South Slavs

South Slavs
Južni Slaveni/Јужни Славени (bs.)
Южни славяни (bg.)
Južni Slaveni (hr.)
Јужни Словени (mk. / me. / sr.)
Južni Slovani (sl.)

     South Slavic countries     Other Slavic countries
Total population
>35 million
Regions with significant populations

Majority: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia.

Minority: Albania, Greece, Republic of Kosovo (disputed status), Romania, Turkey, Italy, Hungary, Austria.

East South Slavic languages:
Bulgarian, Macedonian

West South Slavic languages:
Serbo-Croatian, Slovene
Orthodox Christianity, Catholicism, Islam
Related ethnic groups
Other Slavs

The South Slavs are a subgroup of Slavic peoples who speak the South Slavic languages.

They inhabit a contiguous region in the Balkan Peninsula, southern Pannonian Plain and eastern Alps, and are geographically separated from the body of West Slavic and East Slavic people by the Romanians, Hungarians, and Austrians. The South Slavs include the Bosniaks, Bulgarians, Croats, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Serbs and Slovenes. They are the main population of the Southeast European and Eastern European countries of Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.

In the 20th century the country of Yugoslavia (lit. "South Slavia") merged the vast region to which most South Slavic nations inhabited (with the key exception of Bulgaria and the Bulgarians) into a single state. The concept of Yugoslavia, as a single state for all South Slavic peoples, emerged in the late 17th century and gained prominence through the Illyrian movement of the 19th century. The name Yugoslavia (sometimes spelled Jugoslavia) is a combination of the Slavic words jug (south) and sloveni (Slavs). On 23–24 November 1918, the National Council declared "unification of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs formed on the entire, contiguous South-Slavic area of the former Austria-Hungary with the Kingdom of Serbia and Montenegro into a unified State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs." This was the first "De jure" unification of the south-Slavic people. The Council declared itself a political representative body of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs living in Croatia-Slavonia, Fiume, Dalmatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Istria, Trieste, Carniola, Görz, Styria, Carinthia, Bačka, Banat, Baranya, Međimurje and elsewhere in southwest Hungary. The Council established its own Central Committee and Presidency, while one member of the Council was to be representative of a 100,000 people. In addition, it comprised five representatives of Croatian Sabor, the Diet of Bosnia and Reichsrat for a total of 95 representatives. 28 members of the representatives were appointed to implement the decision based on National Council's adopted directions on implementation of the agreement of organization of the unified state with the government of the Kingdom of Serbia and representatives of political parties in Serbia and Montenegro. The instructions were largely ignored by the delegation members who negotiated with Regent Alexander of the Kingdom of Serbia who later became Alexander I of Yugoslavia.


Early accounts

Main article: Early Slavs

Little is known about the Slavs before the 5th century. Their history prior to this can only be tentatively hypothesized via pre-Indo-European archeological and linguistic studies. Much of what we know about their history after the 6th century is from the works of Byzantine historians. In his work De Bellis, Procopius portrays the Sclavini (supposed to be Slavs) as unusually tall and strong, with a tan complexion and reddish-blonde hair, living a rugged and primitive life. They lived in huts, often distant from one another and often changed their place of abode. They were not ruled by a single leader, but for a long time lived in a "democracy". John of Ephesus, in his Ecclesiastical History portrays the Slavs as extremely violent people.[1] They probably believed in many Gods, but Procopius suggests they believed in one, perhaps supreme god. He has often been identified as Perun, the creator of lightning. The Slavs went into battle on foot, charging straight at their enemy, armed with spears and small shields, but they did not wear armour.

This information is supplanted by Pseudo-Maurice's work Strategikon, describing the Slavs as a numerous but disorganised and leaderless people, resistant to hardship and not allowing themselves to be enslaved or conquered. The lack of understanding may be attributed to matrilineal succession practiced among Southern Slavs.[2][3]

Polities in South-Eastern Europe c. 520 AD

They made their homes in forests, by rivers and wetlands.[4] Jordanes states that the Slavs "have their homelands on the Danube, not far from the northern bank." Subsequent information about early Slavic states and the Slavs' interaction with the Greeks comes from De Administrando Imperio by Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, the compilations of Miracles of Saint Demetrius, History by Theophylact Simocatta and the Royal Frankish Annals.

Migrations and postulated homeland

Scholars have traditionally placed the Slavic Urheimat in the Pripet marshes of Ukraine, or alternatively between the Bug and the Dniepr.[5] In the 5th century Slavs are mentioned as living north of the Danube in the written sources from that era.[5] From the 5th century, they supposedly spread outward in all directions. The Balkans was one of the regions which lay in the path of the expanding Slavs.

Regarding the Slavs mentioned by 6th-century Byzantine chroniclers, Florin Curta states that their 'homeland' was north of the Danube and not in the Belorussian-Ukrainian borderlands.[6] He clarifies that their itinerant form of agriculture (they lacked the knowledge of crop rotation) "may have encouraged mobility on a micro regional scale". Material culture from the Danube suggests that there was an evolution of Slavic society between the early 7th century and the 8th century. As the Byzantines re-asserted the Danubian defences in the mid 6th century, the Slavs' yield of pillaged goods dropped. As a reaction to this economic isolation, and external threats (e.g. from Avars and Byzantines), political and military mobilisation occurred. Archeological sites from the late 7th century show that the earlier settlements which were merely a non-specific collection of hamlets began to evolve into larger communities with differentiated areas (e.g. designated areas for public feasts as well as an 'industrial' area for craftsmanship). As community elites rose to prominence, they came to "embody a collective interest and responsibility" for the group. "If that group identity can be called ethnicity, and if that ethnicity can be called Slavic, then it certainly formed in the shadow of Justinian's forts, not in the Pripet marshes."[7]

