South Slavs

The South Slavs are a southern branch of the Slavic peoples that live in the Balkans mainly throughout the former Yugoslavia (meaning "Land of the South Slavs") and Bulgaria. 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 group includes the Bulgarians and Macedonians in the east, and the Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Slovenes and Montenegrins in the west.


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. [Fouracre, Paul. "The Cambridge Medieval History", Volume I.] 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 Adminitrando 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"

Scholars tend to place the Slavic "Urheimat" in the Pripet marshes of Ukraine. 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.

As far as the Slavs mentioned by the 6th century Byzantine chroniclers are concerned, Florin Curta suggests that their 'homeland' was north of the Danube, not in Ukraine. [Curta, Florin and Stephenson, Paul. "Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250". Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521815398] He clarifies that their itinerant form of agriculture (they lacked the knowledge of crop rotation) "may have encouraged mobility on a microregional 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." [Curta, Florin and Stephenson, Paul. "Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250". Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521815398]

The Byzantines broadly grouped the numerous Slav tribes into two groups: the Sclavenoi and Antes. [Hupchick, Dennis P. "The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism." Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. ISBN 1403964173] 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). [Hupchick, Dennis P. "The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism." Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. ISBN 1403964173] 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". [Cambridge Medieval Encyclopedia, Volume II.] 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. [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."] Moreover, he perceived the Slavs as God's instrument for punishing the persecutors of the Monophysites. [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..."] 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. [Fine, John Van Antwerp. "The Early Medieval Balkans". University of Michigan Press, 1983. ISBN 0472081497]

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, the archaeological evidence does not support such an expansion. [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."]

Interaction with the Balkan population

The Balkans region is, and always has been, home to a diverse range of peoples. Prior to Roman conquest, a number of ‘native’ or ‘autochthonous’ peoples had lived there since ancient times. There were, of course, the Hellenes south of the "Jicerek line". To the north, there were "Illyrians" in the western portion (Illyricum, which roughly corresponds to what was Yugoslavia), Thracians in Thrace (modern Bulgaria and eastern Macedonia), and Dacians in Moesia (northern Bulgaria and northeastern Serbia) and Dacia (modern Romania). These people were quite diverse and un-unified. They led tribal lives and generally lacked awareness of any greater ethno-political affiliation. Over the classical ages, they were at times invaded, conquered and influenced by Celts, and Greeks and finally, conquered by the Romans. In reality, Roman influence 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 (Sirmium, Belgrade, Nis). Roman citizens from throughout the empire settled these cities and the adjacent countryside. The vast hinterland was still populated by indigenous peoples who likely retained their own tribal character. [Fine, John Van Antwerp. "The Early Medieval Balkans". University of Michigan Press, 1983. ISBN 0472081497]

Following the fall of Rome and numerous barbarian raids, the population in the Balkans dropped, as did commerce and general standard of living. Many people were killed, or taken prisoner by invaders. The fall in the population is 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 hit by the raids - the lands around major land highways. People sought refuge inside fortified cities, whilst others fled to remote mountains and forests, joining their non-Romanized kin for a transhumant pastoral lifestyle. The larger cities were able to persevere, even flourish, through the hard times. Archeological 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. [Curta, Florin and Stephenson, Paul. "Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250". Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521815398]

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. [Fine, John Van Antwerp. "The Early Medieval Balkans". University of Michigan Press, 1983. ISBN 0472081497]

As the Slavs supposedly 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, capturing many prisoners. In his "Strategikon", Pseudo-Maurice noted that it was commonplace for Slavs to accept newly acquired prisoners into their ranks. Despite the Byzantine's accounts of 'pillaging' and 'looting', it is likely that many indigenous peoples voluntarily assimilated with the Slavs. The Slavs lacked an organised, centrally ruled organisation which actually hastened the process of willfull Slavicisation. The strongest evidence for such a co-existence is from archeological 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 a interactions awarded the pre-Slavic populace protection within the ranks of a dominant, new tribe. In turn, they contributed to the genetic and cultural development the South Slavs. There was a flow of loan-words in either direction. For example, the Slavic name for Greeks, "Grci", is derived from the Latin "Graecus" presumably encountered through the local Romanised populace. Conversely, we know that 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.

