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A župa (or zhupa, županija) is a historical type of administrative division in Central Europe and the Balkans, that originated in medieval Slavic culture, often translated into "county" or "district". It was mentioned for the first time in the 8th century. It was initially used by the South and West Slavs, denoting various territorial units of which the leader was the župan. This term in turn was adopted by the Hungarians as ispán and spread further. In modern Croatian and Slovenian, the term župa also means an ecclesiastical parish.[1]

Origin of the title[edit]

The exact origin of the title is not completely solved, and there were considered several hypothesis; Slavic (F. Miklošič), Avarian (A. Bruckner), Iranian (F. Altheim), Proto Indo-European (V. Machek), Indo-European (D. Dragojević), Illyrian-Thracian (K. Oštir), Old-Balkan (M. Budimir), among others.[2] On the contrary of a specific theory, it should be noted that the title origin is not necessarily related to the origin of the titleholder.[2] Presence of the title among Avars and Avar language is completely undetermined.[2][3]

In 2009, A. Alemany considered that the title *ču(b)-pān, often in a northeastern Iranian milleu, had an Eastern and Central Asian derivation, čupan, and a Western and European derivation, župan. The Eastern čupan first occurs, but allegedly as is usually connected with čupan, in a Bactrian contract dated to 588 AD, where are mentioned two "headman" (σωπανο, "sopano");[4] among the Western Turks (582-657), the leader of the fifth Shunishi Dulu tribe was a chuban chuo (čupan čor), while the leader of the fifth Geshu Nushibi tribe was chuban sijin (čupan irkin), with chuo and sijin being the standard title of the each tribe's leader,[5] inferior to qayan (khagan), but superior to bäg.[4] However, there is no mention of čupan in Old Turkic runic incsriptions;[6] a Chinese document (c. 8th century) near Kucha mentions severals persons (allegedly Tocharians) with patronymic Bai and title chuban;[7] in the same century, in the Chinese documents of province Khotan are mentioned word chiban and alleged title of low rank chaupam;[7] the first (Old) Turkic document recording the title čupan is a Uyghur decree from Turpan dated c. 9th-11th century.[7] According the work Dīwānu l-Luġat al-Turk by the 11th century scholar Mahmud al-Kashgari, a čupan is an assistant to a village headman.[7]

The first known mention of Western župan occurs in a charter of Kremsmünster abbey, by Bavarian duke Tassilo III in 777 AD, in which the monastery was granted by a group of Slavs, headed by the chieftains Taliup and Sparuna, whose abode lied beneath the boundaries reported under oath by the iopan Physso;[8] the zo(ō)apan of Buyla inscription on a buckled bowl of a heterogeneous[clarification needed] and chronologically uncertain (7th or 8th century) Treasure of Nagyszentmiklós;[9] the supan in Lusatian and Latin language (7th century):[1] the ζουπανος (zoupanos) on a silver bowl found at Veliki Preslav, capital of First Bulgarian Empire (893-972), and later in Greek and Cyrillic alphabets as zhupa (plural zhupi) which were smaller regions of the larger comitati during the First Empire (9th-11th century);[9] the zuppanis in Latin charter of St. George's church at Putalj by Croatian duke Trpimir in 852 AD;[10] the Slavic, generally considered of White Croats, title of king's deputy mentioned by Ibn Rusta in the 10th century, the sūt.ğ or sūb.ğ, of which corrupted text some transcribe as sūbanğ or sū beḫ;[10] according to Constantine VII in his 10th century work De Administrando Imperio, Croats, Serbs and other Slavic nations of Dalmatia had the ζουπάνους (zoupanous), "Princes, as they say, these nations had none, but only župans, elders, as is the rule in the other Slavonic regions";[10] also the Croatian state was divided in 11 ζουπανίας (zoupanias) administrative regions,[10] with additional three ruled by βοάνος (boanos) or μπάνος (b/mpanos) (Ban);[11] and is individually mentioned ζουπανου (zoupanou) Beloje of Travunia;[12] later among Serbs it also temporary became a title for supreme leader ζουπανος μεγας (zoupanos megas, Grand Župan).[1]