The Byzantines broadly grouped the numerous Slav tribes into two groups: the Sclaveni and Antes.[8] They are both first encountered in the lower Danube region. Some, such as Bulgarian scholar Vasil Zlatarski, suggest that the first group settled the western Balkans, becoming one of the forerunners of the linguistic group that became the Bosnians, Serbs and Croats,[9] whilst offshoots of the Antes settled the eastern regions (roughly speaking), becoming one of the ancestors of the Bulgarians.[8][10] From the Danube, they commenced raiding the Byzantine Empire from the 520s, on an annual basis. They spread about destruction, taking loot and herds of cattle, seizing prisoners and taking fortresses. Often, the Byzantine Empire was stretched defending its rich Asian provinces from Arabs, Persians and Turks. This meant that even numerically small, disorganised early Slavic raids were capable of causing much disruption, but could not capture the larger, fortified cities.[11]

Large scale Slavic settlement in the Balkans begins in the late 570s and early 580s.[11] Menander, a late 6th-century historian speaks of 100,000 Slavs pouring into Thrace (though likely with some exaggeration)[12] and Illyricum, taking cities and settling down. These large scale population movements are associated with the arrival to the area of the Avars, a nomadic Turkic group that had lost a war against other nomads further east, and settled in the Carpathian basin, subjugating the many small Slavic tribes.[11] They were also facilitated by the fact that the Byzantine Empire was embroiled in a series of wars with Sassanid Persia at the time and was unable to send troops to the Balkans.[13]

By the 580s, as the Slav communities on the Danube became larger and more organized, and as the Avars exerted their influence, raids became larger and resulted in permanent settlement. Most scholars consider the period of 581-584 as the beginning of large scale Slavic settlement in the Balkans.[12] Around this time, the chronicle known as the Miracles of Saint Demetrius speaks of large-scale Slavic settlement in the area around Thessaloniki, although the Slavs never managed to take the city itself.[12] In 591, the Byzantines ended their war with the Persians and a serious attempt to restore the northern border was made by the emperor Maurice, a skilled strategist.[14] Although largely successful, Maurice did not manage to completely eliminate the Avars, and was eventually deposed and murdered in 602 (in part due to his refusal to ransom a large number of captives who were then slaughtered by the Avars).[15] War with the Persians soon broke out again, and the northern border collapsed once more.[15]

The Iron Gate on the Serbo-Romanian border

The Avars arrived in Europe in the late 550s.[11] Although their identity would not last, the Avars greatly impacted the events of the Balkans. They settled the Carpathian plain, west of the main Slavic settlements.[13] They crushed the Gepid Kingdom (a Germanic tribe) and pushed the Lombards into Italy, essentially opening up the western Balkans. They asserted their authority over many Slavs, who were divided into numerous petty tribes.[13] Many Slavs were relocated to the Avar base in the Carpathian basin and were galvanized into an effective infantry force. Other Slavic tribes continued to raid independently, sometime coordinating attacks as allies of the Avars. Others still spilled into Imperial lands as they fled from the Avars.[13] The Avars and their Slavic allies tended to focus on the western Balkans, whilst independent Slavic tribes predominated in the east. Following the unsuccessful siege of Constantinople in 626, the Avars' reputation diminished, and the confederacy was troubled by civil wars between the Avars and their Bulgar and Slav clients.[16] Their rule contracted to the region of the Carpathian basin. Archaeological evidence show that there was intermixing of Slavic, Avar and even Gepid cultures, suggesting that the later Avars were an amalgamation of different peoples. The Avar Khanate finally collapsed after ongoing defeats at the hands of Franks, Bulgars and Slavs (c. 810), and the Avars ceased to exist. What remained of the Avars was absorbed by the Slavs and Bulgars.

In "De Administrando Imperio", Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus mentions the White Croatia (originally Βελοχρωβάτοι i Χρωβάτοι) as the place from which, in the 7th century, part of Croatian tribes started their journey to Balkans (more specific, today's Dalmatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina) after they were invited there by the Byzantine Empire (emperor Flavius Heraclius Augustus) to protect its borders.The earliest Croatian state was the Principality of Dalmatia. Prince Trpimir of Dalmatia was called Duke of Croats in 852. In 925 Croatian Duke of Dalmatia Tomislav of Trpimir united all Croats and elevated Croatia into kingdom. He organized a state by annexing the Principality of Pannonia as well as maintaining close ties with Pagania and Zahumlje.

By 700 AD, Slavs had settled in most of the Central and Southeast Europe, from Austria even down to the Peloponnese of Greece, and from the Adriatic to the Black Seas, with the exception of the coastal areas and certain mountainous regions of the Greek peninsula.[17] The settlement pattern was far from uniform however, with major routes (such as the Morava valley) experiencing greater settlement.[18] Far fewer numbers of Slavs appear to have settled in those parts of Greece where Slavs did settle,[19] and in remote mountainous regions such as Bosnia, Herzegovina and Montenegro.[20] However, archaeological traces of Slavic penetration into the Balkans is scant, especially in the period prior to the 8th century. This has led scholars to cast doubt on the accuracy of the historical sources, often describing large scale settlements by the Slavs throughout the Balkans, including southern Greece.[21]

Interaction with the Balkan population

Prior to the advent of Roman rule, a number of native or autochthonous populations had lived in the Balkans since ancient times. South of the Jireček line were the Greeks.[22] To the north, there were Illyrians in the western portion (Illyricum), Thracians in Thrace (modern Bulgaria and eastern Macedonia), and Dacians in Moesia (northern Bulgaria and northeastern Serbia) and Dacia (modern Romania).[23] They were mainly tribalistic and generally lacked awareness of any greater ethno-political affiliations. Over the classical ages, they were at times invaded, conquered and influenced by Celts, Greeks and Romans. Roman influence, however, was initially limited to cities later concentrated along the Dalmatian coast, later spreading to a few scattered cities inside the Balkan interior particularly along the river Danube (Sirmium, Belgrade, Niš).[24] Roman citizens from throughout the empire settled in these cities and in the adjacent countryside.[24] The vast hinterland was still populated by indigenous peoples who likely retained their own tribalistic character.

