History of the Serbs

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The History of the Serbs (Serbian: Историја српског народа) spans from the first mention of the people by Roman historians to present.

Serbs (Срби, Srbi) are a South Slavic people who live mainly in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and, to a lesser extent, in Croatia. They are also a significant minority in the Republic of Macedonia. A Serbian diaspora dispersed people of Serbian descent to Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the United States, Canada and Slovenia.



Main article: Names of the Serbs

There are several theories on the etymology of the ethnonym Serbs. (< *serb-) is the root of the Proto-Slavic word for "same" (as in "same people"), found in Russian and Ukrainian (сербать), Belarussian (сербаць), Slovak (srbati), Bulgarian (сърбам), Old Russian (серебати).[1] Scholars have also suggested an origin in the Indo-European root *ser- 'to watch over, protect', akin to Latin servare 'to keep, guard, protect, preserve, observe'.[2]

Scholars have noted the mention of Serbs by Tacitus in 50 AD, Pliny the Elder in 77 AD (Naturalis Historia) and Ptolemy in his Geography 2nd century AD, in connection with a Sarmatian tribe of Serboi of the North Caucasus and Lower Volga.[3] Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus (325–391) referred to the Carpathians as "Montes Serrorum" in his works, which Croatian scholar Zupanic treated as an early mention of the Serbs (Serri).[citation needed] The works of Vibius Sequester (4th or 5th century) also mention Serbs.[4] Procopius (500-565) used the name Sporoi as an umbrella term for the Slavic tribes of Antes and Sclaveni, it is however not known whether the Slavs used this designation for themselves or he himself coined the term, it has been theorized however that the name is corruption of the ethnonym Serbs.[4][5]

The Serb ethnonym is written as Σερβοι (Servoi), Sorabos, Surbi, Sorabi in early medieval sources.[6] De Administrando Imperio mentions the realm of the Vlastimirović dynasty as Serbia, with several tribes going under the designation Serbs.[3][7] The work mentions a mythological homeland as White Serbia or Boiki (derived from Proto-Slavic *bojь. = battle, war, fight), also, the town of Servia received its name from its temporary inhabitants – the Serbs.[3][7] According to the Tale of Bygone Years, the first Russian chronicle, Serbs are among the first five Slav peoples who were enumerated by their names.[8]

Origin, South Slavs[edit]

Main article: Origin of the Serbs

South Slavs[edit]

The Slavs invaded the Balkans during Justinian I's rule (527–565), when eventually up to 100,000 Slavs raided Thessalonica. The Western Balkans was settled with "Sclaveni", the east with Antes.[9] Archaeological evidence in Serbia and Macedonia conclude that the White Serbs may have reached the Balkans earlier, between 550-600, as much findings; fibulae and pottery found at Roman forts point at Serb characteristics.[10]

White Serbs[edit]

"The Serbs are descended from the unbaptized Serbs, also called 'white', who live beyond Turkey in a place called by them Boiki, where their neighbour is Francia, as is also Great Croatia, the unbaptized, also called 'white': in this place, then, these Serbs also originally dwelt. But when two brothers succeeded their father in the rule of Serbia, one of them, taking a moiety of the folk, claimed the protection of Heraclius, the emperor of the Romans, and the same emperor Heraclius received him and gave him a place in the province of Thessalonica to settle in, namely Serbia, which from that time has acquired this denomination."...
..."Now, after some time these same Serbs decided to depart to their own homes, and the emperor sent them off. But when they had crossed the river Danube, they changed their minds and sent a request to the emperor Heraclius, through the military governor then governing Belgrade, that he would grant them other land to settle in."...
..."And since what is now Rascia (Serbia) and Pagania and the so-called country of the Zachlumi and Trebounia and the country of the Kanalites were under the dominion of the emperor of the Romans, and since these countries had been made desolate by the Avars (for they had expelled from those parts the Romans who now live in Dalmatia and Dyrrachium), therefore the emperor settled these same Serbs in these countries, and they were subject to the emperor of the Romans; and the emperor brought elders from Rome and baptized them and taught them fairly to perform the works of piety and expounded to them the faith of the Christians."...
..."And since Bulgaria was beneath the dominion of the Romans * * * when, therefore, that same Serbian prince died who had claimed the emperor's protection, his son ruled in succession, and thereafter his grandson, and in like manner the succeeding princes from his family"...

