Aerial view of Zadar, Croatia.

Zadar, Croatia, known in antiquity as Iader or Iadera, was an important trading port on the coast of the Adriatic.  It became a Roman colony in the first years of the reign of the emperor Augustus (27 BC-14AD).   

In the mid-first century AD, the poet Marcus Aennaeus Lucanus described Zadar as “extending towards the Zephyr,” referring to the light, west wind that blanketed the city:

Qua maris Adriaci longas ferit unda Salonas
et tepidum in molles Zephyros excurrit Iader...

Situated on a natural peninsula, Zadar was organized according to the typical Roman street system, with a rectangular street plan, a forum, thermae (bathhouse), and a water-supply system that came from lake Vrana, by way of a 40-km-long aqueduct.(1)

Zadar was an important Roman trading post on the Adriatic.
In addition to the Roman-era infrastructure, still evident today, archaeological finds from the area tell of a flourishing, materialistic society. The collection of the Zadar Museum of Archaeology includes jewelry, metal ware, weapons, tools, and numerous glass vessels of various forms. Indeed, glass was so ubiquitous in Zadar that a new Museum of Antique Glass in the area is devoted exclusively to glass objects from the Roman period.

The nearby Museum of Nin Antiquities also features an extensive collection of materials excavated from Aenona, or Roman Nin, a region just north of Zadar. According to the Museum’s website: “The constantly increasing trade and transportation connections [in the area] led to the importation of various goods dominated by objects of everyday use, made of pottery, glass, amber, metal, and bone. The Roman government in Aenona introduced the religion of worshipping the Roman gods and imperial family, as is confirmed… by votive altars dedicated to Jupiter and Silvanus, and a bust of Dionysus. The indigenous Liburnian gods that continued to be worshipped included Anzotika, the goddess of fertility.”(2)

In The Provinces of the Roman Empire, historian Theodore Mommsen notes 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.

“‘Romanization’ was essentially an urban and elite phenomenon. Though the acceptance of the Latin language and of Roman urban and political institutions was an individual decision, that decision may well have been motivated by the desire to share in the blessings of the Roman peace, the advantages of a higher standard of living, and by the opportunity to reach the highest offices in the Roman state.”(4)

Whatever the degree of “Romanization,” the new nobility in Zadar maintained a love affair with Greek art, as did most Romans. “We might say that when Greece was conquered by Rome, Rome was civilized by Greece,” writes William C. Morey in Outlines of Roman History. “These foreign influences were seen in her new ideas of religion and philosophy, in her literature, her art, and her manners.”(5) 

“Romans held Greek civilization in high regard and, like us, considered 5th-century-BC Greece to be the region’s golden age, a time characterized by refined artistic and cultural production, scholarship, and military strength,” write Elizabeth Mackey and Rachel Bernstein. “During his reign 500 years later, Augustus sought to align his rule with this era and promote a rebirth of the golden age of Greece in Rome. Augustus’s interest in Greek art and culture strengthened Roman reverence for classical Greek art, philosophy, and intellectual life.”(6)

Bronze Apoxymenos, found off the coast of Croatia in 1999.
By the time of Augustus, Roman colonies were “Roman” or "Italic" primarily in law and governance. Roman culture was increasingly “Hellenistic”: “Cultured Greek household slaves taught the Roman young; chefs, decorators, secretaries, doctors, and hairdressers—all came from the Geek East.  Greek sculptures adorned Hellenistic landscape gardening on the Palatine or in the villas, or were imitated in Roman sculpture yards by Greek slaves."(7)

"The main Roman gods Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, Venus, Apollo, Mercury, Mars, Diana, Janus, Vulcan, and Neptune were to a great extent [also] derived from the Greek iconography and mythology." Roman religion also incorporated beliefs from Asia Minor and Egypt, along with indigenous pagan beliefs, such as the autochthonous cult of Sol. "Rome only opposed those monotheistic faiths that could disturb the already established religious and political balance." (8) 


1.Marcus Aennaeus Lucanus, De bello civili, Pharsalia, IV, p. 404:

2.Wikipedia. Zadar.

3.Archeoloski Muzej Zadar. 2012.;task=view&id=48&Itemid=51

4.The Mapping History Project. “Romanization”.

5.Morey, William C. Outlines of Roman History. New York, Cincinnati, Chicago: American Book Company (1901).

6.Mackey, Elizabeth, and Bernstein, Rachel.  Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples. 2009.

7.Culture of Ancient Rome.

8. Archeoloski Muzej Zadar. op. cit.