The word "župa" (Serbian: Жупа; adopted into Hungarian: ispán and rendered in Greek as ζουπανία (zoupania, "land ruled by a župan") is derived from Slavic, according to Slavists. It's medieval Latin equivalent was comitatus. It is mostly translated into "county" or "district".[13] According to Kmietowicz, it seems that the territorial organization had been created in Polish territories before the Slav Migrations.[14] Some Slavic nations changed its name into "opole", "okolina" and "vierw", but it has survived in župan.[14] Some scholars consider the word's older meaning was "open area in the valley".[1] This interpretation is confirmed by the Bulgarian župa (tomb), Polish zupa and Ukrainian župa (salt mine), and Old Slavonic župište (tomb).[1] As such, the Proto-Slavic *župa wouldn't derive from *gheu-p- (with *gheu- meaning "bend, distort"),[1] yet from Indo-European *g(h)eup-/*gheub- meaning "cavity, pit",[15] which derives from Nostratic *gopa meaning "hollow, empty".[16] However, Albert Bruckner suggested the opposite evolution; župa as a back formation from župan (a title).[17] In Polish, Czech, Slovak and Ukrainian allegedly from župan was shortened to pan, meaning "master, mister, sir".[14][18]

  • Franz Altheim connected the etymology of the Proto-Bulgarian with Iranian etymon *fsu-pāna- that evolved to šuβān in Parthian, šupān and šubān in Persian; all these words meaning "shepherd".[17][19] Gerhard Doerfer suggested possible Iranian origin for Mahmud al-Kashgari's čupan linking it with New Persian čōpan, a variant form of šubān, with usual change of š- to č-.[17] Omeljan Pritsak in Iranian *fsu-pāna saw "shepherd of (human) cattle" in Avar service, using the Slavic masses as cannon fodder.[17] Some scholars derived it from alleged Old Iranian ašurpan/aszurpan, meaning "great lord, noblemen".[20][21] It is considered that the title origin can be traced to the Slavic and Iranian cultural interrelation in the Eastern and Southeastern Europe in the first centuries AD.[20][21]
  • Karl Brugmann derived the Common Slavic *županъ from župa "district, small administrative region",[22] < *geupā, comparing this word with Skt. gopā- (herdsman, guardian), derived from gopaya (to guard, protect), of gup-, or even go-pā (cow-herd), Avestan gufra- (deep, hidden), among others.[17] Oleg Trubachyov derived it from *gupana (from gopaya, the guard of cattle).[18] A Central Asian descent was claimed by Karl Heinrich Menges, who considered župan a slavicized form of Altaic čupan (a loanword from Iranian), with modified meaning from "clan, community" to "district".[23] According to research done by scholars Ambroży Bogucki, Bohumil Vykypĕl and Georg Holzer, in 2007 Franjo Smiljanić concluded that is excluded any Avar influence on the origin, yet within the Avar authority was kept the Slavic tribal organization.[3]
  • According to Alemany, the (Old) Turkic ču(b) is most probably a Turkic loanword from Khotanese -cū and Chinese zhou (perfecture), which was a Chinese territorial administration applied to Central Asian regions inhabited by Iranians, but it has even older meaning of small island; a township unit; a region, up to zhoumu (regional governor) from Han to Sui dynasty.[24] Alemany pointed out that, as there were settlements of Central Asian Iranians at least in some of those zhou, the title čupan as *ču(b)-pān (protecting a ču(b) or zhou), was an Iranian rendering (see marz-bān, "protecting the marches"), of the Chinese zhoumu.[25] The suffix -pān (from Avestan and Old Persian pat, "protector"; pā-, "to protect, to care") is well documented in Manichean Parthian texts from Turpan, and lesser extent in Sogdian and Khotanese.[25] He concluded that the title designs both regio and rector, and if čupan was a loanword introduced by the Avars as some assumed, but there was already a common Slavic word župa, their association could explain the shift č- > ž- in župan.[26]

However, as the title among Avars is undetermined, on the basis of preserved toponyms which are etymologically related to the title župan, like Županovo kolo in Novgorod, Russia, and Župany kolo in Ukraine, the assumption it was of Avar origin is highly doubtful as it occurs in wider area than is the area where lived Slavs and Avars together.[3]

Usage of the title and division[edit]

The term župa signified the territorial and administrative unit of a tribe, and later only an administrative unit without tribal feature.[1] The South Slavs that settled in Roman lands to a certain degree adopted Roman state organization, but retained their own tribal organization.[27] Slavic tribes were divided into fraternities, each including a certain number of families.[27] The territory inhabited by a tribe was a župa, and its leader was the župan.[27]

The župa is also mentioned as an administrative unit in the First Bulgarian Empire, a subdivision of a larger unit called Comitatus. The župan title was also used in Wallachia and Moldavia (in modern Romania) but only with the meaning "Mister" and bearing no administrative connotations.[citation needed] In these countries, the equivalent of "county" is "judet" (from Latin judicium).[citation needed]

The Croats and the Slovaks used the terms županija and župa for the counties in the Kingdom of Croatia and Kingdom of Hungary. German language translation of the word for those counties was Komitat (from Latin Comitatus, "countship") during the Middle Ages, but later it was Gespanschaft (picking up the span root that previously came from župan).[citation needed]


