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South Slavic peoples

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Title: South Slavic peoples  
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Subject: Slovenia, Serbs, Slavic mythology, Friulian language, Croatia in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Pavić, Jernej Kopitar, Gorizia and Gradisca, Anton Novačan, Županija
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South Slavic peoples

South Slavs
Јужни Словени (mk. / sr.)
Južni Slaveni (sh. / hr. / bs.)
Южни славяни (bg.)
Južni Slovani (sl.)
South Slavs (dark turquoise) on the map of Europe.
Total population
>37 million
Regions with significant populations

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

Minority: Albania, Greece, Kosovo, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Hungary, Austria.
South Slavic languages:
Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Serbo-Croatian, Serbian, Slovene
Orthodox Christianity, Catholic Church, Islam
Related ethnic groups

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 peoples by the Romanians, Hungarians, and Austrians. Numbering close to 40 million, they include the Bosniaks, Bulgarians, Croats, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Serbs, and Slovenes. They are the main population of the Central and Southern European countries of Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. Their territories are separated from the rest of the Slavic nations since the 15th century by the modern non-Slavic states of Austria, Hungary and Romania, leading to a differing historical progression for the South Slav nations in relation to the West and East Slavs.

The country of Yugoslavia (lit. "South Slavia") merged all South Slavic territories, with the exception of Bulgaria, 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 was created by the combination of the Slavic words jug (south) and slaveni (Slavs).


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]

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] Apparently, the Sclaveni group were based along the middle Danube, whereas the Antes were at the lower Danube, in Scythia Minor. 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 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 Croatia 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 Balkans, from Austria to the Peloponnese, 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 and Monetenegro.[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 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.

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 beingattributed 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-scalemigration; 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]

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


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.


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, an indigenous Bogomilist sect considered heretical by the Roman Catholic and Serbian Orthodox Church, which he allowed access in the country. 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.

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 in 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.

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 цар - Tsar) 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.


Further information: Kingdom of Croatia (medieval)

In the western Balkans, the tribal configurations of the 7th century eventually formed a basis for early statelets, no doubt influenced by Feudalism from the west. The Slavs in northern Pannonia (north of the Drava) were included in the Balaton Principality, given by the Franks to an exiled Prince from Nitra, whereas those south of the Drava were part of 'Savia', a territory we know little about. The Franks and Bulgars fought for control over it initially, later becoming an area of conflict between Hungary and Croatia. The Croats were Frankish vassals until they successfully rebelled during the 850s, forming the Principality of the Croats in northern Dalmatia.


"...Sorabi, quae natio magnam Dalmatiae partem obtinere dicitur..."
transl. "Serbs, who inhabit a large part of Dalmatia"

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, Croatia 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 Field 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 and western.

List of the South Slavic peoples and ethnic groups, including population estimation figures (2001):[56]

All together: about 40 million including other minor groups


There are seven countries in which South Slavs are the main population:[57]

  •  Serbia (83% Serbs, 2% Bosniaks, 1% Yugoslavs 1% Croats, 1% Montenegrins)
  •  Montenegro (45% Montenegrins, 29% Serbs, 13% Bosniaks and Muslims by nationality, 1% Croats)

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 Municipality Source Image
SerbiaBelgrade 1,154,589 1,659,440 (Census Bureau of Serbia; 2011)[58]
BulgariaSofia 1,204,685 1,359,520 (Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2011)[59]
CroatiaZagreb 792,875 1,110,517 (Census Bureau of Croatia; 2011)
Republic of MacedoniaSkopje 510,000 668,518 (Census Bureau of the Republic of Macedonia; 2006)
BulgariaPlovdiv 338,153 403,153 (Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2011)
BulgariaVarna 334,870 343,704 (Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2011)
Bosnia and HerzegovinaSarajevo 327,124 452,000 (Census Bureau of Bosnia and Herzegovina; 2010)
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)
SerbiaNiš 202,208 260,237 (Census Bureau of Serbia; 2011)
BulgariaBurgas 200,271 212,902 (Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 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) 250px

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, Prekmurians, 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.

