Slavs are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group who speak the
Slavic languages of the larger Balto-Slavic linguistic group.
They are native to Eurasia, stretching from Central, Eastern, and
Europe all the way north and westwards to Northeast
Europe , Northern Asia (Siberia), the Caucasus, and Central Asia
Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) as well as historically in
Europe (particularly in East Germany) and Western Asia
(including Anatolia). From the early 6th century they spread to
inhabit the majority of Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe.
Also, today there is a large Slavic diaspora throughout North America,
particularly in the United States and
Canada as a result of
Slavs are the largest ethno-linguistic group in Europe.
Present-day Slavic peoples are classified into
East Slavs (chiefly
Belarusians, Russians, Rusyns, and Ukrainians),
West Slavs (chiefly
Czechs, Kashubs, Poles, Silesians,
Slovaks and Sorbs), and South Slavs
(chiefly Bosniaks, Bulgarians, Croats, Macedonians, Montenegrins,
Serbs and Slovenes) .
Slavs can further be divided along the lines of religion. Orthodox
Christianity makes up the bulk of the religion encompassing and
practiced by the Slavs. The
Orthodox Slavs include the Belarusians,
Bulgarians, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Russians, Serbs, and Ukrainians
and are defined by their use of Orthodox customs and the use of
Cyrillic script as well as their cultural influence and connection to
Byzantine Empire (
Serbs also use Serbian
Latin script on equal
terms). The second most practiced and common religion amongst the
Slavs is Roman Catholicism. The Catholic
Slavs include Croats, Czechs,
Kashubians, Poles, Silesians,
Slovenes and they are
defined by their
Latinate influence and heritage and connection to
Western Europe. There are also substantial
Protestant and Lutheran
minorities (especially amongst the West Slavs) such as the historical
Bohemian (Czech) Hussites.
The third largest religion amongst the
Slavs is Islam. Muslim Slavs
include the Bosniaks, Pomaks, Gorani, Torbesis, and other Muslims of
Yugoslavia as well as certain
East Slavs who settled in the
Crimean Peninsula and converted to the Islamic faith via influence
from the Crimean Tatars. Modern Slavic nations and ethnic groups 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
2.1 First mentions
3 Middle Ages
3.1 Early Slavic states
4 Modern history
6 Ethno-cultural subdivisions
8 Relations with non-Slavic people
10 See also
13 External links
The oldest mention of the Slavic ethnonym is the 6th century AD
Procopius, writing in Byzantine Greek, using various forms such as
Sklaboi (Σκλάβοι), Sklabēnoi (Σκλαβηνοί), Sklauenoi
(Σκλαυηνοί), Sthlabenoi (Σθλαβηνοί), or Sklabinoi
(Σκλαβῖνοι), while his contemporary
Jordanes refers to
Sclaveni in Latin. The oldest documents written in Old Church
Slavonic, dating from the 9th century, attest the autonym as Slověne
(Словѣне). These forms point back to a Slavic autonym which can
be reconstructed in
Proto-Slavic as *Slověninъ, plural Slověne.
The reconstructed 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 German people, namely němьcь,
meaning "silent, mute people" (from Slavic *němъ "mute, mumbling").
The word slovo ("word") and the related slava ("glory, fame") and
slukh ("hearing") originate from the
Proto-Indo-European root *ḱlew-
("be spoken of, glory"), cognate with Ancient Greek κλέος (kléos
"fame"), whence comes the name Pericles,
Latin clueo ("be called"),
and English loud.
Main article: Early Slavs
See also: History of the Slavic languages
Slavic peoples in 6th century
Slavs under name of the Antes and the
Sclaveni make their first
appearance in Byzantine records in the early 6th century. Byzantine
Justinian I (527–565), such as
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
Procopius wrote in 545 that "the
Sclaveni and the Antae actually had a
single name in the remote past; for they were both called
olden times." He described them as barbarians, who lived under
democracy, and that they believe in one god, "the maker of lightning"
(Perun), to whom they made sacrifice. They lived in scattered housing,
and constantly changed settlement. Regarding warfare, they were mainly
foot soldiers with small shields and battleaxes, lightly clothed, some
entering battle naked with only their genitals covered. Their language
is "barbarous" (that is, not Greek-speaking), and the two tribes do
not differ in appearance, being tall and robust, "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..."
