Long in conflict with Rome, Dalmatia was definitively subdued by Augustus (35 B.C.-33 B.C.) and was incorporated with part of Illyria as a Roman province. It was overrun by the Ostrogoths (5th cent. A.D.), reconquered by the Byzantine Empire (6th cent.), and settled, except in the coastal cities, by the Slavs in the 7th cent. By the 10th cent. it was divided between the kingdoms of Croatia (north) and Serbia (south), while Venice held several ports and islands.
After several centuries of struggle, chiefly between Venice and the crowns of Hungary and Croatia, the coastal islands and most of Dalmatia, except Dubrovnik, were under Venetian control by 1420. Hungary retained the Croatian part, which in 1526 passed to the Turks but was recovered by the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699). The Treaty of Campo Formio (1797) gave Venetian Dalmatia to Austria, and the Treaty of Pressburg (1805) gave it to France. It was first attached to Napoleon's Italian kingdom but in 1809 was incorporated into the Illyrian provs. (see Illyria). The Congress of Vienna restored (1815) it to Austria, where it was made (1861) a crown land, with its capital at Zadar.
By the secret Treaty of London (1915) the Allies promised Dalmatia to Italy in return for Italian support in World War I. In Dec., 1918, it became part of the newly established kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (after 1929 Yugoslavia), but Italy continued to claim Dalmatia. The Treaty of Rapallo (1920) gave Dalmatia to Yugoslavia, except for Zadar and several islands, which subsequently passed to Italy. During World War II, Italy held most of Dalmatia, and after the war it was returned to Yugoslavia. The Italian peace treaty of 1947 gave Yugoslavia the islands that had been ceded to Italy after World War I. Following Croatia's secession from Yugoslavia in 1991, fighting broke out between Croats and Serbs. Many of the port cities in SE Dalmatia were heavily shelled as the Serbs, backed by Yugoslavian federal forces, unsuccessfully attempted to detach that region from Croatia.
Among other things, the ecclesiastical primatical territory today continues to be larger because of the history: it includes part of modern Montenegro, notably around Bar, the (honorary) Roman Catholic primas of Dalmatia, but an exempt archbishopric without suffragans while the archbishoprics of Split (also a historical primas of Dalmatia) have provincial authority over all Croatian dioceses except the exempt archbishopric of Zadar.
The southernmost transitional part of historical Dalmatia, the Gulf of Kotor, is not part of present-day Croatian Dalmatia, but part of Montenegro.
The largest Dalmatian mountains are Dinara, Mosor, Svilaja, Biokovo, Moseć and Kozjak. The regional coherent geographical unit of historical Dalmatia, coastal region between Istria and the Gulf of Kotor includes the Orjen mountain in Montenegro as the highest peak at 1894 m. In present-day Dalmatia, the highest peak is Dinara (1913 m), which is not a coastal mountain, while the highest coastal Dinaric mountains are on Biokovo (Sv. Jure 1762 m) and Velebit (Vaganjski vrh 1758 m).
The largest Dalmatian islands are Dugi Otok, Ugljan, Pašman, Brač, Hvar, Korčula, Vis, Lastovo, and Mljet. The rivers are Zrmanja, Krka, Cetina and Neretva.
The Adriatic Sea's high water quality, along with the immense number of coves, islands and channels, makes Dalmatia an attractive place for nautical races, nautical tourism, and tourism in general. Dalmatia also includes several national parks that are tourist attractions: Paklenica karst river, Kornati archipelago, Krka river rapids and Mljet island.
The historian Theodore Mommsen wrote in his book, The Provinces of the Roman Empire, that all Dalmatia was fully romanized by the 4th century AD. However, analysis of archaeological material from that period has shown that the process of romanization was rather selective. While urban centers, both coastal and inland, were almost completely romanized, the situation in the countryside was completely different. Despite the Illyrians being subject to a strong process of acculturation, they continued to speak their native language, worship their own gods and traditions, and follow their own social-political tribal organization which was adapted to Roman administration and political structure only in some necessities.
The collapse of the Western Roman Empire, with the beginning of the Migration Period, left the region subject to Gothic rulers, Odoacer and Theodoric the Great. They ruled Dalmatia from 476 to 535 AD, when it was restored to the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire by Justinian I.
