White Croats

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European territory inhabited by West Slavs and East Slavs circa 700-850 AD.

White Croats (Croatian: Bijeli Hrvati, Polish: Biali Chorwaci, Czech: Bílí Chorvati, Ukrainian: Білі хорвати tr. Bili Khorvaty) were a group of Slavic tribes who lived among other West and East Slavic tribes in the area of Bohemia, Lesser Poland, Galicia (north of Carpathian Mountains) and modern-day Western Ukraine.[1][2][3]

They were documented primarily by foreign medieval authors, and managed to preserve their ethnic name until the early 20th century. In the 7th century, some White Croats migrated from their homeland White Croatia to the territory of modern-day Croatia.


It is generally believed that the name of Croatia - Hrvat/Horvat/Harvat - etymologically is not of Slavic origin, but may be a borrowing from Iranian languages.[4] It is considered that the ethnonym Hrvat is first attested on the two Tanais Tablets, found in the Greek colony of Tanais in the late 2nd and early 3rd century AD, at the time when the colony was surrounded by Iranian-speaking Sarmatians.[5] The first Iranian tribes who lived on the shores of the Sea of Azov were Scythians, who arrived there c. 7th century BCE.[6] Around the 6th century BCE the Sarmatians began their migration westwards, gradually subordinating the Scythians by the 2nd century BCE.[7] During this period there was substantial cultural and linguistic contact between the Early Slavs and Iranians.[8][9]

From the 4th until the 7th century, Slavs who lived in that area and to the West between Dniester and Dnieper in the medieval sources were known as Antes.[10][11] It is thought that White Croats were part of the Antes tribal polity who migrated to Galicia in the 3rd-4th century, under pressure by invading Huns and Goths.[12][13] They lived there until the Antes were attacked by the Pannonian Avars in 560, and the polity was finally destroyed in 602 by the same Avars.[14][15] The early Croats' migration to Dalmatia (during the reign of Heraclius 610-641) can thus be seen as a continuation of the previous war between the Antes and Avars.[16][15]

The epithet "white" for the Croats and their homeland is related to the use of colors for cardinal directions among Eurasian people. That is, it meant "Western Croats", in comparison to lands where they lived before. The epithet "great" signified an "old, ancient" or "former" homeland,[17] for the Croats when they were new arrivals in the Roman province of Dalmatia.[18][19][20]

There is a dispute among Slavic scholars as to whether the White Croats were of Irano-Alanic, West Slavic, or East Slavic origin.[21][22][23][24] Whether the early Croats were Slavs who had taken a name of Iranian origin, or whether they were ruled by a Sarmatian elite and/or were slavicized Sarmatians, cannot be resolved. The possibility of Irano-Sarmatian elements among, or influences upon, Croatian ethnogenesis cannot be entirely excluded.[25][3][26][27]

Ptolemaic map of Scythia 1598; the Horinei are mentioned below Amazons.

Any mention of the Croats before the 9th century is uncertain, and there were several loose attempts at tracing; Struhates and Auhates by Herodotus, Chatti and Chattuarii by Strabo, Choatræ and Arivates by Pliny the Elder,[28] Horites by Orosius in 418 AD,[29] and the Harus (original form Hrws,[30] some read Hrwts;[31] Hros, Hrus) at the Sea of Azov, near mythical Amazons,[32] mentioned by Zacharias Rhetor in 550 AD.[30] The Hros some relate to the ethnonym of the Rus' people.[30][33]


Middle Ages[edit]

Nestor the Chronicler in his Primary Chronicle (12th century) mentions the White Croats, calling them Horvate Belii or Hrovate Belii, the name depending upon which manuscript of his is referred to: "Over a long period the Slavs settled beside the Danube, where the Hungarian and Bulgarian lands now lie. From among these Slavs, parties scattered throughout the country and were known by appropriate names, according to the places where they settled. Thus some came and settled by the river Morava, and were named Moravians, while others were called Czechs. Among these same Slavs are included the White Croats, the Serbs, and the Carinthians. For when the Vlakhs (Romans) attacked the Danubian Slavs, settled among them, and did them violence, the latter came and made their homes by the Vistula, and were then called Lyakhs (Lendians or Lechites). Of these same Lyakhs some were called Polyanians, some Lutichians, some Mazovians, and still others Pomorians".[34]

Most what is known about the early history of White Croats comes from the work by the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII, De Administrando Imperio (10th century).[35] In the thirtieth chapter, "Story of the province of Dalmatia" he writes:

