Slavs (ethnonym)

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The Slavic ethnonym (and autonym), Slavs, is reconstructed in Proto-Slavic as *Slověninъ, plural *Slověně. The earliest written references to the Slav ethnonym are in other languages.

Early mentions[edit]

Sporoi (Greek: Σπόροι) or Spori was according to Eastern Roman scholar Procopius (500–560) the old name of the Antes and Sclaveni, two Early Slavic branches. Procopius stated that the Sclaveni and Antes spoke the same language, but he did not trace their common origin back to the Veneti (as per Jordanes) but to a people he called "Sporoi".[1] He derived the name from Greek σπείρω ("I scatter grain"), because "they populated the land with scattered settlements".[2]

Roman bureaucrat Jordanes wrote about the Slavs in his work Getica (551): "although they derive from one nation, now they are known under three names, the Veneti, Antes and Sclaveni" (ab unastirpe exorti, tria nomina ediderunt, id est Veneti, Antes, Sclaveni); that is, the West Slavs, East Slavs, and South Slavs.[3] He stated that the Veneti were the ancestors of the Sclaveni and the Antes, the two having used to be called Veneti but are now "chiefly" (though, by implication, not exclusively) called Sclaveni and Antes.[4][better source needed] Jordanes' Veneti and Procopius' Sporoi were used for the ethnogenetic legend of the Slavs, the ancestors of the Slavs (the subsequent ethnic group name).[5]

Thus, the Slav ethnonym at first denoted the southern group of the Early Slavs. This ethnonym is attested by Procopius in Byzantine Greek as Σκλάβοι Sklaboi, Σκλαβηνοί Sklabēnoi, Σκλαυηνοί Sklauenoi, Σθλαβηνοί Sthlauenoi, or Σκλαβῖνοι Sklabinoi,[6] while his contemporary Jordanes refers to the Sclaveni in Latin.[7]

The oldest documents written in Old Church Slavonic and dating from the 9th century attest Словѣне Slověne to describe the Slavs. Other early Slavic attestations include Old East Slavic Словѣнѣ Slověně for "an East Slavic group near Novgorod".[citation needed]


The Slavic autonym *Slověninъ is usually considered a derivation from slovo "word", originally denoting "people who speak (the same language)", i.e. people who understand each other, in contrast to the Slavic word denoting "foreign people" – němci, meaning "mumbling, murmuring people" (from Slavic *němъ – "mumbling, mute"). The latter word may be the derivation of words to denote German/Germanic people in many later Slavic languages: e.g., Czech Němec, Slovak Nemec, Slovene Nemec, Belarusian, Russian and Bulgarian Немец, Serbian Немац, Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian Nijemac, Polish Niemiec, Ukrainian Німець, etc.,[8] but another theory states that rather these words are derived from the name of the Nemetes tribe,[9][10] which is derived from the Celtic root nemeto-.[11][12]

The English term slave derives from the ethnonym Slav. In medieval wars many Slavs were captured and enslaved, which led to the word "slav" becoming synonym to "enslaved person".[13][14][15][16] The English word Slav could be derived from the Middle English word sclave, which was borrowed from Medieval Latin sclavus or slavus,[17][better source needed] itself a borrowing and Byzantine Greek σκλάβος sklábos "slave," which was in turn apparently derived from a misunderstanding of the Slavic autonym (denoting a speaker of their own languages). The Byzantine term Sklavinoi was loaned into Arabic as Saqaliba صقالبة (sing. Saqlabi صقلبي) by medieval Arab historiographers. However, the origin of this word is disputed.[18][19]

Alternative proposals for the etymology of *Slověninъ propounded by some scholars have much less support. B.P. Lozinski argues that the word *slava once had the meaning of worshipper, in this context meaning "practicer of a common Slavic religion", and from that evolved into an ethnonym.[20] S.B. Bernstein speculated that it derives from a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European *(s)lawos, cognate to Ancient Greek λαός laós "population, people", which itself has no commonly accepted etymology.[21] Meanwhile others have pointed out that the suffix -enin indicates a man from a certain place, which in this case should be a place called Slova or Slava, possibly a river name. The Old East Slavic Slavuta for the Dnieper River was argued by Henrich Bartek (1907–1986) to be derived from slova and also the origin of Slovene.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ Frank A. Kmietowicz (1976). Ancient Slavs. Worzalla Publishing Company. Jordanes left no doubt that the Antes were of Slavic origin, when he wrote: 'ab unastirpe exorti, tria nomina ediderunt, id est Veneti, Antes, Sclaveni' (although they derive from one nation, now they are known under three names, the Veneti , Antes and Sclaveni). The Veneti were the West Slavs, the Antes thf; Fast Slavs and the_Srlaveni, the South or Balkan Slavs. 
  4. ^ Getica 5
  5. ^ Kazansky, M. M. (2014). "Славяне и дунайские германцы в VI веке: свидетельства письменных источников и некоторые археологические данные" (PDF). ББК. 63. ISBN 978-5-903454-91-4. 
  6. ^ Procopius, History of the Wars,\, VII. 14. 22–30, VIII.40.5
  7. ^ Jordanes, The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, V.33.
  8. ^ Stephen Barbour and Cathie Carmichael (eds.), Language and Nationalism in Europe (2000), p. 193.
  9. ^ The Journal of Indo-European studies 1974, v.2
  10. ^ Etymology of the Polish-language word for Germany (Polish)
  11. ^ Xavier Delamarre (2003). Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. Éditions Errance, p. 233.
  12. ^ John T. Koch (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, p. 1351.
  13. ^ "slave - Wiktionary". Retrieved 2017-02-02. 
  14. ^ "The Story of Africa| BBC World Service". Retrieved 2017-02-02. 
  15. ^ "the definition of slave". Retrieved 2017-02-02. 
  16. ^ "slave". The Free Dictionary. 
  17. ^ Slav, on Oxford Dictionaries
  18. ^ F. Kluge, Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache. 2002, entry "Sklave"
  19. ^ Ф. М. Достоевский. Полное собрание сочинений: в 30-ти т. Т. 23. М., 1990, с. 63, 382.
  20. ^ Lozinski B.P., The Name SLAV, Essays in Russian History, Archon Books, 1964.
  21. ^ Bernstein 1961
  22. ^ Etudes slaves et est-européennes: Slavic and East-European studies, Volume 3 (1958), p.107.

Further reading[edit]