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Title: Slavs  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: 600s (decade), Russians, History of Slovakia, 610s, Ethnic groups in Europe
Collection: Ethnic Groups in Asia, Ethnic Groups in Europe, Slavic, Slavic Ethnic Groups
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Total population
350 million
Regions with significant populations
Russians 150,000,000[1][2][3][4]
Poles 57,393,000[5]
Ukrainians 57,000,000[6][7]
Serbs 15,000,000[8]
Czechs 11,000,000[9]
Bulgarians 10,000,000[10][11]
Belarusians 10,000,000[12][13][14]
Croats 8,000,000[15][16][17]
Slovaks 5,401,000[18]
Bosniaks 4,000,000
Slovenes 2,500,000[19]
Macedonians 2,200,000[20]
Montenegrins 750,000

Slavs without a state:
Rusyns 1,200,000[21]
Moravians 631,000[22]
Kashubians 233,000[23]
Sorbs 65,000[24][25]
Lemkos 11,000[26]
Yugoslavs 415,000[27]
Czechoslovaks 341,000[28]
Slavs 143,000[29]
Kociewiacy 3,000[30]
Gorals 3,000[31]
Greaterpoles 2,000[32]
Slavic languages
(West, East, South)
Minority Atheism and Islam (mostly Sunni)
Related ethnic groups

The Slavs are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group living in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Southeast Europe, North Asia and Central Asia, who speak the Indo-European Slavic languages, and share, to varying degrees, certain cultural traits and historical backgrounds. From the early 6th century they spread to inhabit most of Central and Eastern Europe and Southeast Europe.[33] Slavic groups also ventured as far as Scandinavia, constituting elements amongst the Vikings;[34][35] while at the other geographic extreme, Slavic mercenaries fighting for the Byzantines and Arabs settled Asia Minor and even as far as Syria.[36] Later, East Slavs (specifically, Russians and Ukrainians) colonized Siberia[37] and Central Asia.[38] Every Slavic ethnicity has emigrated to other parts of the world.[39][40] Over half of Europe's territory is inhabited by Slavic-speaking communities.[41]

Modern nations and ethnic groups called by the ethnonym Slavs are considerably diverse both genetically and culturally, and relations between them – even within the individual ethnic groups themselves – are varied, ranging from a sense of connection to mutual feelings of hostility.[42]

Present-day Slavic people are classified into West Slavic (chiefly Poles, Czechs and Slovaks), East Slavic (chiefly Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians), and South Slavic (chiefly Bosniaks, Serbs, Croats, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Montenegrins, and Slovenes).[43] For a more comprehensive list, see the ethnocultural subdivisions.


  • Ethnonym 1
  • History 2
    • Discourse on the early Slavs 2.1
    • Origins 2.2
      • Homeland debate 2.2.1
        • Research history
      • Earliest accounts 2.2.2
      • Scenarios of ethnogenesis 2.2.3
      • Genetics 2.2.4
    • Migrations 2.3
    • Early Slavic states 2.4
    • Assimilation 2.5
    • Modern history 2.6
    • Pan-Slavism 2.7
  • Culture 3
    • Language 3.1
      • Proto-Slavic language 3.1.1
      • Alphabet 3.1.2
    • Religion 3.2
    • Ethnocultural subdivisions 3.3
      • West Slavs 3.3.1
        • Czech-Slovak group
        • Lechitic group
      • East Slavs 3.3.2
      • South Slavs 3.3.3
        • Eastern group
        • Western group
    • Notes to list of ethnocultural divisions 3.4
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


European countries where a Slavic language is the official one on the entire territory

The Slavic autonym is reconstructed in Proto-Slavic as Slověninъ. The oldest documents written in Old Church Slavonic and dating from the 9th century attest Словѣне Slověne to describe the Slavs. Other early Slavic attestations include Old East Slavic Словѣнѣ Slověně for "an East Slavic group near Novgorod." However, the earliest written references to the Slavs under this name are in other languages. In the 6th century AD Procopius, writing in Byzantine Greek, refers to the Σκλάβοι Sklaboi, Σκλαβηνοί Sklabēnoi, Σκλαυηνοί Sklauenoi, Σθλαβηνοί Sthlauenoi, or Σκλαβῖνοι Sklabinoi,[44] while his contemporary Jordanes refers to the Sclaveni in Latin.[45]

The Slavic autonym Slověninъ is usually considered a derivation from slovo "word", originally denoting "people who speak (the same language)," i.e. people who understand each other, in contrast to the Slavic word denoting "foreign people" – němci, meaning "mumbling, murmuring people" (from Slavic němъ – "mumbling, mute"). The latter word may be the derivation of words to denote German/Germanic people in many later Slavic languages: e.g., Czech Němec, Slovak Nemec, Slovene Nemec, Belarusian, Russian and Bulgarian Немец, Serbian Немац, Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian Nijemac, Polish Niemiec, Ukrainian Німець, etc.,[46] but another theory states that rather these words are derived from the name of the Nemetes tribe,[47][48] which is derived from the Celtic root nemeto-.[49][50]