-De Administrando Imperio chapter 31, Constantine VII[7]

Early Middle Ages[edit]

Porphyrogenitus' account claims that Serbs departed with the Unknown Archont from White Serbia and settled in the Balkans during the reign of Emperor Heraclius (610-641). They stayed in the Salonica province, and gave their name to the town "Servia",[11] but decided to leave for their homeland. In Belgrade, they contacted the strategos and requested lands, and they received territory in the desolate lands of Roman Dalmatia encompassing parts of modern Croatia (Dalmatia), Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro (Serbia (Rascia), Pagania, Zahumlje, Travunia and Konavli).

During the rule of Constans II (641–668), Serbs (Slavs) were resettled in Asia Minor (in ca 649[12] or 667[13]) from the areas "around the river Vardar" to the city of Gordoservon (Serb habitat). Isidore, the "Bishop of Gordoservon" is mentioned in 680, the fact that it was an episcopal seat gives ground to the thesis that it had a large Serbian population.[14][15] In 692, Slavesians defected from the battle at Sebastopolis, due to bad treatment by the Byzantines, and the Umayyuds won the battle.[14]

According to the Royal Frankish Annals, in 822, Ljudevit went from his seat in Sisak to the Serbs somewhere in western Bosnia – the Serbs are mentioned as controlling the greater part of Dalmatia ("Sorabos, quae natio magnam Dalmatiae partem obtinere dicitur").[16][17]

The first war between Bulgarians and Serbs took place between 839 and 842. According to Byzantine sources both peoples co-existed peacefully until Bulgarian attacks in the Macedonia region.[18]

Basil I with a delegation of Serbs and Croats[19]

The establishment of Christianity as state-religion dates to the time of Prince Mutimir and Byzantine Emperor Basil I (r. 867–886),[20][21] who, after managing to put the Serbs under his nominal rule, sends priests together with admiral Niketas Ooryphas, before the operations against the Saracens in 869 when Dalmatian fleets were sent to defend the town of Ragusa).[22]

Serbia experienced its golden age under the Nemanjic, with the Serbian state reaching its apogee of power in the reign of Tsar Stefan Uros Dusan, when the Serbian Empire dominated the Balkans. Serbia's power subsequently dwindled amid interminable conflict between the nobility, rendering the country unable to resist the steady incursion of the Ottoman Empire into south-eastern Europe. The Battle of Kosovo in 1389 is commonly regarded in Serbian national mythology as the key event in the country's defeat by the Turks, although in fact Ottoman rule was not fully imposed until some time later. After Serbia fell, the kings of Bosnia used the title of "King of the Serbs" until Bosnia was also overrun.

Modern history[edit]

Ottoman domination[edit]

As Christians, the Serbs were regarded as a "protected people" under Ottoman law but in practice were treated as second-class citizens and often harshly treated.[citation needed] They were subjected to considerable pressure to convert to Islam;[citation needed] some did, while others migrated to the north and west, to seek refuge in Austria-Hungary.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the First Serbian Uprising succeeded in liberating at least some Serbs, for a limited time. The Second Serbian Uprising was much more successful, creating a powerful Serbia that became a modern European kingdom.

Serbian Revolution[edit]

Main article: Serbian Revolution

20th century[edit]

At the beginning of the 20th century, many Serbs were still under foreign rule – that of the Ottomans in the south and of the Austrians in the north and west. The southern Serbs were liberated in the First Balkan War of 1912, while the question of Austrian Serbs' independence was the spark that lit the First World War two years later. A Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip killed the Austro-Hungarian archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, initiating a chain of declarations of war that produced a continent-wide conflict. During the war, the Serbian army fought fiercely, eventually retreated through Albania to regroup in Greece and launched a counter-offensive through Macedonia. Though they were eventually victorious, the war devastated Serbia and killed a huge proportion of its population – by some estimates, over the half of the male Serbian population died in the conflict, influencing the region's demographics to this day.

After the war, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later called Yugoslavia) was created. Almost all Serbs now finally lived in one state. The new state had its capital in Belgrade and was ruled by a Serbian king; it was, however, unstable and prone to ethnic tensions. An interesting, if somewhat pro-Serb, window on Yugoslavia between the wars is provided by Rebecca West's classic of travel literature, "Black Lamb & Grey Falcon".

