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The South Slavs are a southern branch of the Slavic peoples that live mainly in the Balkans. Geographically, the South Slavs are native to the southern Pannonian Plain, the eastern Alps and the Balkan peninsula and they speak South Slavic languages. Numbering close to 35 million, the South Slavs include Bosniaks, Bulgarians, Croats, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Serbs and Slovenes.


Early accounts

Little is known about the Slavs before the 5th century AD. Their history prior to this can only be tentatively hypothesized via archeological and linguistic studies. Much of what we know about their history after the 500s is from the works of Byzantine historians.

In his work De Bellis, Procopius portrays the 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" (i.e. anarchy). 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-Marice'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. They made their homes in forests, by rivers and wetlands. 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 St. Demetrius, History by Theophylact Simocatta and the Royal Frankish Annals.

Migrations and "homeland"

The Balkans at 500 AD

Scholars tend to place the Slavic Urheimat in the Pripet marshes of Ukrainemarker. 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 Belarusian-Ukrainian borderlands. 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 600s and the 700s. As the Byzantines re-asserted the Danubian defences in the mid 500s, 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 600s 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."

The Byzantines broadly grouped the numerous Slav tribes into two groups: the Sclavenoi and Antes. Apparently, the Sclavenes group were based along the middle Danube, whereas the Antes were at the lower Danube, in Scythia Minor. Some, such as Bulgarian scholar Zlatarsky, suggest that the Sclavenes group settled the western Balkans, whilst offshoots of the Antes settled the eastern regions (roughly speaking). 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 on the Aegean coast. By the 580s, as the Slav communities on the Danube became larger and more organised, and as the Avars exerted their influence, raids became larger and resulted in permanent settlement. In 586 AD, as many as 100,000 Slav warriors raided Thessaloniki. By 581, many Slavic tribes had settled the land around Thessaloniki, though never taking the city itself, creating a Macedonian Sclavinia. As John of Ephesus tells us in 581: "the accursed people of the Slavs set out and plundered all of Greece, the regions surrounding Thessalonica, and Thrace, taking many towns and castles, laying waste, burning, pillaging, and seizing the whole country." However, John exaggerated the intensity of the Slavic incursions since he was influenced by his confinement in Constantinople from 571 up until 579. Moreover, he perceived the Slavs as God's instrument for punishing the persecutors of the Monophysites. By 586, they managed to raid the western Peloponnese, Attica, Epirus, leaving only the east part of Peloponnese, which was mountainous and inaccessible. The final attempt to restore the northern border was from 591-605, when the end of conflicts with Persia allowed Emperor Maurice to transfer units to the north. However he was deposed after a military revolt in 602, and the Danubian frontier collapsed one and a half decades later (Main article: Maurice’s Balkan campaigns).

The Avars arrived in Europe in 558. 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. They crushed the Gepid Kingdom 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. 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 split into Imperial lands as they fled from the Avars. Despite being paid stipends, the Avars continued to raid the entire Balkans. 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. Their rule contracted to the region of the Carpathian basin. Archeological evidence show that there was intermixing of Slavic, Avar and even Gepid cultures, suggesting that the later Avars were an amalgamation of different peoples. This contributed to the rise of a Slavic noble class. The Khanate 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 furthermore absorbed by the Slavs and Bulgars.

Serbs and Croats are two tribes mentioned amongst the many Slavic tribes already in the Balkans. We know little about their origins. According to De Administrando Imperio, Emperor Heraclius invited them as foederati to defeat the Avars. They migrated from their homeland in southern Poland between 615 and 640 AD. However, apart from this (often disputed) document, we have no evidence of their migration specifically. Some suggest that they arrived to the Balkans with the rest of the Slavic migrations, only to rise to prominence as some sort of a leading clan amongst neighbouring Slavic tribes.

By 700 AD, Slavs inhabited most of the Balkans, from Austria to the Peloponnese, and from the Adriatic to the Black seas, with the exception of the coastal areas of the Greek peninsula. However, archaeological traces of Slavic penetration into the Balkans is scant, especially in the period prior to the 700s. This has led scholars to cast doubt on the accuracy of the historical sources, which all describe often large scale settlements by the Slavs throughout the Balkans, including southern Greece.

