Origin hypotheses of the Croats

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The origin of the Croatian tribe before the great migration of the Slavs is uncertain. The modern Croats are undoubtedly a Slavic people, but the archaeological and other historic evidence on the migration of the Slavic settlers, the character of native population on present-day territory of Croatia, and their mutual relationship and influences is sparse.

Slavic theory[edit]

According to the most widely accepted[1] Slavic theory concerning the migrations of the 7th century, the Croatian tribe moved from the area north of the Carpathians and east of the river Vistula (referred to as White Croatia) and migrated into the western Dinaric Alps. White Croats formed the Principality of Dalmatia in the upper Adriatic. Another[citation needed] wave of Slavic migrants from White Croatia subsequently founded the Principality of Pannonia.

Locations of White Croatia and White Serbia in the 6th century (around 560), according to the book of Francis Dvornik.

However, some scholars doubt the above theory, which is based primarily on De Administrando Imperio, a 10th-century work by Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus. The doubt rests primarily on archaeological and historiographical grounds. In 603 AD, according to the codices of the church of Thessaloniki, Croats, who had invaded Dalmatia and Istria, have been confusing Maximus the bishop of Salona, because they wrote him back.[clarification needed][citation needed] He described the Croats as the "insightful" Slavs. According to a letter of Pope Gregory, the colonization by Slavs of Imperial estates in Istria, which were available to the public, was known since the 6th century, but was still in the 9th century on the agenda for a People's Assembly in Istria, which brought forth some very remarkable documents.[2] D.A.I. states that the Croats arrived during Heraclius' regnal years (610–640 AD) from "Bagibareja", which translated means that they arrived from "a prominent town". However, there is little archaeological supporting such a migration. Moreover, it is unlikely that any political entity such as White Croatia ever existed, because the justification for it is only in the clearly erroneous translation of the word Bagibareja.[3] Instead, Curta points to some burial assemblages in the northern Dalmatia region, which he dates to 800 AD. Here, there are some exceptionally rich burials showing Byzantine, Avar, Frankish and Slavic material elements, perhaps representing a "community of Croats". That is, Curta suggests that the Croats emerged as some kind of an elite caste of Slavic-speaking warriors, consequently spreading their influence, thus their name, over much of Dalmatia and parts of Pannonia. A theory of migration from the north to the south may be interpreted in this context as a philosophical balance with the propagation of the faith from the south to the north. Subsequent papal recognition ensured the evolution from "a prominent tribe" to a medieval kingdom. However, because of events such as the earthquakes between 350 and 450 AD, a migration theory cannot be ruled out; also because Ostrogorski[4] claims that the Slavs, who had tried to take Thessaloniki in 597, invaded Crete in 623, but the sources for his thesis are not clearly known, and because Alexandria was taken by Khosrau II of Persia in 616, but Heraclius recovered it a few years later. Here could be a link to the linguistic Persian theory, too.

Iranian theory[edit]

The Iranian theory suggests that the (proto-)Croats were a tribe from Arachosia in present-day Southern Afghanistan. This theory is based solely on linguistic evidence, namely the spread of the Old Croatian ethnonym *xъrvatъ, almost certainly a borrowing into Slavic, probably from the Middle Persian "harw, hrw", which means "all, each, every", from the Middle Persian "xwad, hwt", which means "self", or from the Sanskrit "kratu", which means "insightful"; and the use of the Sanskrit "Bagibareja", which means "a prominent town".

