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Serbs (in their language: Срби) are a south Slavic people which live mostly in Serbia.

The language of Serbs is Serbian language. Of course, there are Serbs in Serb diaspora who no longer speak the language but are still considered Serbs.

Most Serbs are Orthodox Christians of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Serbs converted from paganism (see Slavic religion) to Christianity before the Great Schism. After the Schism, those who lived under Orthodox sphere of influence became Orthodox and those who lived under Catholic sphere of influence became Catholic. Later with the arrival of the Turks, some Serbs converted to Islam. Most well known Catholic Serb is Ivo Andrić and most well known Muslim Serb probably is Mehmed Paša Sokolović.

The principal state of the Serbs is Serbia and Montenegro. Another Serb state is Republika Srpska. Serbia and Montenegro form a federal state while Republika Srpska is one of two entities that constitute Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The city with the largest Serb population is Belgrade; city with the second largest Serb population is Novi Sad, the third Banjaluka. Abroad Chicago has the largest Serb population with Toronto right after. There are around 11 million Serbs in the world, which is around 0.18% of the world population.

List of Serbs lists some prominent Serbs. Most well known Serbs worldwide are scientists Nikola Tesla, Mihajlo Pupin and Milutin Milanković; writer Ivo Andrić; rulers Slobodan Milošević and Radovan Karadžić; NBA stars Vlade Divac and Peja Stojaković; and actress Mila Jovović (half Russian).

Serbian last names often, though not always, have ending -ић (SAMPA itj). This is often transcribed to English alphabet as -ic or -ich.

Table of contents
1 Name
2 Symbols
3 Customs
4 History


The etymology of Serbian name (root: Srb) is not known. Numerous theories exist, but neither could be said to be certain or even probable:

  1. Some believe that the name is of Sarmatian origin. This theory sprung mostly because next to nothing is known about Sarmatian language, so every word of unknown origin could be Sarmatian.
  2. Some believe that the name is of Iranian origin. Of which word exactly is unclear.
  3. Some believe that the name comes from sebar, peasant. However, as peasants have not existed in pre-medieval times while the name did, this is unlikely.
  4. Others say that the name comes from saborac, co-fighter. This could make sense but the words are too far apart. It is possible that saborac comes from sebar (that sebar sometimes meant co-fighter), which would make this theory more interesting but there is not much ground for this claim either.
  5. Some [1] believe that the name comes from srkati, to suck in, referring to people so closely united as if they share mother's milk.
  6. Also, others argue that all Slavs have sometimes called themselves Serbs, and that Serbs (and Sorbs) are simply the last Slavs who retained the name. If this is true, it still fails to explain the origin of former Slavic name (most of the above may apply).

However, there is one thing certain: the name is very old. It is own name and not given because its root could not be found western European languages.

It is interesting that etymology of name of Serbian sometimes ill-intentioned neigbhours, Croats (root: Hrv) is also not known. Some suggest that the names actually originate from the same root: indeed, the roots are only 50% apart (Srb/Hrv). However, what root would that be is still unknown.

Regardless of the origin, the age and rarity of the name allows for certain historical conclusions based partly on it (for example, see Gordoservon below). While Ukrainians and krajischniks (their names coming from Slavic word for "mark") or Slovaks and Slovenes (obvious variations of "Slavs") need not be related, Serbs and Sorbs probably are. Some have taken this to the extreme, creating theories that link Serbs with Sarmatians, Sirmium, Serbona, Siberia...

Relation with Sorbs

Obvious similarity in name leads some to conclusion that Serbs and Sorbs are related peoples. Indeed, in Serbian language Sorbs are called Luzicki Srbi (Serbs of Lusatia) and northern of them there were even Beli Srbi (White Serbs). Exactly what are relations between Serbs and Sorbs is not certain:

  1. Some believe that Serbs came to Balkan from Sorbia.
  2. Some believe that Serbs came to Balkans and Sorbs to Sorbia from joint ancient fatherland. Where this fatherland might be is also uncertain.
  3. Some believe that Serbs and Sorbs were one people sometimes but have separated even before they moved to Serbia/Sorbia.
  4. If we accept the claim that all Slavs have called themselves Serbs, then Serbs and Sorbs need not have nothing more in common than any other two Slavic peoples.