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. There were, of course, the Hellenes south of the Jireček line. 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). 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 limited to the cities, which were concentrated along the Dalmatian coast, in Greece, and a few scattered cities inside the Balkan interior particularly along the river Danube (Sirmiummarker, Belgrademarker, Nis). Roman citizens from throughout the empire settled in these cities and in the adjacent countryside. 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. This demographic decline was particularly attributed to a drop in the number of indigenous peasants living in the rural countryside. 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. Only certain areas tended to be affected by the raids (lands around major land routes). People sought refuge inside fortified cities, whilst others fled to remote mountains and forests, 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-styled 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 one 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.

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.

As the Slavs spread south into the Balkans, they interacted with the numerous peoples and cultures. 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. 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.

Over time, more and more of the Latin-speaking natives (generally referred to as Vlachs) were assimilated (such that, in the western Balkans, Vlach came be a socio-occupational term rather than ethnic term. The Romance speakers within the fortified Dalmatian cities managed to retain their culture and language for a longer time, Dalmatian 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

Some of the Slavic tribes in the Balkans c.
8th-9th century, as named by historical sources.

Byzantine literary accounts (i.e. Procopius, 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 Drugubites, Sagudates, Belegezites, Baiunetes, and Berzetes laid siege to Thessaloniki in 614-616. However, this particular event was in actuality of local significance. In 626, a combined Gepid, Avar, Slav, and Bulgar army besieged Constantinople. The siege was broken, which had repercussions upon the power and prestige of the Avar khanate. Slavic sieges on Thessaloniki continued and in 677, a coalition of Rynchites, Sagudates, Draguvites and Strumanoi attacked. This time, the Belgezites did not participate and in fact supplied the besieged citizens of Thessaloniki with grain.

While en route to the Holy Land in 732, Willibald "reached the city of Monemvasiamarker, 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. However, the text's value as an eyewitness account is significantly diminished by its use of Slavinia, a term that betrays a pre-existing Constantinopolitan (rather than Peloponnesian) source. In reference to the plague of 744-747, Constantine Porphyrogenitus wrote during the 10th century that "the entire country [of the Peloponnese] was Slavonized". According to the The Life of Methodius, the inhabitants of Thessaloniki are said to "speak pure Slavonic". It is important to note that many chroniclers in the past tended to exaggerate actual events for special effect.

Max Vasmer, a prominent linguist and Indo-Europeanist, complements late medieval historical accounts by listing 429 Slavic toponyms from the Peloponnese. However, toponyms may not serve as reliable indicators of Slavic settlements since they can be attributed either to other groups or to tenants situated on monastic or lay estates.

Though medieval chroniclers attest to Slavic hordes occupying Byzantine territories, the archaeological evidence provides a contrasting viewpoint. According to Florin Curta, current archaeological data (i.e. burial assemblages, brooches, settlements, etc.) does not support the idea of a "Slavic tide" covering the Balkans (including Greece) before the 600s. In fact, very little archaeological evidence found in the Balkans matches the settlement patterns found north of the Danube. The reasons for this are currently not clear despite attempts made by archaeologists such as Joachim Werner to universally classify "Slavic" material culture that includes bow fibulae. Contrary to Werner, bow fibulae were not "index fossils" left behind by Slavic migrants or objects used to depict the formation of a distinct ethnic group. Instead, these female dress accessories possessed emblematic styles depicting the social status of local elites. Some authors point to the rapid adoption of aboriginal Balkan 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 Late Antique traditions reflecting a contiguous demographic spread that chronologically matches with the arrival of Slavic-speaking groups.

Relations, if existent, between the Slavs and Greeks were probably peaceful apart from the (supposed) initial settlement and intermittent uprisings. Being agriculturalists, the Slavs probably traded with the Greeks inside towns. Furthermore, some Greek villages continued to exist in the interior, probably governing themselves, possibly paying tribute to the Slavs. Some villages were probably mixed, and undoubtedly some degree of bi-directional assimilation already began to occur before re-Hellenization was completed by the emperors.