Following the fall of Rome and numerous barbarian raids, the population in the Balkans dropped, as did commerce and general standards of living. Many people were killed, or taken prisoner by invaders.[18] This demographic decline was particularly attributed to a drop in the number of indigenous peasants living in rural areas. They were the most vulnerable to raids and were also hardest hit by the financial crises that plagued the falling empire. However, the Balkans were not desolate; considerable numbers of indigenous people simply remained.[18] Only certain areas tended to be affected by the raids (e.g. lands around major land routes, such as the Morava corridor).[18] The pre-Slavic inhabitants sought refuge inside fortified cities and islands, whilst others fled to remote mountains and forests,[18] joining their non-Romanized kin and adopting a transhumant pastoral lifestyle. The larger cities were able to persevere, even flourish, through the hard times. Archaeological evidence suggests that the culture in the cities changed whereby Roman-style forums and large public buildings were abandoned and cities were modified (i.e. built on top of hills or cliff-tops and fortified by walls). The centerpiece of such cities was the church. This transformation from a Roman culture to a Byzantine culture was paralleled by a rise of a new ruling class: the old land-owning aristocracy gave way to rule by military elites and the clergy.[25]

In addition to the autochthons, there were remnants of previous invaders such as "Huns" and various Germanic peoples when the Slavs arrived. Sarmatian tribes (such as the Iazyges) are recorded to have still lived in the Banat region of the Danube.[26]

As the Slavs spread south into the Balkans, they interacted with the numerous peoples and cultures already there. Since their lifestyle revolved around agriculture, they preferentially settled rural lands along the major highway networks which they moved along. Whilst they could not take the larger fortified towns, they looted the countryside and captured many prisoners. In his Strategikon, Pseudo-Maurice noted that it was commonplace for Slavs to accept newly acquired prisoners into their ranks.[27] Despite Byzantine accounts of "pillaging" and "looting", it is possible that many indigenous peoples voluntarily assimilated with the Slavs. The Slavs lacked an organised, centrally ruled organisation which actually hastened the process of willful Slavicisation. The strongest evidence for such a co-existence is from archaeological remains along the Danube and Dacia known as the Ipoteşti-Cândeşti culture. Here, the villages dating back to the 6th century represent a continuity with the earlier Slavic Pen'kovka culture; modified by admixture with Daco-Getic, Daco-Roman and/or Byzantine elements within the same village. Such interactions awarded the pre-Slavic populace protection within the ranks of a dominant, new tribe. In return, they contributed to the genetic and cultural development the South Slavs. This phenomenon ultimately led to an exchange of various loan-words. For example, the Slavic name for "Greeks", Grci, is derived from the Latin Graecus presumably encountered through the local Romanised populace. Conversely, the Vlachs borrowed many Slavic words, especially pertaining to agricultural terms. Whether any of the original Thracian or Illyrian culture and language remained by the time Slavs arrived is a matter of debate. It is a difficult issue to analyse because of the overriding Greek and Roman influence in the region. However, what is certain is that the Thracian[18] and Illyrian identities disappear from history during this period.

Over time, due to the larger number of Slavs, the descendants of most of the indigenous populations of the Balkans were Slavicized, an exception being Greece, where the smaller number Slavs scattered there came to be Hellenized over succeeding centuries (aided in time by more Greeks returning to Greece in the 9th century and the role of the church and administration).[28] The Romance speakers within the fortified Dalmatian cities managed to retain their culture and language for a long time,[29] as Dalmatian Romance was spoken until the high Middle Ages. However, they too were eventually assimilated into the body of Slavs. In contrast, the Romano-Dacians in Wallachia managed to maintain their Latin-based language, despite much Slavic influence. After centuries of peaceful co-existence, the groups fused to form the Romanians.

"There exist two kinds of Slavic people. First kind are people of swarthy complexion and dark hair. They live near the coast of the [Mediterranean] Sea. The other kind are fair people, who live inland." (Ibn al-Faqih)

Relationship with Byzantium

Further information: Sclaviniae

Byzantine literary accounts (i.e., John of Ephesus, etc.) mention the Slavs raiding areas of Greece during the 580s. According to later sources such as The Miracles of Saint Demetrius, the Drougoubitai, Sagoudatai, Belegezitai, Baiounetai, and Berzetai laid siege to Thessaloniki in 614–616.[30] However, this particular event was in actuality of local significance.[31] A combined effort of the Avars and Slavs two years later also failed to take the city. In 626, a combined Avar, Bulgar and Slav army besieged Constantinople. The siege was broken, which had repercussions upon the power and prestige of the Avar khanate. Slavic pressure on Thessaloniki ebbed after 617/618, until the Siege of Thessalonica (676–678) by a coalition of Rynchinoi, Sagoudatai, Drougoubitai and Stroumanoi attacked. This time, the Belegezites also known as the Velegeziti did not participate and in fact supplied the besieged citizens of Thessaloniki with grain.

