History of Jews in Dalmatia

The Roman province of Dalmatia, through its access to the sea, was the neighbor of every maritime country.

There are numerous historic and archaeological sources to prove that the Adriatic Sea played an important role in Roman trade.

While it may be difficult to establish a precise date for the arrival of earliest Jewish traders to the Adriatic, we have enough evidence to set up the period between 3rd and 5th centuries for their presence on the Eastern Adriatic Coast.

The most numerous pieces of evidence for a substantial Jewish community were found in Salona which was the capital city of the Roman province of Dalmatia and the most important harbor and market place in that part of the Empire.

After the fall of Salona in the 7th century, most of the Salonitan Jews moved into the Diocletian’s Palace. There is, however, a strong possibility that there were Jews living in the Palace even before that. Among hundreds of stone cutters’ marks scattered all over the walls of Diocletian’s palace, there are a few signs of menorot which were most probably incised in stone very early on. Some dozen of these marks were found in the substructures below the eastern part of the Emperor’s apartment, which served in the Middle Ages as the Archdeacon’s hall within the palace of the Archbishop of Split.

The palace was burned down in 1507, and never rebuilt. Fortunately, the fragile Jewish symbols incised in the Roman walls remained and still serve as witness to the early presence of Jews in Split.

After the destruction of the Archbishop’s palace, Jews had to leave the premises in the southeastern part of the town and moved to the area in the northwest, which later became a ghetto.

The move preceded the arrival to Split of expelled Spanish and Portuguese Jews who joined the older Romaniot community in the middle of the 16th century.  

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