Sorbs (Upper Sorbian: Serbja, Lower Sorbian: Serby, German: Sorben),
known also by their former autonyms Lusatians and Wends, are a West
Slavic ethnic group predominantly inhabiting their homeland in
Lusatia, a region divided between
Germany (the states of
Poland (the provinces of Lower
Silesia and Lubusz).
According to Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos,
Serbs from the Balkan
peninsula have the same origins as Lusatians and Kashubians. He also
Serbs inhabited the areas between the rivers
Vistula, on the southern coast of the Baltic sea. They traditionally
Sorbian languages (also known as "Wendish" and "Lusatian"),
closely related to the Polish, Kashubian, Czech and Slovak
languages. Sorbian is an officially recognized minority language in
Sorbs are linguistically and genetically closest to the
Czechs and Poles. Due to a gradual and increasing assimilation between
the 17th and 20th centuries, virtually all
Sorbs also spoke German by
the late 19th century and much of the recent generations no longer
speak the language. The community is divided religiously between Roman
Catholicism (the majority) and Lutheranism. The former Prime Minister
of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich, is a Sorb.
3 Medieval heritage
3.1 Early Middle Ages
3.2 High and Late Middle Ages
4 Modern history
4.1 Early modern period
4.2 Late modern period
4.3 Contemporary history
5 Language and culture
6 Regions of Lusatia
6.1 Region of
6.2 Region of
Hoyerswerda (Wojerecy) and
6.3 Region of Lower Lusatia
8 Lusatian anthem
8.1 in Lower Sorbian
8.2 in Upper Sorbian
Sorbs and Poland
11 See also
15 External links
The ethnonym "Sorbs" (Serbja, Serby) derives from the medieval ethnic
Sorbs (Surbi, Sorabi). The original ethnonym, Srbi, was
retained by the
Serbs in the Balkans. By the 6th century,
Slavs occupied the area west of the
Oder formerly inhabited by
Germanic peoples. The
Sorbs are first mentioned in the 7th century.
In the 19th century the autonym of the Slavic population of Lusatia
(the Sorbs) was "Lusatians". The name "Lusatia" was originally
applied only to Lower Lusatia, which had been inhabited by
as Luzici, who may be regarded ancestors of the Lower Sorbs, while
Lusatia was inhabited by
Slavs known as Milceni, the supposed
ancestors of Upper Sorbs.
According to a genetic study published in May 2011,
Sorbs show the
greatest genetic similarity to Poles, followed by Czechs, consistent
with their West Slavic language. They show subtle evidence of
genetic isolation but less than Sardinians and French Basques.
Estimates of demographic history of the Sorb population since
Sorbs are divided into two ethnographical groups:
Upper Sorbs, who speak
Upper Sorbian (about 45-60,000 people).
Lower Sorbs, who speak
Lower Sorbian (about 15-20,000 people).
The dialects spoken vary in intelligibility in different areas.
Map of approximate Sorb-inhabited area in Germany.
Map of area and towns inhabited by Sorbs.
Detailed map of Sorb-inhabited area in
Germany (in Lower Sorbian).
Early Middle Ages
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The reconstructed Lusatian gord (fortification) of Raduš (Raddusch),
Vetschau in Lower Lusatia.
Sorbs arrived in the area extending between the Bober, Kwisa, and Oder
rivers to the East and the
Elbe rivers to the West during
the 6th century. In the north, the area of their settlement reached
Berlin. The earliest surviving mention of the tribe was in 631 A.D.,
when Fredegar's Chronicle described them as Surbi and as under the
rule of a Dervan, an ally of Samo. The Annales Regni Francorum state
that in 806 A.D. Sorbian Duke
Miliduch fought against the Franks and
was killed. In 840, Sorbian Duke
Czimislav was killed. In 932, Henry I
Lusatia and Milsko. Gero II,
Margrave of the Saxon Ostmark,
Lusatia the following year and, in 939, murdered 30
Sorbian princes during a feast. As a result, there were many Sorbian
uprisings against German rule. A reconstructed castle, at Raddusch in
Lower Lusatia, is the sole physical remnant from this early period.