A number of medieval sources attest to the presence of Slavs in Greece. While en route to the Holy Land in 732, Willibald "reached the city of Monemvasia, in the land of Slavinia". This particular passage from the Vita Willibaldi is interpreted as an indication of a Slavic presence in the hinterland of the Peloponnese.[32] In reference to the plague of 744–747, Constantine VII wrote during the 10th century that "the entire country [of the Peloponnese] was Slavonized".[33] Another source for the period, the Chronicle of Monemvasia speaks of Slavs overrunning the western Peloponnese, but of the eastern Peloponnese, together with Athens, remaining in Byzantine hands throughout this period.[34] However, such sources are far from ideal,[32] and their reliability is debated. For example, while the Byzantinist Peter Charanis believes the Chronicle of Monemvasia to be a reliable account, other scholars point out that it greatly overstates the impact of the Slavic and Avar raids of Greece during this time.[35]

Max Vasmer, a prominent linguist and Indo-Europeanist, complements late medieval historical accounts by listing 429 Slavic toponyms from the Peloponnese alone.[32][36] To what extent the presence of these toponyms reflects compact Slavic settlement is a matter of some debate,[37] and might represent an accumulative strata of toponyms rather than being attributed to the earliest settlement phase

Though medieval chroniclers attest to Slavic "hordes" occupying Byzantine territories, archaeological evidence of actual Slavic presence and its dating is today debated. Florin Curta points out that evidence of substantial Slavic presence does not appear before the 7th century[38] and remains qualitatively different from the "Slavic culture" found north of the Danube.[38] Some authors point to the rapid adoption of local Balkanic cultures by early Slav-speaking groups in specific areas such as Dalmatia. There, investigations of burial graves and cemetery types indicate an uninterrupted continuity of traditions from late antiquity, reflecting a contiguous demographic spread that chronologically matches with the arrival of Slavic-speaking groups.[39] Furthermore, when medieval sources speak of places "going to the Slavs", this could primarily mean that Byzantine authority disappeared, not that these regions had witnessed large-scale migration; doubtless many local people simply governed themselves.[40] Indeed, in the wake of Roman collapse, communities in the Balkan interior and hinterland essentially "became Slavs" by creating new identities and adopting a new language, oriented toward east-central Europe rather than the Graeco-Mediterranean world.[41] As Timothy Gregory surmises:

"It is now generally agreed that the people who lived in the Balkans after the Slavic "invasions" were probably for the most part the same as those who had lived there earlier, although the creation of new political groups and arrival of small immigrants caused people to look at themselves as distinct from their neighbours, including the Byzantines".

T E Gregory, A History of Byzantium. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Pg 169

Relations between the Slavs and Greeks were probably peaceful apart from the (supposed) initial settlement and intermittent uprisings.[40] Being agriculturalists, the Slavs probably traded with the Greeks inside towns.[34] Furthermore, the Slavs surely did not occupy the whole interior or eliminate the Greek population; some Greek villages continued to exist in the interior, probably governing themselves, possibly paying tribute to the Slavs.[34] Some villages were probably mixed, and quite possibly some degree of Hellenization of the Slavs by the Greeks of the Peloponnese had already begun during this period, before re-Hellenization was completed by the Byzantine emperors.[42]

When the Byzantines were not fighting in their eastern territories, they were able to slowly regain imperial control. This was achieved through its theme system, referring to an administrative province on which an army corps was centered, under the control of a strategos ("general").[43] The theme system first appeared in the early 7th century, during the reign of the Emperor Heraclius, and as the Byzantine Empire recovered, it was imposed on all areas that came under Byzantine control.[43] The first Balkan theme created was that in Thrace, in 680 AD.[43] By 695, a second theme, that of "Hellas" (or "Helladikoi"), was established, probably in eastern central Greece.[43] Subduing the Slavs in these themes was simply a matter of accommodating the needs of the Slavic elites and providing them with incentives for their inclusion into the imperial administration.

It was not until 100 years later that a third theme would be established. In 782–784, the eunuch general Staurakios campaigned from Thessaloniki, south to Thessaly and into the Peloponnese.[44] He captured many Slavs and transferred them elsewhere, mostly Anatolia (these Slavs were dubbed Slavesians).[25] However it is not known whether any territory was restored to imperial authority as result of this campaign, though it is likely some was.[44] Sometime between 790 and 802, the theme of Macedonia was created, centered on Adrianople (i.e., east of the actual geographic entity).[44] A serious and successful recovery began under Nicephorus I (802–811).[44] In 805, the theme of the Peloponnese was created.[45] According to the Chronicle of Monemvasia in 805 the Byzantine governor of Corinth went to war with the Slavs, obliterated them, and allowed the original inhabitants to claim their own;[45] the city of Patras was recovered and the region re-settled with Greeks.[46] In the 9th century, new themes continued to arise, although many were small and were carved out of original, larger themes. New themes in the 9th century included those of Thessalonica, Dyrrhachium, Strymon, and Nicopolis.[47] From these themes, Byzantine laws and culture flowed into the interior.[47] By the end of the 9th century most of Greece was culturally and administratively Greek again, with [44] the exception of a few small Slavic tribes in the mountains such as the Melingoi and Ezeritai.[47] Although they were to remain relatively autonomous until Ottoman times, such tribes were the exception rather than the rule.[47]

Saints Methodius and Cyril, are credited with devising the Glagolitic alphabet, the first alphabet used to transcribe the Old Church Slavonic language.

