recognised as a Croatian breed.

When I was doing research for this article, some facts surprised me. Here is what I found:

Dalmatia Is Situated By The Adriatic Sea, In Croatia.

There is no doubt about it. Dalmatia is in Croatia. Even though only one county in Croatia bears the name of Dalmatia (Split-Dalmatia County), three more counties can rightfully be referred to as Dalmatia, too. Counties of Zadar, Šibenik-Knin, and Dubrovnik-Neretva, along with the central one, the Split-Dalmatia County, make up Dalmatia.

Not only is Dalmatia in Croatia, Croatia is in hearts of many Dalmatians.

Dalmatians are predominately ethnic Croatian.

Typical Dalmatian windows with ancient ŠKURE shutters, are often proudly decorated with Croatian flags on national holidays.

Dalmatia Is In Croatia. Well…It Is Today.

Dalmatia existed before Croatia was established. Well before.

The name Dalmatia is mentioned for the first time on Roman inscriptions and in the works of Roman writers during the Roman conquests of the eastern Adriatic coast at the turn of the 1st century BC. to the 1st century AD.

…because Demas, in his love of this world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia

The Bible, 2 Timothy 4:10

The Romans called Dalmatia a province, part of Illyricum, that stretched along the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea from the Raša River in the northwest to the Drina River in the east and Budva in the southeast. In the hinterland, the province covered most of Mountain Croatia and today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina. One hundred kilometers south of the Sava stretched the border with the province of Pannonia.

The name Dalmatia derives from the name of the Dalmatae tribe, which is connected with the Illyrian word delme meaning “sheep“, compare the Albanian word for sheep, delmë. Its Latin form Dalmatia gave rise to its current English name. The modern Croatian spelling is Dalmacija, pronounced [dǎlmaːt͡sija].

The Sheep Souvenir, by Internacionalni centar keramike Atelje Janja Gora

The following tribes of the Illyrian cultural circle lived in this area: the Liburnians, the Japods, the Dalmatians, the Daors, the Ardians, the Plereians, the Messians, the Desitiates, and partly the Autarchs and the Encheleans.

I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obedience by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, and by the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.

The Bible, Romans 15:18, 19

It is not unusual that the whole area was named after the Dalmatians, because they offered the Romans the most decisive resistance to the final “pacification” of the year 9 AD. Salona, ​​the Dalmatian capital and one of the largest cities of the Roman Empire, was built on their territory. Such a defined geographical concept of Dalmatia in the old century existed until the 7th century AD.

In 395. AD Emperor Theodosius I the Great divided the Roman Empire into the Western and The Eastern. Dalmatia remained within the western half of the Empire, which would later have numerous implications.

And Here Come The Croats!

With the arrival of Germanic and Slavic ethnic waves on the soil of Dalmatia, its territorial pulsation begins.

Roman rule retreated to more fortified cities along the Adriatic coast and on larger islands. At the time of the arrival of the Croats, Dalmatia de facto consisted of only a few larger cities (with a narrow ring of agricultural land next to the city walls) on the eastern Adriatic coast and islands that recognize the rule of the Byzantine emperor: Krk, Osor, Rab, Zadar, Trogir and Kotor.

Split and Dubrovnik will soon join these cities (inheriting the urban tradition of Salona and Epidaurus). Byzantium organized these cities into a theme, a military-administrative unit with its center in Zadar. Since then, Zadar has been the capital of Dalmatia, and it will remain so until 1918, when it was occupied by Italy on the basis of a secret London treaty).

Byzantine cities became the focal points of Romanesque culture, Latin language and the Christian faith in the Slavic (Croatian) environment. Diplomatic, economic and cultural co-operation with the hinterland was soon revived. For the most part, Christianity spread to the depths of Croatian territory precisely from Dalmatian cities, regardless of the changes in ecclesiastical authority (Rome and Constantinople).

In the state offices of Byzantium, other European countries, but also the Roman Curia, the ancient notion of the territorial scope of Dalmatia was retained, which coincides with the church-territorial structure of the Split metropolis confirmed (or established) by the Split church councils in 925 and 928.

Gregory Of Nin (Grgur Ninski) served as a bishop in Nin around 900-929 AD. During his tenure, he was known as the main proponent of the Old Slavonic language and the Glagolitic alphabet, as well as Glagolitic worship. When Tomislav was proclaimed king in 925, Bishop Grgur Ninski had the supreme ecclesiastical authority in Croatia. At the church council held in 925 in Split, he fought together with King Tomislav for worship in the Croatian (Slavic) language and for the use of the Glagolitic alphabet as a script. Tomislav supported the historical right of the Salonitan church, thus avoiding schism.

