Origin hypotheses of the Serbs

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The Serbs trace their history to the 6th and 7th-century southwards migration of Slavs. The Serbs, as the other South Slavs, absorbed Paleo-Balkan peoples and established various states throughout the Middle Ages.

Early historical records of the Serb name[edit]

"Serbi" located near the mouth of the Volga, based on Greek literary sources, in a map printed in LONDON, ca 1770

Various historical authors mentioned names of Serbs (Serbian: Srbi / Срби) and Sorbs (Upper Sorbian: Serbja; Lower Sorbian: Serby) in different variants: as Cervetiis (Servetiis), gentis (S)urbiorum, Suurbi, Sorabi, Soraborum, Sorabos, Surpe, Sorabici, Sorabiet, Sarbin, Swrbjn, Servians, Sorbi, Sirbia, Sribia, Zirbia, Zribia, Suurbelant, Surbia, Serbulia / Sorbulia among others.[1][2][3] These authors used these names to refer to Serbs and Sorbs in areas where their historical (or current) presence was/is not disputed (notably in the Balkans and Lusatia), but there are also sources that mention the same or similar names in other parts of the World (most notably in the Asiatic Sarmatia in the Caucasus). Attempts of various researchers to connect these names with modern Serbs produced various theories about the origin of the Serb people.

Early historical mentions of an alleged "Serb" ethnonym in the Caucasus
Early historical mentions of other Serb-sounding names that some researchers are trying to connect with the Serb people

Migration of White Serbs to the Balkans[edit]

Locations of White Serbia and White Croatia in the 6th century (around 560), according to the book of Francis Dvornik.
Dervan's Serbia (White Serbia), 7th century.

According to De Administrando Imperio (DAI), written by the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII (912-959), the Serbs originated from the "White Serbs" who lived on the "other side of Turkey" (name used for Hungary), in the area that they called "Boiki" (Bohemia). White Serbia bordered to the Franks and White Croatia. DAI claims that after two brothers inherited the rule from their father, one of them took half of the people and migrated to the Byzantine Empire (i.e. to the Balkans), which was governed by Emperor Heraclius (610-641).[12][13][14] According to German historian Ludwig Albrecht Gebhardi, the two brothers were sons of Dervan, the dux (duke) of the Surbi (Sorbs).[15] Another part of the White Serbs did not migrate southwards, but remained in the Elbe region. Descendants of these White Serbs are the present day Lusatian Serbs (Sorbs), who still live in the Lusatia (Lužica, Lausitz) region of eastern Germany. There are also opinions that data from "De administrando imperio" that describes Serb migration to the Balkans is not correct and that Serbs came to the Balkans from Eastern Slavic lands, together with other South Slavs.[16][17]

In the Balkans, Serbs settled first an area near Thessaloniki and then area around rivers Tara, Ibar, Drina and Lim (in the present-day border region of Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina), and joined with surrounding South Slavic tribes that came to the Balkans earlier (in the 6th century) and the Paleo-Balkan people. Over time, the South Slavic and mostly Illyrian tribes of this territory mixed with the Serbs and also adopted Serb name as their own.[18][19]

The Emperor Constantine III (641) transferred a part of the Slavs from the Balkans (Vardar region) to Asia Minor. There these migrants founded the city of Gordoservon, the name of which gives grounds for supposing that among its founders there were Serbs, and was also known under names Gordoserbon and Servochoria.[20]


Iranian theory[edit]

Hypothetical Serb migration from Sarmatia

Theory about Iranian origin of the Serb ethnonym assumes that ancient Serbi / Serboi from north Caucasus (Asiatic Sarmatia) were a Sarmatian (Alanian) tribe.[21] The theory subsequently assumes that Alanian Serbi were subdued by the Huns in the 4th century and that they, as part of the Hunnic army, migrated to the western edge of the Hunnic Empire (in the area of Central Europe near the river Elbe, later designated as White Serbia in what is now Saxony (eastern Germany) and western Poland). After the Hunnic leader Attila died (in 453), Alanian Serbi presumably became independent and ruled in the east of the river Saale (in modern-day Germany) over the local Slavic population.[21][22] Over time, they, it is argued, intermarried with the local Slavic population of the region,[21][22] adopted Slavic language, and transferred their name to the Slavs.[23] According to Tadeusz Sulimirski, similar event could occur in the Balkans or Serbs who settled in the Balkans were Slavs who came from the north and who were ruled by already slavicized Alans.[22]

Deformed human skulls that are connected to the Alans are also discovered in the area that was later designated as "White Serbia".[23] According to Indo-European interpretation, different sides of the World are designated with different colors, thus, white color is a designation for the west, black color for the north, blue or green color for the east and red color for the south. According to that view, White Serbia and White Croatia were designated as western Serbia and western Croatia, and were situated in the west from some hypothetical lands that had same names and that presumably existed in the east.[24]

Autochthonic theory[edit]

This theory assumes that Serbs are an autochthonic people in the Balkans and Podunavlje, where they presumably lived before historical Slavic and Serb migration to the Balkans in the 6th-7th centuries.[25] Proponents of this theory (for example Jovan I. Deretić, Olga Luković Pjanović [sr], Miloš Milojević) claimed that Serbs either came to the Balkans long before the 7th century or Serb 7th-century migration to the Balkans was only partial and Serbs who, according to De Administrando Imperio, came from the north founded in the Balkans other Serbs that already lived there.[25] It is suggested that the ancient city of Serbinum in Pannonia was named after these hypothetical autochthonic Serbs. In mainstream historiography, this is considered to be a fringe theory, and the methods used by its proponents are often considered pseudoscientific.[26]

Proto-Slavic theory[edit]