The English word Slav could be derived from the Middle English word sclave, which was borrowed from Medieval Latin sclavus or slavus,[51] itself a borrowing and Byzantine Greek σκλάβος sklábos "slave," which was in turn apparently derived from a misunderstanding of the Slavic autonym (denoting a speaker of their own languages). The Byzantine term Sklavinoi was loaned into Arabic as Saqaliba صقالبة (sing. Saqlabi صقلبي) by medieval Arab historiographers. However, the origin of this word is disputed.[52][53]

Alternative proposals for the etymology of Slověninъ propounded by some scholars have much less support. B.P. Lozinski argues that the word slava once had the meaning of worshipper, in this context meaning "practicer of a common Slavic religion," and from that evolved into an ethnonym.[54] S.B. Bernstein speculates that it derives from a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European *(s)lawos, cognate to Ancient Greek λαός laós "population, people," which itself has no commonly accepted etymology.[55] Meanwhile others have pointed out that the suffix -enin indicates a man from a certain place, which in this case should be a place called Slova or Slava, possibly a river name. The Old East Slavic Slavuta for the Dnieper River was argued by Henrich Bartek (1907–1986) to be derived from slova and also the origin of Slovene.[56]

Last scientific opinions about the earliest mentions of Slavic raids across the lower River Danube show that they may be dated to the first half of the 6th century, yet no archaeological evidence of a Slavic settlement in the Balkans could be securely dated before c. 600 AD.[57][58][59]


Discourse on the early Slavs

Slavs c. 650 AD
Slavic tribes from the 7th to 9th centuries in Europe

The meaning of the term Slav depends upon the context in which it is used. This term refers to a culture (or cultures) living north of the Florin Curta, and Michael Karpovich have called into question how, why, and to what degree the Slavs were cohesive as a society between the 6th and 9th centuries.[63] When discussing the evidence that specialists use to construct a plausible history of the Slavs, the information tends to fall into three avenues of research: the archeological, the historiographic, and the linguistic.

Archaeologically, myriad physical evidence from that time period pertains to the Slavs. This evidence ranges from hill forts, to ceramic pots and fragments, to abodes. However, there are three major problems in studying the spread of early Slavic groups by purely archaeological methods. Archaeologists face difficulties in distinguishing which finds are truly Slavic and which are not.[64] In addition, many of these findings are either inaccurately carbon-dated or so isolated that they do not reflect organized Slavic settlement.[65] The combination of these facts makes it difficult to create a reliable chronology of ceramic materials, hill forts, houses, brooches, and other small artifacts. As a result, using archaeological finds without other forms of evidence is not wholly reliable for historical debates about this group.[66] The lack of grave sites also diminishes archaeologists' abilities to assess how the Slavs changed as a people, both in terms of their social behavior and their migratory patterns. Consequently, discerning where in northern Europe Slavic groups lived during the 6th to 9th centuries represents a challenge. The cumulative effects of these difficulties prevents the construction of a thorough history of Slavic development in Northern Europe during this period through archaeological evidence alone.

Old Slavs serving their gods

Historiographically, a number of sources describe the Slavs. However there are several problems using these texts to build upon the available knowledge of the early Slavs, even when used in a multidisciplinary fashion. The useful historical information about the Slavs from these texts is either cryptic or lacks any mention of their sources.[67] Moreover, these works tend to discuss the Slavs only in terms of their effects on surrounding empires, particularly the Byzantines and the Franks. The variety of names from historiographic texts that refer to the Slavs, such as the Antes, Sclaveni and Venethi, in addition to the locales and regions which they at one point or another occupied, makes it laborious to establish a geographical boundary for major Slavic settlement. This is a troublesome task when the names of these places have not always remained the same or even survived. Most importantly, the majority of the texts utilized to describe the Slavs during this period are either second-hand accounts or describe an encounter with these groups years, decades, or centuries after it occurred. While earlier texts contextualize the Slavs' early history and later development, texts written about an event long after it had occurred make the relevant information less reliable. Unfortunately, neither earlier nor later texts directly aid understanding of the Slavs during the 6th to 9th centuries.