During Second World War, the Axis Powers occupied Yugoslavia, dismembering the country. Serbia was occupied by the Germans, while in Bosnia and Croatia Serbs were put under the rule of the Italians and the fascist Ustase regime in the Independent State of Croatia. Under Ustase rule in particular, Serbs and other non-Croats were subjected to systematic genocide in which hundreds of thousands were killed.

After the war, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed. As with the pre-war Yugoslavia, the country's capital was at Belgrade. Serbia was the largest republic, however, the Communist regime of Josip Broz Tito diluted its power by establishing two autonomous provinces in Serbia, Kosovo and Vojvodina.

Communist Yugoslavia collapsed in the early 1990s, with four of its six republics becoming independent states. This led to several bloody civil wars as the large Serbian communities in Croatia and Bosnia attempted to remain within Yugoslavia, which now consisted of only Serbia and Montenegro. Another war broke out in Kosovo (see Kosovo War) after years of tensions between Serbs and Albanians. About 200,000 Serbs left Croatia during the "Operation Storm" in 1995, and another 200,000 left Kosovo after the Kosovo War, and settled mostly in Central Serbia and Vojvodina as refugees.


Serbian medieval migrations

Byzantine sources report that part of the White Serbs, led by the Unknown Archont, migrated southwards from their Slavic homeland of White Serbia (Lusatia) in the late sixth century and eventually overwhelmed the 'Serbian lands' that now make up Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Dalmatia.[7] After settling on the Balkans, Serbs mixed with other Slavic tribes (which settled during the great migration of the Slavs) and with descendants of the indigenous peoples of the Balkans: Illyrians, Thracians, Dacians, Celts, Greeks and Romans.[23]

Afterwards, overwhelmed by the Ottoman wars in Europe which ravaged their territories, Serbs once again started crossing the rivers Sava and Danube and resettling the regions in Central Europe which are today's Vojvodina, Slavonia, Transylvania and Hungary proper. Apart from the Habsburg Empire, thousands were attracted to Imperial Russia, where they were given territories to settle: Nova Serbia and Slavo-Serbia were named after these refugees. Two Great Serbian Migrations resulted in a relocation of the Serbian core from the Ottoman-dominated South towards the Christian North, where it has remained ever since.

Serbs are genetically and culturally close to the other ethnic groups inhabiting the Balkans. The Serbs emanated in patriarchal tribal organizations (zadrugas, see also Roman pater familias), with the Serb clan system surviving to this day, similarly maintained by Montenegrins but also in Montenegrin Bosniaks, Gheg Albanians and Maniote Greeks. This type of structure was initially part of the Serbian medieval society (feudalism), evolved to the zadruga system that declined in the late 19th century.


Y-chromosomal haplogroups identified among the Serbs from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are the following: I2a-P37.2 (with frequencies of 29.20 and 30.90%, respectively), E1b1b1a2-V13 (20.35 and 19.80%), R1a1-M17 (15.93 and 13.60%), R1b1b2-M269 (10.62 and 6.20%), K*-M9 (7.08 and 7.40%), J2b-M102 (4.40 and 6.20%), I1-M253 (5.31 and 2.5%), F*-M89 (4.9%, only in B-H), J2a1b1-M92 (2.70%, only in Serbia), and several other uncommon haplogroups with little frequencies.[24][25][26]

I2a-P37.2 is the most prevailing haplogroup, accounting for nearly one-third of Serbian Y chromosomes. Its frequency peaks in Herzegovina (64%), and its variance peaks over a large geographic area covering B-H, Serbia, Hungaria, Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Geneticists estimate that I2a-P37.2 originated some 10,000 years before present (ybp) in the Balkans, from where it began to expand to Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe about 7000 ybp. It is the second most predominant Y-chromosomal haplogroup in the overall Slavic gene pool. Slavic migrations to the Balkans in the early Middle Ages possibly contributed to the frequency and variance of I2a-P37.2 in the region.[24]

E1b1b1a2-V13 is the second most prevailing haplogroup, accounting for one-fifth of Serbian Y chromosomes. Its frequency peaks in Kosovo at 47.4%,[24] and is also high among Greeks, Romanians, Macedonian Slavs, and Bulgarians. It is rare among other Slavs, and moderate frequencies of it are found in southern Italy and Anatolia.[24][26] E-V13 probably originated in the southern Balkans about 9000 ybp. Its ancestral haplogroup, E1b1b1a-M78, could be of a northeast African origin.[26]