  • Sporoi (Greek: Σπόροι) was according to Eastern Roman scholar Procopius (500–560) the old name of the Antae and Sclaveni, two Early Slavic branches. Procopius stated that the Sclavenes and Antes spoke the same language, but did not trace their common origin back to the Venethi but to a people he called "Sporoi".[27] He derived the name to Greek σπείρω ("I scatter grain"), because "they populated the land with scattered settlements".[28] According to Bohemian historian Josef Dobrovský (1753–1829) and Slovak historian Pavel Jozef Šafárik (1795–1861) it was a corruption of Srbi (Serbs).[29] Šafárik deemed that it was the oldest generic name of the Slavs.[30]
  • In the mid-9th century the so-called Bavarian Geographer wrote that people named Zeriuani had so large kingdom that all Slavic peoples originated from there (or from them).[31][32] According to one of interpretations, Zeriuani are identified with Serbs, and there are opinions that "Serbs" was an old name of all Slavic peoples.[33] However, according to other opinions, Zeriuani might be a name used for Severians or Sarmatians instead for Serbs.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Łuczyński, Michal (2017). ""Geograf Bawarski" — nowe odczytania" ["Bavarian Geographer" — New readings]. Polonica (in Polish). XXXVII (37): 71. doi:10.17651/POLON.37.9. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
  2. ^ Schuster-Šewc, Heinz. "Порекло и историја етнонима Serb "Лужички Србин"". rastko.rs (in Serbian). Translated by Petrović, Tanja. Пројекат Растко - Будишин.
  3. ^ Petković 1926, p. 9.
  4. ^ a b c Aleksandar M. Petrović, Arheografija naroda jugoistočne Evrope, Beograd, 2006, page 19.
  5. ^ Aleksandar M. Petrović, Arheografija naroda jugoistočne Evrope, Beograd, 2006, page 20.
  6. ^ Petković 1926, pp. 18–19.
  7. ^ Parameśa Caudhurī, India in Kurdistan, Qwality Book Company, 2005, page 79.
  8. ^ The Slavs: their early history and civilization, Francis Dvornik, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1959, page 28.
  9. ^ De administrando imperio, Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (Emperor of the East), Gyula Moravcsik, Pázmány Péter Tudományegyetemi Görög Filológiai Intézet, 1949, page 115.
  10. ^ Constantini Porphyrogenneti... libri duo De ceremoniis aulæ Byzantinæ. Prodeunt nunc primum Græce, cum Latina interpretatione et commentariis. Curarunt Io. Henricus Leichius et Io. Iacobus Reiskius..., VII Constantin, Gleditschius, 1754, page 397.
  11. ^ The early medieval Balkans: a critical survey from the sixth to the late twelfth century, John Van Antwerp Fine, University of Michigan Press, 1991, page 56.
  12. ^ Sava S. Vujić - Bogdan M. Basarić, Severni Srbi (ne)zaboravljeni narod, Beograd, 1998, pages 38-39.
  13. ^ Petrović 1997, pp. 90–91.
  14. ^ Vladimir Ćorović, Ilustrovana istorija Srba, knjiga prva, Beograd, 2005, page 61.
  15. ^ Sava S. Vujić - Bogdan M. Basarić, Severni Srbi (ne)zaboravljeni narod, Beograd, 1998, page 40.
  16. ^ Novaković 1992, p. 57.
  17. ^ Nikola Jeremić, Srpska zemlja Bojka, Zemun, 1993, page 33.
  18. ^ Sava S. Vujić - Bogdan M. Basarić, Severni Srbi (ne)zaboravljeni narod, Beograd, 1998, page 36.
  19. ^ Sima M. Ćirković, SRBI MEĐU EUROPSKIM NARODIMA,(Serbs) 2008. http://www.mo-vrebac-pavlovac.hr/attachments/article/451/Sima%20%C4%86irkovi%C4%87%20SRBI%20ME%C4%90U%20EVROPSKIM%20NARODIMA.pdf #page=26-27
  20. ^ The Macedonian question: the struggle for southern Serbia, Đoko M. Slijepčević, American Institute for Balkan Affairs, 1958, page 50.
  21. ^ a b c Miodrag Milanović, Srpski stari vek, Beograd, 2008, page 81.
  22. ^ a b c Novaković 1992, p. 46.
  23. ^ a b Novaković 1992, p. 48.
  24. ^ Relja Novaković, Srbi, Zemun, 1993, page 61.
  25. ^ a b Petrović 1997, pp. 9–10.
  26. ^ Petrović 1997, p. 8.
  27. ^ Paul M. Barford (January 2001). The Early Slavs: Culture and Society in Early Medieval Eastern Europe. Cornell University Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-8014-3977-3.
  28. ^ Михайло Грушевський; Andrzej Poppe; Marta Skorupsky; Uliana M. Pasicznyk; Frank E. Sysyn (1997). History of Ukraine-Rus': From prehistory to the eleventh century. Kiyc Cius. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-895571-19-6.
  29. ^ J. B. Bury 2013, p. 295
  30. ^ Royal anthropological institute (1879). The Journal of the Anthropological institute. 8. p. 66.
  31. ^ Petrović 1997, p. 90.
  32. ^ Quaestiones medii aevi, Томови 1-4, Uniwersytet Warszawski. Instytut Historyczny, Polskie Towarzystwo Historyczne. Commission d'histoire médiévale, Éditions de l'Université de Varsovie, 1977, page 31.
  33. ^ Lazo M. Kostić, O srpskom imenu, Srbinje - Novi Sad, 2000, pages 38-39.
  34. ^ Prosvjeta, Том 16, Društvo hrvatskih književnika., 1908, page 216.