|Indo-European languages (list)|
|Albanian · Armenian · Baltic
Celtic · Germanic · Greek
Indo-Iranian (Indo-Aryan, Iranian)
Italic · Slavic
|Vocabulary · Phonology · Sound laws · Ablaut · Root · Noun · Verb
|Indo-European language-speaking peoples|
|Europe: Balts · Slavs · Albanians · Italics · Celts · Germanic peoples · Greeks · Paleo-Balkans (Illyrians · Thracians · Dacians) ·|
|Homeland · Society · Religion
The Slavic Peoples are an ethnic and linguistic branch of Indo-European peoples, living mainly in central and eastern Europe. From the early 6th century they spread to inhabit most of the Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Many settled later in Siberia and Central Asia or emigrated to other parts of the world. Over half of Europe's territory is inhabited by Slavic-speaking communities.
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 feelings of mutual hostility.
Slavic peoples are classified geographically and linguistically into West Slavic (including Czechs, Moravians, Poles, Silesians, Slovaks and Sorbs), East Slavic (including Belarusians, Russians and Ukrainians), and South Slavic (including Bulgarians, Croats, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Serbs and Slovenes). For a more comprehensive list, see the section below on ethnocultural subdivisions.
According to a 2007 genetic study based on Y-chromosome male haplogroups, Slavic men cluster into two main groups; one encompasses all Western-Slavic, Eastern-Slavic, and two Southern-Slavic male populations (western Croats, Slovenes), while the other group encompasses all remaining Southern Slavic men.
The Slavic autonym Slověninъ is traditionally and most commonly etymologized as a derivation from slovo "word". Thus, it would originally denote "people who speak (the same language)", i.e. people who understand each other, in contrast to Slavic word for foreign people němci, meaning "mumbling, murmuring people" (from Slavic němъ - "mumbling, mute"). The latter word came to denote German/Germanic people in many later Slavic languages: e.g. Polish Niemiec, Czech Němec, Russian and Bulgarian Немец, Serbian Немац, Croatian Nijemac etc.
The English word Slav is derived from the Middle English word sclave, which was borrowed from Medieval Latin sclavus "slave", itself a borrowing and Byzantine Greek σκλάβος sklábos "slave", which was in turn borrowed from Slavic autonym: Proto-Slavic Slověninъ "Slovenin". Excluding the ambiguous mention by Ptolemy of tribes Slavanoi and Soubenoi, the earliest references of Slavs under this name are from the 6th century AD. The word was written variously as Σκλάβοι Sklaboi, Σκλαβηνοί Sklabēnoi, Σκλαυηνοί Sklauenoi, Σθλαβηνοί Sthlauenoi, or Σκλαβῖνοι Sklabinoi in Byzantine Greek. The oldest documents written in Old Church Slavonic and dating from the 9th century attest Словѣне Slověne to describe the Slavs. Other early attestations include Old East Slavic Словене Slověně "an East Slavic group near Novgorod", Slavutich "Dnieper river".
Alternative proposals propounded by some scholars enjoy 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. 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. Meanwhile Max Vasmer and others suggested 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 lexical root not known to have been continued in Slavic, although it appears in other languages with similar meanings.
Proto-Slavic, the ancestor language of all Slavic languages, branched off at some uncertain time in a disputed location from common Proto-Indo-European, passing through a Balto-Slavic stage in which it developed numerous lexical and morphophonological isoglosses with Baltic languages. In the framework of the Kurgan hypothesis, "the Indo-Europeans who remained after the migrations became speakers of Balto-Slavic".
Proto-Slavic proper, or more commonly referred to as Common Slavic or Late Proto-Slavic, defined as the last stage of the language preceding the geographical split of the historical Slavic languages, was likely spoken during the 6th and 7th centuries AD on a vast territory from Novgorod to southern Greece. That language was unusually uniform, and on the basis of borrowings from foreign languages and Slavic borrowings into other languages, can't be said to have any recognizable dialects. Slavic linguistic unity lasted for at least 1-2 centuries more, as can been seen in Old Church Slavonic manuscripts which, though based on local Slavic speech of Thessaloniki in Macedonia, could still serve the purpose of the first common Slavic literary language.
The starting point in the autochtonic/allochtonic 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.
The Polish scholar, Tadeusz Wojciechowski (1839–1919),was the first who has used place names to write Slavic history. He was followed by A. L. Pogodin and the polish botanist , J. Rostafinski.The first who has introduced archaeological data into the scholarly discourse about the early Slavs Lubor Niederle (1865–1944), endorsed Rostafinski’s theory in his multivolome book The Antiquities of the Slavs. Vykentyi V.Khvoika (1850–1914), a Ukrainian archaeologist of Czech origin, was link the Slavs with Neolithic Cucuteni culture. A. A. Spicyn (1858–1931), has assigned to the Antes the finds of silver and bronze in central and southern Ukraine. Ivan Borkovsky a Czech archaeologists(1897–1976) postulated the existence of a pottery “Prague type” which was a national, exclusively Slavic, pottery. Boris Rybakov, has issue a theory that made a link between both Spicyn’s “Antian antiquities” and the remains excavated by Khvoika from Chernyakhov culture and that those shoud be should be attributed to the Slavs. 
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 Oder river was used by factions to pursue their respective German and Polish political claims to governance of those lands.
But in 2007 after continuous archeological debates, genetics was applied to finally locate the Slavic homeland. After studying parental lineages of several Slavic populations, it was found that all studied present Slavic populations trace their genetic roots to the present Ukrainian Slavic population, proving right archeological theories that suggested that the Slavic homeland was located on territory of present-day Ukraine.
