West Slavs

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West Slavs
Słowianie Zachodni (Polish)
Západní Slované (Czech)
Západní Slovania (Slovak)
Zôpôdni Słowiónie (Kashubian)
Pódwjacorne Słowjany (Lower Sorbian)
Zapadni Słowjenjo (Upper Sorbian)
  Countries where a West Slavic language is the national language
  Countries where other Slavic languages are the national language
Total population
see #Population
Regions with significant populations
Central Europe
(Poles, Slovaks, Silesians, Kashubians, Moravians, and Sorbs and minority among Czechs)
Protestantism (minority among Sorbs)
Irreligion (majority among Czechs)[citation needed]
Related ethnic groups
Other Slavs

The West Slavs are Slavic peoples who speak the West Slavic languages.[1][2] They separated from the common Slavic group around the 7th century, and established independent polities in Central Europe by the 8th to 9th centuries.[1] The West Slavic languages diversified into their historically attested forms over the 10th to 14th centuries.[3]

Today, groups which speak West Slavic languages include the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, and Sorbs.[4][5][6] From the ninth century onwards, most West Slavs converted to Roman Catholicism, thus coming under the cultural influence of the Latin Church, adopting the Latin alphabet, and tending to be more closely integrated into cultural and intellectual developments in western Europe than the East Slavs, who converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity and adopted the Cyrillic alphabet.[7][8]

Linguistically, the West Slavic group can be divided into three subgroups: Lechitic, including Polish, Kashubian, and the extinct Polabian and Pomeranian languages; Sorbian in the region of Lusatia; and Czecho–Slovak in the Czech lands.[9]


Reconstruction of the Slavic temple in Groß Raden
Slavic tribes from the 7th to 9th centuries AD in Europe

In the Early Middle Ages, the name "Wends" (probably derived from the Roman-era Veneti) may have applied to Slavic peoples.[1] However, sources such as the Chronicle of Fredegar and Paul the Deacon are neither clear nor consistent in their ethnographic terminology, and whether "Wends" or "Veneti" refer to Slavic people, pre-Slavic people, or to a territory rather than a population, is a matter of scholarly debate.[10]

The early Slavic expansion reached Central Europe in the 7th century, and the West Slavic dialects diverged from common Slavic over the following centuries. The West Slavic tribes settled on the eastern fringes of the Carolingian Empire, along the Limes Saxoniae. Prior to the Magyar invasion of Pannonia in the 890s, the West Slavic polity of Great Moravia spanned much of Central Europe between what is now Eastern Germany and Western Romania. In the high medieval period, the West Slavic tribes were again pushed to the east by the incipient German Ostsiedlung, decisively so following the Wendish Crusade in the 11th century.

The early Slavic expansion began in the 5th century, and by the 6th century the groups that would become the West, East, and South Slavic groups had probably become geographically separated.[citation needed] One of the distinguishing features of the West Slavic tribes was manifested in the structure of the Pagan sanctuaries of the closed (long) type, while the East Slavic sanctuaries had a round (most often open) shape (see also: Peryn).[11] Early modern historiographers such as Penzel (1777) and Palacky (1827) have claimed Samo's Empire to be first independent Slavic state in history by taking Fredegar's Wendish account at face value.[12] Curta (1997) argued that the text is not as straightforward: according to Fredegar, Wends were a gens, Sclavini merely a genus, and there was no "Slavic" gens.[13] He further states that "Wends occur particularly in political contexts: the Wends, not the Slavs, made Samo their king."[14]

Other such alleged early West Slavic states include the Principality of Moravia (8th century–833), the Principality of Nitra (8th century–833), and Great Moravia (833–c. 907).[citation needed] Christiansen (1997) identified the following West Slav tribes in the 11th century from "the coastlands and hinterland from the aby of Kiel to the Vistula, including the islands of Fehmarn, Poel, Rügen, Usedom and Wollin", namely the Wagrians, Obodrites (or Abotrites), the Polabians, the Liutizians or Wilzians, the Rugians or Rani, the Sorbs, the Lusatians, the Poles, and the Pomeranians (later divided into Pomerelians and Cassubians).[15] They came under the domination of the Holy Roman Empire after the Wendish Crusade[citation needed] in the Middle Ages and had been strongly assimilated by Germans at the end of the 19th century.[citation needed] The Polabian language survived until the beginning of the 19th century in what is now the German state of Lower Saxony.[16]


Various attempts have been made to group the West Slavs into subgroups according to various criteria, including geography, historical tribes, and linguistics.

Bavarian Geographer grouping[edit]

In 845 the Bavarian Geographer made a list of West Slavic tribes who lived in the areas of modern-day Poland, Czech Republic, Germany and Denmark:[17]

Pos. Latin name in 845 English name no. of gords
1 Nortabtrezi North Obotrites 53
2 Uuilci Veleti 95
7 Hehfeldi Hevellians 8
14 Osterabtrezi East Obotrites 100
15 Miloxi Milceni[17] 67
16 Phesnuzi Besunzane[17] 70
17 Thadesi Dadosesani[17] 200
18 Glopeani Goplans 400
33 Lendizi Lendians 98
34 Thafnezi / 257
36 Prissani Prissani 70
37 Uelunzani Wolinians 70
38 Bruzi /
48 Uuislane Vistulans /
49 Sleenzane Silesians 15
50 Lunsizi Sorbs 30
51 Dadosesani Thadesi[17] 20
52 Milzane Milceni 30
53 Besunzane Phesnuzi[17] 2
56 Lupiglaa Łupigoła[17] 30
57 Opolini Opolans 20
58 Golensizi Golensizi 5