Apart from military expeditions against Slavs, the re-Hellenization process begun under Nicephorus I involved (often forcible) transfer of peoples.[48] Many Slavs were moved to other parts of the empire, such as Anatolia and made to serve in the military.[49] In return, many Greeks from Sicily and Asia Minor were brought to the interior of Greece, to increase the number of defenders at the Emperor's disposal and dilute the concentration of Slavs.[46] Even non-Greeks were transferred to the Balkans, such as Armenians.[25] As more of the peripheral territories of the Byzantine Empire were lost in the following centuries, e.g., Sicily, southern Italy and Asia Minor, their Greek-speakers made their own way back to Greece. That the re-Hellenization of Greece through population transfers and cultural activities of the Church was successful suggests Slavs found themselves in the midst of many Greeks.[19] It is doubtful that such large number could have been transplanted into Greece in the 9th century; thus there surely had been many Greeks remaining in Greece and continuing to speak Greek throughout the period of Slavic occupation.[19] The success of re-Hellenization also suggests the number of Slavs in Greece was far smaller than the numbers found in the former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.[19] For example, Bulgaria could not be Hellenized when Byzantine administration was established over the Bulgarians in 1018 to last for well over a century, until 1186.[19]

Eventually, the Byzantines recovered the imperial border north all the way to today's region of Macedonia (which would serve as the northern border of the Byzantine Empire until 1018), although independent Slavic villages remained. As the Slavs supposedly occupied the entire Balkan interior, Constantinople was effectively cut off from the Dalmatian cities under its (nominal) control.[50] Thus Dalmatia came to have closer ties with the Italian Peninsula, because of ability to maintain contact by sea (however, this too, was troubled by Slavic pirates).[50] Additionally, Constantinople was cut off from Rome, which contributed to the growing cultural and political separation between the two centers of European Christendom.[50]

Control of the Slavic tribes was nominal, as they retained their own culture and language. However, the Slavic tribes of Macedonia never formed their own empire or state, and the area often switched between Greek (Byzantine), Bulgarian, Serbian and temporarily even Norman control. The Byzantines were unable to completely Hellenize Macedonia because their progress north was blocked by the Bulgarian Empire, and later by the Serbian Kingdom, which were both Slavic states. However, Byzantine culture nonetheless flowed further north, seen to this day as Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, and Serbia are part of the Orthodox world. Even in Dalmatia, where Byzantine influence was supplanted by Venice and Rome, the influence of Byzantine culture persists.

Slavic states


Borders of the Slav territories under the King Samo's rule in 631

By the end of 7th century, the Slavs occupied most parts of the Balkans. When they had been defeated by the Langobards at Lauriana, in 720, their attempts to penetrate westward into what is now Italian Friuli ended. In 623, unified Slav tribes rebelled against Avars who were weakened by defeat at Constantinople, under the rule of the first historically known Slavic polity - Samo's Tribal Union. After Samo's death the smaller principality Carantania with Slavs and other inhabitants lost its independence and became part of the semifeudal Frankish Empire due to the pressing danger posed by Avar tribes from the east.


The Charter of Ban Kulin is the oldest document of its kind among the South Slavic languages and is currently in a Saint Petersburg museum.[51]

Modern knowledge of the political situation in Western Balkans during the Early Middle Ages is unclear. Upon their arrival, the Slavs brought with them a tribal social structure which probably fell apart and gave way to feudalism only with Frankish penetration into the region in the late 9th century. It was also around this time that the Slavs were Christianized. Bosnia and Herzegovina, because of its geographic position and terrain, was probably one of the last areas to go through this process, which presumably originated from the urban centers along the Dalmatian coast.

The High Middle Ages political circumstance led to the area of Bosnia being contested between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Byzantine Empire. Following another shift of power between the two in the early 12th century, Bosnia found itself outside the control of both and emerged as an independent state under the rule of local bans.

Kulin, though a nominal vassal of Hungary, was the first Bosnian ruler who was de facto sovereign.[52] Kulin's rule was marked the start of a controversy with the Bosnian Church. In response to Hungarian attempts to use church politics regarding the issue as a way to reclaim sovereignty over Bosnia, Kulin held a council of local church leaders to renounce the heresy and embraced Catholicism in 1203. Despite this, Hungarian ambitions remained unchanged long after Kulin's death in 1204, waning only after an unsuccessful invasion in 1254.

Map showing the expansion of the Bosnian Kingdom

Bosnian history from then until the early 14th century was marked by the power struggle between the Šubić and Kotromanić families. This conflict came to an end in 1322, when Stephen II Kotromanić became Ban. By the time of his death in 1353, he was successful in annexing territories to the north and west, as well as Zahumlje and parts of Dalmatia. He was succeeded by his nephew Tvrtko who, following a prolonged struggle with nobility and inter-family strife, gained full control of the country in 1367. On 26 October 1377 Tvrtko I of Bosnia crowned himself King of "Serbia, Bosnia, Pomorje, and the Western lands".[53] Based on archaeological evidence, he was crowned in the Mile near Visoko in the church which was built in the time of Stephen II Kotromanić's reign, where he was also buried alongside his uncle Stjepan II.[54][55] Following his death in 1391 however, Bosnia fell into a long period of decline. The Ottoman Empire had already started its conquest of Europe and posed a major threat to the Balkans throughout the first half of the 15th century. Finally, after decades of political and social instability, the Kingdom of Bosnia ceased to exist in 1463.