Regardless of which is correct, Serbs and Sorbs of today are very different peoples, with different customs, tradition and religion. Serbian language has perhaps more in common with Russian then with Sorbian.


Serbian flag is red-blue-white tricolour.

(In Detail)

Photo courtesy of
In inofficial use it is often embrodied with one or both of the other Serb symbols:

Both the eagle and the cross, besides being basis for various Serbian coats of arms through history, are bases for symbols of various Serbian organisations, political parties, institutions and companies. The cross, being easy to draw, is often spraypainted, carrying obvious political signature.

Serbian folk attire varies, mostly because of very diverse geography and climate of the teritorry that they inhabit. Some parts of it are, however, common:


The Serbs are a highly family-oriented society. A peek into a Serbian dictionnary and the richness of their terminology related to
kinship speaks volumes. Of all Slavs and Orthodox Christians, only Serbs have the custom of slava. The custom could also be found among some Russians and Albanians of Serbian origin although the custom has been lost in the last century. The word slava could be translated as "the praise". Slava is celebration of a saint; unlike most customs that are common for the whole people, each family separately celebrates its own saint (of course, there is a lot of overlap) who is considered its protector. A slava is inherited from father to son and each household may only have one celebration which means that the occasion brings all of the family together. Should a particular household move far away, with a father's permission a son might celebrate the same day in his own home, but usually, for as long as a family patriarch is alive his sons should celebrate under his roof. During a slava a Serbian home is open to any and all who might wish to drop by, it is considered untraditional to invite anyone to a slava, guests should come of their own will and no one is to be turned back from a Serb home during its slava as this would be considered a sacrilege and a disgrace to the household. The most common saintdays are St. Nicolas (Свети Никола, Никољдан), St. George (Свети Георгије, Ђурђевдан), St. John the Baptist (Св. Јован Крститељ, Јовањдан), St. Demetrius of Salonica (Св. Димитрије Солунски, Митровдан). It is believed that the Serbs adopted the tradition at the time of their Christiannization, some time in the late 9th century. Some believe that the day of the mass baptism itself was taken as the saint protector, while others claim that each Serb tribe adopted its collective protector. The later theory seems to closer to the truth as the slava varies according to geographical regions. At times, a new slava would be adopted, should a saint be believed to have praid for some sort of deliverance (i.e. from an affliction). The new saint would be adopted in lieu of the old whose day would still be marked but simply by a lighting of a candle and much less fanfare. Various communities: villages, cities, organisations, political parties, institutions, companies, professions... also celebrate their protector saint. Some also believe the slava to be a remnant from Slavic paganism which had a myriad of Gods before adopting Christiannity. Serbs have held strongly onto their old Slavic religion; the last pagan temple in Serbia (one of Svetovid) was destroyed by Tsar Dusan in the 14th century.

Though a lot of old customs are now no longer followed, customs that surround Serbian wedding are mostly preserved.

Traditional Serbian dance is kolo. It is a collective dance, where more (usually tens, at the very least three) people hold each other by the hands or around the waists dancing, ideally in circle, hence the name. Similar dances also exist in other cultures.

Serbs have their own customs regarding Christmas. Early in the morning of the day of the Christmas Eve the head of the family would go to a forest in order to cut badnjak, a young oak, the oaktree would then be brought into the church to be blessed by the priest. Then the oaktree would be stripped of its branches with combined with wheat and other grain products would be burned in the fireplace. The burning of the badnjak is a ritual which is most certainly of pagan origin and it is considered a sacrifice to God(s) so that the coming year may bring plenty of produce (food), happinness, love, luck and riches.