Overtime, 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. [Cirkovic, Sima. "The Serbs". Blackwell Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0631204717] 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 Romanians.

Relationship with Byzantium

During the 580s, Byzantine literature attests to the Slavs raiding Greece. According to later sources such as "The Miracles of St Demetrius", the Draguvits, Belegzites, Sagudates laid siege on Thessaloniki in 614. In 626, a combined Gepid, Avar, Slav and Bulgar army besieged Constantinople. The siege was broken, which would have 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.

Constantine Porphyrogenitus wrote that "the entire country [of Greece] was Slavonized". In 723, Willibald a western pilgrim en route to the Holy Land landed in the Peloponnese. He referred to it as the "land of Sclavinia", [Curta, Florin and Stephenson, Paul. "Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250". Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521815398] whilst "The Life of Methodius" noted that the inhabitants of Thessaloniki could "speak pure Slavonic". Apart from numerous historical records all attesting to their presence, linguist Vasmer has listed 429 Slavic toponyms from the Peloponnesus alone.

Though the literature attests to the Slavs occupying regions of Greece, the archaeological evidenceprovides a contrasting viewpoint. According to Curta Florin, 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. [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."] [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."]

Relations, if existent, between 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 the towns. [Fine, John Van Antwerp. "The Early Medieval Balkans". University of Michigan Press, 1983. ISBN 0472081497] 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. [Hupchick, Dennis. "The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism". Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. ISBN 1403964173]

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 Anatolia (these Slavs were dubbed "Slavesians". [Curta, Florin and Stephenson, Paul. "Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250". Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521815398] 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. [Curta, Florin and Stephenson, Paul. "Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250". Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521815398] 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. [Curta, Florin and Stephenson, Paul. "Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250". Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521815398] 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 not able to Hellenize Macedonia completely 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 (supposedly) occupied multiple regions 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).

Asparuch’s Bulgars arrived in Dobrudja and Moesia Inferior in the 670s. 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 Macedonia 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.

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 Hungary and Croatia.

The Croats were Frankish vassals until they successfully rebelled during the 850s, forming the Duchy 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 Serbia. 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, namely the symbiosis of ancient, native Balkan populations with that of the 6th century Slavs. A recent genetic study [ [ 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] ] 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 some 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 Ukraine from Ukrainian LGM refuge 15 kya. [Ibid, p. 408.] The second group is comprised of southern Slavic populations: Bulgarians, Croatians, Bosniaks, Macedonians and Serbs, who have a significantly lower frequency of R1a. 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..." [Ibid, p. 410.]

outh Slavic peoples

South Slavs are divided 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: [Mile Nedeljković. "Leksikon naroda Sveta". Beograd, 2001.]

Eastern group:
*Bulgarians = 8,000,000
**Pomaks (Muslim Bulgarians) = 250,000
**Bessarabian Bulgarians = 140,000
**Palćene (Banat Bulgarians) = 15,000
*Macedonians = 2,000,000
**Torbeshs = 40,000

Western group:
*Serbs = 9,500,000
*Croats = 6,000,000
**Burgenland Croats = 50,000
**Janjevci = 10,000
**Krashovans = 5,000
**Molise Croats = 5,000
**Bunjevci = 80,000
**Šokci = 2,000
*Bosniaks = 2,100,000
*Slovenes = 2,000,000
*Montenegrins = 650,000
*Gorani = 64,000

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, Istrani, Dalmatinci, Slavonci, Bosanci, Hercegovci, Krajišnici, Semberci, Srbijanci, Šumadinci, Moravci, Vojvođani, Sremci, Bačvani, Banaćani, Sandžaklije, Kosovci, Crnogorci, Bokelji, Torlaks, Shopi, Pelagonci, Tikvešjani, Trakiytsi, Dobrudzhantsi, Balkandzhii, Aegean Macedonians, Miziytsi, Pirintsi, Rodoptsi, Bessarabian Bulgarians, Banat Bulgarians, Carinthian Slovenes, and many others.


