A Brief Political History of Croatia

History politics control and commerce

Croatia has become a very popular travel destination in recent years. It is in the center of Europe near the beautiful warm Adriatic Sea, a sub sea of the Mediterranean. Largely unspoiled due to political isolation during Communist times, Croatia remains a jewel.

The tourist industry boosts the economy tremendously, because to this day Croatia suffers the ill effects of the Homeland War (Domovinski Rat) which raged during the 1991. Economists estimate war damage to be as high as $148 billion U.S. dollars.

Unfortunately, many people don't know too much about Croatia. It is actually an ancient civilization dating from the 5th or 6th century before Christ, when the Iliiric peoples ruled the seas. In its 2400 year old known history, there have been more foreign heads of state than nearly anywhere else in the world. For example, Dalmatia was founded by Greeks in the 4th century B.C. After the native Iliric people mixed with the Greek settlers and the arrival of the Croatians from the Indus Valley, Croatia became a personality, and nationality, all its own.

A temperament and positioning that remains hard to describe

The Croatian personality is both Mediterranean and Middle European, Eastern and Western; it mixes Turkish and German, French and Persian. It is neither this, nor that. Croatians aren't in sync with the rest of the Balkan Peninsula - they ethnically belong to western Europe and the Roman Catholic Church. People here are very religious, and yet very tolerant. There is a mood of balance, jugo and bura (south wind, north wind) and antiquity - that life has more or less remained the same since the beginning of time.

Portrait of the Dioklecijan

He is the only known Roman emperor to have died a natural death.  After twenty years rule from 284-305, he abdicated and lived a quiet life with his presumed to be Christian wife Priska and daughter Valerija in the suburb of Salona outside of Split
He is the only known Roman emperor to have died a natural death. After twenty years rule from 284-305, he abdicated and lived a quiet life with his presumed to be Christian wife Priska and daughter Valerija in the suburb of Salona outside of Split
the palace went to the sea, but this picture is slightly exaggerated.  The palace was designed to resemble a Roman military camp with its four sections and intersections - Cardus and Dekumanus
the palace went to the sea, but this picture is slightly exaggerated. The palace was designed to resemble a Roman military camp with its four sections and intersections - Cardus and Dekumanus
These are the remains of an ancient Roman "vojni logor" - or military camp - built in the Split hinterland.  There were two built in Croatia - at Trilj and Burnum
These are the remains of an ancient Roman "vojni logor" - or military camp - built in the Split hinterland. There were two built in Croatia - at Trilj and Burnum
This Sfinga (or sphinx) with 12 others, was brought to the Palace around 290 a.d. along with the columns, seen in the background.  The Sphinx is archeologically estimated to be from 1500 b.c. and is accessible to all.
This Sfinga (or sphinx) with 12 others, was brought to the Palace around 290 a.d. along with the columns, seen in the background. The Sphinx is archeologically estimated to be from 1500 b.c. and is accessible to all.
The golden door (or gate) (Zlatna Vrata).  It's presumed that statues of the four rulers tetrachy were posted on the top floor.  This road linked Split to ancient Solona and was considered the main entrance to the Palace.
The golden door (or gate) (Zlatna Vrata). It's presumed that statues of the four rulers tetrachy were posted on the top floor. This road linked Split to ancient Solona and was considered the main entrance to the Palace.
The Split peristil and how it looks today.  The four large columns in the center marked the entrance to the Diocletian's living quarters on the upper level, looking out over the sea.
The Split peristil and how it looks today. The four large columns in the center marked the entrance to the Diocletian's living quarters on the upper level, looking out over the sea.

The Ancient Times were the Dioklecijan's era - Diocletian - an orderly tyrant

Rome and Dalmatia

Around the time of Christ's birth, the Roman Empire controlled Dalmatia. Split was founded on the settlement called Aspalathos, which preceded the building of the impressive, UNESCO protected world heritage site known as the Diocletian's Palace.