Lusatian tribes are noted in the work of the Bavarian Geographer. The
document contains a list of the tribes in Central-
Eastern Europe east
Elbe and north of the
Danube to the
Volga rivers to the Black
and Caspian Sea most of them of Slavic origin. Having settled
by the Elbe,
Spree and Neisse in the 6th century, Sorbian tribes
divided into two main groups, which have taken their names from the
characteristics of the area where they had settled.
Sorbs living on
the swampy broads of the Lower
Spree have taken their name from the
word marsh. The
Milceni (ancestors of Upper Sorbs) settled on fertile
soil around Upper Spree, the name derives from the word měl’ (loess
soil). The two groups were separated from each other by a wide and
uninhabited forest range. The rest of the tribes settled themselves
Elbe and Saale. Among the many Slavic tribes, the Bavarian
Geographer also noted a few Lusatian tribes:
Glomacze - Dolomici,
Milceni, Chutizi and Sitice.
The Israeli Slavic linguist Paul Wexler has argued that the Yiddish
language structure provides "compelling evidence of an intimate Jewish
contact with the
Slavs in the German and Bohemian lands as early as
the 9th century," and has theorized that
Sorbs may have been
contributors to the Ashkenazic Jewish population in
Europe from the
High and Late Middle Ages
During the reign of Boleslaw I of
Poland in 1002-1018, three
Polish-German wars were waged which caused
Lusatia to come under the
domination of new rulers. In 1018, on the strength of peace in
Lusatia became a part of Poland; however, it returned to
German rule before 1031. From the 11th to the 15th century,
Lusatia developed and colonization by Frankish, Flemish
and Saxon settlers intensified. In 1327 the first prohibitions on
using Sorbian in Altenburg,
"House of the Sorbs" (Serbski dom) in Bautzen
Early modern period
Between 1376 and 1635
Lusatia was part of the Lands of the Bohemian
Crown, under the rule of the Luxembourgs, Habsburgs and other kings.
From the beginning of the 16th century the whole Sorbian-inhabited
area, with the exception of Lusatia, underwent Germanization. In 1635
Lusatia became a fiefdom of Saxon electors. The
Thirty Years' War
Thirty Years' War and
the plague of the 17th century caused terrible devastation in Lusatia.
This led to further German colonization and Germanization.
In 1667 the Prince of Brandenburg, Frederick Wilhelm, ordered the
immediate destruction of all Sorbian printed materials and banned
saying masses in this language. At the same time the Evangelical
Church supported printing Sorbian religious literature as a means of
fighting the Counterreformation. In 1706 the Sorbian Seminary, the
main centre for the education of Sorbian
Catholic priests, was founded
in Prague. Evangelical students of theology formed the Sorbian College
Late modern period
The Congress of Vienna, in 1815, gave part of Upper
Lusatia to Saxony,
but most of
Lusatia to Prussia. More and more bans on the use of
Sorbian languages appeared from then until 1835 in
Saxony and Prussia;
emigration of the Sorbs, mainly to the town of Serbin in
Texas and to
Australia, increased. In 1848, 5000
Sorbs signed a petition to the
Saxon Government, in which they demanded equality for the Sorbian
language with the German one in churches, courts, schools and
Government departments. From 1871 the whole of
Lusatia became a part
Germany and was divided between two parts;
and Brandenburg), and Saxony.
In 1871 the industrialization of the region and German immigration
Germanization intensified. Although the Weimar
Republic guaranteed constitutional minority rights, it did not
practice them.
Throughout the Third Reich, Sorbians were described as a German tribe
who spoke a Slavic language and their national poet
Handrij Zejler was
German. Sorbian costume, culture, customs, and the language was said
to be no indication of a non-German origin. The Reich declared that
there were truly no "Sorbs" or "Lusatians", only Wendish-Speaking
Germans. As such, while the
Sorbs were largely safe from the Reich's
policies of ethnic cleansing, the cultivation of "Wendish" customs and
traditions was to be encouraged in a controlled manner and it was
expected that the Slavic language would decline due to natural causes.
