The linguistic classification Slavic peoples are the speakers of the Slavic language family, a branch of Indo-European peoples, living mainly in Europe, where they constitute roughly a third of the population. Since emerging from their original homeland (most commonly thought to be in Eastern Europe) in the early 6th century, they have inhabited most of eastern Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Many settled later in Siberia and Central Asia or emigrated to other parts of the world.
Slavic settlers mixed with existing local populations and later invaders, thus modern Slavs are considered genetically diverse, though connected by speaking often closely related Slavic languages. Their cultures and traditions show both similarities and dissimilarities, related to their individual histories.
Slavic peoples are traditionally divided along linguistic lines into West Slavic (including Czechs, Poles and Slovaks), East Slavic (including Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians), and South Slavic; ( Bulgarians, Croats, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Serbs, Slovenians and Bosniaks). For a more comprehensive list, see Ethno-cultural subdivisions.
Origin of the term Slav
The origin of the word Slav remains controversial. Excluding the ambiguous mention by Ptolemy of tribes Stavanoi and Soubenoi, the earliest references of "Slavs" under this name are from the 6th century AD. The word is written variously as Sklabenoi, Sklauenoi, or Sklabinoi in Byzantine Greek, and as Sclaueni, Sclauini, or Sthlaueni in Latin. The oldest documents written in Old Church Slavonic and dating from the 9th century attest slověne to describe the Slavs around Thessalonica. Other early attestations include Old Russian slověně "an East Slavic group near Novgorod", Slovutich "Dnieper river", and Serbo-Croatian Slavonica, a river.
Scholars such as Roman Jacobson and others link the name with the Slavic forms sláva "glory", "fame" or slovo "word, talk" (both akin to slusati "to hear" from the IE root *kleu-). Thus slověne would mean "people who speak (the same language)", i.e. people who understand each other, as opposed to the Slavic word for foreign nations, nemtsi, meaning "speechless people" (from Slavic němi - mute, silent, dumb). For example, the Polish word Niemcy means "Germans" or "Germany" as does the Serbo-Croatian word Nemci.
There are two alternative scholarly theories as to the origin of the Slavs ethnonym, both very tentative: according to the first theory, it derives from a hypothetically reconstructed Proto-Indo-European *(s)lawos, cognate to Greek laós "population, people", which itself has no commonly accepted etymology. The second theory (forwarded by e.g. Max Vasmer) suggests that the word originated as a river name (compare the etymology of the Volcae), comparing it with such cognates as Latin cluere "to cleanse, purge", a root not known to have been continued in Slavic, however, and it appears in other languages with similar meanings (cf. Greek klyzein "to wash", Old English hlūtor "clean, pure", Old Norse hlér "sea", Welsh clir "clear, clean", Lithuanian šlúoti "to sweep").
The ancestor of the Proto-Slavic language branched off at some uncertain time in a disputed location from common Proto-Indo-European (possibly passing through a common Proto-Balto-Slavic stage). Balto-Slavic is categorized with the satem or eastern isogloss of the Indo-European language family, along with the Baltic and Indo-Iranian groups. In the framework of the Kurgan hypothesis, "the Indo-Europeans who remained after the migrations became speakers of Balto-Slavic".
Proto-Slavic proper, defined as the last stage of the language preceding the split of the historical Slavic languages, predates the 7th century, and was likely spoken during the 5th and 6th century.
The modern Slavic peoples come from a wide variety of genetic backgrounds, attesting the complexity of the ethnogenetic processes in Eastern Europe . The frequency of Haplogroup R1a ranges from 63.39% by the Sorbs, 56.4% in Poland and 54% in Ukraine, to 15.2% in Macedonia, 14.7% in Bulgaria and 12.1% in Herzegovina. Haplogroup R1a may be connected to the spread of Proto-Indo-Europeans (see Kurgan hypothesis for more information).