Following the collapse of Old Great Bulgaria, Asparukh's Bulgars arrived in Scythia Minor in 680 and allied with the local Slavic population to form Bulgaria. The Slavs accepted as their rulers the Bulgar Khans but retained significant autonomy. Both peoples had to protect the country from the Byzantines to the south and the Avar Khanate to the north-west. The Byzantines were aware of this new threat but were completely defeated in the Battle of Ongal and in 681 officially recognized Bulgaria as a sovereign country, known nowadays as the First Bulgarian Empire. By the mid 9th century Bulgaria expanded into much of the Slavic-populated areas of the Balkan peninsula in Thrace, Moesia, Macedonia and Dacia. Khan Omurtag (814–831) made an administrative reform which aimed the centralization of the country and deprived the Slavs of their autonomy. As a result, some Slavic tribes to the north-west rebelled but they were quickly subjugated.

Balkans, latter half of 9th century

Following the Christianization of Bulgaria and the creation of the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets and the formation of a literary Bulgarian language, the Bulgars and Slavs finally merged into the Bulgarian people. In 927 the Byzantines also had to recognize the Imperial title of the Bulgarian rulers (in Bulgarian царTsar) and the Bulgarian Patriarchate. Bulgaria became the cultural center of the Slavic Orthodox world in the 9th and 10th centuries. Following the destruction of the First Bulgarian Empire by the Byzantine Emperor Basil II in 1018, Bulgaria came under Byzantine rule in 1018. The Second Bulgarian Empire secured its independence from Byzantium in 1185, lasting until 1396 when it was conquered by the Ottomans.


The Duchy of Croatia or "Littoral Croatia" was defined by the struggles between the western Frankish empire and the eastern Byzantine empire. The Duchy managed to break free from Frankish vassal ship somewhere in the 850s and in 879 the Duchy under Branimir received papal recognition as a state.[56][57] The Duchy and Pannonia Croatia were united under Tomislav I to create the kingdom.


Further information: Zachlumia and Duchy of Saint Sava

Duklja (Zeta)

Further information: Duklja and Principality of Zeta


Archaeological evidence suggests that Serbs were part of the 5-6th-centuries wave of Slavs.[20] According to Byzantine sources, White Serbs settled lands of present-day Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina during the rule of Emperor Heraclius (610-641). The Serbs became foederati to the Byzantines and held the frontiers as vassalage (initially Sclaviniae, later Župas), subsequently receiving greater autonomy with Višeslav I (fl. 768-814) and full independence with Vlastimir (836-850). Serbia was a Byzantine ally throughout most of the Middle Ages and secured its independence with great diplomacy with Byzantium. In the 14th century, the Serbian state under Stefan Dušan rose to prominence in the southern Balkans, becoming the Serbian Empire. It declined following the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 against the Ottomans.

Ottoman period

So long as the non-Slavic Byzantine Empire was strong it served as an effective buffer to Ottoman incursions into southeastern Europe and in turn the lands of the South Slavs. Eventually its power waned in the face of conquests by other powers, and the rising Turkish Empire found one weakness after another in southeastern Europe.

The Ottomans captured Thessaloniki from the Venetians in 1387. The Ottoman victory at Kosovo in 1389 effectively marked the end of Serbian power in the region, making possible the Ottoman expansion into Europe. Stefan Lazarević of Serbia became a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. The Battle of Nicopolis in 1396, widely regarded as the last large-scale crusade of the Middle Ages, failed to stop the advance of the victorious Ottoman Turks and put an end to the Second Bulgarian Empire.

Modern era


South Slavic peoples

South Slavs are divided along linguistic lines into two groups: eastern (Bulgarian, Macedonian, Slavs of Greece) and western (Slovenes, Croats, Bosniaks, Serbs, Montenegrins). The Torlakian dialect is transitional and encompasses both sectors at the joining point. There are an estimated 35 million South Slavs and their descendants living worldwide.

List of the South Slavic peoples and ethnic groups:[58]


There are seven countries in which South Slavs are the main population:[59]

In addition, there are local South Slavic minorities in non-Slavic neighbouring countries such as:


Cities with South Slavic majority (100,000+ residents)
City Population Metropolitan Area Source Image
BulgariaSofia 1,260,120 1,681,665 (Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2015)[61]
SerbiaBelgrade 1,166,763 1,659,440 (Census Bureau of Serbia; 2011[62][63])
CroatiaZagreb 792,875 1,113,111 (Census Bureau of Croatia; 2015)
Republic of MacedoniaSkopje 510,000 668,518 (Census Bureau of the Republic of Macedonia; 2006)
BulgariaPlovdiv 338,153 544,628 (Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2015)
BulgariaVarna 334,870 417,867 (Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2011)
Bosnia and HerzegovinaSarajevo 275,524 463,992 (Census Bureau of Bosnia and Herzegovina; 2013)
SerbiaNovi Sad 277,522 341,625 (Census Bureau of Serbia; 2011)
SloveniaLjubljana 272,220 (Census Bureau of Slovenia; 2011)
Bosnia and HerzegovinaBanja Luka 225,000 (Census Bureau of Bosnia and Herzegovina; 2008)
BulgariaBurgas 200,271 212,902 (Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2011)
SerbiaNiš 187,544 260,237 (Census Bureau of Serbia; 2011)
CroatiaSplit 165,883 349,314 (Census Bureau of Croatia; 2011)
SloveniaMaribor 157,947 (Census Bureau of Slovenia; 2010)
MontenegroPodgorica 151,312 (Census Bureau of Montenegro; 2011)
SerbiaKragujevac 150,835 179,417 (Census Bureau of Serbia; 2011)
BulgariaRuse 149,642 (Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2011)
BulgariaStara Zagora 138,272 (Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2011)
CroatiaRijeka 127,498 (Census Bureau of Croatia; 2011)
BulgariaPleven 106,954 (Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2011)
SerbiaSubotica 105,681 141,554 (Census Bureau of Serbia; 2011)

Regional groups and other subdivisions

Please note that some of the subdivisions remain debatable, particularly for smaller groups and national minorities in former Yugoslavia.

