With its turbulent past, Zadar is sometimes said to be a microcosm of the history of Croatia. Here's a (very short) version of what happened.
Prehistoric races are thought to have been the first settlers here during Neolithic times (possibly as far back as 8000 BC), and to have given the place its first name Jadera – probably something connected with water. Remains of these settlements can still be found in the present-day districts of Puntamika and Arbanasi.
In the 8th century BC, an Illyrian tribe known as the Liburnians – great sailors and merchants – first settled the area, and by the 7th Century BC, Jadera had become an important centre for their trading activities with the Greeks and the Romans.
In the middle of the 2nd century BC, the Romans began to gradually invade the outlying lands, and a hundred years later, probably during the reign of Julius Caesar, Zadar finally became a Roman colony. As usual, the Romans brought great civilisational advances, examples being hot air central heating in homes, and an aqueduct to Vransko lake 40km away, the remains of which are still visible in the eastern district of Arbanasi. Many other relics of this era are preserved or lie abandoned in today's Zadar. The Roman colony lasted for several hundred years until waves of marauding tribes battered the region.
By the 5th Century AD, the Ostrogoths ruled, and the city crumbled.
Forced to turn their attention seawards, the inhabitants of Zadar focused on shipping, and the city became a naval power to rival Venice. It was around this time that rebuilding began to take place. For example, at this time (the 9th century AD), St. Donatus' Church was built.
Meanwhile, the Croatian state was forming inland, and trade and political links with Zadar began to develop.