Sorbs enlisted in the
Wehrmacht and were sent to the front.
Entangled lives of the
World War II
World War II are exemplified by
life stories of Mina Witkojc, Měrčin Nowak-Njechorński and Jan
The first Lusatian cities were captured in April 1945, when the Red
Army and the
Polish Second Army
Polish Second Army crossed the river Queis (Kwisa). The
defeat of Nazi
Germany changed the Sorbs’ situation considerably.
The regions in East
Germany (the German Democratic Republic) faced
heavy industrialisation and a large influx of expelled
Germans. The East German authorities tried to
counteract this development by creating a broad range of Sorbian
Sorbs were officially recognized as an ethnic
minority, more than 100 Sorbian schools and several academic
institutions were founded, the
Domowina and its associated societies
were re-established and a Sorbian theatre was created. Owing to the
suppression of the church and forced collectivization, however, these
efforts were severely affected and consequently over time the number
of people speaking
Sorbian languages decreased by half.
Sorbs caused the communist government of East
Germany plenty of
trouble, mainly because of the high levels of religious observance and
resistance to the nationalisation of agriculture. During the
compulsory collectivization campaign, a great many unprecedented
incidents were reported. Thus, throughout the Uprising of 1953 in East
Germany, violent clashes with the police were reported in Lusatia. An
open uprising took place in three upper communes of Błot.
After the reunification of
Germany on 3 October 1990, Lusatians made
efforts to create an autonomous administrative unit; however, Helmut
Kohl’s government did not agree to it. After 1989 the Sorbian
movement revived, however, it still encounters many obstacles.
Germany supports national minorities,
Sorbs claim that their
aspirations are not sufficiently fulfilled. The
desire to unite
Lusatia in one of the federal states has not been
taken into consideration. Upper
Lusatia still belongs to
Lower Lusatia to Brandenburg. Liquidations of Sorbian schools, even in
areas mostly populated by Sorbs, still happen, under the pretext of
financial difficulties or demolition of whole villages to create
lignite quarries.
Faced with growing threat of cultural extinction, the
a memorandum in March 2008 and called for "help and protection
against the growing threat of their cultural extinction, since an
ongoing conflict between the German government,
Saxony and Brandenburg
about the financial distribution of help blocks the financing of
almost all Sorbian institutions". The memorandum also demands a
reorganisation of competence by ceding responsibility from the Länder
to the federal government and an expanded legal status. The call has
been issued to all governments and heads of state of the European
On 28 May 2008, the Sorbian politician Stanislaw Tillich, member of
the governing Christian Democrats, was elected as Minister President
of the State of Saxony.
Language and culture
Bautzen, German-Sorbian folk theatre
Main article: Sorbian languages
The oldest known relic of Sorbian literature originated in about 1530
Bautzen townsmen’s oath. In 1548 Mikołaj Jakubica – Lower
Sorbian vicar, from the village called Lubanice, wrote the first
unprinted translation of the
New Testament into Lower Sorbian.
In 1574 the first Sorbian book was printed: Albin Mollers’ songbook.
In 1688 Jurij Hawštyn Swětlik translated the Bible for Catholic
Sorbs. From 1706 to 1709 the
New Testament was printed in the Upper
Sorbian translation was done by Michał Frencel and in Lower Sorbian
by Jan Bogumił Fabricius (1681–1741). Jan Bjedrich Fryco (a.k.a.
Johann Friedrich Fritze) (1747–1819), translated the Old Testament
for the first time into Lower Sorbian, published in 1790.
Other Sorbian Bible translators include Jakub Buk (1825–1895),
Michał Hórnik (Michael Hornig) (1833–1894), Jurij Łušćanski
(a.k.a. Georg Wuschanski) (1839–1905).