A new study studied several Slavic populations with the aim of localizing the Proto-Slavic homeland. The significant findings of this study are that:
- Two genetically distant groups of Slavic populations were revealed: One encompassing all Western-Slavic, Eastern-Slavic, and two Southern - Slavic populations ( Croats, Slovenes), and one encompassing all remaining Southern Slavs. According to the authors most Slavic populations have similar Y chromosome pools - R1a, and this similarity can be traced to an origin in middle Dnieper basin of the Ukraine from Ukrainian LGM refuge 15 kya.
- However, some southern Slavic populations such as Serbians, Macedonians, Bulgarians, and Bosnians are clearly separated from the tight DNA cluster of the rest of Slavic populations. According to the authors this phenomenon is explained by "...contribution to the Y chromosomes of peoples who settled in the Balkan region before the Slavic expansion to the genetic heritage of Southern Slavs..."
In addition, the Eastern Slavs may also be distinguished by the presence of Y Haplogroup N in their genome. Postulated to originate from central Asia, it is found at high rates in Finnic peoples. Its presence in Russians attests to the Eastern Slavic tribes mixing with Finno-Uralic peoples in northern Eurasia.
Pliny the Elder and Ptolemy mention a tribe of the Veneti around the river Vistula. The lands east of the Rhine, Elbe, Oder, and west of the Vistula river were referred to as Magna Germania by Tacitus in AD 98. Romans occupied the land west of the Rhine.
From Romanticism, the allochthonic school theorem is that the 6th century authors re-applied the ethnonym to hitherto unknown Slavic tribes, whence the later designation " Wends" for Slavic tribes, and medieval legends purporting a connection between Poles and Vandals.
The autochthonic school postulates that the Venethi of Tacitus and the "Slavs proper" between the 1st and the 6th centuries coalesced into the historical Slavic ethnicities.
The Slavs were "known to other people" as those tribes located between the Vistula and Dnepr until the middle of the 1st century BCE. After that they expanded to the Elbe (Labe) River and Adriatic Sea and down the Danube.
The Slavs under name of Venethi, the Antes and the Sklavens make their first appearance in Byzantine records in the early 6th century. Byzantine historiographers under Justinian I (527-565), such as Procopius of Caesarea, Jordanes and Theophylact Simocatta describe tribes emerging from the area of the Carpathian Mountains, the lower Danube and the Black Sea, invading the Danubian provinces of the Eastern Empire.
Jordanes mentions that the Venethi sub-divided into three groups: the Venethi, the Ants and the Sklavens (Sclovenes, Sklavinoi), collectively called Spores. The Byzantine term Sklavinoi was loaned as Saqaliba by medieval Arab historiographers.
Origins and Slavic homeland debate
The location of the speakers of pre-Proto-Slavic and Proto-Slavic is subject to considerable debate. Serious candidates are cultures on the territories of modern Belarus, Poland, European Russia and Ukraine. The proposed frameworks are:
- Lusatian culture hypothesis: The pre-Proto-Slavs were present in north-eastern Central Europe since at least the late 2nd millennium BC, and were the bearers of the Lusatian culture and later the Przeworsk culture (part of the Chernyakhov culture).
- Milograd culture hypothesis: The pre-Proto-Slavs (or Balto-Slavs) were the bearers of the Milograd culture
- Chernoles culture hypothesis: The pre-Proto-Slavs were the bearers of the Chernoles culture of northern Ukraine
The starting point in the autochtonic/allochtonic debate was the year 1745, when Johann Christoph de Jordan published De Originibus Slavicis. From the 19th century onwards, the debate became politically charged, particularly in connection with the history of the Partitions of Poland and German imperialism known as Drang nach Osten. The question as to whether Germanic or Slavic peoples were autochthonous on the land east of the Vistula river was used by factions to pursue their respective German and Polish political claims to governance of those lands.
Contemporary scholarship in general has moved away from the idea of monolithic nations and the Urheimat debates of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and its focus of interest is that of a process of ethnogenesis, regarding competing Urheimat scenarios as false dichotomies.