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 (governor). It aimed to assimilate the Slavs into the Byzantine socio-economic sphere. The first Balkan theme created was that in Thrace, in 680 AD. By 695, a second theme, "Hellas", was established. Its location was probably in eastern central Greece. 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.

However, Slavs elsewhere were far more difficult to subdue. It was not until 100 years later that a third theme would be established. In 782-84, the eunuch general Staurakios campaigned from Thessaloniki, south to Thessaly and into the Peloponnese. He captured many Slavs, moving them elsewhere especially Anatoliamarker (these Slavs were dubbed Slavesians. Although he may have made some defeated Slav tribes pay homage, it is unlikely he subdued all of them. The theme of Macedonia was created sometime between 790 and 802. This theme was centered on Adrianople (i.e. east of the actual geographic entity). In 805, the theme of Peloponnesus was created. However, some local Slavic tribes Milings and Ezerites continued to revolt apparently angered by loss of lands and the threat of losing their independence. They were to remain independent until Ottoman times. From the 800s, 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 Thessaloniki and Dyrrachium. From these themes, Byzantine laws and culture flowed into the interior.

Apart from military expeditions against Slavs, the re-Hellenization process involved (often forcible) transfer of peoples. Many Slavs were moved to other parts of the empire, such as Anatolia and made to serve in the military. In return, Greek-speakers were brought to the Balkans, to increase the number of defenders at the Emperor's disposal and dilute the concentration of Slavs. Even non-Greeks were transferred to the Balkans, such as Armenians. As more of the peripheral territories of the Byzantine Empire were lost, their Greek-speakers made their own way back to Greece, e.g. from Sicily and Asia Minor.

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 world 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. Thus Dalmatia came to have closer ties with Italy, because of ability to maintain contact by sea (however, this too, was troubled by Slavic pirates). Additionally, Constantinople was cut off from Rome. This contributed to the growing cultural and political separation between the two centres of European Christendom.

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, 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, 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.

Formations of early Slavic states

By the end of 7th century, the Slavs occupied most parts of the Balkans. Despite having taken much land from the Byzantines, and successfully revolted against Avar dominance, they remained split into many different tribes. Other invaders of the Roman Empire, such as the Franks in the west, for example, formed a somewhat unified Kingdom incorporating various ‘Frankish’ and other Germanic tribes. However, as noted earlier, the Slavs tended to dislike centralized rule, and there was no one king or warrior who could forge a unified kingdom or supra-tribal union (which otherwise would have spanned half of Europe).

Asparukh’s Bulgars arrived in Scythia Minor in 680. Either by subjugation or alliance, they gained the service of Slavic tribes living in the area (as the Avars had done earlier). They moved the Severi and ‘The Seven Slavic clans’ to defend strategic areas of their early Khanate. The Byzantines were aware of this new threat, but could not stop the formation of the First Bulgarian Empire by 681. As the Bulgars expanded their influence, many Slavic tribes in Thrace, Moesia, Macedonia and Dacia also joined the ‘Bulgar League’, which was becoming progressively Slavonicized. Others are noted to have been loyal to the Byzantines. As they spread northwest, they subjugated the Abordrites and Timochans, who rebelled and appealed to the Franks for help.
Balkans, latter half of 9th century.

In the western Balkans, the tribal configurations of the 600s eventually formed a basis for early statelets, no doubt influenced by Feudalism from the west. During the 700s, the Franks extended into the northwestern Balkans. In 745, they incorporated the Slavs and other inhabitants of Carantania, the area serving as a march. 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 Hungarymarker and Croatiamarker.

The Croats were Frankish vassals until they successfully rebelled during the 850s, forming the Principality of the Croats in northern Dalmatia. In the southern half of the Dalmatian coast, four small Slavic duchies arose (i.e. Pagania, Zahumlje, Travunia and Duklja). Inland to these was the land of Serbiamarker. Today there is much debate about ‘historical rights’ to certain areas. However, these early states were composed of ethnically very similar people split into different tribal territories. At times, one would grow powerful enough to exert influence over its neighbours. Centuries later, some tribal or regional designations evolved to identify a people with a common national awareness (i.e. a nation-state), somewhat distinct from its neighbours. As the tribes and early states were never unified, they experienced different histories and cultural influences which has coloured their identity today. One cannot deny their uniqueness, but should not overlook their common origins either.