The Diokletian, Diokles

The Diocletian (Di-oh-klee-shun) ruled the Roman Empire. Born around 243 A.D., he was of humble origins. He grew up in a village outside of ancient Salona but excelled as a Roman soldier, then bodyguard, and eventually emperor. His original Iliric name was Diokles. (DEE-oh-klees)

The Diocletian’s Palace remains the most impressive example of ancient architecture available to us in modern times. A rectangular shaped walled palace, it contained four blocks. To the north were the the military quarter and the factory for making clothes (purple royal robes as well as others). The southern half (towards the sea) was the residential zone for the Emperor and others. Within the Palace were squares, three pagan temples, Roman baths "terme" and a royal dining room. On the second level facing the sea was a long narrow hallway containing 42 window portals, facing the sea. There were watchtowers, guards, secret kripts.

Directly linked to the ancient cosmopolitan city of Salona towards the outskirts of Split, there was a sophisticated (and to this day, at least partially utilized) ancient aqueduct supported by arches bringing an abundance of fresh water from the mountains to the city. The water was used for the inhabitants of the city as well for dye-processing for the clothing factory.

Cardus / Decumanus

The Palace is divided into four sections by two arterial main walkways: Cardus is North-South walkway, half in shadows, and Decumanus travels in an East-West direction. At their intersection lies the Peristil, meaning "periphery with columns". An open air pavilion, it was both the spiritual heart of the palace (where the people fell down to him prostate) as well as the "living room" of the Diocletian. This was the place for the roman festivals! From the four rosy toned columns in the center of the vestibule (entrance to the Emperor's living quarters) emerged the Diocletian.

Peristil

More than 200 columns were imported from Egypt, which encircle the multi purpose Peristil. A massive black ancient sphinx dating back to 1500 B.C. can be found. 12 were brought to the palace, but only the sphinx on the Peristil remains intact. Sacrifices to the gods - chiefly Jupiter and Venus, were laid between the two front paws of the sphinx, symbolically guarding the entrance of Split's patron saint and former bishop of ancient Salona, Saint Dujam or Saint Dominus in Latin.

St. Dominus (Sveti Duje) and St. Anastasia (Sveti Anastažija)

In Split, he is often referred to as Sveti Duje. Every year the locals reserve May 7th day as a holiday for feasting, celebrating and playing "tombola", Croatian bingo. He and fellow Saint Anastasia (male) were killed by the Diocletian in 304 during an empire wide crackdown against the Christians who were considered trouble makers. Anastasia was drowned in the sea with a millstone tied around his neck. Dujam was killed in the arena at Salona, gladiator style.

Ironically, the man who signed the edict for Christian persecution has one of the world's oldest and most important cathedrals, octagonal and ornately decorated with stone sculptures, oil paintings and sarkofag (ancient graves). Some of the world's greatest Renaissance painters grace its walls with magnificent sculptures, wood engravings and other enhancements. A site to behold - check the internet for a peek within, preferably Google Pictures. This had previously been the Diocletian's own mausoleum.

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The Emperor's Rule

The Diocletian ruled from November 284 Annus Dominus to 1 May 305 when he unexpectedly stepped down, a precedent in roman history which was never repeated. He died in 316, presumably of natural causes. All other Roman emperors were either killed, poisoned or eliminated in a variety of ways to gain power of the throne. (Maksimian also stepped down simultaneously.,) When he was asked to return to his former post, the famous answer was given, "If you could see the vegetables that grow near the Palace by my own hand, you would never present me with such preposterous propositions." Incidentally, throughout history people from this area return to the fields at retirement. Whether they did, or did not share a love of fresh vegetables and gardening, they begin to till the soil in their later years, which remains true to this day.

In 20 years time, he created much reform in the Roman Empire, developing 101 districts for better control. Financially, he was organized, frugal, and thought ahead. He had no misconceptions of the possibility of a French uprising. His close friend, a Maksimian, a fellow Iliric Roman officer, to take assume control of the western half of the Roman Empire. The Dioklecijan largely ruled from his home in Nikomedija, an ancient city located in Turkey not far from Istanbul. There he built a similar if not identical Palace from where he lived and worked. The Palace in Split was built for his retirement since he originally lived in the outskirts of Salona.

