The name is derived from the Illyrian tribe of the Histri, which Strabo refers to as living in the region. They Histri are classified in some sources as a "Venetic" Illyrian tribe, with certain linguistic differences from other Illyrians. The Romans described the Histri as a fierce tribe of pirates, protected by the difficult navigation of their rocky coasts. It took two military campaigns for the Romans to finally subdue them in 177 BCE. The region was then called toegether with the Venetian part the X. Roman Region of "Venetia et Histria". Per ancient definition the north-eastern border of Italy. Dante Alighieri refers to it as well.
Some scholars speculate that the names Histri and Istria are related to the Latin name Hister, or Danube. Ancient folktales reported—inaccurately—that the Danube split in two or "bifurcated" and came to the sea near Trieste as well as at the Black Sea. The story of the "Bifurcation of the Danube" is part of the Argonaut legend.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the region was pillaged by the Goths, the Eastern Roman Empire, the Lombards, annexed to the Frankish kingdom by Pippin III in 789, and then successively controlled by the dukes of Carinthia, Merano, Bavaria and by the patriarch of Aquileia, before it became the territory of the Republic of Venice in 1267.
The coastal areas and cities of Istria came under Venetian Influence in the IX century, It became definitely the territory of the Republic of Venice in 1267. The Inner Istrian part around Mitterburg (Pisino-Pazin), was held for centuries by the Holy Roman Empire(Heiliges Römisches Reich).
Venetian rule left a strong mark on the region, one that can still be seen today. The Inner Istrian part around Mitterburg, known to its Germanic and Rumenic (Morlacs) occupants as Pisino-Pazin, was held for centuries by the Holy Roman Empire. The venetian part of the peninsula passed to it in 1797 with the Treaty of Campo Formio. The Holy Roman Empire ended with the period of Napoleonic rule from 1805 to 1813 when Istria became part of the Italian Kingdom and of the Illyrian provinces of the Napoleonic Empire. After this short period the newly established Austrian Empire ruled Istria as the so called "Küstenland" which included the city of Trieste and Gorizia in Friuli until 1918. At that time the borders of Istria included a part of what is now Italian Venezia-Giulia and parts of modern-day Slovenia and Croatia, but not the city of Trieste. Today, Istria's borders are defined differently.
After World War I and the dissolution of Austria-Hungary, Istria became part of Italy. After the advent of Fascism, the indigenous Croatian and Slovene population were exposed to a policy of forced italianization and cultural suppression. They lost their right to education and religious practice in their maternal language. The organization TIGR, regarded as the first armed antifascist resistance group in Europe, was founded in 1927 in the Slovene Littoral and soon penetrated into Slovene and Croatian-speaking parts of Istria.
In the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Istria was divided between the republics of Croatia and Slovenia, following ethnic division lines. After the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 this administrative subdivision became a border between independent states. Since Croatia's first multi-party elections in 1990, the regional party Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS-DDI, Istarski demokratski sabor or Dieta democratica istriana) has consistently received a majority of the vote and maintained through 1990s a position often contrary to the government in Zagreb, led by then nationalistic party Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ, Hrvatska demokratska zajednica) with regards to decentralization in Croatia and certain regional autonomy. However, that changed in 2000, when IDS formed with five other parties left-centre coalition government, led by Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP, Socijaldemokratska Partija Hrvatske). After reformed HDZ won Croatian parliamentary elections in late 2003 and formed minority government, IDS has been cooperating with state government on many projects, both local (in Istria County) and national.Now after the admission of Slovenia in the European Union and the decision of Slovenia to join the Schengen area custom and immigration checks are abolished at italian-slovenian border but Istria is still divided by the border between Slovenia and Croatia.
The region has traditionally been ethnically mixed. Under Austrian rule in the 19th century, it included a large population of Italians, Croats, Slovenes and some Vlachs/Istro-Romanians and Montenegrins; however, official statistics in those times didn't show those nationalities as they do today.