Although referred to as 'Slavs' and speaking a Slavic language, modern South Slavic peoples' genetic roots actually stem from a wide variety of genetic backgrounds, attesting the complexity of the ethno-genetic processes in Eastern Europe. A recent genetic study researched several Slavic populations with the aim of localizing the Proto-Slavic homeland. A significant finding of this study is that two genetically distinct groups of Slavic populations exist. The first group encompassed most Slavic populations except most Southern Slavs. According to the authors, most Slavs share a high frequency of Haplogroup R1a. Its origin is purported to trace to the middle Dnieper basin of Ukrainemarker and spread via migrating males during the Late Glacial Maximum 15 kya. The second group comprises most southern Slavic populations: Bulgarians, most of the Croats, Bosniaks, Macedonians and Serbs, who have a significantly lower frequency of R1a (~15%). According to the authors, this phenomenon is explained by "...contribution to the Y chromosomes of peoples who settled in the Balkan region before the Slavic expansion to the genetic heritage of Southern Slavs..." On the other hand the Subclade I2a1 of Haplogroup I2 is typical of western South Slavs, especially Dalmatian Croats and Herzegovinians (45-50%), with high frequency in all South Slavs (>20%). The highest frequency and diversity of Subclade I2a1 among populations of the Western Balkans lends support to the hypothesis that the Adriaticmarker region of modern-day Croatia served as a refuge for populations bearing Haplogroup I2 during the last glacial maximum. The subclade divergence appears to have arisen in the last one thousand to five thousand years. The Y haplogroup E1b1b1a and especially the E-V13 clade is common on the Balkans and some parts of Italy. High frequencies of it (>20%) have been found amongst Bulgarians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, and Serbs. Phylogenetic analysis strongly suggest that these lineages have spread through Europe, from the Balkans in a "rapid demographic expansion". E-V13 is in any case generally described in population genetics as one of the components, which shows the contribution made by the populations who dispersed the Neolithic technology from the Middle East trough Europe. Also the mitochondrial gene pools of the Slavonic ethnic groups proved to preserve features suggesting a common ancestor for these and South European populations (especially those of the Balkan Peninsula). Finally the testing results suggest a common ancestry of all Balkan populations, with a lack of correlation between genetic differentiation and language or ethnicity, stressing that no major migration barriers have existed in the making of the complex Balkan human puzzle. The genetic homogeneity among Balkan populations suggests either a most recent common ancestor of all southeastern European populations or strong gene flow between them, which eliminated any initial differences. Taking into account that the region has had a relatively high population density since the Neolithic period and that this region represents a crossroads of routes connecting the cultural centers of Middle East with different European areas.

South Slavic peoples

South Slavs are divided along linguistic lines into two groups — eastern and western. Please note that some of the subdivisions of the South Slavic ethnicities remain debatable, particularly for smaller groups and national minorities in former Yugoslavia.

List of the South Slavic peoples and ethnic groups, including population figures:

Eastern group:(15,000,000 estimated all together)

Western group:(25,570,000 estimated all together)

Regional groups

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, Istranimarker, Dalmatinci, Slavoncimarker, Bosanci, Hercegovci, Posavljaci, Krajišnici, Sembercimarker, Srbijanci, Šumadinci, Moravci, Vojvođanimarker, Sremcimarker, Bačvanimarker, Banaćani, Sandžaklije, Kosovcimarker, Brđani, Bokelji, Torlaks, Shopi, Pelagonci, Tikvešjani, Trakiytsimarker, Dobrudzhantsi, Balkandzhiimarker, Aegean Macedonians, Mijaks, Miziytsi, Pirintsimarker, Rodoptsi, Bessarabian Bulgarians, Banat Bulgarians, Carinthian Slovenes, and many others.