The Croatian word župa signifies both a secular unit (county) and a religious unit (parish), ruled over by a "župan" (count) and "župnik" (parish priest).[28]

As head of the županija, the most important was his public authority function.[29] They were the primates populi, nobile aristocracy from where the king (or duke) recruited the official servants.[30] Those župans by origin most probably belonged to the tribal or noble family structure, in historiography known as "twelve tribes", which are mentioned in the Pacta conventa and Supetar Cartulary.[30] In the Supetar Cartulary, and in Croatian redaction of Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja, they were called as nobile sapienciroes and starac (elderman), indicating that to the agreement with king Coloman went twelve "elders župans".[31]

According the charter by Croatian duke Muncimir (892 AD) it can be identified various official functions; župans who work at the ducal palace (Budimiro zuppani palatii, Prisna maccererarii, Pruade zuppano cauallario, Zelestro zuppano camerario, Zestededo zuppano pincernario, Bolledrago zuppano carnicario, Budimiro zuppano comitisse, Augina zuppano armigeri), who are part of territorial organization (Zelllerico zuppano Cleoniae, Sibidrago zuppano Clesae), or are only noble by position (Petro zuppano, Pribritreco filius Petri zuppano).[29] The župans were usually listed in historical documents only as witnesses, without mark of duty.[29]

The transition of 12th to the 13th century is characterized by terminological change of the title župan and the spreading beyond the tribal main territory.[32] The older social rank of the župan (iupanus) in Latin documents was changed with the title comes.[32] The Latin term comes in the 14th and 15th century Croatia was translated in two different ways, as špan and knez.[32] The first signified the royal official in the županija, while the second the hereditary lord of the županija exempted from the direct royal rule.[32] Thus the term lost its old tribal and got a new administrative meaning, while the old Croatian tribes (genus) under the title of knez preserved the inheritance rights over the lands of županija.[32]

Today the term županija is the name for the Croatian regional government, the counties of Croatia. Heads of counties hold the title of župan (pl. župani), which is usually translated as "county prefect". In the 19th century, the counties of the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia were called županija. The Croats preserved the term župa until the modern times as the name for local clerical units, parishes of the Catholic Church and of the Protestant churches. The parish priest is called župnik.


Main article: Ispán

There were several "ispán"'s in the royal court of Hungarian Kingdom: 'nádorispán' (palatine), 'udvarispán' (court ispán), 'kápolna ispán' (chapel ispán), and 'ispán's of the financial hierarchy ('harmincadispán', 'pénzverőispán', 'sókamaraispán', 'urburaispán'). Similarly the leaders of the ethnic groups were called 'ispán' like 'besenyők ispánja' (Besermian ispán) 'székelyispán' (Sekler ispán)

In c. 1074, the župa is mentioned in Hungary as -spán, also as határispánságok (march, frontier county). The derivative titles were ispán, nominated by the king for not defined time, and gradually replaced by főispán in the 18-19th century; megyésispán, also nominated by the king but could be expelled anytime; alispán was the leader of the jurisdiction in the county if the 'megyésispán' was not available; várispán was more linked to the "vár" (fortress) in Hungary in the times of Árpád.


The Serbs in the Early Middle Ages were organized into župe, a confederation of village communities (roughly the equivalent of a county),[33] headed by a local župan (a magistrate or governor).[34] According to Fine, the governorship was hereditary, and the župan reported to the Serbian prince, whom they were obliged to aid in war.[35]

Dušan's Code (1349) named the administrative hierarchy as following: "lands, cities, župas and krajištes", the župas and krajištes were one and the same, with the župas on the borders were called krajištes (frontier).[36] The župa consisted of villages, and their status, rights and obligations were regulated in the constitution. The ruling nobility possessed hereditary allodial estates, which were worked by dependent sebri, the equivalent of Greek paroikoi; peasants owing labour services, formally bound by decree.[37] The earlier župan title was abolished and replaced with the Greek-derived kefalija (kephale, "head, master").[37]

Though the territorial unit today is unused, there are a number of traditional župe in Kosovo, around Prizren: Sredačka Župa, Sirinićka Župa, Gora, Opolje and Prizrenski Podgor. The Serbian language maintains the word in toponyms, the best known being that of the Župa Aleksandrovačka.


Slovakia, as a constituent part of Hungary from the 10th Century as well as in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy until 1918, inherited the Hungarian county (Slovak: župa) system, preserved throughout the inter-war period.[38] In the 11th century, there were 11 župa in the territory of Slovakia. In Slovakia, it was used as the official name of administrative units of Slovakia within Czechoslovakia in 1918 - 1928 and then again in the Slovak Republic during WWII in 1940-1945.