Tribal grouping[edit]

West Slav tribes in the 9th and 10th centuries

Linguistic grouping[edit]

West Slavic languages


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Ilya Gavritukhin, Vladimir Petrukhin (2015). Yury Osipov (ed.). Slavs. Great Russian Encyclopedia (in 35 vol.) Vol. 30. pp. 388–389. Archived from the original on 2022-08-03. Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  2. ^ Gołąb, Zbigniew (1992). The Origins of the Slavs: A Linguist's View. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica Publishers. pp. 12–13. The present-day Slavic peoples are usually divided into the three following groups: West Slavic, East Slavic, and South Slavic. This division has both linguistic and historico-geographical justification, in the sense that on the one hand the respective Slavic languages show some old features which unite them into the above three groups, and on the other hand the pre- and early historical migrations of the respective Slavic peoples distributed them geographically in just this way.
  3. ^ Sergey Skorvid (2015). Yury Osipov (ed.). Slavic languages. Great Russian Encyclopedia (in 35 vol.) Vol. 30. pp. 396–397–389. Archived from the original on 2019-09-04. Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  4. ^ Butcher, Charity (2019). The handbook of cross-border ethnic and religious affinities. London. p. 90. ISBN 9781442250222.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  5. ^ Vico, Giambattista (2004). Statecraft : the deeds of Antonio Carafa = (De rebus gestis Antonj Caraphaei). New York: P. Lang. p. 374. ISBN 9780820468280.
  6. ^ Hart, Anne (2003). The beginner's guide to interpreting ethnic DNA origins for family history : how Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi & Europeans are related to everyone else. New York, N.Y.: iUniverse. p. 57. ISBN 9780595283064.
  7. ^ Wiarda, Howard J. (2013). Culture and foreign policy : the neglected factor in international relations. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate. p. 39. ISBN 9781317156048.
  8. ^ Dunn, Dennis J. (2017). The Catholic Church and Soviet Russia, 1917-39. New York. pp. 8–9. ISBN 9781315408859.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  9. ^ Bohemia and Poland. Chapter 20.pp 512-513. [in:] Timothy Reuter. The New Cambridge Medieval History: c. 900 – c. 1024. 2000
  10. ^ Curta 1997, p. 141–144, 152–153.
  11. ^ Sedov 1953, p. 94.
  12. ^ Curta 1997, p. 143.
  13. ^ Curta 1997, p. 152–153.
  14. ^ Curta 1997, p. 152.
  15. ^ Christiansen, Erik (1997). The Northern Crusades Archived 2023-10-06 at the Wayback Machine. London: Penguin Books. p. 41. ISBN 0-14-026653-4.
  16. ^ "Polabian language". Archived from the original on 2020-02-24. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g Krzysztof Tomasz Witczak (2013). "Poselstwo ruskie w państwie niemieckim w roku 839: Kulisy śledztwa w świetle danych Geografa Bawarskiego". Slavia Orientalis (in Polish and English). 62 (1): 25–43. Archived from the original on 2022-03-11. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  18. ^ a b c d e Jerzy Strzelczyk. Bohemia and Poland: two examples of successful western Slavonic state-formation. In: Timothy Reuter ed. The New Cambridge Medieval History: c. 900-c. 1024. Cambridge University Press. 1995. p. 514.


  • Gołąb, Zbigniew (1992). The Origins of the Slavs: A Linguist's View. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica Publishers. pp. 12–13.
  • Curta, Florin (1997). "Slavs in Fredegar and Paul the Deacon: medieval gens or 'scourge of God'?" (PDF). Early Medieval Europe. Blackwell Publishers. 6 (2): 141–167. doi:10.1111/1468-0254.00009. S2CID 162269231. Retrieved 17 August 2022. While being traditionally regarded, at least in Polish historiography, as forefathers of the western Slavs, and therefore successors of the Veneti mentioned by Pliny, Tacitus, or Claudius Ptolemaeus, recent studies argue that the name may have not been a self-designation. By calling the Slavs 'Wends', German-speaking groups may have alluded to a pre-Slavic population. It is, however, not clear how an ancient terminology came to be used in the case of the early medieval Slavs. (...) [There may be] a meaning behind Fredegar's presumably inconsistent ethnic vocabulary. Perhaps 'Wends' and 'Sclavenes' are meant to denote a specific social and political configuration, in which such concepts as 'state' or 'ethnicity' are relevant, while 'Slavs' is a more general term, used in a territorial rather than an ethnic sense; Samo as a merchant went in Sclauos to do business...
  • Sergey Skorvid (2015). Yury Osipov (ed.). Slavic languages. Great Russian Encyclopedia (in 35 vol.) Vol. 30. pp. 396–397–389. Archived from the original on 2019-09-04. Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  • Ilya Gavritukhin, Vladimir Petrukhin (2015). Yury Osipov (ed.). Slavs. Great Russian Encyclopedia (in 35 vol.) Vol. 30. pp. 388–389. Archived from the original on 2022-08-03. Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  • Sedov, Vasili (1953). "Drevneslavănskoe yazyčeskoe svătilişe v Peryni". Kratkie Soobşeniă Instituta Istorii Materialnoy Kultury (in Russian) (50): 92–103.