In 1910, the ethnic and linguistic composition was completely mixed. According to the Austrian census results, out of 404,309 inhabitants in Istria, 168,116 (41.6%) spoke Croatian, 147,416 (36.5%) spoke Italian, 55,365 (13.7%) spoke Slovene, 13,279 (3.3%) spoke German, 882 (0.2%) spoke Romanian, 2,116 (0.5%) spoke other languages and 17,135 (4.2%) were non-citizens, which had not been asked for their language of communication. During the last decades of Habsburg dynasty the coast of Istria profited from the tourism within the Empire. Generally speaking, Italians lived on coast, while Croats and Slovenes lived inland.
In the second half of the 19th century a clash of new ideological movements, Italian irredentism (which claimed Trieste and Istria) and Slovene and Croatian nationalism (developing individual identities in some quarters whilst seeking to unite in a South Slav bid in others), resulted in growing ethnic conflict between Italians one side and Slovenes and Croats in opposition. This was intertwined with the class conflict, as inhabitants of Istrian towns were mostly Italian, whilst Croats or Slovenes largely lived out in the countryside.
There is a long tradition of tolerance between the people who live there, regardless of their nationality, and although many Istrians today are ethnic Croats, a strong regional identity has existed over the years. The Croatian word for the Istrians is Istrani, or Istrijani, the latter being in the local Chakavian dialect. The term Istrani is also used in Slovenia. Today the Italian minority is organized in many towns (see www.unione-italiana.hr), it consists officially around 45.000 inhabitants, the Istrian county in Croatia is bilingual, as are large parts of Slovenian Istria. Every citizen has the right to speak either Italian or Croatian (Slovene in Slovenian Istria) in public administration or in court. Furthemore, Istria is a supranational European Region that includes Italian, Slovenian and Croatian Istria.
As with many other regions in the former Yugoslavia, common concepts about ethnicity and nationality fail when applied to Istria. Discussions about Istrian ethnicity often use the words "Italian," "Croatian" and "Slovene" to describe the character of Istrian people. However, these terms are best understood as "national affiliations" that may exist in combination with or independently of linguistic, cultural and historical attributes.
In Istrian contexts, for example, the word "Italian" can just as easily refer to autochthonous speakers of the Venetian language whose antecedents in the region extend before the inception of the Venetian Republic or Istriot language the oldest spoken language in Istria, dated back to the Romans, today spoken in the south west of Istria, but also to a descendant of immigrated during the Mussolini period. It can also refer to Istrian Slavs who adopted the veneer of Italian culture as they moved from rural to urban areas, or from the farms into the bourgeoisie. In fact most of the families in Inner Istria are mixed descendants.
Similarly, national powers claim Istrian Slavs according to local language, so that speakers of Čakavian and Štokavian dialects of the Croatian language are considered to be Croatians, while speakers of other dialects may be considered to be Slovene. Those Croatian dialect speakers are descendants of the first Slavic immigrants which settled in the region in the 7th and the 8th centuries as well as the refugees of the Turkish invasion and the Ottoman Empire from Bosnia and Dalmatia from the 16 century. Often they were slavizised Vlachs and Morlachs. The government of the Republic of Venice had settled them down in Inner Istria, devastated by wars and plague. Many villages have the Morlachian name like Katun. Like with all other regions, the local dialects of the Slavic communities are very slightly varied across close distances. The Istrian Slavic and Italian vernaculars had both developed for many generations before being divided as they are today. This meant that Croats/Slovenes on one side and Venetians/other Italians on the other will have yielded towards each other culturally whilst distancing themselves from members of their ethnic groups living farther away. There is still the Romanian community to mention, the Istro-Romanians in the east and north of Istria (Ćićarija) and parts of neighbouring Liburnia (the east coast of the peninsula which is not part of Istria).
Some Istrians consider themselves simply to be Istrians, with no additional national affiliation (in the 2001 Croatian census 8,865 (4.3%) people in Istria county declared themselves "Istrian). Nevertheless, most residents of Croatian Istria declare themselves as Croatian, while most residents of Slovenian Istria declare themselves as Slovene.
The small town of Peroj has had a unique history which exemplifies the multi-ethnic complexity of the history of the region, as do some towns on both sides of the Cicerija mountains that are still identified with the Istro-Romanian people which the UNESCO Redbook of Endangered Languages calls "the smallest ethnic group in Europe".