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Names of the Serbs and Serbia

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Names of the Serbs and Serbia

The Serbs (Serbian: Срби/Srbi, pronounced ) have been referred to with several names by other peoples, although the autonym is and has always been Srbi.

Autonym (Serbs - Срби/Srbi)

The earliest found mention of the Serbs is from Einhard's Royal Frankish Annals, written in 822, when Ljudevit went from his seat at Sisak to the Serbs (believed to have been somewhere in western Bosnia),[1] with Einhard mentioning "the Serbs, who control the greater part of Dalmatia" (ad Sorabos, quae natio magnam Dalmatiae partem obtinere dicitur[2]).[1] De Administrando Imperio, written by Constantine VII in the mid-10th century, tells of the early history of the Serbs, whose polity he called "Serblia" (Σερβλία), and whose ruler he called "Prince of the Serbs" (ἄρχων Σερβλίας). He mentions White Serbia (or Boiki). Furthermore, he says that the town of Servia received its name from the Serbs who once lived there. [3]

According to the Tale of Bygone Years, the first Russian chronicle, Serbs are among the first five Slav peoples who were enumerated by their names.[4]

Al-Masudi (896–956) called them Sarabin.[5]


Etymological origin
  • Scholars have suggested that the Indo-European root *ser- 'to watch over, protect', akin to Latin servare 'to keep, guard, protect, preserve, observe' (applied in particular to herds and flocks of domesticated animals).
  • Sorbian scholar H. Schuster-Šewc suggested a connection with Proto-Slavic verb for "to slurp" *sьrb-, with cognates such as сербать (Russian, Ukrainian), сербаць (Belarusian), srbati (Slovak), сърбам(Bulgarian) and серебати (Old Russian).[6]
  • In some Caucasian languages, "Sur" means "man" (singular) with the suffix "-bi" becomes "men, people" (plural). In Armenian, Surb means "holy, saint".
Antique origin

Some scholars argue that the Serb ethnonym is antique.[7]

  • In De Bello Gothico Procopius (500-565) uses the name Sporoi as an umbrella term for the Slavic tribes of Antes and Sclaveni, it is however not known whether the Slavs used this designation for themselves or he himself coined the term, it has been theorized however that the name is corruption of the ethnonym Serbs. A large number of linguists agree that 'Sporoi' (Spores) is another name for the Serbs.[11]


"...Sorabos, quae natio magnam Dalmatiae partem obtinere dicitur..."
transl. "Serbs, who inhabit the greater part of Dalmatia"[12][13][14]


Rascia, Rascians

The state(s) anachronistically called Raška were first known collectively as Serbia.

The name Rascia (Serbian: Рашка; Raška) is sometimes used by modern historiography to refer to the mainland region (known in Serbian as the hinterlands, in contrast to the maritime fiefs of the Adriatic coast) of the Serbian Principality inhabited and ruled by Serbs; the seat of the early medieval state of Serbia. It is used to describe Serbia up to Stefan Nemanja (1166–1196) or the forming of the Kingdom of Serbia in 1217. "Rascia" continued to serve as an exonym for Serbia in West European sources since late 12th century, along with other names such as Servia and Slavonia.

The name is derived from the name of the region's most important fort, Ras which first appears in the work de aedificiis of Byzantine Procopius in its earlier form as Arsa (without liquid metathesis) prior to the forming of Serbia.[15] Ras eventually became the capital district and seat of the first bishopric of Serbia (871). In Constantine Porphyrogenitus' De Administrando Imperio, Ras is mentioned as an important town of Serbia (Σέρβια) under Časlav Klonimirović (927–960) near its border with the First Bulgarian Empire.

Constantine's Serbia is often identified as Raška by modern historiography to differentiate it from the other provinces ruled by the Serbs at the time: Zahumlje, Travunia, Duklja, Bosna and Pagania. Porphyrogenitus uses Serbia as a name for the mainland regions of Rascia; and Bosnia, although the name comes to denote "all of Serbian lands". Rascians was referring to the population of medieval Serb state Rascia (the one and same people as the other tribes of Duklja (Dukljans), Travunija (Travunians), Pagania (Neretvians/Paganians), Zahumlje (Zahumlians) that all belong to the Serb ethnos.