There are seven countries in which South Slavs form the majority of population:
  • Sloveniamarker (83% Slovenes, 2% Serbs, 1.8% Croats, 1.1% Bosniaks)
  • Croatiamarker (90% Croats, 4.5% Serbs, 0,5% Bosniaks, 0.3% Slovenes, 0,1% Montenegrin)
  • Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker (48% Bosniaks, 37% Serbs, 14% Croats, 1% others)
  • Serbiamarker (82% Serbs, 6% Croats, 2% Bosniaks, 1% Montengrins)
  • Montenegromarker (43% Montenegrins, 32% Serbs, 7,7% Bosniaks, 4% Muslims by nationality, 1,1% Croats)
  • Republic of Macedoniamarker (64% ethnic Macedonians, 1% Bosniaks)
  • Bulgariamarker (84% Bulgarians)

In addition, there are traditional sizable South Slavic minorities in non-Slavic neighbouring countries such as Italymarker (Slovenes, Molise Croats), Austriamarker (Slovenes, Burgenland Croats), Hungarymarker (Serbs, Croats, Bunjevci, Šokci, Slovenes), Romaniamarker (Krashovani, Banat Bulgarians, Serbs), Moldovamarker (Bessarabian Bulgarians), Greecemarker (Bulgarians, Macedonians), Turkeymarker (Pomaks, Bosniaks) and Albaniamarker (Macedonians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Montenegrins, Gorani), as well as emigrant communities in various countries around the world.


Largest cities with South Slavic majority:

  • Sofiamarker (Bulgaria) = 1,404,929 - data from Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2009
  • Belgrademarker (Serbia) = 1,182,000 - data from Census Bureau of Serbia; 2007
  • Zagrebmarker (Croatia) = 779,145 - data from Census Bureau of Croatia; 2001
  • Skopjemarker (Republic of Macedonia) = 506,926 - data from Census Bureau of Republic of Macedonia; 2007
  • Plovdivmarker (Bulgaria) = 379,315 - data from Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2009
  • Varnamarker (Bulgaria) = 355,450 - data from Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2009
  • Sarajevomarker (Bosnia and Herzegovina) = 304,614 - data from Census Bureau of Bosnia and Herzegovina; 2008
  • Novi Sadmarker (Serbia) = 299,294 - data from Census Bureau of Yugoslavia; 2002
  • Ljubljanamarker (Slovenia) = 267,920 - data from Census Bureau of Slovenia; 2007
  • Nišmarker (Serbia) = 255,180 - data from Census Bureau of Serbia; 2002
  • Burgasmarker (Bulgaria) = 229,250 - data from Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2007
  • Banja Lukamarker (Bosnia and Herzegovina) = 195,000 - data from Census Bureau of Bosnia and Herzegovina; 2008
  • Splitmarker (Croatia) = 188,694 - data from Census Bureau of Croatia; 2008
  • Kragujevacmarker (Serbia) = 180 252 - data from Census Bureau of Serbia; 2002
  • Ruse (Bulgaria) = 175,115 - data from Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2009
  • Podgoricamarker (Montenegro) = 169,132 - data from Census Bureau of Montenegro; 2002
  • Stara Zagoramarker (Bulgaria) = 162,416 - data from Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2007
  • Plevenmarker (Bulgaria) = 162,416 - data from Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2007
  • Rijekamarker (Croatia) = 144,043 - data from Census Bureau of Croatia; 2008
  • Tuzlamarker (Bosnia and Herzegovina) = 131,618 - data from Census Bureau of Bosnia and Herzegovina; 1991
  • Mostarmarker (Bosnia and Herzegovina) = 128,448 - data from Census Bureau of Bosnia and Herzegovina; 2007
  • Zenicamarker (Bosnia and Herzegovina) = 127,334 - data from Census Bureau of Bosnia and Herzegovina; 2007
  • Pancevomarker (Serbia) = 126,069 - data from Census Bureau of Yugoslavia; 2002
  • Bitolamarker (Republic of Macedonia) = 122,173 - data from Census Bureau of Republic of Macedonia; 2007
  • Pernikmarker (Bulgaria) = 121,366 - data from Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2007
  • Maribormarker (Slovenia) = 119,071- data from Census Bureau of Slovenia; 2002
  • Slivenmarker (Bulgaria) = 115,758 - data from Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2006
  • Dobrichmarker (Bulgaria) = 114,990 - data from Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2006
  • Osijekmarker (Croatia) = 114,616 - data from Census Bureau of Croatia; 2008
  • Kumanovomarker (Republic of Macedonia) = 105,484 - data from Census Bureau of Republic of Macedonia; 2007
  • Shumenmarker (Bulgaria) = 103,116 - data from Census Bureau of Bulgaria; 2006