Scenarios of ethnogenesis
The Globular Amphora culture stretches from the middle Dniepr to the Elbe in the late 4th and early 3rd millennia BC. It has been suggested as the locus of a Germano-Balto-Slavic continuum (compare Germanic substrate hypothesis), but the identification of its bearers as Indo-Europeans is uncertain. The area of this culture contains typical for IE originators numerous tumuli.
The Chernoles culture (8th to 3rd c. BC, sometimes associated with the " Scythian farmers" of Herodotus) is "sometimes portrayed as either a state in the development of the Slavic languages or at least some form of late Indo-European ancestral to the evolution of the Slavic stock" The Milograd culture (700 BC - 100 AD), centered roughly on present day Belarus, north of the contemporaneous Chernoles culture, have also been proposed as ancestral to either Slavs or Balts.
The ethnic composition of the bearers of the Przeworsk culture (2nd c. BC to 4th c. AD, associated with the Lugii) of central and southern Poland, northern Slovakia and of Ukraine, including the Zarubintsy culture (2nd c. BC to 2nd c. AD, also connected with the Bastarnae tribe) and the Oksywie culture are other candidates.
The area of southern Ukraine is known to have been inhabited by Scythian and Sarmatian tribes prior to the foundation of the Gothic kingdom. Early Slavic stone stelae found in the middle Dniestr region are markedly different from the Scythian and Sarmatian stelae found in the Crimea.
The (Gothic) Wielbark Culture displaced the eastern Oksywie part of the Przeworsk culture from the 1st century AD. While the Chernyakhov culture (2nd to 5th c. AD, identified with the multi-ethnic kingdom established by the Goths immigrating from the Wielbark culture) leads to the decline of the late Sarmatian culture in the 2nd to 4th centuries, the western part of the Przeworsk culture remains intact until the 4th century, and the Kiev culture flourishes during the same time, in the 2nd-5th c. AD. This latter culture is recognized as the direct predecessor of the Prague-Korchak and Pen'kovo cultures (6th-7th c. AD), the first archaeological cultures the bearers of which are undisputedly identified as Slavic. Proto-Slavic is thus likely to have reached its final stage in the Kiev area; there is, however, substantial disagreement in the scientific community over the identity of the Kiev culture's predecessors, with some scholars tracing it from the Ruthenian Milograd culture, others from the "Ukrainian" Chernoles and Zarubintsy cultures and still others from the "Polish" Przeworsk culture. The Kiev culture was overrun by the Huns around 400 AD, which may have triggered the Proto-Slavic expansion to the historical locations of the Slavic languages.
Slavs in the historical period
According to allochtonic view: Slavs emerged from obscurity when the westward movement of Germans and Celts in the 5th and 6th centuries AD (necessitated by the onslaught of people from Siberia and Eastern Europe: Huns, Avars, Bulgars and Magyars) started the great migration of the Slavs, who settled the lands abandoned by Germanic tribes fleeing the Huns and their allies: westward into the country between the Oder and the Elbe- Saale line; southward into Bohemia, Moravia, much of present day Austria, the Pannonian plain and the Balkans; and northward along the upper Dnieper river.
Around the 6th century, Slavs appeared on Byzantine borders in great numbers. The Byzantine records note that after they marched through grass wouldn't regrow under their footprints. After a military movement even the Peloponnese and Asia Minor were reported to have Slavic settlements. This southern movement is commonly seen as an invasive expansion.
When their migratory movements ended, there appeared among the Slavs the first rudiments of state organizations, each headed by a prince with a treasury and a defense force. Moreover, it was the beginnings of class differentiation, with nobles who pledged allegiance to the Frankish and Holy Roman Emperors.