The name of the bishopric (Ras bishopric, Raška episkopija) eventually started to denote the entire area under jurisdiction and later, under Stefan Nemanja, Ras was re-generated as state capital and the name spread to the entire land. The first attested appearance of the name Raška is in a charter from Kotor dated to 1186, in which Stefan Nemanja is mentioned as župan of Rascia (Prince of Serbia). Soon after Rascia became one of the common names for Serbia in western sources (Papacy, German, Italian, French etc.) often in conjunction with, Serbia (Servia et Rascia). However, Rascia appears scarcely in Serbian and never in Byzantine works to denote the state.

Between the 15th and 18th centuries, the term Raška (Rascia, Ráczság) was used to designate the southern Pannonian Plain inhabited by Serbs (Raci), who settled there during the Great Serb migrations from medieval Serbia, "Rácz" has survived as a common surname in Hungary.

Other connections have been made with the Etruscan civilization (800 BC–264 BC, The Etruscans called themselves Rasenna, which was syncopated to Rasna or Raśna), the geographical name Ratiaria (founded 4th century BC, near Archar, in modern Bulgaria), and the personal names of Thracian kings Rhescuporis of Odrysia (Ραισκούπορις, r. 240 BC - 215 BC) and Rhescuporis of Sapaea (r. 48-41 BC. He also had a brother, Rascus).[16]


The Triballi (Greek: Τριβαλλοί, Bulgarian, Serbian: Трибали/Tribali) were an ancient Thracian tribe whose dominion was around the plains of southern modern Serbia[17][18] and west Bulgaria, at the Angrus and Brongus (the South and West Morava) and the Iskur River, roughly centered where Serbia and Bulgaria are joined.[18]

This Thracian tribe has etymologically been connected with the Serbs,[19][20] as many medieval Byzantine historians referred to the Serbs as the Triballians[21] (Serbian name for Triballians is "Srblji/Србљи", Thracians is rašani - the first Serbian state was Rascia, present-day Serbia). Trebinje, a present city of Herzegovina and historical Serbian principality (Travunija, sometimes rendered as Triballia) has also been connected with this tribe.

From the 11th century until the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Serbs were called Triballians in Byzantine works.[22][23][24][25][26] For example, in the works of historian Niketas Choniates (1155–1215), Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (1391–1425), it is explained that Triballians are synonymous with Serbs.

Other references in early medieval sources

The term Slavs was used for the Serbs by the West and East Roman Empire. Sclaveni was the term for Slavic allies settled in Byzantine lands, in the administrative regions of Sclaviniae.

  • 10th-century geographer Ibrahim ibn Yaqub placed the people of "Saqalib" in the mountainous regions of Central Balkans, west of the Bulgarians and east from the "other Slavs" (Croats), thus in the Serb lands. The Saqalib had the reputation of being "the most courageous and violent".[27]

In the Byzantine chronicle Alexiad, covering the 11th century (written 1148), Anna Komnene mentions the Serbs by the names Sklaveni and Dalmati (Δαλμάται, Dalmatai), with Dalmatia starting from Kosovo and Metohia.[28]

John Kinnamos, in his work covering 1118-1176, wrote: "the Serbs, a Dalmatic (Dalmatian) tribe" (Σέρβιοι, ε-8-νος Δαλματικών), thus using "Dalmat(ian)s" or "Dalmatic (Dalmatian) people" in the contexts of the Serbs, and "Dalmatia" in the context of Serbia. There are numerous other, less prominent, instances, poetic for example - Theodore Prodromus, Michael Italicus and the typikon of the Pantokrator monastery, among others. In a very similar manner, the Moesians and occasionally, Paeonians, was the term for the Bulgarians.


Vlachs, referring to pastoralists, was a common name for Serbs in the Ottoman Empire and later.[11] In Bosnia, Orthodox Christians were called "Vlachs", actually used as a synonym of "Serbs".[29] It was used as a derogatory term and a common name used to denote the Eastern Orthodox Christian Serbs in Roman Catholic and lesser in Ottoman lands.