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 large majority of South Slavs are Christian. Most Bulgarians, Macedonians, Serbs and Montenegrins are Eastern Orthodox Christians; whilst most Slovenes and Croats are Roman Catholics. Bosniaks and other small sub-groups of Slavs (e.g. Gorani, Torbesh, and Pomaks) are Muslims.


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 Montenegromarker. It is slowly being revised, embracing local speech, following the lines taken for Bosnian following the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker from Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslaviamarker.

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 one 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 is the dialect spoken in Croatia which is closest to some Slovene (also a "kaj" language).
  • Čakavian - named after the interrogative ča, the local word for "what", also 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 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 - based on the dialects central to the Republic of Macedonia. Several regional dialects exist.
  • Shop dialect - an intermediate dialect bordering with Torlakian areas to its north, with standard Macedonian to its west and standard Bulgarian to its east.
  • Bulgarian - the standard language of Bulgarian based on its central regions. Several regional dialects exist.
  • Greek Slavic - 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 Florinamarker (Lerin) and Edessa (Voden) being closer to Macedonian.

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 is based on so-called Ekavian /e/ reflex, the standard Croatian is based on so-called Ijekavian reflex .

See also


  1. Fouracre, Paul. The Cambridge Medieval History, Volume I.
  2. Curta, Florin and Stephenson, Paul. Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250. Cambridge University Press, 2006, ISBN 0521815398, 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 Belarusian-Ukrainian borderlands."
  3. Curta, Florin and Stephenson, Paul. Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250. Cambridge University Press, 2006, ISBN 0521815398, p. 61.
  4. Hupchick, Dennis P. The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. ISBN 1403964173
  5. Cambridge Medieval Encyclopedia, Volume II.
  6. Curta, Florin. The Making of the Slavs. Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 48. "Beginning in 571, John spent eight years in prison. Most of Book VI, if not the entire third part of the History, was written during this period of confinement...John was no doubt influenced by the pessimistic atmosphere at Constantinople in the 580s to overstate the intensity of Slavic ravaging."
  7. Curta, Florin. The Making of the Slavs. Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 48. "On the other hand, God was on their side, for in John's eyes, they were God's instrument for punishing the persecutors of the Monophysites. This may also explain why John insists that, beginning with 581 (just ten years after Justin II started persecuting the Monophysites), the Slavs began occupying Roman territory..."
  8. Fine, John Van Antwerp. The Early Medieval Balkans. University of Michigan Press, 1983. ISBN 0472081497
  9. Curta, Florin. The Making of the Slavs. Cambridge University Press, 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."
  10. Curta, Florin and Stephenson, Paul. Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250. Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521815398
  11. Cirkovic, Sima. The Serbs. Blackwell Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0631204717
  12. Fine, John Van Antwerp. The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 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."
  13. Curta, Florin. The Making of the Slavs: History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region c. 500-700. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 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."
  14. Curta, Florin. "Barbarians in Dark-Age Greece: Slavs or Avars?" Civitas Divino-Humana. In honorem annorum LX Georgii Bakalov. Edited by Tsevetelin Stepanov and Veselina Vachkova, pp. 513-550. Sofia: Centăr za izsledvaniia na bălgarite Tangra TanNakRa IK, 2004. "The sojourn in Monemvasia does not seem to have been long, but the fact that Hugeburc reports the place as being ‘in the land of Slavinia’ is often interpreted as an indication of a Slavic presence in the hinterland. The Latin word Slawinia is a clear, though by no means unique, calque of the Greek form Sklavinia, which Theophanes used for polities attacked by Constans II in 656 and by Justinian II in 688. As such, the word betrays a Constantinopolitan, not Peloponnesian, source for Willibald’s account. Whatever or whoever must have been in the hinterland of Monemvasia, it is significant that Hugebruc (or Willibald) employed the official terminology in use in Constantinople. As a consequence, the mention of Slavinia betrays a distant perspective, not an eyewitness account." [p. 530]
  15. Davis, Jack L. and Alcock, Susan E. Sandy Pylos: An Archaeological History from Nestor to Navarino. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998, p. 215. "The tenth century emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus noted that ‘the whole country [the Peloponnese] was Slavonized and became barbarous when the deadly plague [744–747] ravaged the universe, when Constantine, the one named after dung [Constantine V Kopronymos], held the scepter of the Romans.’"
  16. Vacalopoulos, Apostolos E. (translated by Ian Moles). Origins of the Greek Nation: The Byzantine Period, 1204-1461. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1970, p. 2. "Fortunately, historians of today know only too well how the impressionable and unsophisticated chroniclers of the past, for all their sensitivity and perception, were prone to embroider the facts of history for special effect."