'Origin' theories are often developed amidst a wider context of ideological-political discourse. Nevertheless the Gothic and Iranian origins theories have at times been supported by scholars such as Ivan Muzic. They represent an attempt to distance Croats from other Slavs, especially Serbs, during the volatile period of late 1970s until recently.[5] The Croatian language[citation needed] was spread over great parts of Europe as the mother tongue of Old Church Slavonic, because of Saint Jerome and Saints Cyril and Methodius. Church Slavonic was a divine order and a pastor has must know the Croatian grammar.[6][7][8] The scholar Osman Karatat also writes about the possible Iranian origin.[9]

For all the theories, the documentary and archaeological evidence is quite clear that the Croats emerged within 9th-century northern Dalmatia. At this time, there was no migration to account for, rather, political circumstances created a climate conducive to the emergence of a new polity in the northern Adriatic, between the Carolingian and Byzantine Empire. Ruled by local notables - the 'Croats' - the Croat ethonym later spread (and contracted) following the political fortunes of the Croat Kingdom. The creation of a Christianized Croat kingdom, recognized by Byzantium and the Papacy, cemented its existence and membership of a 'club' of European Christian Monarchic states.[10] As Danijel Dzino summarizes, "the question whether the Croats were migrants to Dalmatia or the indigenous population is not important. The earliest Croat identity we know of appeared with the disappearance of a structural Avar continuum and the establishment of new power structures in Dalmatia which were established on a new social and spiritual system from the West, indigenous regional polities - zupanias, and the use of the ancient past as a justification of that power". The Croats, based in the Nin-Knin-Skradin triangle, might have taken over local rule from an earlier socio-political collective- the Guduscani of Lika.

Tanais stone with the Greek inscription ΧΟΡΟΑΘΟΣ "Khoroathos" highlighted

Some researchers claim that the Croatian people are of Iranian origins.

Greek and Roman writers and especially the two stone inscriptions from Tanais tell us that the Croats from the middle of the first up to the 3rd century AD lived in the region of the lower Don and were one of the Median (Sarmato-Iranian) nations in that area. During the Hunnic invasion in 375 AD one part of the Croats on the Don retreated northwest over the Carpathians where they called themselves White (Western) Croats with respect to the Red (Southern) Croats who remained on the Don. There the White Croats intermingled with the Slavs of the central Slavic regions and adopted their language. After the collapse of the Hunnic empire the Croats at the end of the 5th century formed their own national state, calling it White or Great Croatia. It lay between the Oder and the Dniester with its capital Hrvat on the site of present-day Cracow in southern Poland.[11]

Following the formation of Yugoslavia in 1918, certain Slavs known as the "wolves" suppressed original research on the Iranian theory. To date, only some part of the research work that has been quoted in a report prepared by the academy of sciences of former Yugoslavia in 1938 is available.[12]

In the era of the Achaemenid (also known as the Persian empire), especially at the time of Cyrus II and Darius I, the name of the eastern Iranian province Harauvatya and the Croats of the ancient Iran Harauvatis and Harahvaiti have been mentioned for 12 times. In addition, two unearthed manuscripts belonging to the Croats living in the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC in ancient Iran have referred to the inhabitants of Horoouathos and Horoathoi. In the year 418, the Aryans were dubbed as Horites and Zachariasrhetor, in 559 the Aryan horse riders were referred to as Hrwts who lived in the vicinity of Krima and Azova and in the 7th century Croats were called as Slavs.

Indeed from the end of the 1st to the 3rd century AD in the city-state of Tanais, in the region of the Don, lived various Iranian tribes of Samatians as well as Croats who must have been Iranians. Furthermore the national name "Croat" is of Iranian origin. According to the Russian Vselod Miller the name "Croat" comes from the Iranian word Hor-va (t)u meaning: the sun’s bed or path. M. Vasmer derives the Croatian name from Hu-urvata meaning, "friend" And the terms used to designate the high officials among the Croats, "kralj, ban, župan", are of Iranian origin. The religion of the ancient Croats also bore traces of its Iranian origin: a god of light and darkness, fire-worship, cremation of the dead, and so on.[13] Even the Croatian words used to designate religious concepts are Iranian: God, religion, sacrifice, paradise, Easter; to cry out (for), to implore, to predict, and so on. After the Iranian fashion the ancient Croats ascribed a specific colour to each of the four cardinal points of the compass in the territory which they inhabited. The colour white designated the west, red the south, green the east, and black the north. Hence White or West Croatia, Red or South Croatia and Green or East Croatia. Ancient Croatian folk art bears eastern and Iranian traces, particularly the Croatian "troplets". The Croats also brought over from Iran their national coat of arms with its 64 red and white checkers.[14]

