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Slavic peoples

The Slavic peoples, the most numerous ethnic and linguistic body of peoples in Europe, reside chiefly in the east of that continent but are also found in Asia east to the Pacific Ocean.

Slavs have their origin from the Indo-European family.

Table of contents
1 Ethno-cultural Subdivisions
2 The Slavic Homeland Debates
3 Naming and Etymologies
4 Early Migrations
5 Slavs in the Historical Period
6 Religion and alphabet
7 See also

Ethno-cultural Subdivisions

One can customarily divide the Slavs into the following subgroups:

The Slavic Homeland Debates

Two major historical theories address the issue of the original homeland of Slavs:
  1. the autochthonic theory assumes that Slavs had lived north of the Carpathian Mountains since 1000 BC.
  2. the allochthonic theory assumes that the Slavs came there in the 5th or 6th century AD.

Germans and different Slavic nations employed both theories as tools of political propaganda, resulting in general confusion. Some scientists (such as Kazimierz Godlowski or Zdenek Vana) consider both theories absurd: they think that Slavs as such appeared and differentiated themselves from other tribes at some time after 1AD. One theory suggests that two waves of Slavs existed: Proto-Slavs (called Venedes or Wenets) and Slavs proper; and that these two groups mixed to become today's Slavs. That theory at least tries to deal with the very complicated questions arising from archeological findings in the area of the Slavic lands. Nobody knows for sure where the Slavs lived before their big expansion. Slavs first appeared in history living in the Pripyat Marshes area (Polesie), but a considerable number of Slavic words have Indo-Aryan links of the form suggesting genesis from a common ancestor, rather than borrowing.

The opposite recent theory postulates an autochthonous Slavic origin from pre-glacial times. The Germanic and Romanian (Vlachian) populations, by this theory, would have arisen from the effect of language changes after conquest. This theory is based on genetic research and a theory of multi-regional human evolution instead of the "out of Africa" concept. The Slavic homeland, in this theory, would have included areas described by Tacitus as Germania. Tacitus wrote that Germania, as applied to all the Germanic peoples, was a relatively recent (1st century) coinage.

Still more confusion comes from the fact that some Slavic peoples originated as a result of complete assimilation of ancient non-Slavic peoples. For example, the roots of modern Bulgarians can be traced to Central-Asian Bulgars.

An axtreme of this spectrum of opinions, a total myth, is exposed in Connection between Poles and Vandals.

Naming and Etymologies

Slavs appeared in early histories as Venedes or Wends, but their connection to the Veneds mentioned by Tacitus, Ptolemy and Pliny, remains uncertain, and the similarity of the two names may have come about accidentally.

Controversy surrounds the connection between the Lugii and the Slavs. Some recent authors connect the Lugii with Slavs, some with Germans, and still others claim that they formed a compound tribe, or a confederation of tribes of different ethnicity. The Lugii or Lygii had earlier Celtic elements and were actually recorded as a part of the Vandals in Magna Germania, which included the territory of present-day Silesia (named for the Silingi-Vandals). The city of Legnica (Liegnitz) in Silesia may possibly commemorate the name of Lug, Ligo.

Some later writers recorded the names of Slavic peoples as Sclavens, Sclovene, and Ants. Jordanes mentions that the Venets sub-divided into three groups: the Venets, the Ants and the Sklavens. Traditionally the name "Venets" has become associated with the Western Slavs, "Sklavens" with the Southern Slavs, and the "Ants" (or "Antes") with the Eastern Slavs.

Even the origin of the word "Slav" remains controversial. In Slavic languages that word is "Slowianie", "Slovene", or something similar, with obvious similarities to word slowo or slovo meaning "word". Slowianie would mean "people who can speak", as opposed to the Slavic word for Germans, "Niemcy", that is, "dumb", "people who cannot speak" (compare the Greek coinage of the term "barbarian"). Another obvious similarity links "Slavs" to the word slawa or slava, that is "glory" or "praise" (with a root in common with slowo - someone glorious has a word, a tale, spreading about him). Some linguists believe, however, that these obvious connections mislead, despite the early translation of the Greek word orthodoxos ("Correct/right", "glorifying/praising") having its equivalent in pravoslavni with pravo meaning "right" or "correct" and slavni meaning "those who praise" or "those who glorify" [God].