Jordanes described the
Sclaveni having swamps and forests for their
cities. Another 6th-century source refers to them living among
nearly impenetrable forests, rivers, lakes, and marshes.
Slavic tribes from the 7th to 9th centuries in Europe
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".
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 origin and migration of
Europe the between 5th and 10th
According to eastern homeland theory, prior to becoming known to the
Roman world, Slavic-speaking tribes were part of the many multi-ethnic
Eurasia – such as the Sarmatian, Hun and Gothic
Slavs emerged from obscurity when the westward movement
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
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. It has also been suggested
Slavs may have migrated with the movement of the
Iberian Peninsula and even as far as North Africa.
Around the 6th century,
Slavs appeared on Byzantine borders in great
numbers.[page needed] 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
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,
settled the Eastern Alps regions.
Early Slavic states
Moravia was the first major Slavic state, 833-907 A.D.
Reconstruction of a Slavic Grod in Birów, Poland
Glagolitic script is the oldest known Slavic alphabet. Created in the
9th century by a Byzantine monk Saint Cyril.
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. 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
Principality of Nitra and the Moravian
principality (see under Great Moravia). In this period, there existed
West Slavic tribes and states such as the Balaton Principality, but
the subsequent expansion of the Magyars into the Carpathian Basin, as
well as the
Austria gradually separated the South
Slavs from the West and East Slavs. The
First Bulgarian Empire
First Bulgarian Empire was
founded in 681, and the
Old Church Slavonic
Old Church Slavonic 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
As of 1878, there were only three free Slavic states in the world: the
Serbia and Montenegro.
Bulgaria was also free but was
de jure vassal to the
Ottoman Empire until official independence was
declared 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 Austria-Hungary, were calling for national
self-determination. 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 Slavic
Pan-Slavism became compromised when the Russian Empire
started to use it as an ideology justifying its territorial conquests
Central Europe as well as subjugation of other Slavic ethnic groups
Poles and Ukrainians, and the ideology became associated with
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 State of Slovenes,
Serbs (which merged into Yugoslavia).
During World War II,
Nazi Germany planned to kill, deport, or enslave
the Slavic and Jewish population of occupied
Eastern Europe to create
Living space for German settlers, and also planned the starvation
of 80 million people in the Soviet Union. The partial fulfilment
of these plans resulted in the deaths of an estimated 19.3 million
civilians and prisoners of war.
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. 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
The common Slavic experience of communism combined with the repeated
usage of the ideology by Soviet propaganda after World War II within
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
The word "Slavs" was used in the national anthem of Yugoslavia
(1943–1992) and the Federal Republic of
Former Soviet states, as well as countries that used to be satellite
states or territories of the Warsaw Pact, have numerous minority
Slavic populations, many of whom are originally from the Russian SFSR,
Ukrainian SSR and Byelorussian SSR. As of now,
Kazakhstan has the
largest Slavic minority population with most being Russians
Poles are present as well but in much
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
Pan-Slavism as a political tool; as did the Soviet Union, which
gained political-military influence and control over most
Slavic-majority nations between 1939 and 1948 and retained a hegemonic
role until the period 1989–1991.
South Slavic languages.
Torlakian (transitional dialect)
East Slavic languages.
West Slavic languages.
Main article: Slavic languages
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". 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 – this suggests that there was, at one time, a
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.
Slavic studies began as an almost
exclusively linguistic and philological enterprise. As early as 1833,
Slavic languages were recognized as Indo-European.