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

  • Kajkavian - named after the interrogative "kaj", the local word for "what", this dialect is spoken in Croatia and is closely related to the Slovene language (also a "kaj" language).
  • Čakavian - named after the interrogative ča, the local word for "what", also an exclusively Croatian dialect
  • Štokavian - the largest and most complex dialect chain, named after "što" - the local word for "what" - itself varies with increased distance. Its subdialect, Neoštokavian, is used as the base for standard Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin and Bunjevac, though in a bit different form (in yat reflex, cf. below)
  • Torlakian - a non-standard dialect chain separating Western South Slavic and Eastern South Slavic language groups with radical differences, spoken in southern Serbia (including Kosovo), northern Macedonia and north-western Bulgaria, and by all Slavic ethnic groups local to the region, its features include a mixture of the western and eastern linguistic trends. It is also spoken by the Krashovan community in Romania, reflecting their previous geographical settlement.
  • Macedonian - spoken across most of Macedonia. The standard Macedonian is based on the West-central subdialect. Several regional dialects exist.
  • Shop dialect - a western Bulgarian dialect group bordering with Torlakian areas to its northwest, with Macedonian to its southwest and East Bulgarian to its east.
  • East Bulgarian - the standard language of Bulgaria based on the central regions. Several regional dialects exist.
  • Slavic (Greece) - spoken by the Slavic population of Greece, most notably by the Pomaks of Thrace. Often disputed as to whether belonging to Macedonian or Bulgarian, this non-standard language has its dialects sparse but varied according to geographical distribution; with the dialects of Thrace (Trakiya) being closer to Bulgarian, and the dialects of Florina (Lerin) and Edessa (Voden) being closer to Macedonian.
  • Flazdian or Flazdim is a southern-Slavic dialect spoken in north of Albania.

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/.


"Molecular anthropology" can reveal patterns of prehistoric demographic expansions in addition to analysing the “genetic relatedness” between extant population groups.

Y DNA perspective

  • Hg I: This haplogroup is almost entirely confined to Europe. In South-Eastern Europe, Hg I is represented by the sub-group I2a2. The nearest relative of Hg I is Hg J, suggesting that a common ancestor, Hg IJ (now extinct) entered Europe during the initial colonization by modern humans. Hg I2a2 might then have arisen during the LGM by a founder effect when the European population diminished and retracted to ice-age refugia in southern Europe, in this case, the west Balkans. Subsequent post-glacial expansion expanded the range of this haplgroup. Notably, Hg I2a2 is highest in west Balkan populations (especially in Bosnia & Herzegovina; > 60%), but shows moderately high frequencies in all South Slavic populations (especially former Yugoslav peoples >30%), as well as central –eastern Europeans (Romanians, Ukrainians, Moldavians). Of note, its frequency is low in adjacent Albanian and Greek populations, on the one hand, as well as Italians on the other. This suggests that the primary direction of post-glacial Hg I2a2 expansion was to the north and east from the Dinaric Alps.
  • Hg R1a: R1a is very common in the eastern Europe, esp Russians,Poles,Moldavians,Ukrainians, i.e. the northern Slavic groups, but also Hungarians, Balts, and moderately high frequencies in eastern Scandinavia (i.e. Sweden). It is also very common throughout certain parts of Eurasia, from eastern Europe to Central Asia and northern India, via the Ponto-Caspian & south-western Siberia region., making the search for its exact focus of origin difficult to define. Studies have linked its spread to postulated Indo-European speaking “Kurgan peoples”, Scythians and other steppe nomads, as well as migrations of Slavic groups. However, the Hg R1a profile of northern Slavs (Poles, Russians) is dominated by a specific sub-lineage R1a1a1a7, whilst Balkan Slavs possess the more archaic, “Eurasian” R1a1a.
  • Hg R1b is present in low-to moderate frequencies in certain Balkan Slavs. Interestingly, there is no clear pattern of frequency in Southeastern Europe. For example, it is relatively frequent in Slovenians, but shows a dearth in the central Balkans (Serbs, Macedonians and Bosnians). Yet it is somewhat more frequent further south and east - i.e. amongst Greeks and Bulgarians (Pericic 2005b). Once thought to be the most archaic lineage in Europe (Semino 2000), representing a Palaeolithic vestige (especially in modern Basques), it is now thought to be have rather expanded from east to west, during the Neolithic (Tyler-Smith 2007). In western Europe, several sub-lineages then arose and expanded after the Neolithic (Myres 2010; Tyler-Smith 2007).
  • Hg E: Like the R haplogroups, Hg E represents a large family of related lineages found over large areas of Africa, the Middle East and southern Europe. In the Balkans, it is almost exclusively represented by the lineage E1b1b1a1b (V13). Haplogroup E is likely to have originated in north-eastern Africa and spread to the Near East during the late Holocene expansions. During this process, several of its lineages arose. The exact point of origin for V13 remains speculative, however, it must have been either in Anatolia or the Balkan Peninsula. Whatever its origin, it expanded from the Balkans during the Neolithic and Copper Ages. It is common in Macedonians, Bulgarians, Serbians and Bosnians, as well as their non-Slavic neighbours – Romanians, Greeks, Albanians. It shows sudden drop moving into Croatia and Slovenia, suggesting that its main path of expansion was along the Vardar-Morava-lower Danube axis.
  • Hg J: Hg J2 is present in the western Mediterranean basin, in contrast to Hg J1 which is characteristic of the Middle East and “Arabic” peoples. In Europe, Hg J2 is confined to Mediterranean Europeans, i.e. Greeks and southern Italians. Its frequency in Southern Slavs does not exceed 10%. Its presence might have been associated with certain seaborne Neolithic movements along the Mediterranean, as well as later historic events such as Greek colonization.