Statue of Radegast, an old god of Slavic mythology

Linguistically, the pursuit of a Slavic history is also problematic. This pursuit has focused on three main areas of study: Slavic geographical names, names of flora and fauna, and "lexical and structural similarities and differences between Slavic and other languages.[68] " The use of ethnic identifiers in written texts during and after the 500s, such as the description of the Slavs as Antes, Sclaveni, and Venethi by their immediate neighbors, produces problems. Moreover, the concept of ethnicity during this period was so fluid that different ethnicities would be ascribed to the same group depending upon the situation of the encounter, such as in Michal Parczewski's map. This map, a conglomeration of different written fragments about the Slavs' homeland, selectively draws upon these fragments. In order to validate his preconceived theories about Slavic migration, Parczewski omitted information from his sources which directly contradicted his conclusions, thus making the map of Slavic settlement in relation to their neighbors during the 6th century extremely suspect.[69] Moreover, the association of particular styles of pots and burials with specific ethnonyms by archaeologists, and extremely selective use of historiographic materials, presumes a direct connection between language and ethnicity. These facts reinforce how subjective ethnic identification can be, especially in a region where many tribal groups existed and identified themselves as distinct from one another.[70]

The history of the early Slavs is inseparable from the political agenda behind much 19th- and 20th-century archaeological, linguistic, and historiographic research. Florin Curta, an expert on the history of the early Slavs, contends that the process of creating such a history "was a function of both ethnic formation and ethnic identification".[71] However, this process became extremely blurred by a myriad of interests. These agendas ranged from Pan-Slavic researchers in Central and Eastern Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries,[72] to post-World War Two European nations strengthening their newfound legitimacy,[73] to contemporary politicization of historical, archaeological, and linguistic discourse.[74]


Homeland debate

The location of the Slavic homeland has been the subject of significant debate. The Prague-Penkov-Kolochin complex of cultures of the 6th to 7th centuries AD are generally accepted to reflect the expansion of Slavic-speakers at that time.[75] Serious candidates for the core from which they expanded are cultures within the territories of modern Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine. The proposed frameworks are:

Slavic peoples in 6th century
Slavs in their Original Homeland, by Alphonse Mucha
Historical distribution of the Slavic languages. The larger shaded area is the Prague-Penkov-Kolochin complex of cultures of the 6th to 7th centuries, likely corresponding to the spread of Slavic-speaking tribes of the time. The smaller shaded area indicates the core area of Slavic river names (after Mallory & Adams (1997:524ff)).
European territory inhabited by East Slavic tribes in 8th and 9th centuries
  1. Milograd culture hypothesis: The pre-Proto-Slavs (or Balto-Slavs) were the bearers of the Milograd culture (7th century BC to 1st century AD) of northern Ukraine and southern Belarus.
  2. Chernoles culture hypothesis: The pre-Proto-Slavs were the bearers of the Chernoles culture (750–200 BC) of northern Ukraine, and later the Zarubintsy culture (3rd century BC to 1st century AD).
  3. Lusatian culture hypothesis: The pre-Proto-Slavs were present in north-eastern Central Europe since at least the late 2nd millennium BCE, and were the bearers of the Lusatian culture (1300–500 BC), and later the Przeworsk culture (2nd century BC to 4th century AD).
  4. Danube basin hypothesis: postulated by Oleg Trubachyov;[76] sustained at present by Florin Curta,[77] also supported by an early Medieval Slavic narrative source – Nestor's Chronicle
Research history

The starting point in the autochthonous/allochthonous debate was the year 1745, when Johann Christoph de Jordan published De Originibus Slavicis. The works of Slovak philologist and poet Pavel Jozef Šafárik (1795–1861) has influenced generations of scholars. The foundation of his theory was the work of Jordanes, Getica. Jordanes had equated the Sclavenes and the Antes to the Venethi (or Venedi) also known from much earlier sources, such as Pliny the Elder, Tacitus and Ptolemy.

Pavel Jozef Šafárik bequeathed to posterity not only his vision of a Slavic history, but also a powerful methodology for exploring its Dark Ages: language.[77]

The Polish scholar Tadeusz Wojciechowski (1839–1919) was the first to use place names to write Slavic history. He was followed by A. L. Pogodin and the Polish botanist, J. Rostafinski.

The first to introduce archaeological data into the scholarly discourse about the early Slavs, Lubor Niederle (1865–1944), endorsed Rostafinski's theory in his multi-volume work The Antiquities of the Slavs. Vykentyi V.Khvoika (1850–1914), a Ukrainian archaeologist of Czech origin, linked the Slavs with Neolithic Cucuteni culture. A. A. Spicyn (1858–1931) assigned to the Antes the finds of silver and bronze in central and southern Ukraine. Czech archaeologist Ivan Borkovsky (1897–1976) postulated the existence of a pottery "Prague type" which was a national, exclusively Slavic, pottery. Boris Rybakov, has issued a theory that made a link between both Spicyn's "Antian antiquities" and the remains excavated by Khvoika from Chernyakhov culture and that those should be attributed to the Slavs.[77]

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 whether Germanic or Slavic peoples were indigenous on the land east of the River Oder was used by factions to pursue their respective German and Polish political claims to governance of those lands.

Geneticists entered the debate in the 21st century. See the Genetics section below.

Earliest accounts

The relationship between the Slavs and a tribe called the Veneti east of the River Vistula in the Roman period is uncertain. The name may refer both to Balts and Slavs.