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. Tacitus states that they were tall, blonde to brown haired, long-skulled.
"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."
Romans occupied the land west of the Rhine. From Romanticism, the allochthonic school theorem is that the 6th century authors re-applied this 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 Slavs under name of Venethi, 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 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 Antes and the Sklavens (Sclovenes, Sklavinoi). The Byzantine term Sklavinoi was loaned as Saqaliba by medieval Arab historiographers.
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 numerous tumuli - typical for IE originators.
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, has 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 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, some modern historians dispute the link between the Wielbark culture and the Goths. While the Chernyakhov culture (2nd to 5th c. AD, identified with the multi-ethnic kingdom established by the Goths) 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 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. The Kiev culture was overrun by the Huns around 370 AD, which may have triggered the Proto-Slavic expansion to the historical locations of the Slavic languages.
The modern Slavic peoples come from a wide variety of genetic backgrounds. The frequency of Haplogroup R1a  ranges from 63.39% by the Sorbs, 56.4% in Poland , 54% in Ukraine, 47% in Russia and 39% in Belarus, to 15.2% in Republic of 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:
Pomors are distinguished by the presence of Y Haplogroup N in their genome. 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).
Slavic studies began as an almost exclusively linguistic and philological enterprise. As early as 1833, Slavic languages were recognized as Indo-European.
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. The Slavs emerged from obscurity when the westward movement of Germans in the 5th and 6th centuries AD (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.
Around the 6th century, Slavs appeared on Byzantine borders in great numbers. The Byzantine records note that grass wouldn't 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. This southern movement has traditionally been seen as an invasive expansion. By the end of the 6th century, Slavs had settled the Eastern Alps region.
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, and nobles pledged allegiance either to the 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, ruled by a core of Bulgars, was founded in AD 681. After their subsequent Slavicisation, it was instrumental in the spread of Slavic literacy and Christianity to the rest of the Slavic world.
Throughout their history, Slavs came into contact with non-Slavic groups. In the postulated "homeland" region (present-day Ukraine), they had contacts with 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 Thracians, Illyrians and Greeks. Having lost their indigenous language due to persistent Hellenisation and the Roman conquest, what remained of the Thracians and Illyrians were completely absorbed into the Slavic tribes, the most notable exceptions being Romanians. Later invaders such as Bulgars and even Cumans mingled with the Slavs also, particularly in eastern parts (i.e. Bulgaria). Despite their cultural assimilation, one source states that only 15% of modern-day Bulgarians are of Slavic genetic origin, compared to 49% Thracian.
In the western Balkans, south Slavs and Germanic Gepids intermarried with Avar invaders, eventually producing a Slavicised population. In central Europe, the Slavs intermixed with Germanic, Celtic and Raetian peoples, while the eastern Slavs encountered Uralic and Scandinavian peoples. Scandinavians (Varangians) and Finnic peoples were involved in the early formation of the Russian state but were completely Slavicised after a century. Some Finno-Ugric tribes in the north were also absorbed into the expanding Russian population. At the time of the Magyar migration, the present-day Hungary was inhabited by Slavs, numbering about 200,000, who were either assimilated or enslaved by the Magyars. 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. In the Middle Ages, groups of Saxon ore miners settled in medieval Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria where they were Slavicised.
Polabian Slavs (Wends) settled in parts of England (Danelaw), apparently as Danish allies; 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. 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. The Polabian language survived until the beginning of the 19th century in what is now the German state of Lower Saxony.
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.
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. Similarly, the populations of the respective eastern parts of Austria and Germany, and to a much lesser extent eastern Italy, are to some degree made up of people with Slavic ancestry.
As of 1878, there were only three free Slavic states in the world: Russian Empire, Serbia and Montenegro. An independent state of Bulgaria came into existence in 1908. In the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire of approximately 50 million people, about 23 million were Slavs. The Slavic peoples who were, for the most part, denied a voice in the affairs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were calling for national self-determination. During World War I, representatives of the Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes set up organizations in the Allied countries to gain sympathy and recognition. 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.
One of Hitler's ambitions at the start of World War II was to exterminate, expel, or enslave most or all East and West Slavs from their native lands so as to make living space for German settlers. This plan of genocide was to be carried into effect gradually over 25 to 30 years.
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 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).
The majority of contemporary Slavs who profess a religion are Eastern Orthodox (and/or Greek Catholic) and Roman Catholic. A very small minority are Protestant, mainly in the north. In the south, Bosniaks and some minority groups are Sunni Muslim. Religious delineations by nationality can be very sharp; in many Slavic ethnic groups the vast majority of religious people share the same religion. Some Slavs are atheist or agnostic: recent estimates suggest 18% in Russia. and 59% in the Czech Republic.
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 and Montenegrin language can be written using both the Cyrillic and Roman alphabets. There is also a Latin script to write in Belarusian, called the Lacinka alphabet.
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. 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 European population of the Balkans (Illyrians, Dacians/Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Celts); with some Slavs of modern-day Bulgaria mixing with later invaders from the East, the Bulgars. They were particularly influenced by the Byzantine Empire and the Orthodox Church, although Catholicism and Latin influences were more pertinent in Dalmatia. The West Slavs and the Slovenes 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 time also mixing with nearby Germanic tribes.
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.
Some of the following subdivisions remain debatable, particularly for smaller groups and national minorities.
^1 Also considered part of Rusyns
^2 Considered transitional between Ukrainians and Belarusians
^3 Also considered part of Ukrainians
^4 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
^5 Also considered part of Poles
^6 Today, often considered part of Czechs, originally closer to Slovaks
^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 a Slavic nation living mainly in Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania; 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 (especially in Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia) 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, 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 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, 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 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.