Mitochondrial DNA perspective

The mtDNA profile of South Slavs differs little with the overall European situation.

  • Hg H is the most common haplogroup in all Europeans. It originated in the Middle East c. 30-25 kya and was involved in numerous episodes of gene flow in Europe, including initial colonization (possibly with the "Gravettian culture") as well as post-glacial re-expansions. It has high frequencies throughout Europe: 63% in Basques, ~ 50% in northern and western Europe (including Scandinavia), and frequencies of 41-47% in southeastern Europe (Pericic 2005). More detailed analysis has revealed that distinct sub-lineages of Hg H predominate in certain regions. For example Hg H1 is more prevalent in western Europe, whilst Hg H1b and H2a are more prevalent in eastern Europe (Loogvali 2004).
  • Hg U is the oldest European mtDNA haplogroup. Its major branch, U5, is dated to be 53-40 ky old, and is also thought to have undergone a post-glacial expansion. Its frequency in SEE is 10%, but it is most prevalent in north-eastern Europe.
  • Other haplogroups are Hg V, K, J, and N, showing unique complex age and migrational patterns.

Data from mtDNA has revealed certain differences compared to that derived from Y-DNA:

  • mtDNA haplgroups are distributed more evenly throughout Europe compared to Y haplogroups, at more similar levels. This could be due to the fact that, throughout much of history, women were more likely to move to their prospective husband's place (sometimes postulated to have occurred across an entire continent). In contrast, only certain males were reproductively successful in a given area.
  • on average, the mtDNA haplogroups show older convalescent times compared to Y-DNA (i.e. mostly of "Palaeolithic" age rather than "Neolithic). A possible reason could be because Y-DNA halpgroups are more liable to drift, suggesting that more recent prehistoric events could essentially "overwrite" previously existing genetic patterns.
  • more mtDNA haplogroups (H, I, J, K, T and W) are only present in Europeans in any significant frequency. The remainders are shared with Near Eastern populations. This contrasts markedly with Y-DNA data, where only Hg I is deemed to be autochthonic.
  • "Central Asian" haplogroups are not present in frequencies greater than 2% (with the exception of mtDNA Hg F in Croatian island of Hvar). By contrast, Y DNA haplogroups postulated to have a central Eurasian origin are far more common compared - haplogroup N3 is common in the far north-east (Finns, Saami, northern Russians, etc.); as well as the more ubiquitous haplogroup R1a discussed above

Genetic Structuring and Population Affinities

Various methods have been employed for this and consequently produced slightly different results

Early Studies

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 Hg E1b and 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).[60] Non-Slavic Romanians also cluster with the South Slavic group in the Bosch study.


In comparison mtDNA haplogroups show far more uniform frequency distributions throughout Europe. For example, a study by Bosch et al. [1] showed that mtDNA samples from all southern Slavs as well as Romanians, Albanians and Greeks, clustered together, and separately from those of Turkish groups. Nevertheless, higher resolution studies have detected that South Slavs can be differentiated from other southern Europeans, including Albanian, Greek and Italian neighbours. Even individual South Slavic groups have revealed distinctive combinations of mtDNA subclusters and sequence types.

Autosomal DNA

Whilst useful in postulating population migrations and expansions, mtDNA and [3]. 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. These studies have consistently shown that:

  • There are no clear clusters or groups within the European population
  • Except from 'genetic outliers' such as Saami, Basques and Sardinians, Europeans are quite genetically homogeneous (as a comparison, individual population groups in India are more internally diverse than Europeans)
  • Individual population groups are most closely related to their immediate neighbours (irrespective of language or ethnicity)
  • There is a south-eastern to north-western genetic cline, and populations in south-eastern Europe are older and more genetically diverse than those in northern and western Europe.


National costumes



  • Curta, Florin. The Making of the Slavs: History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region c. 500-700. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001
  • Curta, Florin and Stephenson, Paul. Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250. Cambridge University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-521-81539-8
  • Alexander F. Tsvirkun The history of western and southern Slavs. Kharkov., 2008

See also

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