Identity of old-time Croat tribes Research works conducted in the past decade discuss the similarities between names and families used in the ancient-time Iran and the names and families in present Croatia. Some of these studies have pointed to the roots of alphabetic letters in the Croat language and stressed that contrary to the claims of the Slavs the roots of those letters are totally oriental and widely used at ancient times. Many manuscripts written with those letters date back to before 9th century.

Research studies on the style of dressing of the Croats show that they were dressed up as the Sassanid (also known as the second Persian Empire) and most of the local costumes of women were exactly similar to those worn by women at the time of the ancient Persian empire.[12]

Studies[citation needed] on other features of the Croats such as navigation reject the Slav presumption that the Croats had not have navigated before but that they had rather learnt the art from the Italians. According to the studies, there is evidence available that the Croats were acquainted with sailing even before the Slavs and that the time for their navigation in the Adriatic goes back to the 6th and 7th centuries[citation needed]. It should be noted that local Croat navigators were known as "Indo-Iranian" and "Slavs" in the Adriatic.

The earliest mention of the Croatian name, Horouathos, can be traced on two stone inscriptions in the Greek language and script, dating from around the year 200 AD, found in the seaport Tanais on the Azov sea, Crimea peninsula (near the Black Sea). Both tablets are kept in the Archaeological museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Mythological theories[edit]


Church of the Holy Cross in Nin known as "the smallest cathedral in the world" with the carved name of župan Godečaj.

According to the Gothic theory,[citation needed] Croats would be descendants of Ostrogoths/eastern Goths. This theory is based on a historic chronicle from Thomas the Archdeacon called Historia Salonitana where he mentions Croats as Goths. Also, Slavs in the area of modern Croatia are equated to Goths as barbarian people who came from the east in the Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja, in which is also reported that the Goths had come to receive the high name. The Croatian identity had some attraction to them as also to rulers.[15] The receiving of a shared identity through pilgrimage was a basic tradition in the Graeco-Roman and early Christian antiquity.[16] Aquileia was since the 4th century an important pilgrimage center, but it was destroyed in the 5th century by Attila who used the pilgrimage routes to come to Aquileia, but the pilgrims came again.[17] John of Ephesus used the term "Slavonians" and those, who are called "Avars" because of their long hair, had risen up against the powerful Empire of the Romans. He described this in connection with the death of Justin II and furthermore he reported that therefore it became necessary to enlist the barbarian people from the west, called Goths, under the banner of the Roman Empire. Patrick Amory described that it is not likely that the grouping of the Goths would have had a common ethnicity based on common ancestors.[18] A "Godišnik" was a laborer, servant, who was rented to one year.[19] John of Nikiû described how Vitalian (general) was opposed by Marinus, who took all ships he could find and manned them with a large force of Scythian and Gothic archers and sailed in the direction of Byzantium, but he took to flight and the sailors sailed then to Dalmatia, where the origin of the word Župan was described in the year 1250 in a manuscript on Glagolitic alphabet on the island of Brač, because Croats are not only inhabitants of Croatia, they are also inhabitants of a župa.


According to the autochthonous model, mostly promoted by the Illyrian Movement in the 19th century and abandoned[1] by the mid-19th century, the Slav homeland is actually in the area of southern Croatia, and they spread northwards and westwards rather than the other way round. A revision of the theory, developed by Ivan Muzić[20] argues that Slav migration from the north did happen, but the actual number of Slavic settlers was small and that the Illyrian ethnic substratum was prevalent in the formation of Croatian ethnicity.