  17. 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. "Since most Slav toponyms allude to some aspect of nature, they obviously derive from a peasant and shepherd culture. It is not always clear whether they were brought into Greece by Slavs who settled down permanently, by tenants situated on monastic and lay estates, or by the Vlachs, Arvanito-Vlachs, and Albanians, who became thoroughly intermixed with the Slavs, particularly in the western districts. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the toponyms represent the residual deposits of successive layers of history, which, in the case of Greek Macedonia at least, have been proved to belong to virtually every chronological period down to the twentieth century."
  18. Curta, Florin. The Making of the Slavs. Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 308. "Nor does the idea of a "Slavic tide" covering the Balkans in the early 600s fit the archaeological data. South of the Danube river, no archaeological assemblage comparable to those found north of that river produced any clear evidence for a date earlier than c. 700."
  19. Curta, Florin. The Making of the Slavs. Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 308. "Though both Greece and Albania produced clear evidence of seventh-century burial assemblages, they have nothing in common with the "Slavic culture" north of the Danube river."
  20. Curta, Florin. "Female Dress and "Slavic" Bow Fibulae in Greece", Hesperia, Vol. 74, Issue 1 (January-March 2005), pp. 101-146. "Werner produced the first classification of bow fibulae in Eastern Europe and attached the label "Slavic" to this class of artifacts. He divided his corpus into two classes (I and II), further subdivided on the basis of presumably different terminal lobes, shaped in the form of either a human face ("mask") or an animal head. Werner relied exclusively on visual, mostly intuitive, means for the grouping of his large corpus of brooches. The distribution of bow fibulae in Eastern Europe convinced him that the only factor responsible for the spread of this dress accessory in areas as far apart as Ukraine and Greece was the migration of the Slavs." [p. 102]
  21. Curta, Florin. "Female Dress and "Slavic" Bow Fibulae in Greece", Hesperia, Vol. 74, Issue 1 (January-March 2005), pp. 101-146. "Not all "Slavic" bow fibulae of Werner’s class I B should be dated to the same time within the seventh century, as Werner once thought. Some specimens may have been in fashion in the early 500s. The dissemination of bow fibulae into Greece is likely to indicate long-distance contacts between communities and to signal the rise of individuals having the ability both to entertain such contacts and to employ craftspeople sufficiently experienced to replicate ornamental patterns and brooch forms. Instead of treating "Slavic" bow fibulae as index fossils for the migration of the Slavs, we should therefore regard this emblematic style of brooch as an indication of contacts established by such individuals. Fibulae were primarily female dress accessories, and it is likely that high-status female burials mirrored the construction of the social identity of their husbands. The kind of identity symbolized is a matter dependent on the interpretation of "Slavic" bow fibulae. Wearing a fibula with scroll work decoration and cabochons may have given the wearer a social locus associated with images of power. Wearing a local reproduction of such a fibula was, no doubt, a very different statement, though still related to status. Beyond emulation, therefore, "Slavic" bow fibulae, especially cruder specimens without complicated scroll work ornaments, may have conveyed a message pertaining to group identity. Adherence to a brooch style helped to integrate isolated individuals—whether within the same region or widely scattered—into a group whose social boundaries crisscrossed those of local communities. "Slavic" bow fibulae were neither prototypical expressions of a preformed ethnic identity nor passports for immigrants from the Lower Danube region. During the early 600s, however, at the time of the general collapse of the Byzantine administration in the Balkans, access to and manipulation of such artifacts may have been strategies for creating a new sense of identity for local elites." [p. 133]
  22. 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. "Judging by the results of previous investigations, it seems more likely that the Slavs arriving to Dalmatia have immediately made contact with autochthonous population, and under their influence abandoned incineration giving precedence to inhumation. Beside the change of burial practice, Late Antique influences are also manifested in the funeral architecture (in Early Middle Ages, especially in Middle Dalmatia, dominant type of burial grave is one plated with stone) and the basic type of cemetery type, which is doubtless a continuation of Late Antique tradition, patterning more frequently in Dalmatia only after the second half of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth century unquestionably under Germanic influence."
  23. Hupchick, Dennis. The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. ISBN 1403964173
  24. Rebala K et al. (2007), Y-STR variation among Slavs: evidence for the Slavic homeland in the middle Dnieper basin, Journal of Human Genetics, 52:406-14
  25. Ibid, p. 408.
  26. Ibid, p. 410.
  27. Pericic et al.
  28. Y-DNA Haplogroup I and its Subclades - 2008.
  29. Differentiation and Genetic Position of Slavs among Eurasian Ethnic Groups as Inferred from Variation in Mitochondrial DNA - B. A. Malyarchuk, Russian Journal of Genetics. Volume 37, Number 12, December, 2001.
  30. Alu insertion polymorphisms in the Balkans and the origins of the Aromuns. David Comas et al. Ann Hum Genet. 2004 Mar;68(Pt 2):120-7.
  31. Paternal and maternal lineages in the Balkans show a homogeneous landscape over linguistic barriers, except for the isolated Aromuns. Bosh et al., Ann Hum Genet. 2006 Jul;70(Pt 4):459-87.
  32. Population history of the Dniester–Carpathians: evidence from Alu markers, Alexander Varzari et al. The Japan Society of Human Genetics and Springer 2007, p. 77.
  33. Mile Nedeljković. Leksikon naroda Sveta. Beograd, 2001.
  34. CIA - The World Factbook