Slavic languages that have official status in at least
one country are: Belarusian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech,
Macedonian, Montenegrin, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovene,
The alphabets used for
Slavic languages are frequently connected to
the dominant religion among the respective ethnic groups. Orthodox
Christians use the Cyrillic alphabet while Roman Catholics use the
Latin alphabet; the Bosniaks, who are Muslim, also use the Latin
alphabet. Additionally, some Eastern Catholics and Roman Catholics use
the Cyrillic alphabet. Serbian and Montenegrin use both the Cyrillic
Latin alphabets. There is also a
Latin script to write in
Belarusian, called the Lacinka alphabet.
Part of a series on
List of Indo-European languages
Phonology: Sound laws, Accent, Ablaut
Old Irish glosses
Alternative and fringe
Paleolithic Continuity Theory
Chalcolithic (Copper Age)
Domestication of the horse
Nordic Bronze Age
Painted Grey Ware
Northern Black Polished Ware
Peoples and societies
Religion and mythology
Copenhagen Studies in Indo-European
Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture
The Horse, the Wheel and Language
Journal of Indo-European Studies
Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch
Indo-European Etymological Dictionary
Slavs are customarily divided along geographical lines into three
major subgroups: West Slavs, East Slavs, and South Slavs, each with a
different and a diverse background based on unique history, religion
and culture of particular Slavic groups within them. Apart from
prehistorical archaeological cultures, the subgroups have had notable
cultural contact with non-Slavic Bronze- and
Iron Age civilisations.
Modern Slavic nations and ethnic groups 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
West Slavs have origin in early Slavic tribes which settled in Central
Europe after the
East Germanic tribes
East Germanic tribes had left this area during the
migration period. They are noted as having mixed with Germanics,
Celts (particularly the Boii), Old Prussians, and the
Pannonian Avars. The
West Slavs came under the influence of the
Western Roman Empire
Western Roman Empire (Latin) and of the
Roman Catholic Church.
East Slavs have origins in early Slavic tribes who mixed and contacted
with Finno-Ugrics, Balts, and Caucasians. Their early Slavic
component, Antes, mixed or absorbed Iranians, and later received
influence from the
Khazars and Vikings. The
East Slavs trace their
national origins to the tribal unions of
Kievan Rus' and Khaganate,
beginning in the 10th century. They came particularly under the
influence of the
Byzantine Empire and of the Eastern Orthodox and
Eastern Catholic Churchs. They later became established in the 16th
century in the area north surrounding the
Sarmatic Plain and in the
steppes of modern-day eastern Ukraine.
South Slavs from most of the region have origins in early Slavic
tribes who mixed with the local Proto-Balkanic tribes (Illyrian,
Dacian (Romanian), Thracian, Paeonian, Hellenic tribes), and Celtic
tribes (particularly the Scordisci), as well as with Romans (and the
Romanized remnants of the former groups), and also with remnants of
temporarily settled invading East Germanic, Asiatic or Caucasian
tribes such as Gepids, Huns, Avars and Bulgars. The
original inhabitants of present-day
Slovenia and continental Croatia
have origins in early Slavic tribes who mixed with Romans and
romanized Celtic and Illyrian people as well as with Avars and
Germanic peoples (Lombards and East Goths). The
South Slavs (except
Slovenes and Croats) came under the cultural sphere of the Eastern
Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire), of the
Ottoman Empire and of the
Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church and Islam, while the
Slovenes and the Croats
were influenced by the
Western Roman Empire
Western Roman Empire (Latin) and thus by the
Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church in a similar fashion to that of the West Slavs.
The pagan Slavic populations were Christianized between the 7th and
Orthodox Christianity is predominant in the East and
South Slavs, while
Roman Catholicism is predominant in
West Slavs and
the western South Slavs. The religious borders are largely comparable
East–West Schism which began in the 11th century.
The majority of contemporary Slavic populations who profess a religion
are Orthodox, followed by Catholic, while a small minority are
Protestant. There are minor Slavic Muslim groups. Religious
delineations by nationality can be very sharp; usually in the Slavic
ethnic groups the vast majority of religious people share the same
Slavs are atheist or agnostic: in the Czech Republic
20% were atheists according to a 2012 poll.