The Slavs under name of the Antes and the Sclaveni 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 of these names emerging from the area of the Carpathian Mountains, the lower Danube and the Black Sea, invading the Danubian provinces of the Eastern Empire.

Procopius wrote in 545 that "the Sclaveni and the Antae actually had a single name in the remote past; for they were both called Spori in olden times." He describes their social structure and beliefs:

For these nations, the Sclaveni and the Antae, are not ruled by one man, but they have lived from of old under a democracy, and consequently everything which involves their welfare, whether for good or for ill, is referred to the people. It is also true that in all other matters, practically speaking, these two barbarian peoples have had from ancient times the same institutions and customs. For they believe that one god, the maker of lightning, is alone lord of all things, and they sacrifice to him cattle and all other victims.

He mentions that they were tall and hardy:

"They live in pitiful hovels which they set up far apart from one another, but, as a general thing, every man is constantly changing his place of abode. When they enter battle, the majority of them go against their enemy on foot carrying little shields and javelins in their hands, but they never wear corselets. Indeed, some of them do not wear even a shirt or a cloak, but gathering their trews up as far as to their private parts they enter into battle with their opponents. And both the two peoples have also the same language, an utterly barbarous tongue. Nay further, they do not differ at all from one another in appearance. For they are all exceptionally tall and stalwart men, while their bodies and hair are neither very fair or blond, nor indeed do they incline entirely to the dark type, but they are all slightly ruddy in color. And they live a hard life, giving no heed to bodily comforts ...".[78]

Jordanes tells us that the Sclaveni had swamps and forests for their cities.[79] Another 6th-century source refers to them living among nearly impenetrable forests, rivers, lakes, and marshes.[80]

Menander Protector mentions a Daurentius (577–579) that slew an Avar envoy of Khagan Bayan I. The Avars asked the Slavs to accept the suzerainty of the Avars, he however declined and is reported as saying: "Others do not conquer our land, we conquer theirs ... so it shall always be for us".[81]

Scenarios of ethnogenesis

Areas of Slavic 'homeland', according to Mallory

The Globular Amphora culture stretches from the middle Dnieper to the Elbe in the late 4th and early 3rd millennia BCE. 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 numerous tumuli – typical for IE originators.

The Chernoles culture (8th to 3rd centuries 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."[82] The Milograd culture (700 BCE – 100 CE), centered roughly on present-day Belarus, north of the contemporaneous Chernoles culture, has also been proposed as ancestral to either Slavs or Balts.

The ethnic composition of the bearers of the Przeworsk culture (2nd century BC to the 4th century AD, associated with the Lugii) of central and southern Poland, northern Slovakia and Ukraine, including the Zarubintsy culture (2nd century BCE to the 2nd century CE, 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 Dniester region are markedly different from the Scythian and Sarmatian stelae found in the Crimea.

Living of East Slavs, by Sergey Ivanov

The Wielbark Culture displaced the eastern Oksywie part of the Przeworsk culture from the 1st century AD. While the Chernyakhov culture; 2nd to 5th centuries CE 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 to 5th centuries AD. This latter culture is recognized as the direct predecessor of the Prague-Korchak and Pen'kovo cultures (6th–7th centuries AD), the first archaeological cultures the bearers of which are indisputably 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.


Haplogroup R1a Distribution

The modern Slavic peoples carry a variety of Mitochondrial DNA haplogroups and Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups. Yet two paternal haplogroups predominate: R1a1a [M17] and I2a2a [L69.2=T/S163.2]. The frequency of Haplogroup R1a ranges from 63.39% in the Sorbs, through 56.4% in Poland, 54% in Ukraine, 52% in Russia, Belarus, to 15.2% in Republic of Macedonia, 14.7% in Bulgaria and 12.1% in Herzegovina.[83] The correlation between R1a1a [M17] and the speakers of Indo-European languages, particularly those of Eastern Europe (Russian) and Central and Southern Asia, was noticed in the late 1990s. From this Spencer Wells and colleagues, following the Kurgan hypothesis, deduced that R1a1a arose on the Pontic-Caspian steppe.[84]

Specific studies of Slavic genetics followed. In 2007 Rębała and colleagues studied several Slavic populations with the aim of localizing the Proto-Slavic homeland.[85] The significant findings of this study are that:

  1. Two genetically distant groups of Slavic populations were revealed: One encompassing all Western-Slavic, Eastern-Slavic, and few Southern-Slavic populations (north-western Croats and Slovenes), and one encompassing all remaining Southern Slavs. According to the authors most Slavic populations have similar Y chromosome pools — R1a. They speculate that this similarity can be traced to an origin in the middle Dnieper basin of Ukraine during the Late Glacial Maximum 15 kya.[86]
  2. However, Southern-Slavic populations including the Bosnians, Croats (excluding north-western Croatia), Serbs, Bulgarians and Macedonians are clearly separated from the tight DNA cluster of the rest of the 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 ..."[86]