R1a1-M17 accounts for about one-seventh to one-sixth of Serbian Y chromosomes. Its frequency peaks in Poland (56.4%) and Ukraine (54.0%), and its variance peaks in northern Bosnia.[24] It originated around 20,000 ybp likely in southern Siberia, and some of its bearers migrated to the Balkans 10,000 to 13,000 ybp. About 5000 to 6000 ybp, they began to migrate from the Balkans to the west toward the Atlantic, to the north toward the Baltic Sea and Scandinavia, to the east to the Russian plains and steppes, and to the south to Asia Minor.[27] It became the most predominant haplogroup in the general Slavic paternal gene pool. The variance of R1a1 in tha Balkans might have been enhanced by infiltrations of Indo-European speaking peoples between 2000 and 1000 BC, and by the Slavic migrations to the region in the early Middle Ages.[24][25] A descendant lineage of R1a1-M17, R1a1a7-M458, which has the highest frequency in central and southern Poland (30%, more than half of total R1a1 there), is also observed among East Slavic and Finno-Ugric peoples, but it is very rare among South Slavs, including Serbs.[28]

R1b1b2-M269 is moderately represented among the Serb males (6–10%). It has its frequency peak in Western Europe (90% in Wales), but a high frequency is also found in the Caucasus among the Ossetians (43%).[24] It was introduced to Europe by farmers migrating from Western Anatolia, probably about 7500 ybp. Serb bearers of this haplogroup are in the same cluster as Central and Eastern European ones, as indicated by the frequency distributions of its sub-haplogroups with respect to total R-M269. The other two clusters comprise, respectively, Western Europeans and a group of populations from Greece, Turkey, the Caucasus and the Circum-Uralic region.[29]

J2b-M102 and J2a1b1-M92 have low frequencies among the Serbs (6–7% combined). Various other lineages of haplogroup J2-M172 are found throughout the Balkans, all with low frequencies. Haplogroup J and all its descendants originated in the Middle East. It is proposed that the Balkan Mesolithic foragers, bearers of I-P37.2 and E-V13, adopted farming from the initial J2 agriculturalists who colonized the region about 7000 to 8000 ybp, transmitting the Neolithic cultural package.[26]

An analysis of molecular variance based on Y-chromosomal STRs showed that Slavs can be divided into two distinct groups: one encompassing West Slavs, East Slavs, Slovenes, and western Croats, and the other encompassing Macedonian Slavs, Serbs, Bosniaks, and northern Croats (the latter six populations are South Slavic speakers). This distinction could be explained by a genetic contribution of pre-Slavic Balkan populations to the genetic heritage of South Slavs belonging to the latter group.[30] Principal component analysis of Y-chromosomal haplogroup frequencies among the three ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbs, Croats, and Bosniacs, showed that Serbs and Bosniacs are genetically closer to each other than either of them is to Croats.[25]