Nowadays, with most Serbs living in cities, most simply go to their church service which dispences small oak, wheat and other branches tied together to be taken home and set afire. The house floor and church is covered with hay, reminding of the stable in which Jesus Christ was born. The Christmas Day is celebrated with a feast, necessarily featuring roasted piglet as the main meal. Another Christmas meal is a deliciously sweet cake made of wheat, called koljivo whose consupmtion is more ritual than gourmandise. One crosses oneself first, then takes a spoonfull of the cake and savours it. But the most important Christmas meal is česnica, a special kind of bread; the bread contains a coin. During the lunch, the family breaks up the bread and one who finds the coin considers that he/she will have especially happy year. Christmas is not associated with presents like in the West, it is the day of St Nicolas, the protector saint of the children, when presents are given. However, under Communist, most Serbian families give presents on New Year's day. Western influences also introduces both Santa Claus (Deda Mraz) and the Christmas tree.

Religious Serbs also celebrate other religious holidays and even non-religious ones oftenly celebrate the Easter (on Orthodox date).

Serbs also celebrate New Year and, in addition to it oftenly (even non-religious ones), Serbian new year, on December 31st of the Julian Calendar (currently on January 14th of the Gregorian Calendar).

For Serbian meals, see Serbian cuisine.


History holds that Serbs came to the Balkan peninsula in 6th century. The oldest undisputed mention of Serbian name is 680 mention of Gordoservon in Asia Minor where "some Slavic tribes" have settled. Gordoservon is obviously distorted spelling of Grad Srba, "City of Serbs" in Serbian language.

Serbs were converted to Christianity in several waves between the since 7th and 9th century with the last wave taking place between 867 and 874.

During and after that period, Serbs have struggled to gain independence from the Byzantine and Roman Empire. The first Serb states were Rascia and Zeta. Various rulers had various degrees of authonomy, until Saint Sava, who became the first head of the Serb Orthodox Church and his brother Stefan Prvovencani, who became the first Serb king.

It may be very surprising to today readers that there was no medieval state with the name "Serbia", but it is a fact: Serb state was called "Serb state" and its kings and tsars wore titles of "King of Serbs" or "Tsar of Serbs", not "King of Serbia" or "Tsar of Serbia". The state if oftenly called "Serbia" today, however. Serbia reached its golden age under the House of Nemanjic, for whose achievements could be said that they are still unsurpassed. And the Nemanjic Serbia reached its peak under the rule of Tsar Stefan Dusan.

The golden age ended with intrusion of Turks into Europe, of course, over Serbia. Serbia was slowly fading away, its nobility fighting among themselves and incapable of holding out the Turks. The Serbian national consciousness sees the Battle of Kosovo of 1389 as the turning point after which Serbia fell under Turkish rule.

After Serbia fell, kings of Bosnia wore the title of "King of Serbs" until it was also overrun.

Under the Ottoman Empire Serbs were again struggling for independence and to avoid being converted to Islam. Turkish pressure drove Serbs to migrate to the north and west, in then Austria-Hungary.

At the beginning of 19th century, First Serbian Uprising had success in liberating at least some Serbs, for a limited time. Second Serbian Uprising was much more successful. Eventually Serbia it created will become a modern European kingdom.

At the beginning of 20th century, some Serbs have still lived under Ottoman and Austrian occupation. Most of them were liberated in the First Balkan War.

But the Serbs in Bosnia were still not free. First World War started when a Serb nationalist, Gavrilo Princip killed Austro-Hungarian archduke Franz Ferdinand. During the war, the Serbian army fought fiercely, eventually retreated through Albania to regroup in Greece and launched a counter-offensive. Though they were victorious, the war left devastating consequences: over half of male Serbs were killed. This still influences demographics of today.

After the war, the state of Yugoslavia was created. All Serbs (of course without unavoidable minorities in bordering lands) finally lived in one state, though not their own.

During Second World War, the Axis Powers occupied and tore apart Yugoslavia. Serbs have suffered immensely, especially under Ustase regime in the Independent State of Croatia (encompassing todays Croatia, Bosnia and a part of Serbia) where they were subject to mass destruction and cleansing of the population.

After the war, second Yugoslavia was formed. Eventually it would break apart in early 1990s. Internal borders of the republics became borders of independent states which would lead to huge civil wars in Croatia and Bosnia, where Serbs did not want to separate but to stay in Yugoslavia, now consisting of only Serbia and Montenegro.

Serbs have entered the 21st century still not united in one state.