Marcin Woźniak and colleagues (2010) searched for specifically Slavic sub-group of R1a1a [M17]. Working with haplotypes, they found a pattern among Western Slavs which turned out to correspond to a newly discovered marker, M458, which defines subclade R1a1a7. This marker correlates remarkably well with the distribution of Slavic-speakers today. The team led by Peter Underhill, which discovered M458, did not consider the possibility that this was a Slavic marker, since they used the "evolutionary effective" mutation rate, which gave a date far too old to be Slavic. Woźniak and colleagues pointed out that the pedigree mutation rate, giving a later date, is more consistent with the archaeological record.[87]

Pomors are distinguished by the presence of Y Haplogroup N among them. Postulated to originate from southeast Asia, it is found at high rates in Uralic peoples. Its presence in Pomors (called "Northern Russians" in the report) attests to the non-Slavic tribes (mixing with Finnic tribes of northern Eurasia).[88] Autosomally, Russians are generally similar to populations in central-eastern Europe but some northern Russians are intermediate to Finno-Ugric groups.[89]

On the other hand I2a1b1 (P41.2) is typical of the South Slavic populations, being highest in Bosnia-Herzegovina (>50%).[90] Haplogroup I2a2 is also commonly found in north-eastern Italians.[91] There is also a high concentration of I2a2a in the Moldavian region of Romania, Moldova and western Ukraine. According to original studies, Hg I2a2 was believed to have arisen in the west Balkans sometime after the LGM, subsequently spreading from the Balkans through Central Russian Plain. Recently, Ken Nordtvedt has split I2a2 into two clades – N (northern) and S (southern), in relation where they arose compared to Danube river.[92] He proposes that N is slightly older than S. He recalculated the age of I2a2 to be ~ 2550 years and proposed that the current distribution is explained by a Slavic expansion from the area north-east of the Carpathians.

In 2008, biochemist Boris Abramovich Malyarchuk (Russian: Борис Абрамович Малярчук) et al. of the Institute of Biological Problems of the North, Russian Academy of Sciences, Magadan, Russia, used a sample (n=279) of Czech individuals to determine the frequency of "Mongoloid" "mtDNA lineages".[93] Malyarchuk found Czech mtDNA lineages were typical of "Slavic populations" with "1.8%" Mongoloid mtDNA lineage.[93] Malyarchuk added that "Slavic populations" "almost always" contain Mongoloid mtDNA lineage.[93] Malyarchuk said the Mongoloid component of Slavic people was partially added before the split of "Balto-Slavics" in 2,000–3,000 BC with additional Mongoloid mixture occurring among Slavics in the last 4,000 years.[93] Malyarchuk said the "Russian population" was developed by the "assimilation of the indigenous pre-Slavic population of Eastern Europe by true Slavs" with additional "assimilation of Finno-Ugric populations" and "long-lasting" interactions with the populations of "Siberia" and "Central Asia".[93] Malyarchuk said that other Slavs "Mongoloid component" was increased during the waves of migration from "steppe populations (Huns, Avars, Bulgars and Mongols)", especially the decay of the "Avar Khaganate".[93]

DNA samples from 1228 Russians show that the Y chromosomes analyzed, all except 20 (1.6%) fall into seven major haplogroups all characteristic to West Eurasian populations. Taken together, they account for 95% of the total Russian Y chromosomal pool. Only (0.7%) fell into haplogroups that are specific to East and South Asian populations.[94] Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) examined in Poles and Russians revealed the presence of all major European haplogroups, which were characterized by similar patterns of distribution in Poles and Russians. An analysis of the DNA did not reveal any specific combinations of unique mtDNA haplotypes and their subclusters. The DNA clearly shows that both Poles and Russians are not different from the neighbouring European populations.[95]


According to eastern homeland theory, prior to becoming known to the Roman world, Slavic-speaking tribes were part of the many multi-ethnic confederacies of Eurasia – such as the Sarmatian, Hun and Gothic empires.[96] The Slavs emerged from obscurity when the westward movement of Germans in the 5th and 6th centuries CE (thought to be in conjunction with the movement of peoples from Siberia and Eastern Europe: Huns, and later Avars and Bulgars) 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. Perhaps some Slavs migrated with the movement of the Vandals to Iberia and north Africa.[97]

Around the 6th century, Slavs appeared on Byzantine borders in great numbers.[98] The Byzantine records note that grass would not regrow in places where the Slavs had marched through, so great were their numbers. After a military movement even the Peloponnese and Asia Minor were reported to have Slavic settlements.[99] This southern movement has traditionally been seen as an invasive expansion.[100] By the end of the 6th century, Slavs had settled the Eastern Alps region.

Early Slavic states

Adalbert of Prague liberates Slavic slaves from the slave traders, relief of Gniezno Doors

When their migratory movements ended, there appeared among the Slavs the first rudiments of Frankish/ Holy Roman Emperors or the Byzantine Emperors.