There are seven countries in which South Slavs form the majority of population: []
*Slovenia (83% Slovenes, 88,29% South Slavs)
*Croatia (90% Croats, Serbs 4.5%, Bosniaks (incl. Muslims by nationality) 1%, Slovenes 0.3%)
*Bosnia and Herzegovina (45% Bosniaks, 37% Serbs, 14% Croats, 3% others)
*Serbia (66% Serbs when including Kosovo, 82% excluding)
*Montenegro (43% Montenegrins, 32% Serbs)
*Republic of Macedonia (64% ethnic Macedonians)
*Bulgaria (84% Bulgarians)

In addition, there are traditional sizable South Slavic minorities in non-Slavic neighbouring countries such as Italy (Slovenes, Molise Croats), Austria (Slovenes, Burgenland Croats), Hungary (Serbs, Croats, Bunjevci, Šokci, Slovenes), Romania (Krashovani, Banat Bulgarians, Serbs), Moldova (Bessarabian Bulgarians), Greece (Bulgarians, Macedonians), Turkey (Pomaks, Bosniaks) and Albania (Macedonians, Serbs, Montenegrins, Gorani), as well as emigrant communities in various countries around the world.


Largest cities with South Slavic majority:

*Belgrade (Serbia) = 1,576,124
*Sofia (Bulgaria) = 1,344,605
*Zagreb (Croatia) = 779,145
*Skopje (Republic of Macedonia) = 571,926
*Plovdiv (Bulgaria) = 378,107
*Varna (Bulgaria) = 357,752
*Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) = 304,136
*Novi Sad (Serbia) = 299,902
*Ljubljana (Slovenia) = 275,000
*Niš (Serbia) = 250,861
*Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina) = 227,000
*Split (Croatia) = 221,456
*Kragujevac (Serbia) = 210,473
*Burgas (Bulgaria) = 205,821
*Ruse (Bulgaria) = 176,115
*Maribor (Slovenia) = 168,000
*Tuzla (Bosnia and Herzegovina) = 165,000
*Stara Zagora (Bulgaria) = 162,768
*Rijeka (Croatia) = 152,279
*Subotica (Serbia) = 149,450
*Zenica (Bosnia and Herzegovina) = 146,000
*Pleven (Bulgaria) = 137,001
*Podgorica (Montenegro) = 136,473
*Pančevo (Serbia) = 131,200
*Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina) = 125,448
*Bitola {Republic of Macedonia) = 122,173
*Dobrich (Bulgaria) = 114,990
*Osijek (Croatia) = 114,616
*Pernik (Bulgaria) = 108.366
*Sliven (Bulgaria) = 106,434
*Kumanovo (Republic of Macedonia) = 105 484
*Shumen (Bulgaria) = 103,016


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, ethnic 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.


::"Main article: South Slavic languages"

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 censa conducted during Austro-Hungarian administration. Today, Montenegrin is also being constituated in Montenegro. It is slowly being revised, embracing local speech, following the lines taken for Bosnian following its indendence from Yugoslavia.

However, this language division is more political than linguistic. 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 dialect continuum (ie. Bulgarian and Slovenian are mutually unintelligible, but are linked via a chain of intermediate dialects, all intelligible to adjactent regions; these include the standard languages, whose impact is anyhow softened by chains of intermediate non-standard dialects). A non-political classification of the South Slavic dialects is as follows:
*Slovene - the standard language of Slovenia, with its dialects continuing into areas over the Austrian and Italian borders which ethnic Slovenes inhabit. Many regional dialects exist.
*Kajkavian - based on "Kaj", the local word for "what", this is the dialect spoken in Croatia which is closest to Slovene (also a "kaj" language).
*Chakavian - based on "cha" (ča), the local word for "what", contained entirely within Croatia's borders, unique in that it is suspected to be native only to local ethnic Croatians.
*Shtokavian - the largest and most complex dialect chain, also based on "shto" - the local word for "what" - itself varies with increased distance. It is used as the base for standard Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian, as well as non-standard Montenegrin and Bunjevac.
*Torlakian - a non-standard dialect chain separating "western" south Slavic and "eastern" South Slavic standard 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 Florina ("Lerin") and Edessa ("Voden") being closer to Macedonian.