In the Early Medieval period, Byzantine Dalmatia was ravaged by an Avar invasion that destroyed its capital, Salona, in 639 AD, an event that allowed for the settlement of the nearby Diocletian's Palace in Spalatum (Split) by Salonitans, greatly increasing the importance of the city. The Avars were followed by the great South Slavic migrations. The Slavs, loosely allied with the Avars, permanently settled the region in the first half of the 7th century AD and remained its predominant ethnic group ever since. The Slavs soon formed their own realm: the Principality of Dalmatia, a Medieval Croatian state ruled by native Princes of Guduscan origin. The menaing of the geographical term "Dalmatia", now shrunk to the cities and their immediate hinterland. These cities and towns remained influential as they were well fortified and maintained their connection with the Byzantine Empire. The two communities were somewhat hostile at first, but as the Slavs became Christianized this tension increasingly subsided. A degree of cultural mingling soon took place, in some enclaves stronger, in others weaker, as Slavic influence and culture was more accentuated in Ragusa, Spalatum, and Tragurium. In 925 AD Duke Tomislav was crowned in Tomislavgrad, establishing the Kingdom of Croatia, and extending his influence further southwards to Zachlumia. Being an ally of the Byzantine Empire, the King was given the status of Protector of Dalmatia, and became its de facto ruler.
In the High Medieval period, the Byzantine Empire was no longer able to maintain its power consistently in Dalmatia, and was finally rendered impotent so far west by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The Venetian Republic, on the other hand, was in the ascendant, while the Kingdom of Croatia became increasingly influenced by Hungary to the north, being absorbed into it via personal union in 1102. Thus, these two factions became involved in a struggle in this area, intermittently controlling it as the balance shifted. A consistent period of Hungarian rule in Dalmatia was ended with the Mongol invasion of Hungary in 1241. The Mongols severely impaired the feudal state, so much so that that same year, King Béla IV had to take refuge in Dalmatia, as far south as the Klis fortress. The Mongols attacked the Dalmatian cities for the next few years but eventually withdrew without major success.
In 1389 Tvrtko I, the founder of the Bosnian Kingdom, was able to control the Adriatic littoral between Kotor and Šibenik, and even claimed control over the northern coast up to Rijeka, and his own independent ally, Dubrovnik (Ragusa). This was only temporary, as Hungary and the Venetians continued their struggle over Dalmatia after Tvrtko's death in 1391. By this time, the whole Hungarian and Croatian Kingdom was facing increasing internal difficulties, as a 20-year civil war ensued between the Capetian House of Anjou from the Kingdom of Naples, and King Sigismund of the House of Luxembourg. During the war, the losing contender, Ladislaus of Naples, sold his "rights" on Dalmatia to the Venetian Republic for a mere 100,000 ducats. The much more centralized Republic came to control all of Dalmatia by the year 1420, it was to remain under Venetian rule for 377 years (1420 - 1797).
The Republic of Venice controlled most of Dalmatia from 1420 to 1797, the southern enclave being called Albania Veneta. Venetian was the commercial lingua franca in the Mediterranean at that time, and it heavily influenced Dalmatian and to a lesser degree coastal Croatian and Albanian.
In 1481, it switched allegiance to the Ottoman Empire. This gave its tradesmen advantages such as access to the Black Sea, and the Republic of Ragusa was one of fiercest competitors to Venice's merchants in the 15th and 16th century.
The Republic of Venice was also one of the powers most hostile to the Ottoman Empire's expansion, and participated in many wars against it. As the Turks took control of the hinterland, many Christians took refuge in the coastal cities of Dalmatia.
After the Great Turkish War, more peaceful times made Dalmatia experience a period of certain economic and cultural growth in the 18th century, with the re-establishment of trade and exchange with the hinterland.
This period was abruptly interrupted with the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797. Napoleon's troops stormed the region and ended the independence of the Republic of Ragusa as well, but saving it from occupation by the Russian Empire and Montenegro.
In 1805, Napoleon created his Kingdom of Italy around the Adriatic Sea, annexing to it the former Venetian Dalmatia from Istria to Kotor. In 1809 he removed the Venetian Dalmatia from his Kingdom of Italy and created the Illyrian Provinces, which were annexed to France, and created his marshal Nicolas Soult duke of Dalmatia.