Karantania in today's Austria and Slovenia was one Slavic state; very old also are the Principality of Nitra and the Moravian principality (see under Great Moravia). In this period, there existed central Slavic groups and states such as the Balaton Principality, but the subsequent expansion of the Magyars, as well as the Germanisation of Austria, separated the northern and southern Slavs. The First Bulgarian Empire, whose non-Slavic authorities and affiliated population were dissimilated by the local Slavic population, was founded in AD 681.
In the early history of South Slavs, and continuing into the Dark Ages, non-Slavic groups were sometimes dissimilated by Slavic-speaking populations: the Bulgars became Slavicized and their Turkic tongue disappeared (some words survived, but became a part of the wider spoken language rather than being confined to the individuals who adopted the new identity). Many of the ancient Thracians in the central and eastern Balkans, some of them previously Romanized or Hellenized, became Slavicized since the 6th century.
In the western Balkans, the Slavs assimilated groups such as Greeks, Illyrians and Latin-speaking populace. Some also assimilated the Cumans, a Turkic tribe who would settle in Kumanovo (a town to which they would give their name). Today, Kumanovo as a town and municipality is an integral part of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and its Slavic-speaking population identify as Macedonians at a national level whilst maintaining the Slavicised term Kumanovci to reflect their regional identity.
Conversely, some Slavs were assimilated by other populations. The south Slavs who inhabited the Carpathian basin were Margyarised or Romanianised. Part of the substratum of modern-day Hungary and Romania was provided by Slavic peoples. Needless to say, Romania and Hungary are not Slavic countries. Similarly, the populations of Austria and the eastern parts of Germany to some degree comprised of people with Slavic ancestry who became Germanised.
In the 7th century, the Frankish merchant Samo, who supported the Slavs fighting their Avar rulers, became the ruler of the first known Slav state in Central Europe, which, however, most probably did not outlive its founder and ruler.
Because of the vastness and diversity of the territory occupied by Slavic people, there were several centers of Slavic consolidation. In the 19th century, Pan-Slavism developed as a movement among intellectuals, scholars, and poets, but it rarely influenced practical politics and didn't find support in all nations that had Slavic origins. Pan-Slavism became compromised when Russian Empire started to use it as an ideology justifying its territorial conquests in Central Europe as well as subjugation of other ethnic groups of Slavic origins such as Poles or Ukrainians, and the ideology became associated with Russian imperialism. The common Slavic experience of communism combined with the repeated usage of the ideology by Soviet propaganda after World War II within the Eastern bloc ( Warsaw Pact) was a forced high-level political and economic hegemony of the USSR dominated by Russians. A notable political union of the 20th century that covered many South Slavs was Yugoslavia, but it was broken apart as well.
The word Slavs is used in the national anthem of the two Yugoslavias. The national anthems are the same.
Slavic populations under foreign rule
In the course of their history, many Slavic-speaking communities came under foreign rule for longer or shorter periods. Poland underwent partition, German-speaking empires appeared to absorb the Czechs and Slovenians for many centuries, and the Ottomans in their hey-day dominated the Balkan Slavs. Even the East Slavs had to submit to the Tatar yoke after the Mongol invasion of Rus.
The Slavs living in Brandenburg and Pomerania were exterminated or dissimilated by Germans in the course of the Ostsiedlung; Turkish incursions suppressed the regional hegemonies of Bulgarian and Serbian speakers; Poland suffered decline, partition and extinction as a separate national state in the 18th century. Until the 20th century, certain speech-groups (such as speakers of Slovenian) lacked the resources to establish their own distinctive independent nation-states. Other communities (speakers of Sorbian or of Kashubian, for example) remain as minorities in the current system of nation-states.
Some speech-communities have long stood under the influence of others -- even other Slavs: speakers of Ukrainian and Belarusian came under Polish and/or Russian rule; German-speaking overlords have long dominated the Sorbian-speakers. In the case of West Slavic speakers, originally kindred languages diverged when the Poles, Czechs and Slovaks became parts of different countries (Poland, Bohemia, Kingdom of Hungary, respectively), Slovak becoming considerably influenced by Czech after 1400/1500. A political division (Austria, Kingdom of Hungary) also marks the now well-established border between the Slovenian and Croatian language areas, even if some bordering dialects of the two languages indicate an almost smooth transition.