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. This provided the foundation for subsequent Slavic states to arise on the former territory of this realm with Carantania being the oldest of them. 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 was founded in 681, the Slavic language Old Bulgarian became the main and official of the empire in 864. Bulgaria was instrumental in the spread of Slavic literacy and Christianity to the rest of the Slavic world.


West Slav tribes in 9th/10th century
Primary source about history of Polabian SlavsChronica Slavorum of Helmold from the 12th century translated into Polish by Jan Papłoński in 1862.

Throughout their history, Slavs came into contact with non-Slavic groups. In the postulated homeland region (present-day Northern Ukraine), they had contacts with the Iranic Sarmatians and the Germanic Goths. After their subsequent spread, they began assimilating non-Slavic peoples. For example, in the Balkans, there were Paleo-Balkan peoples, such as Illyrians, Greeks and romanized (North of the Jireček Line) or hellenized (South of the Jirecek-line) Thracians . Over time, due to the larger number of Slavs, most descendants of the indigenous populations of the Balkans were Slavicized. The Thracians and Illyrians vanished from the population during this period – although the modern Albanian nation claims to be the descendent of the Illyrian race. Exceptions are Greece, where the smaller number Slavs scattered there came to be Hellenized (aided in time by more Greeks returning to Greece in the 9th century and the role of the church and administration)[101] and Romania where Slavic people settled en route for present-day Greece, Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria and East Thrace whereby the Slavic population had come to assimilate. Bulgars were also assimilated by local Slavs but their ruling status and subsequent land cast the nominal legacy of Bulgarian country and people onto all future generations. The Romance speakers within the fortified Dalmatian cities managed to retain their culture and language for a long time,[102] as Dalmatian Romance was spoken until the high Middle Ages. However, they too were eventually assimilated into the body of Slavs.

In the western Balkans, south Slavs and Germanic Gepids intermarried with Avar invaders, eventually producing a Slavicized population. In central Europe, the Slavs intermixed with Germanic and Celtic, while the eastern Slavs encountered Uralic and Scandinavian peoples. Scandinavians (Varangians) and Finnic peoples were involved in the early formation of the Rus state but were completely Slavicized after a century. Some Finno-Ugric tribes in the north were also absorbed into the expanding Rus population.[88] At the time of the Magyar migration, the present-day Hungary was inhabited by Slavs, numbering about 200,000,[103] and by Romano-Dacians who were either assimilated or enslaved by the Magyars.[103] In the 11th and 12th centuries, constant incursions by nomadic Turkic tribes, such as the Kipchaks and the Pechenegs, caused a massive migration of East Slavic populations to the safer, heavily forested regions of the north.[104] In the Middle Ages, groups of Saxon ore miners settled in medieval Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria where they were Slavicized.

The Limes Saxoniae forming the border between the Saxons to the west and the Obotrites to the east

Polabian Slavs (Wends) settled in parts of England (Danelaw), apparently as Danish allies.[105] Polabian-Pomeranian Slavs are also known to have even settled on Norse age Iceland. Saqaliba refers to the Slavic mercenaries and slaves in the medieval Arab world in North Africa, Sicily and Al-Andalus. Saqaliba served as caliph's guards.[106][107] In the 12th century, there was intensification of Slavic piracy. The Wendish Crusade was started against the Polabian Slavs in 1147, as a part of the Northern Crusades. Niklot, pagan chief of the Slavic Obodrites, began his open resistance when Lothar III, Holy Roman Emperor, invaded Slavic lands. In August 1160 Niklot was killed and German colonization (Ostsiedlung) of the Elbe-Oder region began. In Hanoverian Wendland, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Lusatia invaders started germanization. Early forms of germanization were described by German monks: Helmold in the manuscript Chronicon Slavorum and Adam of Bremen in Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum.[108] The Polabian language survived until the beginning of the 19th century in what is now the German state of Lower Saxony.[109]

Cossacks, although Slavic-speaking and Orthodox Christians, came from a mix of ethnic backgrounds, including Tatars and other Turks. Many early members of the Terek Cossacks were Ossetians.

The Gorals of southern Poland and northern Slovakia are partially descended from Romance-speaking Vlachs who migrated into the region from the 14th to 17th centuries and were absorbed into the local population. The population of Moravian Wallachia also descend of this population.

Conversely, some Slavs were assimilated into other populations. Although the majority continued south, attracted by the riches of the territory which would become Bulgaria, a few remained in the Carpathian basin and were ultimately assimilated into the Magyar or Romanian population. There is a large number of river names and other placenames of Slavic origin in Romania.[110] Similarly, the populations of the respective southern and eastern parts of Austria and eastern parts of Germany are to some degree made up of people with Slavic ancestry.