Further reading

  1. Trajan Stojanović. Balkanska civilizacija. Beograd, 1995.
  2. Nikola Jeremić. Srpska Zemlja Bojka. Zemun, 1993.
  3. Aleksandar M. Petrović. Kratka arheografija Srba. Novi Sad, 1994.
  4. Sava S. Vujić and Bogdan M. Basarić. Severni Srbi (ne)zaboravljeni narod. Beograd, 1998.
  5. Jovan Dragašević. Makedonski Sloveni. Novi Sad, 1995.
  6. Kosta V. Kostić. Prilog etnoistoriji Torlaka, 2. izdanje, Novi Sad, 1995.


File:Kralj_Tomislav.jpg King Tomislav, first king of Croatia.File:Serbian bagpiper.jpg|Serb bagpiper in traditional attire wearing opanci and šajkača.File:Bokelj.jpg|A Montenegrin Bokelj in traditional garb.File:CarDusan.jpg|Tsar Stefan Uroš IV Dušan of Serbia.File:Njegos.jpg|Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, the Prince-Bishop of Montenegro.File:Emperor Jovan Nenad.JPG|tsar Jovan Nenad, the ruler of Vojvodina.File:Pomak-village-sokaki.jpg|Pomak village in Xanthi, Western Thrace.File:Ljubljana2007.jpg|Ljubljanamarker, the capital of Slovenia.File:Makedonka.jpg|Macedonian girl in traditional folk dress.File:Bulgarians_in_national_dress.jpg|Bulgarians in national dress dancing choro.File:Myzhka nosiya ot Gabra.jpg|Young boy in national folk dress from Gabramarker, Bulgariamarker.

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