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The Dalmatae or Delmatae were an ancient people who inhabited the core of what would then become known as Dalmatia after the Roman conquest — now the eastern Adriatic coast in Croatia, between the rivers Krka and Neretva. The Delmatae are mostly classed as an Illyrian tribe, although for most of their history they were independent of the Illyrian kingdom which bordered to the southeast of them.
Archaeology and onomastic shows that the Delmatae were akin to eastern Illyrians and northern Pannonii. The tribe was subject to Celtic influences. One of the Dalmatian tribes was called Baridustae that later was settled in Roman Dacia.
The archeological remnants suggest their material culture was more primitive than this one of the surrounding ancient tribes, especially in comparison with the oldest Liburnians. Only their production of weapons was rather advanced. Their elite had the build stone houses only, but numerous Delmatic herdmen yet settled in natural caves, and a characteristic detail in their usual clothing was the fur cap.
Their nomadic society had a strong patriarchal structure, consisting chiefly of shepherds, warriors and their chieftains. Their main jobs had been the extensive cattle breeding, and the iterative plundering of other surrounding tribes and of coastal towns at Adriatic.
There were some iterative Roman conflicts with the Delmatae lasting for 160 years. The main reason was the perpetual aggressiveness of nomadic Delmatae against all their neighbours (Liburni, Daorsi, Ardiei, etc.), and also towards the Issaean federation, Greek-led Roman allies in central Adriatic islands, and so their pacification appeared inevitable. Delmatae land was mostly a rocky calcareous country with many pathless mountains, ideal for infinite guerilla wars; thus Delmatae erected there about 400 stony forteresses and 50 major citadels against Romans.
The first Dalmatian war in 156 BC – 155 BC finished with the destruction of capital Delminium by consul Scipio Nasica. The second Dalmatian war was fought in 119–118 BC, apparently ending in Roman victory as consul L. Caecilius Metellus celebrated triumph in 117 BC and assumed his surname Delmaticus. The third Dalmatian war 78–76 BC finished with the capture of Salona (port Solin near modern city Split) by the proconsul C. Cosconius.
During the Roman Civil war of 49–44 BC, the Delmatae (led by Versos (soldier) and Testimos) sided with Pompey and continuously fought against the Caesarian generals Gabinius and Vatinius. The fourth and final conflict occurred 34–33 BC during Octavian's expedition to Illyricum because of their iterative revolts, and finished with the capture of the new Delmatian capital- Soetovio (now Klis). The last revolts of Delmatae under their federal leader Baton, against Romans were in 12 BC and the Great Illyrian Revolt in 6-9 AD; both also failed and finished by a terminal pacification of bellicose Delmatae.
Afterwards, the Dalmatae formed numerous Roman auxiliaries:
The major collective deity of Delmatic federation was their pastoral god 'Sylvanus' they called Vidasus. His divine wife was 'Thana', a Delmatic goddess mostly comparable with Roman Diana and Greek Artemis. Their frequent reliefs often accompanied by nymphs, are partly conserved up today in some cliffs of Dalmatia; in Imotski valley also their temple used from 4th to 1st century BC, was unearthed. The third important one of Delmatae was a wargod 'Armatus' comparable with Roman Mars and Greek Ares. Their bad deity was the celestial Dragon devouring the sun or moon in the eclipses.
A strong weapons cult was very specific for the patriarchal Delmatae, and in their masculine tombs different weapons are widely present (that is rare in neighbouring peoples e.g. Liburni, Iapydes, etc.). Their usual tombs were under the stone tumuli of kurgan type. After the classic Roman reports (Muzic 1998), nomadic Delmatae were extremely superstitious, and they had a primitive panic dread from all celestial phenomena: any view on the night stars was them forbidden in the fear of a sure death, and in the case of solar or lunar eclipses they repeated tremendous collective howling because of the immediate world ending, made hysterical suicides etc.
The ancient Dalmatian language was part of the Illyrian languages, which were spoken in the western part of the Balkans. The name Dalmatae is connected with the Albanian word delmë, which means sheep in English. During the Celtic settlements in the Balkans the Dalmatian language was partly influenced by the Celtic language regarding personal names and toponyms.
The original language of the early Delmatae is scarcely known save a few toponyms noted by the Romans. Since the Roman conquest, town-dwelling Dalmatae were gradually Romanized, but shepherds in the countryside were assimilated more slowly and only partially. After the collapsed of the Roman Empire, Dalmatian citizens continued to partly speak the Old Dalmatic Romance language (intermediary one between Italian and Rumanian).
The medieval descendants of pastoral Delmatae in Dalmatian inlands conserved (at least partly) an Eastern Romance tongue (see Istro-Romanian language) with a large number of Slavic loanwords, called Morlachian dialect (Murlaška besida), persisting also in the Austrian Empire; it was chiefly spoken by 2100 local shepherds around the recent town of Livno up to World War I. Then in Yugoslavia during 20th century these non-Slavic pastorals under oppression were quickly slavicized. What remains of their language is but a few curious non-Slavic toponyms around the Livno valley, e.g. the rivulets Ayvatat, Sturba, and mountain peaks Bleynadorna, Brona, Ozirna, Gareta, Mitra, Zugva, Drul, Yenit, Yunch, Chamasir, and others.
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