Besides ethnic groups, South Slavs often identify themselves with the geographical region in which they live. Some of the major regional South Slavic groups include: Zagorci, Istrani, Dalmatinci, Slavonci, Bosanci, Hercegovci, Posavljaci, Krajišnici, Semberci, Srbijanci, Šumadinci, Mačvani, Moravci, Vojvođani, Sremci, Bačvani, Banaćani, Sandžaklije, Kosovci, Brđani, Bokelji, Zećani, Torlatsi, Shopi, Pelagonci, Tikvešjani, Trakiytsi, Dobrudzhantsi, Balkandzhii, Aegean Macedonians, Mijaks, Mariovans, Miziytsi, Pirintsi, Rodoptsi, Bessarabians, Carinthians, Styrians, Carniolans, Prekmurje Slovenes, Venetians, Palćene, Burgenlanders, Janjevci, Molisans, Krashovans, Šokci, Resians, and many others.


The religious and cultural diversity of the region the South Slavs inhabit has had a considerable influence on their religion. Originally a polytheistic pagan people, the South Slavs have also preserved many of their ancient rituals and traditional folklore, often intermixing and combining it with the religion they later converted to.

Today, the majority of South Slavs are Orthodox Christians- the most Bulgarians, Macedonians, Serbs and Montenegrins, whilst most Slovenes and Croats are Roman Catholics. Bosniaks, other minor ethnic groups (Gorani, Muslims by nationality) and sub-groups (Torbesh and Pomaks) are Muslims. Some South Slavs are atheist, agnostic and/or non-religious.

South Slavic ethnic groups by religion:


South Slavic standard languages are:

In addition, there are also other South Slavic languages which do not constitute official status in any republic, but have recognised standard formats and are widely used by their speakers. The most common of these is Bunjevac. In addition, the Šokac language was formerly listed in the census conducted during the Austro-Hungarian administration. Today, Montenegrin is also in the accelerated process of being codified in Montenegro. It is slowly being revised, embracing local speech, following the lines taken for Bosnian following the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina from Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The division of standard languages is orthogonal to the division based on genetic-dialectological criteria. Naming local dialects is made difficult by the fact that Slovenes from Austria and Italy are linked with their most remote South Slavic peoples - the Pomaks and Bulgarians of European Turkey - by a historical dialect continuum. In the 9th century all Slavic dialects formed one dialect continuum, which was subsequently broken after the arrival of Magyars in the area of middle Danube; the subsequent spread of the Germanic, Greek and Romance speakers separated the South Slavic group from West and East Slavic groups leaving it roughly its present-day areal distribution.

Furthermore, as a result of migrations caused by the invasion of Ottoman Turks, dialect continuum was broken in numerous places especially in the so-called "Central South Slavic" area, where some Slavic dialects like Čakavian and Kajkavian were suppressed at the expense of Štokavian, and some "transitional" dialects like Torlakian, originally belonging to West South Slavic group, but having experienced numerous shared innovations with Bularo-Macedonian dialects belonging to East South Slavic.

Major Slavic dialectal groupings are

The dialects are often further subclassified on arbitrary isoglosses, such as the reflex of Common Slavic yat phoneme which had various reflexes in various Slavic dialects. Yat reflex is noted as a major distinction between Serbian and Croatian - while the former has two distinct variants, based on so-called Ekavian /e/ and Ijekavian /ie̯/ reflexes, the standard Croatian is based exclusively on the Ijekavian reflex /ie̯/.


Various methods have been employed for population affinities and consequently produced slightly different results. "Molecular anthropology" can reveal patterns of prehistoric demographic expansions in addition to analysing the "genetic relatedness" between extant population groups.

Protein and Blood group polymorphisms

The earliest studies looked at 'classical markers', i.e. protein and blood group polymorphisms. Such work, e.g. that of Luca Cavali-Sforza and his team, showed that Europeans might cluster into several groups: (1) "Germanic" (Germans, Austrians) (2) "Scandinavian" (Swedes, Norwegians) (3) "Celtic" (Irish, Scottish) (4) south-western European (Spanish, French, Italian) (4) eastern European (Russian, Hungarian, Ukrainian). The analyses found that Yugoslavs did not group into any of the above clusters, but formed a group of their own; a result he attributed to their internal heterogeneity. Bulgarians were not tested in his study.


Aggregated results of Y-DNA (e.g. by way of Principal Component Analysis (PCA)) have tended to show that most southern Slavs (i.e. Serbians, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Bulgarians, and some Croats) cluster tightly together (characterised by high frequencies of I2). Western Croats and Slovenians are usually not within this tight South Slavic cluster (due to low E1b levels and comparatively higher R1a and R1b).[64] Non-Slavic Romanians also cluster with the South Slavic group in the 2006 Bosch study.

A more recent genetic study from 2014 by PLOS One, using more precise tools, determined that "Western Balkan populations are closest to their Slavic-speaking neighbours both according to maternal and paternal variation, but it has to be noted that the pooled sample is biased towards northern populations of Western Balkan (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia) and thus represents mostly the variation of this part of the study region."[65]


In comparison, mtDNA haplogroups show far more uniform frequency distributions throughout Europe. For example, a study by Bosch et al. showed that mtDNA samples from all southern Slavs as well as Romanians clustered together, and separately from those of Turkish groups.