Despite their frequent lack of political power, Slavs demonstrated resilience, sometimes culturally taking over foreign political rulers, as in Bulgaria, where originally Bulgar overlords became Slavicized. Similarly, in the Republic of Dubrovnik, the locally spoken Slavic language became an official language in parallel to Ragusan Dalmatian and Latin. Even under the Ottoman Empire, south-Eastern Europe, except for Greece proper and Albanian, Romanian and Hungarian areas, remained Slavic speaking. In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a Ruthenian dialect was the language of official documents.
Nazi Germany, whose proponents claimed a racial superiority for the Germanic people, particularly over Semitic and Slavic people, plotted an enslavement of the Slavic people, and the reduction of their numbers by killing the majority of the population. As a result, a large number of people considered by the Nazis to have Slavic origins were slain during World War II.
Religion and alphabet
Slavs gradually adopted Christianity between 6th and 10th century, and consequently the old Slavic religion was suppressed. The two main Christian denominations with Slavs are Eastern Orthodox and Greek or Roman Catholic, others are Sunni Muslim and a very small minority are Protestant. The delineations by nationality can be very sharp. In many Slavic ethnic groups the vast majority of religious people share the same religion, although many are atheist or agnostic; in the latter cases people still may traditionally associate themselves with a particular religion in a cultural and historical sense.
1. Those who are mainly Eastern Orthodox or/and Greek Catholic:
2. Those who are mainly Roman Catholic with small Protestant and Eastern Orthodox minorities:
3. Those who are mainly Muslim:
4. Those who are a religious mixture:
5. Those who are mainly atheist and Roman Catholic with Protestant minorities:
The Orthodox/Catholic religious divisions become further exacerbated by the use of the Cyrillic alphabet by the Orthodox and Greek Catholics and of the Roman alphabet by Roman Catholics. However, the Serbian language (including Montenegrin) can be written using both the Cyrillic and Roman alphabets . There is also a Latinic script to write in Belarusian, called the Lacinka alphabet. The Bosnian language has at times been written using the Arabic alphabet (mostly in Muslim documents), but it now uses the Roman (in Bosniak, Croat, and Serb areas) and Cyrillic alphabet (in Serb areas).
Slavs are customarily divided into three major subgroups: East Slavs, West Slavs, and South Slavs, each with a different and a diverse background based on unique history, religion and culture of particular Slavic group within them. The East Slavs may all be traced to Slavic-speaking populations that were loosely organized under the Kievan Rus' empire beginning in the 10th century A.D. Almost all of the South Slavs can be traced to ethnic Slavs who mixed with the local population of the Balkans ( Illyrians, Dacians and Getae) and with later invaders from the East ( Bulgars, Avars, and Alans), then fell under the hegemony of the Ottoman Empire. The West Slavs and Slovenians do not share either of these backgrounds, as they expanded to the West and integrated into the cultural sphere of Western (Roman Catholic) Christianity around this timeframe.
In addition there has been a tendency to consider the category of Northern Slavs. Presently this category is considered to be of East and West Slavs, in opposition to South Slavs, however in 19th century opinions about individual languages/ethnicities varied.
Please note that some of the following subdivisions remain highly debatable, particularly for smaller groups and national minorities.