According to Serbian physical anthropologist Živko Mikić, the medieval population of Serbia developed a phenotype that represented a mixture of Slavic and indigenous Balkan Dinaric traits. Mikić, however, argues that the Dinaric traits, such as brachycephaly and a bigger average height, have been since then becoming predominant over the Slavic traits among Serbs.[31]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Projekat Rastko – Luzica / Project Rastko – Lusatia". Rastko.rs. Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  2. ^ J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, "Protect", The Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture (London: Fitzroy and Dearborn, 1997)
  3. ^ a b c Ćirković 2004, p. 13
  4. ^ a b The Spread of the Slaves, by Henry Hoyle Howorth, Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 1878
  5. ^ Our forefathers, Google Book
  6. ^ Istorija Srba, ch. 5: "Slovenska plemena i njihova kultura"
  7. ^ a b c d De Administrando Imperio
  8. ^ Povest vremennih let (Moscow, Leningrad: Akademiya nauk SSSR, 1990), pp. 11, 207
  9. ^ Hupchick, Dennis P. The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. ISBN 1-4039-6417-3[page needed]
  10. ^ http://www.rastko.rs/arheologija/delo/13047
  11. ^ Illustrated History of the Serbs
  12. ^ p. [page needed]
  13. ^ p. [page needed]
  14. ^ a b Erdeljanovich. J, "O naseljavanju Slovena u Maloj Aziji i Siriji od VII do X veka", Glasnik geografskog drushtva vol. VI (1921) pp. 189
  15. ^ Ostrogorski. G, "Bizantisko-Juzhnoslovenski odnosi", Enciklopedija Jugoslavije 1, Zagreb (1955), pp. 591-599
  16. ^ Serbian studies, Volumes 2–3, p. 29
  17. ^ Eginhartus de vita et gestis Caroli Magni, p. 192: footnote J10
  18. ^ De admin. imperio, ed. Bon., cap. 32, p. 154
  19. ^ http://www.rastko.rs/rastko-bl/istorija/corovic/istorija/2_4_l.html
  20. ^ The entry of the Slavs into Christendom, p. 208
  21. ^ De Administrando Imperio, ch. 29 [Of Dalmatia and of the adjacent nations in it]: "...the majority of these Slavs [Serbs, Croats] were not even baptized, and remained unbaptized for long enough. But in the time of Basil, the Christ-loving emperor, they sent diplomatic agents, begging and praying him that those of them who were unbaptized might receive baptism and that they might be, as they had originally been, subject to the empire of the Romans; and that glorious emperor, of blessed memory, gave ear to them and sent out an imperial agent and priests with him and baptized all of them that were unbaptized of the aforesaid nations..."
  22. ^ Rastko.rs
  23. ^ "Slavyane v rannem srednevekovie" Valentin V. Sedov (Russian language), Archaeological institute of Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 1995
  24. ^ a b c d e f g Pericić M, Lauc LB, Klarić IM, et al. (October 2005). "High-resolution phylogenetic analysis of southeastern Europe traces major episodes of paternal gene flow among Slavic populations". Mol. Biol. Evol. 22 (10): 1964–75. doi:10.1093/molbev/msi185. PMID 15944443. 
    N.B. The haplogroups' names in the section "Genetics" are according to the nomenclature adopted in 2008, as represented in Vincenza Battaglia (2008) Figure 2, so they may differ from the corresponding names in Marijana Peričić (2005).
  25. ^ a b c Marjanovic D, Fornarino S, Montagna S, et al. (November 2005). "The peopling of modern Bosnia-Herzegovina: Y-chromosome haplogroups in the three main ethnic groups". Ann. Hum. Genet. 69 (Pt 6): 757–63. doi:10.1111/j.1529-8817.2005.00190.x. PMID 16266413. 
  26. ^ a b c d Battaglia, Vincenza et al. (2008). "Y-chromosomal evidence of the cultural diffusion of agriculture in southeast Europe". European Journal of Human Genetics 17 (6): 820–30. doi:10.1038/ejhg.2008.249. PMC 2947100. PMID 19107149. 
  27. ^ Klyosov, Anatole (2009). "DNA Genealogy, Mutation Rates, and Some Historical Evidence Written in the Y-Chromosome, Part II: Walking the Map" (PDF). Journal of Genetic Genealogy 5: 2. 
  28. ^ Underhill, Peter A; Myres, Natalie M; Rootsi, Siiri; Metspalu, Mait; Zhivotovsky, Lev A; King, Roy J; Lin, Alice A; Chow, Cheryl-Emiliane T et al. (2009). "Separating the post-Glacial coancestry of European and Asian Y chromosomes within haplogroup R1a". European Journal of Human Genetics 18 (4): 479–84. doi:10.1038/ejhg.2009.194. PMC 2987245. PMID 19888303. .
  29. ^ Myres, Natalie M; Rootsi, Siiri; Lin, Alice A; Järve, Mari; King, Roy J; Kutuev, Ildus; Cabrera, Vicente M; Khusnutdinova, Elza K et al. (2010). "A major Y-chromosome haplogroup R1b Holocene era founder effect in Central and Western Europe". European Journal of Human Genetics 19 (1): 95–101. doi:10.1038/ejhg.2010.146. PMC 3039512. PMID 20736979. .
  30. ^ Rębała, Krzysztof; Mikulich, Alexei I.; Tsybovsky, Iosif S.; Siváková, Daniela; Džupinková, Zuzana; Szczerkowska-Dobosz, Aneta; Szczerkowska, Zofia (2007). "Y-STR variation among Slavs: Evidence for the Slavic homeland in the middle Dnieper basin". Journal of Human Genetics 52 (5): 406–14. doi:10.1007/s10038-007-0125-6. PMID 17364156. .
  31. ^ Mikić, Živko (1994). "Beitrag zur Anthropologie der Slawen auf dem mittleren und westlichen Balkan". Balcanica (Belgrade: the Institute for Balkan Studies of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts) 25: 99–109. 

Further reading[edit]