Tihomir Đorđević points to the already mentioned fact that the name 'Vlach' didn't only refer to genuine Vlachs, but also to cattle breeders in general.[11] A letter of Emperor Ferdinand, sent on November 6, 1538, to Croatian ban Petar Keglević, in which he wrote "Captains and dukes of the Rasians, or the Serbs, or the Vlachs, who are commonly called the Serbs".[11] Serbs that took refuge in the Habsburg Krajina, were called "Vlachs" by Croats.[11] In the work "About the Vlachs" from 1806, Metropolitan Stevan Stratimirović states that Roman Catholics from Croatia and Slavonia scornfully used the name 'Vlach' for "the Slovenians (Slavs) and Serbs, who are of our, Eastern confession (Orthodoxy)", and that "the Turks in Bosnia and Serbia also call every Bosnian or Serbian Christian a Vlach (T. Đorđević, 1984:110). That the name 'Vlach' used to signify the Serbs is testified by Vuk Karadžić in many proverbs recorded by him.[11] It may have originated from Stari Vlah, from where refugees arrived in what was then the Holy Roman Empire.[30]


In the Austrian Empire, the term Illyrians was used for the Serbs in the Rescriptum Declaratorium Illyricae Nationis from 1779, declared by Maria Theresa, which officially established the position of Serbs and Serbian Orthodox Church in the Empire.


Because of a confusion of ethnicity/nationality with religious affiliation, many authors from historic times referred to and recorded Serbs by the following names:



Male given names

Srba, Srbislav, Srbivoje, Srbko, Srboje, Srbomir, Srborad, Srbomil, Srboljub, Srbobran.

Female given names

Srbijanka, Srbinka, and others.


Srbinac, Srbinić, Srbinov, Srbinovac, Srbinović, Srbinovski, Srbić, Srbović, Srbljanović, Srbljanin, Srbljak, Srpčić, Serban, and others.


Connected to Serbs

West Slavic

Connected to Raška, Raci


Renderings in other languages

Historical renderings in other languages:

  • Servii, Latin rendering.[31]
    • Serviani/Servians, medieval French and English rendering of the Serbs.

Modern renderings in other languages:

  • Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, Macedonian, Serbian, Slovak and Slovene: Srbi (Срби)

See also


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^
  3. ^ Moravcsik 1967, p. 153, 155
  4. ^ Povest vremennih let (Moscow, Leningrad: Akademiya nauk SSSR, 1990), pp. 11, 207.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Ćirković (2004), p. 13, xii
  8. ^ , p. 14; The Croats and Serbs were probably originally Iranians. At least linguists have concluded that both their tribal names as well as the preserved names of their leaders were Iranian.
  9. ^ , pp. 404-406
  10. ^ Howorth (1878), pp. 66-68
  11. ^ a b c d e f Elements of Ethnic Identification of the Serbs. By Danijela Gavrilović. Facta Universitatis. Series: Philosophy, Sociology and Psychology Vol. 2, n° 10, 2003, pp. 717 - 730.
  12. ^ p. 35
  13. ^ Serbian studies, Volumes 2–3, p. 29
  14. ^ Eginhartus de vita et gestis Caroli Magni, p. 192: footnote J10
  15. ^ Procopius, De aedificiis, IV 4
  16. ^ (Appianus, De bell. civ. Lib. IV. 87)
  17. ^ Papazoglu 1978, 58-61
  18. ^ a b George Grote: History of Greece: I. Legendary Greece. II. Grecian history to the reign of Peisistratus at Athens, Vol 12, 1856 "...from the plain of Kossovo in modern Servia northward towards the Danube..."
  19. ^ The letters of Manuel II Palaeologus
  20. ^
  21. ^ The development of the Komnenian army: 1081-1180
  22. ^ JSTOR: The English Historical Review, Vol. 53, No. 209 (Jan., 1938), pp. 129-131
  23. ^ Mehmed II the Conqueror and the fall of the Franco-Byzantine Levant to the Ottoman Turks Page 65, 77: "Triballians = Serbs"
  24. ^ The letters of Manuel II Palaeologus Page 48: "The Triballians are the Serbs"
  25. ^ The Journal of Hellenic studies Page 48: "Byzantine historians [...] calling [...] Serbs Triballians"
  26. ^ Studies in late Byzantine history and prosopography Page 228: "Serbs (were) Triballians"
  27. ^ Islam in the Balkans: religion and society between Europe and the Arab world, by H. T. Norris
  28. ^ Anne Comnene, Alexiade (Regne de L'Empereur Alexis I Comnene 1081-1118) II, pp. l57:3-l6; 1.66: 25-169. Texte etabli er traduit par B. Leib t. I-III (Paris, 1937-1945).
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ p. 608


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