During the reign of King Tomislav (beginning of the 10th century – 928), for the first time in the person of the ruler, Byzantine cities on the coast were united with the rest of Croatia, and a stronger connection between Croatia and Byzantine Dalmatian cities came to life only during King Petar Krešimir IV. (1058-1074), king of the Croats and Dalmatians.

Dalmatian towns were gradually croatized during the Middle Ages. In the time of Petar Krešimir IV, the maritime orientation of the Croatian kingdom became evident as the development of new Croatian towns on the coast was initiated, primarily Biograd and Šibenik, which was first mentioned in 1066. during his reign.

Venetian Dominance

Taking advantage of the weakening of Croatia at the end of the 11th century, the Venetian Republic sought to take political control of the eastern Adriatic coast.

In 1000, the Venetian Republic conquered Dalmatian towns and islands without much resistance, and since then, with brief interruptions, it has become the leading power in Dalmatia (and the Adriatic) until 1797.

Much of Dalmatian culture, tradition and identity was influenced by the Venetians. Cities like Zadar, Šibenik, Trogir, Split, Omiš, Hvar and Korčula bear Venetian architectural signatures.

Dubrovnik successfully escaped from the firm embrace of the Venetians with the help of skilful diplomatic maneuvers.

The longest period of undisturbed rule of Hungarian-Croatian kings over Dalmatia, ie over Dalmatian towns with their territories on the islands and inland, was from 1358 (after the Peace of Zadar) to 1409. It was the heyday of Dalmatian communes, especially Zadar, Šibenik, Trogir, Split and Dubrovnik, when these cities become the core of the dynamic structure of the entire region.

Dynastic conflicts in the Hungarian-Croatian kingdom significantly weakened the central royal power.

The Venetian Republic took advantage of these circumstances, gradually gaining control of most of Dalmatia (coastal towns and islands) with the exception of Dubrovnik, by acquiring of the right to Dalmatia for 100,000 ducats from Ladislaus of Naples of Anjou in 1409.

Venetian possessions in Dalmatia were significantly reduced by the conquests of the Ottoman Turks in the late 15th and during the 16th century. In the middle of the 16th century Dalmatia consisted only of coastal towns and islands.

The Venetian conquests at the end of the 17th century contributed to the increase of the spatial coverage of Dalmatia. In the war from 1688 to 1699, Knin, Sinj, Vrlika, Vrgorac, Metković and Herceg Novi were conquered, so the border of Venetian and Turkish possessions moved to the Grimani Line (aquisto nuovo).

In the war from 1715 to 1718, the Venetian Republic expanded its possessions in Dalmatia by conquering the Imotski region and smaller areas in the Bay of Kotor (aquisto nuovissimo).

In the new circumstances, the Republic of Dubrovnik, in order not to directly border the Venetian Republic, ceded to the Ottoman Empire access to the sea near the Klek peninsula (Neum) and in the area of ​​the river Sutorina in the Bay of Kotor (present-day Montenegro).

Is Dubrovnik In Dalmatia?

Because of being on its own, separated from the Venetian province of Dalmatia, some have concluded that Dubrovnik doesn’t belong to Dalmatia.


At the end of 1444, a dispute was recorded between the citizens of Dubrovnik, Bartul Gučetić, and Mihovil and Johannis de Roda, which happened in Barcelona. These citizens of Dubrovnik were charged “Italian customs”, which were supposed to be paid only by Italians (dohana italica – 3 dinars per pound; 1.25% of imported or exported goods).
The dispute lasted for about 10 years, and the people of Dubrovnik were astonished.
In 1446 they claimed to the authorities in Barcelona that they were neither Italians nor Italian subjects, but in language and
position they were to be regarded as Dalmatians
. Consequently, the Aragonese king Alfonso granted them the same privileges as the inhabitants of Sicily and Barcelona.

Hence, Dubrovnik IS in Dalmatia.

Kingdom Of Dalmatia

In political terms, Dalmatia was finally united during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1806, the French army marched in Dubrovnik, and in 1808 the Republic of Dubrovnik was abolished, and its territory was annexed to Dalmatia.

After the fall of Napoleon, the provisions of the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and 1815, Dalmatia was annexed to the Austrian Empire. In order to integrate the Dalmatian area as much as possible from the island of Pag to Budva, in present-day Montenegro, the Viennese court established a separate crown unit, the Kingdom of Dalmatia.

The century-long Habsburg rule ended in 1918, and Dalmatia became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and eventually Socialist Republic of Croatia, within Socialist Federative Republic Of Yugoslavia. When Croatia declared independence in 1991, Dalmatia was an integral part of its territory.