Autosomal DNA

Whilst useful in postulating population migrations and expansions, mtDNA and Y-DNA do not demonstrate the totality of "genetic make-up", but rather a very small portion of it, namely, a single line of patrilineage (Y-DNA) and matrilineage (mtDNA). Moreoever, given its propensity to drift, population expansions in more recent prehistory can completely overwrite previous patterns. However, the majority of genetic history lies in the thousands of "classical markers" (blood group systems, protein polymorphisms), as well as non-coding single nucleotide polymorphism and STR sequences in autosomal DNA (atDNA), which is representative of the one's entire ancestry . Several loci, such as the β-globin gene, have been dated to 800, 000 years ago. By contrast, the coalescence time of all mtDNA and Y-DNA haplogroups reaches back to a maximum of 200, 000 years

Most of the larger sequences in atDNA undergo recombination, thus direct information about ancestral inheritance is difficult to ascertain. However, inferences on the overall genetic substructure and relatedness between populations is best achieved by analysing the hundreds of thousands of loci within atDNA. One recent study by two research teams [66][67] has shown that:

"In autosomal analysis [PLOS One 2014 Study],The Croatians and Bosnians are more close to East European populations and largely overlap with Hungarians from Central Europe, while Kosovars and Macedonians cluster closer to Eastern Balkan populations and Gagauzes. Serbians and Montenegrins have an intermediate position on PCA plot and on Fst –based network among other Western Balkan populations (Figures 3 5 and S2, S3)"[65]

National costumes

See also


  1. John of Ephesus, Ecclesiastical History, VI. 25, 6th century AD: "That same year, being the third after the death of king Justin, was famous also for the invasion of an accursed people, called Slavonians, who overran the whole of Greece, and the country of the Thessalonians, and all Thrace, and captured the cities, and took numerous forts, and devastated and burnt, and reduced the people to slavery, and made themselves masters of the whole country, and settled in it by main force, and dwelt in it as though it had been their own without fear. And four years have now elapsed, and still, because the king is engaged in the war with the Persians, and has sent all his forces to the East, they live at their ease in the land, and dwell in it, and spread themselves far and wide as far as God permits them, and ravage and burn and take captive. And to such an extent do they carry their ravages, that they have even ridden up to the outer wall of the city, and driven away all the king's herds of horses, many thousands in number, and whatever else they could find. And even to this day, being the year 895 (AD 584), they still encamp and dwell there, and live in peace in the Roman territories, free from anxiety and fear, and lead captive and slay and burn..."
  2. Aron, Albert J. iTraces of Matriarchy in Germanic Hero-lore. pp. 13–14.
  3. French, Marilyn (2002). From Eve to Dawn: A History of Women in the World. McArthur.
  4. Fouracre, Paul. The Cambridge Medieval History, Volume I.
  5. 1 2 Fine (1983), p. 25
  6. Curta 2006, p. 56: "The Slavic "homeland," at least for the sixth-century authors who wrote about the Slavs, was north of the Lower Danube, not in the Belorussian-Ukrainian borderlands."
  7. Curta 2006, p. 61
  8. 1 2 Hupchick, Dennis P. The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. ISBN 1-4039-6417-3
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  10. Fine 1983, p. 26
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  13. 1 2 3 4 Fine 1983, p. 30
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  17. Fine 1983, p. 36
  18. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Fine 1983, p. 37
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 Fine 1983, p. 64
  20. 1 2 Fine 1983, p. 38
  21. Curta 2001, pp. 307-308: "Furthermore, the archaeological evidence discussed in this chapter does not match any long-distance migratory pattern. Assemblages in the Lower Danube area, both east and south of the Carpathian mountains, antedate those of the alleged Slavic Urheimat in the Zhitomir Polesie, on which Irina Rusanova based her theory of the Prague-Korchak-Zhitomir type."
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  30. Fine 1991, p. 41: "Between 614 and 616, at the same time that the Avars were leading their major offensive against Dalmatia, The Miracles of Saint Demetrius describes the attacks by five Slavic tribes by sea in small boats along the coasts of Thessaly, western Anatolia, and various Greek islands. They then decided to capture Thessaloniki in a combined land and sea attack. Under the walls of the city they camped with whole families. They were led by a chief (the Greek title used is exarch) named Chatzon."
  31. Curta 2001, p. 108: "I suggest therefore that in describing a local event – the attack of the Drugubites, Sagudates, Belegezites, Baiunetes, and Berzetes on Thessalonica – of relatively minor significance, the author of Book II framed it against a broader historical and administrative background, in order to make it appear as of greater importance. When all the other provinces and cities were falling, Thessalonica alone, under the protection of St Demetrius, was capable of resistance."
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  37. Vacalopoulos, Apostolos E. (translated by Ian Moles). Origins of the Greek Nation: The Byzantine Period, 1204–1461. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1970, p. 6.
  38. 1 2 Curta 2001, p. 308
  39. Ante Milošević. O kontinuitetu kasnoantičkih proizvoda u materijalnoj kulturi ranoga srednjeg vijeka na prostoru Dalmacije, Starohrvatska spomenička baština. Rađanje prvog hrvatskog kulturnog pejzaža. Exegi monumentum, Znanstvena izdanja 3, Zagreb, 1996, UDK 930.85(497.5), ISBN 953-6100-25-8. p. 39.
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