::"See also: South Slavic Languages#Grammar"


The three main subdialects of Shtokavian speech (see below) used to be considered as being the main dialects of the Serbo-Croatian language. Kajkavian, Chakavian, and Torlakian were all at various times classified as being a fourth dialect of Serbo-Croatian. On principle, Serbo-Croat Shtokavian forms, along with Kajkavian and Chakavian are themselves closer to standard Slovenian than they are to Torlakian (standard Serbian included) - which is itself arguably an "eastern" south Slavic dialect, closer to Bulgarian and Macedonian. "See main article".

Additionally, similar to the Torlakian spoken by the Krashovan community of Romania, other isolated language forms exist. Two distinct dialects spoken by Croats and Slovenes respectively in Burgenland, Austria survive. The languages were carried to the present-day region several centuries back, long before the notion of "standard language" became an instrument of national identity for ethnic groups. Their inclusion in the Austrian republic and their long period of isolation from their respective nations farther south meant that Burgenland Croatian and Slovene would develop separately. Geographically, the settlements in eastern Austria are adjacent to the Czechs of the Czech Republic, also a Slavic ethnic group. However, the fundemental differences between West Slavic languages (to which Czech belongs) and South Slavic languages meant that the two language groups could coexist indefinitely without one becoming dissimilated by the other. For similar reasons, Slavic languages (though not "South Slavic") have survived for similar periods of time - developing changes of the same nature - in present-day South Slavic countries. These include Czech, Slovak, Pannonian Rusyn and Ukranian which are spoken by communities within Vojvodina, Serbia and Slavonia, Croatia.

In Molise, Italy, a peculiar Ikavian Štokavian dialect termed Molise Croatian is spoken by the Molise Croats who are another modern-day population who settled centuries earlier.


The Cyrillic letter yat (Unicode|Ѣ) forms the basis of a major point of reference for dialectal definition, not only among South Slavic languages, but also in the entire Slavic-speaking world. The way the pronunciation of this archaic letter has developed forms another major basis for differentiation between dialects which overlays the above classification.

Westen dialects

Within Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia (the regions home to the former Serbo-Croat language), a secondary "yat"-orientated accent system is known. These are an extra feature, one of which applies to every dialect spoken in all of the republics.
**Ekavian - used for standard Serbian. Otherwise, it is used by non-Serb Slavs largely throughout Serbia; although it is not the accent of some parts of Serbia in its extreme south-west (eg. Sjenica). Also used by all south Slavs living in Hungary (never having lived in a unified country), as well as parts of Croatia close to Hungary (eg. Beli Manastir). Outside of the old Serbo-Croat zone, this accent system applies to Slovenian (eg. "lepo", nice) and Macedonian (eg. "lek", medicine).
**Ijekavian - used in standard Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian (esp. of Bosnia and Montenegro), as well as non-standard Montenegrin.
**Ikavian - largely confined to parts of Croatia and Bosnia, and notable as system for non-standard Bunjevac.

Eastern dialects

The yat-based system also exists in Bulgaria and Macedonia and is the basis of the three main divisions between the dialects of the two languages:


*Yat is pronounced "e". The stress falls in the same place in words as in Serbian - eg. "млеко (mleko)" - "milk".


*Western Dialects (informally called "твърд говор/tvurd govor" - "hard speech") - Yat is also pronounced "e". In Bulgarian, the stress often falls later in the word than in Macedonian - eg. "млеко (mleko)";

*Eastern Dialects (informally called "мек говор/mek govor" - "soft speech") - yat is pronounced "ya" - eg. "мляко (mlyako)".


Further reading

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


See also

* Slavic peoples
* East Slavs
* West Slavs

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