In 1809 for the short period of time, there was the first printed
Sorbian newspaper. In 1767 Jurij Mjeń publishes the first secular
Sorbian book. Between 1841 and 1843, Jan Arnošt Smoler and Leopold
Haupt published two-volume collection of Wendish folk-songs in Upper
and Lower Lusatia.
From 1842, the first Sorbian publishing companies started to appear:
Handrij Zejler set up a weekly magazine, the precursor of
today’s Sorbian News. In 1845 in
Bautzen the first festival of
Sorbian songs took place.
1982 stamps from the East German period
In 1875, Jakub Bart-Ćišinski, the poet and classicist of Upper
Sorbian literature, and Karol Arnošt Muka created a movement of young
Sorbians influencing Lusatian art, science and literature for the
following 50 years.
Similar movement in
Lower Lusatia was organized around the most
prominent Lower Lusatian poets
Mato Kósyk (Mato Kosyk) and Bogumił
In 1904, mainly thanks to the Sorbs’ contribution, the most
important Sorbian cultural centre (the Sorbian House) was built in
Bautzen. In 1912, the social and cultural organization of Lusatian
Sorbs was created, the
Domowina Institution - the union of Sorbian
organizations. In 1919 it had 180,000 members. In 1920
Jan Skala set
up a Sorbian party and in 1925 in Berlin, Skala started Kulturwille-
the newspaper for the protection of national minorities in Germany. In
Sokol Movement was founded (youth movement and gymnastic
organization). From 1933 the Nazi party started to repress the Sorbs.
At that time the Nazis also dissolved the
Sokol Movement and began to
combat every sign of Sorbian culture. In 1937 activities of the
Domowina Institution and other organizations were banned as
anti-national. Sorbian clergymen and teachers were forcedly deported
from Lusatia; Nazi German authorities confiscated the Sorbian House,
other buildings and crops.
On May 10, 1945, in Crostwitz, after the Red Army’s invasion, the
Domowina Institution renewed its activity. In 1948
Landtag of Saxony
passed an Act guaranteeing protection to Sorbian Lusatians; in 1949
Brandenburg resolved a similar law. In the times of the German
Democratic Republic, Sorbian organizations were financially supported
by the country, but at the same time the authorities encouraged
Germanization of Sorbian youth as a means of incorporating them into
the system of "building Socialism". Sorbian language and culture could
only be publicly presented as long as they promoted socialist
For over 1000 years the
Sorbs were able to maintain and even develop
their national culture, despite escalating
Polonization, mainly due to the high level of religious observance,
cultivation of their tradition and strong families (Sorbian families
still often have five children).
In the middle of the 20th century, the revival of the Central European
nations included some Sorbs, who became strong enough to attempt twice
to regain their independence. After World War II, the Lusatian
National Committee in
Prague claimed the right to self-government and
Germany and the creation of a Lusatian Free State or
attachment to Czechoslovakia. The majority of the
Sorbs were organized
in the Domowina, though, and did not wish to split from
Germany. Claims asserted by the Lusatian National
movement were postulates of joining
Czechoslovakia. Between 1945–1947 they postulated about ten
petitions to the United Nations, the United States, Soviet Union,
the United Kingdom, France,
Poland and Czechoslovakia, however, it did
not bring any results. On April 30, 1946, the Lusatian National
Committee also postulated a petition to the Polish Government, signed
by Pawoł Cyž – the minister and an official Sorbian delegate in
Poland. There was also a project of proclaiming a Lusatian Free State,
whose Prime Minister was supposed to be a Polish archaeologist of
Lusatian origin- Wojciech Kóčka. The most radical postulates in this
area (" Na swobodu so ńečeka, swobodu so beŕe!") were expressed
by the Lusatian youth organization- Narodny Partyzan Łužica.
Bilingual names of streets in Cottbus
Similarly, in Czechoslovakia, where before the
Potsdam Conference in
Prague, 300,000 people demonstrated for the independence of Lusatia.
The endeavours to separate
Germany did not succeed
because of various individual and geopolitical interests.