Modern history

The Slavs (green) in Southeastern Europe (1869)
Ethno-linguistic map of Austria–Hungary and surroundings, 1880

As of 1878, there were only three free Slavic states in the world: the Allied countries to gain sympathy and recognition.[111] In 1918, after World War I ended, the Slavs established such independent states as Czechoslovakia, the Second Polish Republic, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

Ethnic map of European Russia (1898)

During World War II, Hitler's Generalplan Ost (general plan for the East) entailed killing, deporting, or enslaving the Slavic and Jewish population of occupied Eastern Europe to create Lebensraum (living space) for German settlers.[112] The Nazi Hunger Plan and Generalplan Ost would have led to the starvation of 80 million people in the Soviet Union.[113] These partially fulfilled plans resulted in the deaths of an estimated 19.3 million civilians and prisoners of war.[114]

The first half of the 20th century in Russia and the Soviet Union was marked by a succession of wars, famines and other disasters, each accompanied by large-scale population losses.[115] Stephen J. Lee estimates that, by the end of World War II in 1945, the Russian population was about 90 million fewer than it could have been otherwise.[116]

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 did not find support in some nations that had Slavic origins. Pan-Slavism became compromised when the 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 and 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 most South Slavs was Yugoslavia, but it ultimately broke apart in the 1990s along with the Soviet Union.

The word "Slavs" was used in the national anthem of the Slovak Republic (1939–1945), Yugoslavia (1943–1992) and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1992–2003), later Serbia and Montenegro (2003–2006).

Former Soviet states such as Kazakhstan, have very large minority Slavic populations with most being Russians. Also former satellite states and Warsaw Pact territories also have large minority Slavic populations also being Russian or Ukrainian and those from the three Slavic states in the Soviet Union. As of now, Kazakhstan have the largest Slavic minority population, with most being Russians.


Pan-Slavism, a movement which came into prominence in the mid-19th century, emphasized the common heritage and unity of all the Slavic peoples. The main focus was in the Balkans where the South Slavs had been ruled for centuries by other empires: the Byzantine Empire, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Venice. The Russian Empire used Pan-Slavism as a political tool; as did the Soviet Union, which gained political-military influence and control over most Slavic-majority nations between 1945 and 1948 and retained a hegemonic role until the period 1989-1991.


World map of countries with
  Significant (10%+) minority populations
  Majority Slavic ethnicities


Slavic studies began as an almost exclusively linguistic and philological enterprise. As early as 1833, Slavic languages were recognized as Indo-European.[77]

Slavic standard languages which are official in at least one country: Belarusian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovene, and Ukrainian.

Proto-Slavic language

Area of Balto-Slavic dialectic continuum (purple) with proposed material cultures correlating to speakers Balto-Slavic in Bronze Age (white). Red dots= archaic Slavic hydronyms

Proto-Slavic, the supposed ancestor language of all Slavic languages, is a descendant of common Proto-Indo-European, via a Balto-Slavic stage in which it developed numerous lexical and morphophonological isoglosses with the Baltic languages. In the framework of the Kurgan hypothesis, "the Indo-Europeans who remained after the migrations [from the steppe] became speakers of Balto-Slavic".[117]

Proto-Slavic, sometimes referred to as Common Slavic or Late Proto-Slavic, is defined as the last stage of the language preceding the geographical split of the historical Slavic languages. That language was uniform, and on the basis of borrowings from foreign languages and Slavic borrowings into other languages, cannot be said to have any recognizable dialects, suggesting a comparatively compact homeland.[118] Slavic linguistic unity was to some extent visible as late as Old Church Slavonic manuscripts which, though based on local Slavic speech of Thessaloniki, could still serve the purpose of the first common Slavic literary language.[119]


A page from Azbuka, the first Russian textbook, printed by Ivan Fyodorov in 1574, features the Cyrillic script.

The alphabet depends on what religion is usual for the respective Slavic ethnic groups. The Orthodox use the Cyrillic alphabet and the Roman Catholics use Latin alphabet, the Bosniaks which are Muslims also use the Latin. Few Greek Roman and Roman Catholics use the Cyrillic alphabet however. The Serbian language and Montenegrin language can be written using both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets, but the Cyrillic remains preferred by a large majority. There is also a Latin script to write in Belarusian, called the Lacinka alphabet.


Most Slavic populations gradually adopted Christianity (Orthodox Christianity for the East Slavs and Roman Catholicism for the West Slavs, with South Slavs split by the two churches) between the 6th and 10th centuries, and consequently their old pagan beliefs declined. See also Slavic Neopaganism.

The majority of contemporary Slavs who profess a religion are Orthodox, followed by Roman Catholic. A very small minority are Protestant. Bosniaks, Gorani, Torbeshi and Pomaks are Muslims, and many other Slavic ethnic groups have lived in close contact with the Muslim world for centuries. Religious delineations by nationality can be very sharp; usually in the Slavic ethnic groups the vast majority of religious people share the same religion. Some Slavs are atheist or agnostic: only 19% of Czechs professed belief in god/s in the 2005 Eurobarometer survey.