The Tetrarchy or "the Foursome"

In 293, he took on two "vice presidents" to improve the efficiency of the empire. These men, Galerius and Konstantin Klor were "caesar" and he remained "august" along with his co-ruler, Maksimian. <Klor is the Latin equivalent of chlorine, like bleach>. This two plus two political foursome was called the teatracy. The two caesars were asked to divorce their current wives in order to assume their political appointments. Konstantin Klor divorced his wife, Helena (later Saint Helena) and married Maksimian's step-daughter (the boss' daughter, in effect!) Teodozija. Galerija married the Diokletian's own daughter in a political move designed to evade political problems. Legend has it that daughter Valerija, was in love with the Christian, and outlawed, bishop of Salona, Dujam.

Konstantin's Legacy

The son of Konstantin Klor was similarly named Konstantin who later became the sole August of the Roman Empire from 317-337. He is credited for passing the Edict of Milan in 313 A .D., making Christianity a legal religion.

After Konstantin Klor divorced Saint Helena, she discovered the True Cross and manger of Christ. Konstantin's three sons (all with variations of the name Konstantin) later collectively ruled the huge empire which extended to Africa, Asia and the farthest reaches of Western Europe.

The Fall of Rome

The Romans controlled the region since the Pompeiian Wars in the first century A.D. and remained until the 6th century. The cosmopolitan city of Salona fell in the 7th century. Residents of the city escaped to Split, known as Spalatos in those days, taking refuge in the Diocletian's Palace.

As the Roman Empire weakened and eventually collapsed in 5th century A.D., Croatia continued to develop its own identity, but unfortunately was not in a position of self rule for another few centuries. Many early Christian artifacts were lost or destroyed since Christianity was highly persecuted until the passage of the Milan Edict, and archeologists divide findings to "before" and "after" its passage.

Staro-Hrvatsko Dob -

Old Croatian Culture

In the 5th and 6th Centuries, many European powers meddled in Dalmatian affairs. There is too much history to cover in one Hub, but it needs to be mentioned that Croatia had her own line of kings in the 8th, 9th, 10th centuries.

From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance

Venice, a powerful neighboring state, as well as the Austro-Hungarian empire, left its mark on Dalmatia. The Austrians build up the coast with reinforcements, walkways, streets. During the middle ages, Split was a very wealthy and prosperous port, offering refuge to Jewish refugees escaping the Inquisition. A famous Jewish importer named Danijel Rodrigo laid out the plans for the Lazaretta along the coastline, offering to fund their buildings with his own money. (The city refused). It was a time of culture, humanism and prosperity. At this same time, there were frequent Turkish invasions along the Dalmatian coastline, burning villages, kidnapping women, children and killing all the men.

The Turks - Ottoman Empire

A huge economic drain at the time was the building of star- shaped reinforcements around the city. They were both expensive and brought no profit to the city. Although the 16th and 17th centuries brought great wealth to the city by being the designated point of entry for the Balkan Peninsula, the Turkish invasions and plague (from eastern imports) did much damage.

French Reforms

After the Croatians finally got rid of the Venetians in 1797, the French Napoleonic leaders came to Dalmatia. From 1797 to around 1815, the French made some major modern improvements - the best roads since Roman times, building hospitals and promoting order. This was a short lived time frame, and a major street in Split is named after Augusta Marmonte, a French general who was "in love with" Dalmatia for the short time he was stationed in Split.

With the fall of Napoleon, the English came to Dalmatia. There is a mixed history, of beatings, cruelty and power, as well as forts built and yet another cultural influence. The English built a fort on the island of Vis (formerly Issa) as a stretegic lookout point, later destroying it upon leave. Croatian soldiers participated in the Crimean War where Florence Nightingale promoted her revolutionary medical reforms.