Dalmatia Is About A Spirit, A Frame Of Mind, An Atmosphere

Dalmatians share many features of other Mediterranean people. Italians, Greeks, Spanish…


Dalmatians like singing. Especially their klapa. Not only would the voices of men (or/and women) singing a capella benefit from the echo provided by the Diocletian’s Vestibule in Split and entertain tourists, the same klapa music is performed at weddings and at funerals, in churches and at football games.

Klapa is the true spirit of Dalmatia. Often melancholic, like FADO, even sarcastic at times, it lyrically describes Dalmatian reality.

The Sea

The Adriatic Sea shapes Dalmatian frame of mind. In many songs, the Adriatic is personified and even deified.

An essential possession of many Dalmatians is a small boat. Traditional wooden boats are increasingly replaced by plastic ones because of less maintenance.

The Dalmatian “Sea-worship” is performed with the help of these boats. In Summer, the “holiday season”, they take Dalmatians to their favourite distant beaches and islands. There, away from the distractions of modern life, they resort to “fjaka” (or as Bruno Mars sang: “Today I don’t feel like doing anything doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo”)

In Autumn, dozens of these boats put up the lights and fish for calamari.

When you’re on a boat, you get away from it all. The Dalmatian And The Sea.

The Fire

The fire, and consequently, the smoke, is an essential part of the Dalmatian atmosphere.

Komin, or a small building with a fireplace, is a sanctuary to a Dalmatian. Reminiscent of the ancient mysterious caves where pagan rituals were performed, the komin atmosphere is equally filled with “incense”.

Weather it’s peka, gulaš, or grilled fish, the smoke of the burning oak wood logs adds an unforgettable aroma to these sacred dishes.

And of course, without smoke there would be no pršut, the Dalmatian smoked ham. The Dalmatian crown jewel.

Many Dalmatian islands have their own unique lizards, like this green and red Podarcis melisellensis on the island of Čiovo

And Finally, The Dalmatian Dog!

Dalmatian Dog At A Soccer Playground In Split, Croatia

First, about the photo. I made it in Summer 2020 in Split. The wall in the background belongs to the Gripe Fortress away from the city centre. And it’s also the neighbourhood soccer playground.

To be honest, you don’t see many Dalmatian dogs around in Croatia. So, when I spotted one, I took a detour and asked for permission to take a picture of the dog.

Since soccer is an alternative religion in Croatia, I found the composition very appropriate. Dalmatian dog and soccer!

The owner (jokingly or not) wanted 5 euros for it! Apparently, I was not the first nor the last to ask to take a picture of the dog. (BTW, it’s my shadow on the picture).

Dalmatian dogs became very popular in Dalmatia. Souvenirs, T-shirts, even buses are named after them.

Obviously, Dalmatian Dog has something to do with Dalmatia, right?

However, the origin of the Dalmatian dog is still unclear and is based on assumptions. Some say it is an Egyptian breed, others (the French) call it Danish. Others call it French. And Italian. It was first determined as a breed in England.

Nonetheless, it was most probably developed in the area of ​​Roman Illyrian Dalmatia (northwestern part along the Adriatic Sea) from white hounds with black or brown markings.

The first written document about the Dalmatian dog comes from the archives of the Diocese of Đakovo in eastern Croatia, from the pen of the Bishop of Đakovo Petar Horvat, who in 1374 gave an account of the state of the economy in his diocese.

In addition to describing different field crops, he describes the types of livestock owned by the diocese, including dogs bred in the area.

Thus, among others, he mentions the Dalmatian dog: “In Croatia, especially in Dalmatia, people breed hunting dogs 4 to 5 palms tall (60 to 75 cm), with short white hairs and black round spots on various parts of the body. These freckles have a diameter of about 1 to 2 fingers. That is why it is called “Dalmatian dog” (Canis Dalmaticus). This dog catches live game in a fast race ”

About 350 years later, the Bishop of Đakovo Petar Bakić in his manuscript from 1719 “De vita populi et de cultura armentorum et pecorum Diacovae et eius Districtus anno Domini 1719” (On the life of the people and cattle breeding in Đakovo and its surroundings in the summer of 1719) mentions quotes from the records of Bishop Petar Horvat from 1374, in fact expands his text by mentioning that

»it is mostly cultivated by nobles and other nobles in Croatia for hunting and personal defence in peace, and especially in war, but it is also cultivated by other people. In hunting, it is used to capture live game in a fast race, and in war it attacks the enemy’s horses very sharply and bravely and causes confusion and even the defeat of the enemy’s cavalry. It is still bred in Croatia and spreads abundantly in European countries.”

Croatian Bishop Petar Bakić, 1719

Even though Dalmatian dogs stem from Croatia, you will probably not see one during your stay in Dalmatia.

Dalmatians seem to prefer cats. Or cat-like dogs. I wonder why.

Very much like cats, Dalmatians enjoy the “fjaka

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