The following statistics indicates the progression of cultural change
among Sorbs: by the end of the 19th century, about 150,000 people
spoke Sorbian languages. In 1920 almost all
Sorbs mastered Sorbian and
German to the same degree. Nowadays the number of people using Sorbian
languages has been estimated to be no more than 40,000.
Zapust is the most popular tradition of the Sorbs, deeply linked to
the working life of the community. Traditionally, festivities would
last one week ahead of the spring sowing of the fields and would
feature traditional dress, parade and dancing.
Egg decorating (pisanici) is a Slavic
Easter tradition maintained by
Sorbs since the 17th century.[better source needed]
Regions of Lusatia
There are three main regions of
Lusatia that differ in language,
religion and customs.
The Flag of Upper Lusatia
Lusatia encompasses 85 towns in the districts of Bautzen,
Kamenz, and Hoyerswerda, where
Upper Sorbian language, customs, and
tradition are still thriving. In some of these places (e.g., Radibor
or Radwor in Sorbian,
Crostwitz or Chrósćicy, and Rosenthal or
Sorbs constitute the majority of the population, and
children grow up speaking Sorbian.
On Sundays, during holidays, and at weddings, people wear regional
costumes, rich in decoration and embroidery, encrusted with pearls.
Some of the customs and traditions observed include Bird Wedding (25
Easter Cavalcade of Riders, Witch Burning (30 April), Maik,
St. Martin's Day
St. Martin's Day (Nicolay), and the celebrations of Saint
Barbara’s Day and Saint Nicholas’s Day.
Hoyerswerda (Wojerecy) and
In the area from
Hoyerswerda to Schleife, a dialect of Sorbian which
combines characteristic features of both Upper and
Lower Sorbian is
spoken. The region is predominantly Protestant, highly devastated by
the brown coal mining industry, sparsely populated, and to a great
extent germanicized. Most speakers of Sorbian are over 60 years old.
The region distinguishes itself through many examples of Slavic wooden
architecture monuments including churches and regular houses, a
diversity of regional costumes (mainly worn by elderly women) that
feature white-knitting with black, cross-like embroidery, and a
tradition of playing bagpipes. In several villages, residents uphold
traditional festivities such as expelling of winter, Maik,
Great Friday singing, and the celebration of dźěćetko (disguised
child or young girl giving
Region of Lower Lusatia
The Flag of Lower Lusatia
There are 60 towns from the area of
Cottbus belonging to this region,
where most of the older people over 60 but few young people and
children can speak the
Lower Sorbian language; the local variant often
incorporates many words taken from the German language, and in
conversations with the younger generation, German is generally
preferred. Some primary schools in the region teach bilingually, and
Cottbus there is an important Gymnasium whose main medium of
instruction is Lower Sorbian. The region is predominantly Protestant,
again highly devastated by the brown coal mining industry. The biggest
tourist attraction of the region and in the whole
Lusatia are the
marshlands, with many Spreewald/Błóta canals, picturesque broads of
Worn mainly by older but on holidays by young women, regional costumes
are colourful, including a large headscarf called "lapa", rich in
golden embroidering and differing from village to village.
In some villages, following traditions are observed: Shrovetide, Maik,
Easter bonfires, Roosters catching/hunting. In Jänschwalde (Sorbian:
Janšojcach) so-called Janšojki bog (disguised young girl) gives
According to a 2015 study, the most common Y-DNA haplogroup among the
Lusatia (n=123) is R1a, which is carried by 65% of the Sorb
males. It is followed in frequency by I1 (9.8%), R1b (9.8%), E1b1b
(4.9%), I2 (4.1%), J (3.3%) and G (2.4%). Other haplogroups are less
than 1%. A study from 2003, reported a similar frequency of 63.4%
of haplogroup R1a among Sorbian males (n=112). Other studies that
covered aspects of Sorbian Y-DNA include Rodig et al. 2007, Immel
et al. 2006 and Krawczak et al. 2008. A 2011 paper on the
Sorbs' autosomal DNA reported that the
Sorbs showed greatest autosomal
genetic similarity to
Poles and Czechs, consistent with the linguistic
proximity of Sorbian to other West Slavic languages. In Harvard's
Human Origins dataset,
Sorbs cluster autosomally with Poles.