Napoleon's rule in Dalmatia was marked with war and high taxation, which caused several rebellions. On the other hand, French rule greatly contributed to Croatian national awakening (the first newspaper in Croatian was published then in Zadar, the Kraglski Dalmatin-Il Regio Dalmata), the legal system and infrastructure were finally modernized to a degree in Dalmatia, and the educational system flourished. French rule brought a lot of improvements in infrastructure; many roads were built or reconstructed. Napoleon himself blamed Marshal Auguste Marmont, the governor of Dalmatia, that too much money was spent. However, in 1813, the Habsburgs once again declared war on France and by 1814 restored control over Dalmatia, forming a temporary Kingdom of Illyria. In 1822, in accordance with the Congress of Vienna, this entity was eliminated and Dalmatia was placed within the Austrian Empire.
In 1848, the Croatian Assembly (Sabor) published the People's Requests, in which they requested among other things the abolition of serfdom and the unification of Dalmatia and Croatia. The Dubrovnik Municipality was the most outspoken of all the Dalmatian communes in its support for unification with Croatia. A letter was sent from Dubrovnik to Zagreb with pledges to work for this idea. In 1849, Dubrovnik continued to lead the Dalmatian cities in the struggle for unification. A large-scale campaign was launched in the Dubrovnik paper L'Avvenire (The Future) based on a clearly formulated programme: the federal system for the Habsburg territories, the inclusion of Dalmatia into Croatia and the Slavic brotherhood. The president of the council of Kingdom of Dalmatia was the politician Baron Vlaho Getaldić.
In the same year, the first issue of the Dubrovnik almanac appeared, Flower of the National Literature (Dubrovnik, cvijet narodnog književstva), in which Petar Preradović published his noted poem "To Dubrovnik". This and other literary and journalistic texts, which continued to be published, contributed to the awakening of the national consciousness reflected in efforts to introduce the Croatian language into schools and offices, and to promote Croatian books. The Emperor Franz Joseph brought the so-called Imposed Constitution which prohibited the unification of Dalmatia and Croatia and also any further political activity with this end in view. The political struggle of Dubrovnik to be united with Croatia, which was intense throughout 1848 and 1849, did not succeed at that time.
In 1861 was the meeting of the first Dalmatian Assembly, with representatives from Dubrovnik. Representatives of Kotor came to Dubrovnik to join the struggle for unification with Croatia. The citizens of Dubrovnik gave them a festive welcome, flying Croatian flags from the ramparts and exhibiting the slogan: Ragusa with Kotor. The Kotorans elected a delegation to go to Vienna; Dubrovnik nominated Niko Pucić. Niko Pucić went to Vienna to demand not only the unification of Dalmatia with Croatia, but also the unification of all Croatian territories under one common Assembly.
In the First World War, the Austrian Empire disintegrated, and Dalmatia was again split between the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) which controlled most of it, and the Kingdom of Italy which held small portions of northern Dalmatia around Zadar and the islands of Cres, Lošinj and Lastovo.
In 1929, the Littoral Banovina (Primorska Banovina), a province of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, was formed. Its capital was Split, and it included most of Dalmatia and parts of present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina. Southern parts of Dalmatia were in Zeta Banovina, from the Gulf of Kotor to Pelješac peninsula including Dubrovnik.
In 1939, the Littoral Banovina was joined with Sava Banovina (and with smaller parts of other banovina's) to form a new province named the Banovina of Croatia. In 1939, ethnic Croatian areas of the Zeta Banovina from the Gulf of Kotor to Pelješac including Dubrovnik were merged with a new Banovina of Croatia.
During World War II, in 1941, Nazi Germany, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria occupied Yugoslavia, redrawing their borders. A new Nazi puppet state, the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), was formed, and the Kingdom of Italy was assigned some parts of the Dalmatian coast, notably around Zadar and Split, as well as many islands. The remaining parts of Dalmatia became part of the NDH. Many Croats moved away from the Italian-occupied area and took refuge in the fascist state of Croatia, which became the fighting ground for a guerrilla war between the Axis and the Partisans. Zadar was bombed by the Allies during World War II.
After the defeat of Italy and NDH, Dalmatia was restored to Croatia, more precisely, to the People's Republic of Croatia, part of the SFR Yugoslavia (then called the Federative People's Republic of Yugoslavia).
Dalmatia was divided between two federal Republics of Yugoslavia - almost all of the territory went to Croatia, leaving the Bay of Kotor to Montenegro. When Yugoslavia dissolved in 1991, the republican borders became international borders as they are now.