John of Nikiû used the term "Illyrians" who devastated Christian cities and carried off their inhabitants captive, and that no city escaped save except Thessalonica only. John of Nikiû received these informations, because there was a mailboat between Alexandria and Diocleia at that time, because the Emperor thought on the monasteries in the desert as also Saint Jerome had commented Saint Augustine.[21][22] But that reminds on the history by Marcus Terentius Varro about Idomeneus, who during the Trojan War, after his return to Crete, sailed first to Illyria, and then together with Illyrians and Locrians to southern Italy.[23][24] Whereupon the Goths sacked Troja and Ilium, according to Jordanes. Snorri Sturluson claimed, that the Trojans made then a journey to Scandinavia. This could explain the Haplogroup, see below. There are different theories why the history repeats itself.[25] Wilhelm Max Müller mentioned in 1893 an inscription in Medinet Habu (temple), which mentions the "Hrv-š' " under the feets of Ramses III, who defeated the Sea Peoples.[26] After the victory over the Sea peoples, the Philistines were settled by Ramses III in the land of the Hrv-š' (or Hrjw-sch) whose Dukes became very frightened and brought him many tributes.[27] In the 3rd century, the Bosporan Kingdom hosted the assembly ΧΟΡΟΥΑΘ (Horouat), see Tanais Tablets. Andrei Bely treated the subject of these few letters Hrv-š' or Hrjw-sch in his Glossolalia in 1922 and he discovered in it a cross and a circle, because of the ancient observations of the planet Saturn.[28] It reminds on the village of Miholjanec where the earliest historical mention of the Knights Templar in Croatia was and not really far from there was discovered the Oldest European calendar. Another theory is since 1946 that the name Palaestīnī derives from the attested Illyrian locality Palaeste.[29] There are various theories about the relationship of these few letters to various Egyptian gods and Mesopotamian religion.[30] None of the historians about the origin of the Croats or Philistines is also a Pelasgian and a Partho - Scythian or Scythian-Grga (see Miholjanec) is attested by the Hungarians.[31] The question which peoples were autochthonus within the area of the Pontic Scythia remains unanswered until now, but research is going on.[32]

Genetics and anthropology[edit]

Anthropologically, the craniometrical measurements made on the Croat population show Croats from Croatia are predominantly dolichocephalic.[33] Croats from the northern regions generally have blonde-brown hair, and lighter eye colours, similar to the pigmentation of surrounding peoples such as Slovenes, Austrians and Hungarians. Croats from southern regions Dalmatia and Herzegovina generally have slightly darker hair, and higher incidence of brown eyes, although lighter hair and eyes are also common.

Genetically, on the Y chromosome line, a majority (>85%) of Croats from Croatia belong to one of the three major European Y-DNA haplogroups - I (38%[34][35][36]-45%[37]), R1a (27%[37]-34%[34][35][36]) and R1b (13%[37]-15%[34][35][36]), while a minority (>15%) mostly belongs to haplogroup E (9%[37]), and others to haplgroups J (4.4%[37]), N (2%[37]), and G (1%[37]).

Haplogroup I among Croatians from Croatia is divided in two major subdivisions - subclade I2 (35%), typical for the populations of eastern Adriatic and the Balkans, and I1 (9%), in contrast to other South Slavs, typical for north-western Europeans.[37] From the I2 subclade, former I2a2a in the Y2010 tree, I2a1b1 is the most prevailing, and it's typical of the South Slavic populations of south-eastern Europe, being highest in Bosnia-Herzegovina (>50%).[38] In investigation leaded by Lovorka Barac in 2003, in Croatia highest frequency is observed in Dalmatia, peaking in southern isles of Brac, Korcula (~55%) and Hvar (65%).[34] In the north-eastern town of Osijek, on the banks of the river Drava, and in northern isle of Krk frequency is lower (27%).[37][34] Highest frequency of the haplogroup is found in Bosnian-Croats from Herzegovina (73%).[37] According to genetic genealogist Kenneth Nordtvedt, I2a1b1 is not older than 2,800 years,[39] and is too young not to have been a result of a sudden expansion.[40] He connects it with Slavic invasion of the Balkan, from the area north-east of the Carpathians since 500 CE,[41] locating the start of the I2a1b1 lineage around the middle course of the Vistula river.[42]

