How old is Split?

South walls of Diocletian's palace - waterfront in Split Croatia

The strange thing is how we take things for granted. Especially those we love. More precisely, those we say we love. Well, one thing is the love of one's birthplace. Local patriotism. Enjoying God-given nature. Appreciation and gratitude for the cultural and historical heritage of its ancestors. And similar things that do not come to my mind now, but I guess you understand what I mean.

To walk that talk, it is necessary to know something about the native soil. In my case it is Split. The only city in the world that originated from the Emperor's palace and whose end of construction is taken as the year of Split’s birth (305 AD). The Roman Emperor Diocletian himself had his residence in retirement days right in this place.

But that is a story I will tell you another time. Now I will present you the one that happened long before the palace was built. When talking about the history of Split this topic is not emphasized so much or is completely skipped. As I already stated, town marks birthdays from Diocletian’s palace, but from my point of view, city was established before that.

Neolithic age tools in Split Croatia


Life in the immediate surroundings of Split took place in the early Stone Age. One of the first man's habitats here was the cave of Krčine, northeast of Klis near the hamlet of Mihovilovići. There were found remains of Neolithic, cardium pottery (outline is decorated by imprinting of the clay with the shell of the cockle or nail).

Another, finding is from the middle Neolithic, found on the south side of the mountain Mosor, above the cave of Krčine. In the inner urban field remains of pottery have been found, but to confirm that the man lived here too we have found stone hammers in the city center and Spinut, neighborhood western from city center.

By the characteristics of these hammers it can be concluded they belong to the last phase of the Neolithic. They tell us this man had the conditions for life (he could fall cattle, cultivate land and engage in fishing).
The above mentioned finds of pottery and stone tools witness the continuity of life in the rest of Dalmatia: the islands (Hvar, Korčula and Pelješac peninsula) and in the hinterland of the coast (Danilo near Šibenik, Smilčić near Zadar, Nin).

Copper and gold objects found just before the start of World War II in Split and copper cruciform axes are evidence of the continuity of life in the inner city area which is intensified by the end of the 3rd millennium and the start of the 2nd millennium BC.

Because of these facts, it can be assumed that the affirmation of the Illyrian population occurred in the Iron Age in the city and its surroundings. It is of the same genus as the population who lived in the immediate hinterland of the coast. The remains of their settlement could be found at elevated terrains or hilltops where it was customary to build settlements for strategic security or in the vicinity of sources of water: Gripe, Bambina head, Spinut, Good.

Aspalathos or how history of Split has started


Illyrian tribe Delmati came from today's southwestern Bosnia to the territory of Split and its surroundings during the last centuries of ancient time. The town of Salona (today's Solin) has been a powerful Illyrian base on the coast since those days. 

Dorian Greeks from Issa colony (Issa - today's island of Vis), after the death of its founder tyrant of Syracuse Dionysius the Elder in 367 BC, wanted to set up the trade with Illyrian tribes. The best way to do this was to establish their own settlements. Thus in the middle of the 4th century BC they founded a settlement on the island of Korčula at the site of today's Lumbarda, and during the 3rd century BC settlements Tragurion (Trogir) and Epetion (Stobreč) in the middle of Dalmatian coast.

Ruins in Diocletian's palace
Ruins in Diocletian's palace

Now we come to the main star of the article. In the bay between the peninsula Sustipan and Bačvice (today the most popular beach in Split), they have established a smaller settlement ASPALATHOS. Unlike other listed settlements that were fortified, Aspalathos was not. These sites were used for trading peers with the surrounding Illyrian tribes, and perhaps with the interior of today's Dalmatia and its hinterland.

Two findings are testifying about Asphalatos existence: Greek inscriptions and Tabula Peutingeriana.

Filisko and Dropion – first written names of Split citizens

Two Greek inscriptions were found in Split. It is uncertain whether they were brought from Salona, which in the Middle Ages served as a quarry for constructing of their houses or was set by the inhabitants of Aspalathos. Either way, they serve as an argument for the claim the inhabitants of Issa established Aspalathos because one inscription was dated after its hieromnamon (high priest) Agathon and priestess Damatria. Dating by hieromnamons or supreme priests was used on Issa until the end of their state.

We do not know when the city came into being because it can not be found out of these inscriptions. One thing is for sure: the inscription was placed before the 48 BC, when Issa became an underling Roman city.

You are maybe wondering why so much analyzing of two Greek inscriptions, which do not give us a secure important data? Well, they still give us the two oldest written names of Split’s inhabitants - Filisko and Dropion, which, given the age and origin of the inscription, is a quite important and interesting thing.

Another finding confirms that in, what is now the oldest nucleus of Split, there was Hellenistic settlement: the grave was found on the inside of the palace. Same tombs from that period have been found in the necropolis of Budva and in Sicily.