The Slovaks have also preserved the term semi-officially as an alternative name for the "Autonomous Regions" of Slovakia, whose territory is identical with that of the administrative Regions of Slovakia.[citation needed]


During World War II, when Slovenia was partitioned between Italy, Hungary, and Germany on 17 April 1941, in the Italian portion, named province of Lubiana, the new administration was led by an Italian High Commissioner, but there also were Presidents of the Council of Zhupans of Lubiana: Marko Natlačen (1941), Leon Rupnik (1942-1943).[citation needed]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Gluhak 1993, p. 713.
  2. ^ a b c Peter Štih 1995, p. 127.
  3. ^ a b c Smiljanić 2007, p. 34.
  4. ^ a b Alemany 2009, p. 3.
  5. ^ Peter Benjamin Golden (2012), Oq and Oğur~Oğuz* (PDF), Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies, Rutgers University, pp. footnote 37 
  6. ^ Alemany 2009, p. 3-4.
  7. ^ a b c d Alemany 2009, p. 4.
  8. ^ Alemany 2009, p. 4-5.
  9. ^ a b Alemany 2009, p. 5.
  10. ^ a b c d Alemany 2009, p. 6.
  11. ^ Živković 2012, p. 143.
  12. ^ Živković 2012, p. 188.
  13. ^ Fine 1991, p. 304.
  14. ^ a b c Frank A. Kmietowicz (1976). Ancient Slavs. Worzalla Pub. Co. p. 185, footnote. 
  15. ^ Gluhak 1993, p. 713-714.
  16. ^ Gluhak 1993, p. 714.
  17. ^ a b c d e Alemany 2009, p. 7.
  18. ^ a b Oleg Trubachyov (1965). "To the Question of Slavic-Iranian Language Connections". V.Stetsyuk. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  19. ^ Erdal 1988, p. 227.
  20. ^ a b Majorov, Aleksandr Vjačeslavovič (2012). Velika Hrvatska: etnogeneza i rana povijest Slavena prikarpatskoga područja [Great Croatia: ethnogenesis and early history of Slavs in the Carpathian area] (in Croatian). Zagreb, Samobor: Brethren of the Croatian Dragon, Meridijani. pp. 95, 92–95. ISBN 978-953-6928-26-2. 
  21. ^ a b Bechcicki, Jerzy (2006). "O Problematici Etnogeneze Bijele Hrvatske" [On the issue of ethno-genesis of the White Croatia]. In Nosić, Milan. Bijeli Hrvati I [White Croats I] (in Croatian). Rijeka: Maveda. pp. 8–9. ISBN 953-7029-04-2. 
  22. ^ Brugmann 1900, p. 111.
  23. ^ Alemany 2009, p. 8.
  24. ^ Alemany 2009, p. 8-10.
  25. ^ a b Alemany 2009, p. 11.
  26. ^ Alemany 2009, p. 12.
  27. ^ a b c Zagreb. Universitet. Institut za ekonomiku poljoprivrede i sociologiju sela. SOUR za sociologiju sela (1972). The Yugoslav village. Dept. of Rural Sociology. p. 39. 
  28. ^ Arturo Carlo Quintavalle, Università di Parma. Centro di studi medioevali, Fondazione Cariparma (2007). Arturo Carlo Quintavalle, ed. Medioevo: la chiesa e il palazzo : atti del convegno internazionale di studi, Parma, 20-24 settembre 2005 (illustrated ed.). Electa. p. 140. 
  29. ^ a b c Smiljanić 2007, p. 35.
  30. ^ a b Smiljanić 2007, p. 36.
  31. ^ Smiljanić 2007, p. 39.
  32. ^ a b c d e Karbić, Damir (2004), "Šubići Bribirski do gubitka nasljedne banske časti (1322.)" [The Šubići of Bribir until the Loss of the Hereditary Position of the Croatian Ban (1322)] (PDF), Zbornik Odsjeka za povijesne znanosti Zavoda za povijesne i društvene znanosti Hrvatske akademije znanosti i umjetnosti (in Croatian) (Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts) 22: 5 
  33. ^ Fine 1991, p. 304
  34. ^ Evans 2007, p. xxi
  35. ^ Fine 1991, p. 225
  36. ^ Radovanović 2002, p. 5
  37. ^ a b p. 290
  38. ^ Univerzita Karlova (2005). Acta Universitatis Carolinae: Geographica, Volume 38, Issue 1. Universita Karlova. p. 146.