Mainly Eastern Orthodoxy:
Ukrainians (incl. Rusyns)
Mainly Roman Catholicism:
Poles (incl. Silesians, Kashubians)
Czechs (incl. Moravians)
Croats (incl. Šokci)
Relations with non-Slavic people
Bulgars were a Turkic semi-nomadic warrior tribe that became
Slavicized in the 7th century AD.
Throughout their history,
Slavs came into contact with non-Slavic
groups. In the postulated homeland region (present-day Ukraine), they
had contacts with the Iranic
Sarmatians and the Germanic Goths. After
their subsequent spread, the
Slavs began assimilating non-Slavic
peoples. For example, in the Balkans, there were Paleo-Balkan peoples,
such as Romanized and Hellenized (Jireček Line) Illyrians, Thracians
and Dacians, as well as
Greeks and Celtic Scordisci. Over time, due to
the larger number of Slavs, most descendants of the indigenous
populations of the
Balkans were Slavicized. The
Illyrians vanished as defined ethnic groups from the population during
this period – although the modern Albanian nation claims descent
from the Illyrians. Exceptions are Greece, where because
fewer than Greeks, they 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); and Romania, where Slavic people
settled en route for present-day Greece, Republic of Macedonia,
Bulgaria and East Thrace, where the Slavic population gradually
Ruling status of
Bulgars and subsequent control of land cast the
nominal legacy of Bulgarian country and people onto future
Bulgars were gradually also Slavicized into the
present day South Slavic ethnic group Bulgarians. The Romance speakers
within the fortified Dalmatian cities managed to retain their culture
and language for a long time. Dalmatian Romance was spoken until
the high Middle Ages. But, they too were eventually assimilated into
the body of Slavs.
In the Western Balkans,
South Slavs and Germanic
with invaders, eventually producing a Slavicized population.[citation
needed] In Central Europe, the
West Slavs intermixed with Germanic,
Hungarian, and Celtic peoples, while in
Eastern Europe the East Slavs
had 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. At the time of the Magyar migration, the
Hungary was inhabited by Slavs, numbering about
200,000, and by Romano-
Dacians who were either assimilated or
enslaved by the Magyars. In the 11th and 12th centuries, constant
incursions by nomadic Turkic tribes, such as the Kipchak and the
Pecheneg, 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,
Bulgaria, where they were Slavicized.
Limes Saxoniae formed a defensive border between the Germanic
Saxons to the west and the Slavic
Obotrites to the east.
Polabian Slavs (Wends) settled in eastern parts of
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, Slavic piracy in the Baltics
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
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. In Eastern Germany, around
Germans have historic Slavic paternal ancestry, as revealed in
Y-DNA testing. Similarly, in Germany, around 20% of the foreign
surnames are of Slavic origin.
Cossacks, although Slavic-speaking and practicing as Orthodox
Christians, came from a mix of ethnic backgrounds, including Tatars
and other Turks. Many early members of the
Terek Cossacks were
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
Slavs were assimilated into other populations.
Although the majority continued towards Southeast Europe, attracted by
the riches of the territory which would become Bulgaria, a few
remained in the
Carpathian Basin in Central Europe. There they were
ultimately assimilated into the Magyar people. Numerous river and
other placenames in Romania are of Slavic
origin.[better source needed]
There are an estimated 360 million
130,000,000[better source needed]
12,000,000[not in citation given]
Ethnic groups in Europe
Lech and Čech
List of modern ethnic groups
List of Slavic tribes
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Slavs.
Look up Slav in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Mitochondrial DNA Phylogeny in Eastern and Western Slavs, B.
Malyarchuk, T. Grzybowski, M. Derenko, M. Perkova, T. Vanecek, J.
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"Slavs". The New Student's Reference Work. 1914.
Leopold Lénard (1913). "The Slavs". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic
Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Slavic ethnic groups
Black Sea Zaporozhians
Slavic speakers of Greek Macedonia