See also: Greater
Poland § Genetics
Main article: Lusatian anthem
in Lower Sorbian
Lower Sorbian -
mojich serbskich woścow kraj,
mojich glucnych myslow raj,
swěte su mě twoje strony.
Cas ty pśichodny,
Och, gab muže stanuli,
za swoj narod źěłali,
godne nimjer wobspomnjeśa!
in Upper Sorbian
Upper Sorbian - Saxon Flag since 2006
mojich serbskich wótcow kraj,
mojich zbóžnych sonow raj,
swjate su mi twoje hona!
Ow, zo bychu z twojeho
klina wušli mužojo,
hódni wěčnoh wopomnjeća!
Sorbs and Poland
Lusatia was part of the Polish state between 1002 and 1031 under the
rule of Bolesław I.
Bolesław I had taken control of the marches of
Meissen (Miśnia), and the cities of Budziszyn (Bautzen) and
Meissen in 1002, and refused to pay the tribute to the
Empire from the
conquered territories. Bolesław, after the Polish-German War
(1002–1018), signed the Peace of
Bautzen on 30 January 1018, which
made Bolesław I a clear winner. The Polish ruler was able to keep the
contested marches of
Lusatia and Sorbian Meissennot as fiefs, but as
part of Polish territory. The Polish prince Mieszko destroyed
a 100 Sorbian villages in 1030 and expelled them from urban areas,
exception made of fisherman and carpenters, who were allowed to live
in the outskirts.
One of the pioneers of the cooperation between the two nations was
Polish historian Wilhelm Bogusławski, who lived in the 19th century
and wrote the first book on Polish-Sorbian history Rys dziejów
serbołużyckich (Polish title), it was published in Saint Petersburg
in 1861. The book was expanded and published again in cooperation with
Michał Hórnik in 1884 in Bautzen, under a new title Historije
serbskeho naroda. Alfons Parczewski was another friend of Sorbs, who
from 1875 was involved in Sorbs' rights protection, participating in
Sorbian meetings in Bautzen. It was thanks to him, among others, that
Józef Ignacy Kraszewski
Józef Ignacy Kraszewski founded a scholarship for Sorbian students.
An association of friends of Sorbian Nation was established at the
University of Warsaw
University of Warsaw in 1936 (Polish full name: Towarzystwo
Przyjaciół Narodu Serbo-Łużyckiego). It gathered people not only
from the university. Its president was Professor Stanisław Słoński,
and the deputy president was Julia Wieleżyńska. The association was
a legal entity. There were three individual organizations devoted to
Sorbian matters. Prołuż founded in Krotoszyn, expanded to all Poland
(3000 members). It was the biggest non-communist organization that
dealt with foreign affairs. This youth organization was created during
the Soviet occupation and its motto was "Polish guard over Lusatia"
(pl. Nad Łużycami polska straż). Its highest activity was in
Poland (Polish: Wielkopolska, a district of western Poland).
After the creation of East Germany, Prołuż was dissolved, and its
president historian from Poznań Alojzy Stanisław Matyniak was
During the 1840s, many Sorbian émigrés travelled to Australia, along
with many ethnic Germans. The first was Jan Rychtar, a Wendish
Moravian Brethren missionary who settled in
Sydney during 1844.
There were two major migrations of Upper
Sorbs and Lower
Australia, in 1848 and 1850 respectively. The diaspora settled mainly
Australia – especially the
Barossa Valley – as well as
Victoria and New South Wales.
Wends also migrated from
Lusatia to the United States, especially
List of Sorbs
Pavle Jurišić Šturm
Wendish People's Party
Wends of Texas
List of Medieval Slavic tribes
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SERBSKI INSTITUT - Sorbian history and culture
- independent Sorbian internet magazine
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