The main Slavic ethnic groups by religion:

Ethnocultural subdivisions

Present-day distribution of Slavic languages and language groups

Slavs are customarily divided along geographical lines 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. Apart from prehistorical archaeological cultures, the subgroups have had notable cultural contact with non-Slavic Bronze- and Iron Age civilisations.

West Slavs

Czech-Slovak group
Lechitic group

East Slavs

South Slavs

Eastern group
Western group

Notes to list of ethnocultural divisions

^e Extinct
^1 Also considered part of Rusyns
^2 Considered transitional between Ukrainians and Belarusians
^3 The ethnic affiliation of the Lemkos has become an ideological conflict. It has been alleged that among the Lemkos the idea of "Carpatho-Ruthenian" nation is supported only by Lemkos residing in Transcarpathia and abroad[121]
^4 Most inhabitants of historic Moravia considered themselves as Czechs but significant amount declared their Moravian nationality, different from that Czech (although people from Bohemia and Moravia use the same official language).
^5 Also considered Poles.
^6 There are sources that show Silesians as part of the Poles.[122] Parts of the southmost population of Upper Silesia is sometimes considered Czech (controversial).

^7 A census category recognized as an ethnic group. Most Slavic Muslims (especially in Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia) now opt for Bosniak ethnicity, but some still use the "Muslim" designation. Bosniak and Muslim are considered two ethnonyms for a single ethnicity and the terms may even be used interchangeably. However, a small number of people within Bosnia and Herzegovina declare Bosniak but are not necessarily Muslim by faith.

^8 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, Istrijani in westernmost Croatia, Dalmatinci in southern Croatia, Boduli in Adriatic islands, Vlaji in hinterland of Dalmatia, Slavonci in eastern Croatia, Bosanci in Bosnia, Hercegovci in 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, Bokelji in southwest Montenegro, Trakiytsi in Upper Thracian Lowlands, Dobrudzhantsi in north-east Bulgarian region, Balkandzhii in Central Balkan Mountains, Miziytsi in north Bulgarian region, Warmiaks and Masurians in north-east Polish regions Warmia and Mazuria, Pirintsi[123] in Blagoevgrad Province, Ruptsi 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.

See also


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  8. ^
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  10. ^ Kolev, Yordan, Българите извън България 1878 - 1945, 2005, р. 18 Quote:"В началото на ХХI в. общият брой на етническите българи в България и зад граница се изчислява на около 10 милиона души/In 2005 the number of Bulgarians is 10 milion people
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Further reading

  • P.M. Barford, The Early Slavs: Culture and Society in Early Medieval Eastern Europe, British Museum Press, London 2001, ISBN 978-0-7141-2804-7
  • F. Curta, The Making of the Slavs: History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2001, ISBN 0-521-80202-4.
  • P. Vlasto, The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom, An Introduction to the Medieval History of the Slavs, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1970, ISBN 978-0-521-07459-9, ISBN 978-0-521-10758-7
  • А. А. Щербаков. «Онъ» и «Азъ». История термина «славяне» (Исторические чтения) // Звезда (СПб.). — 1993. — № 5. — С. 174–197. — ISSN 0321-1878 (Russian)

External links

  • The Slavic Ethnogenesis, Identifying the Slavic Stock and Origins of the Slavs
  • The Ancient Slavs
  • The origin of the Baltic, Germand and Slavic people. The Iceland ages.
  • "Najstariji period istorije Slovena (Venedi, Sloveni i Anti)" – N. S. Deržavin
  • Sloveni: Unde orti estis? Slováci, KDE sú vaše korene? , by Cyril A. Hromník (mainly in Slova).
  • Some problems of the ethnogenesis of the Slavs and of the settlement process of the Central Danubian Slovenes – Slovaks in the 6th and 7th century
  • Site about Slavics, Slavic Countries, Cultures, Languages, etc (mainly in Russian)
  • The early wars between the Macedonian Slavs and the Byzantines (from medieval sources)
  • Lozinski, B. Philip (2004) [1964]. Ferguson, Alan D.; Levin, Alfred, eds. "Essays in Russian History, A collection dedicated to George Vernadsky". Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, Vassil Karloukovski. pp. 19–30. 
  • "The Genetic Legacy of Paleolithic Homo sapiens sapiens in Extant Europeans: A Y Chromosome Perspective"
  • Mitochondrial DNA Phylogeny in Eastern and Western Slavs, B. Malyarchuk, T. Grzybowski, M. Derenko, M. Perkova, T. Vanecek, J. Lazur, P. Gomolcaknd I. Tsybovsky, Oxford Journals
  • Texts on Wikisource:
    • "Slavs".  
    • "Slavs". The New Student's Reference Work. 1914. 
    • Leopold Lénard (1913). "The Slavs".  
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