R1a1-M17 and R1b1b2-M269 are the second (34%) and the third (15.6%) most prevailing haplogroups. In investigation done in 2003, this two haplogroups showed an opposite frequency distribution to I2a1b1, and highest frequency is observed in northwest and eastern Croatia.[34][37] Highest frequency of R1a1 was found in Croats from Osijek (39%)[37] and in northern isle of Krk (37%),[34] being similar to the values of other Slavs, like Slovenes, Czechs and Slovaks. On southern isles of Hvar, Korcula and Brac frequency tend to be lower (8-20-25%),[34] but is still higher than among Bosniaks and Serbs. In Bosnian Croats frequency is similar to those of other South Slavs (12%).[37] Highest frequnecy of R1b1b2 was in Croats from isle of Krk (16.2%),[34] while in southern isles and Bosnian Croats is almost absent (1-6%),[34][37] and in Osijek wasn't found. [37]

From the haplogroup E among Croats the most frequent is E1b1b1a2 (6.7%), while E1b1b1a3 and E1b1b1c were also found in small numbers (1.1%).[37] E1b1b1a2 it's typical of the populations of south-eastern Europe, peaking among Kosovo Albanians (44%), and is also high among Macedonian Slavs, Greeks, Romanians, Bulgarians and Serbs.[43][36][44][45] The highest frequency in Croatia has been found in Osijek (10.3%),[37] while in northern isle of Krk is a bit higher (6.8%) than in southern ones (3.7-4.3%).[34] In Bosnian Croats frequency is the same like among Croats from Croatia (8.9%).[37]

Haplogroups J, G, N and P, if found, are in lower numbers. Subclades J2b-M102 and J2a-410 are higher in Croats from Croatia, peaking in Croats from Osijek (6.8% and 3.4%) and northern isle of Krk (10.8%),[37][34] than in Bosnian Croats (both 1.1%).[37] Subclade G2a-P15 both in Croatian and Bosnian Croats is found in low numbers (1.1%), but peaks in the north-eastern town of Osijek (13.8%) and the southern isles of Korcula (10.4%) and Brac (6%). The haplogroup N-M214 was found only in Croatia (2.2%).[37] It is very frequent in Far East, like Siberia and China, while in Europe within Finns (60%) and Baltic States (45%). Unusually for European populations, another central asian-siberian haplogroup P was found in high frequency in isles of Hvar (14%) and Korcula (6%). The occurrence could happen with Avars migration, the ancient trade route Silk Road, or the Ottoman invasion.

Croats are genetically heterogeneous, pointing to a high degree of mixing of newly arrived medieval migrant tribes (such as the Slavs and Goths) with the indigenous populations that were already present in the region of modern day Croatia.[46] Hence, most modern day Croats are directly descended from the original European population of the region who have lived in the territory by other names, such as Illyrians, and their forebears. These original inhabitants also served an important role in re-populating Europe after the last ice age.[37]

The region of modern day Croatia may have served as a refuge for northern populations during the last glacial maximum (LGM). The eastern Adriatic coast was much further south. The northern and western parts of that sea were steppes and plains, while the modern Croatian islands (rich in Paleolithic archeological sites) were hills and mountains. After the LGM, the offspring of these survivors (haplogroup I) repopulated much of central-eastern and southeastern Europe. Those who remained in the Balkans were the direct male-line ancestors of about 45% of modern day Croats in Croatia and 73% Croats in Herzegovina.[37]


  1. ^ a b O porijeklu Hrvata, Radoslav Katičić, re-published on hercegbosna.org website
  2. ^ Marges et "marches" médiévale, Volume 15 de Siècles: Cahiers du Centre d'histoire "espaces et cultures", Bruno Phalip, Presses Univ Blaise Pascal, 2002.(ISBN 9782845161887)
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