Auguste de Marmont fell in love with Split

The French coalition tore down ancient bedemima (stone reinforcements) designed to protect the city against the Turks.  They built hospitals and road, and created reforms which the residents of Split and Trogir largely applauded.
The French coalition tore down ancient bedemima (stone reinforcements) designed to protect the city against the Turks. They built hospitals and road, and created reforms which the residents of Split and Trogir largely applauded.

Croatian Renaissance

This famous picture was created by renowned 20th century painter, Vlaho Bukovac who lived and worked near Dubrovnik in Croatia.  Today, this scene is stamped upon the curtain for the Croatian National Theater (HNK).
This famous picture was created by renowned 20th century painter, Vlaho Bukovac who lived and worked near Dubrovnik in Croatia. Today, this scene is stamped upon the curtain for the Croatian National Theater (HNK).

19th century to the present

During the 19th century, Croatia has a flowering of the Croatian renaissance.

After centuries of foreign rule and domination, Croatians came to the point of that's enough! They may have wanted to do so, but with less emphasis on the agricultural realm, more education per capita and a sentiment of national pride, these voices became clearer and more widespread.

At the outset of the 20th century, many politicians wanted to create an independent Croatian state. Long a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914 Croatia wanted to seize its chance to become a Republic in its own right.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen. A new political structure was formed, almost by trick, between Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia. This was called the Kingdom of the Croats, Serbs and Slovenes, and was largely dominated by what was then and now called Great Serbia. Not unlike the British Isles, all were equal but some were more equal than others.

Citizens of Croatia call this "the First Jugoslavia" (pronounced and spelled Yugoslavia in the west). And the story continues.

Dalmatia - The Beautiful Croatian Coastline

Komiza and island Vis is ideal for sailing and sunbathing without crowds or pollution.  It remains one of the secrets of the Mediterranean!
Komiza and island Vis is ideal for sailing and sunbathing without crowds or pollution. It remains one of the secrets of the Mediterranean!

Croatian Recipes to try at home

Many nutritionists and sports enthusiasts sing the praises of Mediterranean cuisine. This is party due to the amount of fresh air, abundance sunny days in the year and coastal breezes. There are many recipes to try, but here is a sampling.

Books on the Infamous Dioklecian

Post Script

Did you like this hub? If you did, then vote it up and leave a comment. There's nothing I like better than to read a comment. And If you have any questions, about the material or the middle European area, I will do my best to answer them.

Thanks for reading! See you online. :)

ECAL

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Comments 6 comments

alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

I knew about the modern war, but otherwise was ignorant of Croatia's history. No wonder it is becoming popular with tourists with a past dating back to the Romans and that wonderful coastline. Voting this Up and Interesting.


EuroCafeAuLait profile image

EuroCafeAuLait 4 years ago from Croatia, Europe Author

There's more my friend! I only gave an appetizer. Because of its position the whole of Europe and Asia has passed through at one time or another :) When I get around to it I will be writing more. Appreciate the up vote, too.


jellygator profile image

jellygator 4 years ago from USA

Interesting. I am acquainted with a few Croatian families who live in the states but travel back to Croatia regularly. They are vibrant, passionate people who are a pleasure to know. I've seen some of their family photos, and knew Croatia is an ancient civilization, but had no idea it is also tied to Greek history.


EuroCafeAuLait profile image

EuroCafeAuLait 4 years ago from Croatia, Europe Author

Yes, it's really amazing. The Greeks couldn't get into the Adriatic Sea until the 4th century B.C. because the Illiric people had such a strong hold. There were several tribes, including the Delmati, which is how Dalmatia gets its name. Appreciate your comment and up vote.


ata1515 profile image

ata1515 4 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

Interesting short history of Croatia! Voted up!


EuroCafeAuLait profile image

EuroCafeAuLait 4 years ago from Croatia, Europe Author

Thanks, ata1515, Croatia has a very long history, so there is a lot to choose from. Thanks for the up vote and the follow, too - I appreciate it! Regards, Ecal

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