the coins are fairly consistent in spelling him Delmatius with an E
Indeed, and in most modern contexts his name is spelled with an 'a.' So why is that?
Modern Dalmatia is a province of Croatia and spelled Dalmacija in Croatian, pronounced with an articulated 'a,' like in the English word "up." The Roman province of Dalmatia was significantly larger, covering parts of today's neighboring countries, but that is not important for a discussion about pronunciation.
The name has its origin in a group of tribes called Dalmatae (or Delmatae ...), who lived in the area when the Romans conquered it in 33 BC. Some sources connect the name to the word delme
of the Gheg variant of the Albanian language, meaning "sheep." Maybe they were shepherds.
The discussion about how to pronounce the name is not new. Already in Roman times there were different opinions on the pronunciation of Dalmatia. The Latin grammarian Velius Longus writes in his work De Orthographia
("On Spelling," 2nd century AD; here with my emphases): "Placet etiam ut Delmatiam
quoque, non Dalmatiam
pronuntiemus, quoniam a Delmino, maxima eiusdem provinciae civitate, tractum nomen existimatur."
In (somewhat free) translation: "It also seems proper that we say Delmatia
, not Dalmatia
, because the name comes from Delminium, the largest city of the same province."
In a vast empire like Rome, there were certainly dialects and different ways of pronouncing names, influenced by local languages. My guess is that De
lmatia was what the province was called locally, while perhaps across the Adriatic Sea, in Italy itself, it might have been called Da
So, over to Delmatius. The name means "from Delmatia." In all probability, De
lmatius reflects the contemporary pronunciation by Delmatius himself and his companions, while in other parts of the Roman empire his name may have been pronounced Da
lmatius. On Delmatius's coins his name is almost exclusively spelled DELMATIVS. In RIC I find only a couple of issues from Thessalonika and Nicomedia with the spelling DALMATIVS. That is not a consistent spelling, however, there are other issues from those two mints with the spelling DELMATIVS.
Moving forward in time, both forms are used in Latin texts, but with Dalmatia dominating (based on a rather unscientific survey using Google). By 1815, when the modern Kingdom of Dalmatia was created, spelling with 'a' was the only prevailing. I suppose the modern form Dalmatia
has influenced modern historians, considering that to be the "correct" spelling, to modernize Delmatius to Dalmatius - although often adding "but on contemporary coins his name was spelled Delmatius."
Now, if you have read all the way here, you have certainly deserved a coin! Here is my Delmatius:
Delmatius, 336 AD, Arles 1st officina (PCONST). RIC 398.
Obv: [F]L DELMA[TIV]S NOB C
Rev: GLORIA EXER[CITVS]