The English word "slave" has its root in the Slavic ethnonym, because the Roman Empire often used Slavs as slaves. See this external etymology.

Early Migrations

Prehistorically, the Slavs, like all putative Indoeuropeanss, inhabited a region in Asia, from which they migrated in the 3rd or 2nd millennium BC to populate parts of eastern Europe.

Subsequently, many peoples were forced by economic conditions to migrate, and passed through or settled in these European lands of the Slavs. In the middle of the 1st millennium BC, Celtic tribes settled along the upper Oder river (Odra), and Germanic tribes settled on the lower Vistula and lower Oder river, usually without displacing the Slavs there. The lands of the Elbe, Oder and Vistula Rivers all received the name Magna Germania 1900 years ago and later.

Finally, the movement westward of the Germans in the 5th and 6th centuries A.D - necessitated by the onslaught of people from the Far East: Huns, Avars, Bulgars and Magyars - started the great migration of the Slavs, who proceeded in the Germans' wake westward into the country between the Odra and the Elbe-Saale line, southward into Bohemia, Moravia, the Pannonian plain and the Balkans, and northward along the upper Dnieper river.

Slavs in the Historical Period

When their migratory movements ended there appeared among the Slavs the first rudiments of state organizations, each headed by a prince with a treasury and defense force, and the beginning of class differentiation, with nobles who pledged allegiance to the Frankish and Holy Roman Emperors. Numerous Slavic place names of the Peloponesus date to the second century C.E.

Either Karantania or the Principality of Nitra and the Moravian principality (see under Great Moravia) formed the first known Slavic states. In this period there existed central Slavic groups and states such as the Blatensko Knezevstvo or the Severans, but the eventual expansion of the Magyars and the Romanians separated the northern and southern Slavs. An explanation of the distinction between the western and eastern Slavs remains to be written.

In the historic period scarcely any unity developed among the various Slavic peoples, although faint traces of co-operation sometimes appeared.

Because of vastness and diversity of the territory occupied by Slavic peoples, there were several centers of Slavic consolidation, which was never complete for many reasons. In the 19th century, Pan-Slavism developed as a movement among intellectuals, scholars, and poets, but it rarely influenced practical politics. The common Slavic experience of Soviet communism after World War II within the Eastern bloc (Warsaw Pact) didn't provide anything more than a high-level political and economic alliance, again hegemonic.

Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany claimed the racial superiority of the Germanic people, particularly over the Semitic and Slavic peoples. One major goal of the Nazi's ethnic programs was the enslavement of the Slavic peoples, and the reduction their numbers by killing the majority of the population. Hitler, as evidenced in Mein Kampf, had the aim that the Slavs serve the Third Reich as a permanent slave class.

Religion and alphabet

In religion, the Slavs traditionally divided into two main groups:

  1. those associated with the Eastern Orthodox Church -- most Russians, most Ukrainians, most Belarusians, some Carpathorussians (Ruthenes), most Serbs, most Bulgarians and most Macedonians
  2. those associated with the Roman Catholic Church (both Roman Catholic believers and Uniate adherents) -- Poles, some Sorbs, some Czechs, some Slovaks, Croats, Slovenians, some Ukrainians, a few Serbs, a few Macedonians and some Belarusians

The Orthodox/Catholic religious divisions become further exacerbated by the use of the Cyrillic alphabet by the Orthodox and Uniates (Greek Catholics) and of the Roman alphabet by Catholics.

However, the Sorbs profess Protestantism, as do most of the Czechs, certain Slovaks and a few Slovenians. The Bosniaks are Muslims. These minority religious groups use the Latin alphabet.

See also