- Lipovan Russians
- Lemko 4
- Poleszuks ²
- Rusyns ³
- Lemko 4
- Poleszuks ²
- Lechitic group
- Silesians 5
- Kashubians 5
- Polabians †
- Obotrites proper†
- Polabians proper†
- Veleti (Wilzi, later Liutici)†
- Kissini (Kessiner, Chizzinen, Kyzziner)†
- Circipani (Zirzipanen)†
- Ucri (Ukr(an)i, Ukranen)†
- Rani (Rujani)†
- Hevelli (Stodorani)†
- Volinians (Velunzani) †
- Pyritzans (Prissani) †
- Czech-Slovak group
- Moravians 6
- Pannonian Rusyns 1
- Sorbs (Serbo-Lusatians)
- Milceni (Upper Sorbs) †
- Lusatians (Lower Sorbs)
- Eastern (Bulgaro-Macedonian) group
- Pomaks ( Muslim Bulgarians)
- Palćene ( Banat Bulgarians)
- Bessarabian Bulgarians
- Anatolian Bulgarians†
- Macedonians (ethnic group)
- Torbesh ( Muslim Macedonians)
- Western group
- Carinthian Slovenes
- Hungarian Slovenes
- Janjevci (Catholic Slavs in Kosovo)
- Molise Croats (in eastern Italy)
- Krashovans (Croats in Romania)
- Burgenland Croats (in Austria)
- Bunjevci 10
- Šokci 10
- Gorani 11
- Muslims by nationality 12
- Yugoslavs (mostly in Serbia, Bosnia, few in Croatia) 13
1 Also considered part of Rusyns
² Considered transitional between Ukrainians and Belarusians
³ Also considered part of Ukrainians
4 A part of Lemkos identify themselves as Ukrainians and another part as Rusyns
5 Also considered part of Poles
6 Today, often considered part of Czechs, originally closer to Slovaks
7 Most Shopi self-declare as Bulgarians. Cognate with Torlaks.
8 Most Torlaks self-declare as Serbs. Cognate with Shopi.
9 Some opt Serb ethnicity, with a historical tradition, dating back to the Serb tribes that settled Montenegro many centuries ago. While others opt for Montenegrin ethnicity, also historically emphasized, but used ubiquitously along with Serb one. Some of the ethnic Montenegrins, mostly supporters of Montenegrin independence and adherents of Montenegrin Orthodox Church call their native language Montenegrin, considering it a separate language from Serbian.
10 Both occur widely in northeastern Croatia and also in northern Serbia; their Ikavian dialect is subequal as southern Croats in Hercegovina and Dalmatian mainland from where they once emigrated. Considered part of Croats by most of them, although recently (since Yugoslav disaster) some within Serbia consider themselves a separate peoples
11 These Gorani are Slavs in Kosovo; but not to be confound with other Gorani (or Gorinci) in the highlands of western Croatia (Gorski Kotar county).
12 A census category recognized as an ethnic group. Most Slavic Muslims now opt for Bosniak ethnicity, but some still use the "Muslim" designation.
13 This identity continues to be used by a minority throughout the former Yugoslav republics. The nationality is also declared by diasporans living in the USA and Canada. There are a multitude of reasons as to why people prefer this affiliation, some published on the article.
Note: Besides ethnic groups, Slavs often identify themselves with the local geographical region in which they live. Some of the major regional South Slavic groups include: Zagorci in northern Croatia, Istrani in westernmost Croatia, Dalmatinci in southern Croatia, Boduli in Adriatic islands, Slavonci in eastern Croatia, Bosanci in Bosnia, Hercegovci in southern Bosnia ( Herzegovina), Krajišnici in western Bosnia, Semberci in northeast Bosnia, Srbijanci in Serbia proper, Šumadinci in central Serbia, Vojvođani in northern Serbia, Sremci in Syrmia, Bačvani in northwest Vojvodina, Banaćani in Banat, Sandžaklije (Muslims in Serbia/Montenegro border), Kosovci in Kosovo, Crnogorci in Montenegro proper, Bokelji in southwest Montenegro, Trakiytci in Upper Thracian Lowlands, Dobrudzhantci in north-east Bulgarian region , Balkandzhiiin Central Balkan Mountains, Miziytci in north Bulgarian region, Pirinski Macedonci in Blagoevgrad Province, Rupchi in the Rhodopes, etc.
Another interesting note is that the very term Slavic itself was registered in the US census of 2000 by more than 127,000 residents.