Tabula Peutingeriana – valuable source for middle Dalmatian coast

Second important finding for the city's history is the map called Tabula Peutingeriana, the first safe date of Spalatos existence. It was made by the original ancient source composed in Rome during the reign of Emperor Octavian with supervise of his general Agrippa. On the time of map’s birth, it was certainly made before the year 300 AD because Diocletian’s palace is not shown on it. 

Settlements Salona, Epetion, Siclis and Spalatum are visible on the map. Siclis, (Siculi, today’s Bijač in Kaštela field) was founded by Emperor Claudius (41 - 54), which means middle of the first century is the earliest time of tabula origin. Aspalathos existed before that. 

Tabula Peutingeriana
Section of Tabula Peutingeriana, top to bottom: Dalmatian coast,
Adriatic Sea, southern Italy, Sicily, African Mediterranean coast


During the construction of the Diocletian's Palace, his name already had the Latin version Spalatum. Aspalathos is apparently Greek because in that language aspalathos denotes a thorny, bushy plant. Along with Pliny, other writers mentioned that plant, but nobody knows which one. Most likely, it is a genus of Acanthoclada, which is very famous in Dalmatia, and is called brnistra. It still covers a large part of Split. Issa’s Greeks, probably, after coming in what is now the port of Split, seeing the plant Issa does not have, a place named after her - Aspalathos.

In Split Medieval Documents and various other sources, Split is called Spalacontum, Aspalato, Spalato, Spalatum Spalathron, Aspalathon. Other form of names over time was rejected, and of these names was made the current name Split.

Knowledge is power

Material sources and literature on this topic does not make it possible to find out a lot about the origin of the Split or its name. We can only sum up what we know about this intriguing theme:

  • It is almost certain that Greeks from Issa founded the Spalatos
  • It happened before 48 BC, most probably in the 3rd or 2nd century BC
  • The settlement at the site of today's Split was called Aspalathos or Spalatos, and later Spalatum
  • Both names are of Greek origin but the possibility of Illyrian or Pre-Indo-European origin should not be excluded 



They say to go forward in the future, you must be familiar with your past and where you came from. In historical science, as we see, the facts can not be always complete and exact. But it is enough to know who your ancestors were and when they lived.


And last, but not least, as a prominent citizen of place they have founded, appreciate and convey an inheritance to descendants and the world.  



Resources and references:

1. Novak. Grga. History of Split I. (2005). Škuna

30 comments:

  1. awesome...
    http://www.cakapcakap.com/

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  2. Oh wow! We never knew about this place. Such rich history! Sounds like a place we want to visit

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  3. Such a beautiful place and so much history to be learned! I've always wanted to visit this area of the world but have not yet had the opportunity.

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    1. I hope you will come one day, you will not regret it. :)

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  4. Thank you for such an informative and entertaining write up. I love history, and having been to Croatia a few times, this was something I thorough;y enjoyed!

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    1. Thank you very much :) You should come again, visit Split ;)

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  5. What a fascinating article. I have never been to Croatia before but you have inspired me to visit!

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  6. Your native place will never get out of your memories...the food the culture you will be missing everytime...Split is such a historical place. That's too Appreciating!!!

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    1. Yes, our native place will always be a part of us :)

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  7. For a fact, you are so familiar with your Craotia past and I'm loving that...That's just what patriots should do!Anyway,the history of Croatia is so puzzling...and exciting for someone who loves history like me.

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    1. Thank you, I'm glad that you love history! Feel free to subscribe for my newsletter :)

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  8. Such an informative post it was. I really have no interest in history but after reading few lines, I had no clue when I completed reading the whole blog post. Beautiful place to visit...

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  9. I've been watching a food and travel series about Croatia recently and this gives so much insight about the area around Split. I am a history lover so this is definitely up my alley!

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    1. I'm happy that you found something for yourself. Come to Croatia, you will have a great time ;)

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  10. I had no idea about this place. And glad to know about its history. I haven't got an opportunity to explore that part of the world yet but hope to visit there soon!

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    1. Stay tuned! there will be more about soon on this blog :) And yes, you should come :)

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  11. honestly this is the first time I heard about this place. But trust me World is full of such gems such beautiful travel destination. I would love to visit this place once after reading your post.

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    1. So happy that I opened up that opportunity for you :)

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  12. I love that you went to look up the beautiful history of the place. i love knowing the places I want to visit. I will have to go to Croatia some day for sure.

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  13. I have never had the opportunity to visit Croatia so far, but it is on my bucket list. Your home town of Split has a great and rich history and yes it is very important to know about the rich heritage of ones own birth place.

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  14. This is a very interesting post. I wasn't aware of this place and hearing about it for the first time.

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  15. I loved reading this! I am married to a geologist and I love to read about the history of a place along with the facts!

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    1. Thank you :) feel free to subscribe to my newsletter :)

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