"These same Croats arrived as refugees to the emperor of the Romaioi Heraclius before the Serbs came as refugees to the same Emperor Heraclius, at that time when the Avars had fought and expelled from those parts the Romani... Now, by the command of the Emperor Heraclius, these same Croats fought and expelled the Avars from those parts, and, by mandate of Heraclius the emperor they settled down in that same country of the Avars, where they now dwell. These same Croats had the father of Porga for their archon at that time... (It should be known) that ancient Croatia, also called "white", is still unbaptized to this day, as are also its neighboring Serbs. They muster fewer horsemen as well as fewer foot than baptized Croatia, because they are constantly plundered by the Franks and Turks and Pechenegs. Nor do they have either sagēnai or kondourai or merchant ships, because they live far away from sea; it takes 30 days of travel from the place where they live to the sea. The sea to which they comedown to after 30 days, is that which is called dark".[36]

According to this chapter, the Pechenegs and Hungarians were neighbors of the White Croats to the east in the second half of the 9th century. In that time Franks plundered Moravia, and White Croatia was part of the Moravian kingdom.[37]

In the thirty-first chapter, "Of the Croats and of the country they now dwell in" Constantine wrote:

"The Croats at that time were dwelling beyond Bagibareia (usually considered to be Bavaria), where the Belocroats are now. From them split off a family, namely of five brothers, Kloukas and Lobelos and Kosentzis and Mouchlo and Chrobatos, and two sisters, Touga and Bouga, who came with their folk to Dalmatia and found this land under the rule of the Avars. After they had fought one another for some years, the Croats prevailed and killed some of the Avars and the remainder they compelled to be subject to them... The rest of the Croats stayed over near Francia, and are nowcalled the Belocroats, that is, the White Croats, and have their own archon; they are subject to Otto, the great king of Francia, which is also Saxony, and are unbaptized, and intermarry and are friendly with the Turks. From the Croats who came to Dalmatia, a part split off and took rule of Illyricum and Pannonia. They too had an independent archon, who would maintain friendly contact, though through envoys only, with the archon of Croatia".[38]

This migration is probably related to a previous uprising of the Slavs led by Samo against the Pannonian Avars in 632.[39][40] The White Croats could have been the neighbors of the Franks as early as 846 or 869, when Bohemia was under the control of Eastern Francia. Otto I ruled the Moravians only from 950, and the White Croats were also part of the Moravian state, at least from 929.[41]

A similar story is mentioned in the work by Thomas the Archdeacon, Historia Salonitana (13th century), where he recounts how seven or eight tribes of nobles, which he called Lingones, arrived from present-day Poland and settled in Croatia under Totila's leadership.[42] According to the Archdeacon, they were called Goths, but also Slavs, depending on the personal names of those who came from Poland or the Czech lands.[43] Some scholars consider Lingones to be a distortion of the name for the Polish tribe of Lendians.[44]

Alfred the Great in his Geography of Europe (888–893) relying on Orosius, recorded that, "To the north-east of the Moravians are the Dalamensae; east of the Dalamensians are the Horithi (Choroti, Choriti;[45] Croats), and north of the Dalamensians are the Servians (Serbs); to the west also are the Silesians. To the north of the Horiti is Mazovia, and north of Mazovia are the Sarmatians, as far as the Riphean Mountains".[46] The initial north-east position was probably wrongly transcribed, as a north-west position agrees with other sources on the location of the Croats on the Oder and Vistula Rivers.[47]

Nestor described how many East Slavic tribes of "...the Polyanians, the Derevlians, the Severians, the Radimichians, and the Croats lived at peace".[48] In 904-907, "Leaving Igor (914–945) in Kiev, Oleg (879–912) attacked the Greeks. He took with him a multitude of Varangians, Slavs, Chuds, Krivichians, Merians, Polyanians, Severians, Derevlians, Radimichians, Croats, Dulebians, and Tivercians, who are pagans. All these tribes are known as Great Scythia by the Greeks. With this entire force, Oleg sallied forth by horse and by ship, and the number of his vessels was two thousand".[49] After Vladimir the Great (980–1015) conquered several Slavic tribes and cities to the West,[22] in 992 he "attacked the Croats. When he had returned from the Croatian War, the Pechenegs arrived on the opposite side of the Dnieper".[50] Since then those Croats became part of Kievan Rus, and aren't mentioned anymore in Russian Chronicles.[51][22] It seems that Croatian tribes who lived in the area of Bukovina and Galicia, inhibited his free access to the Vistula river,[52] and did not want submit to Kievan centralism.[53]

By the 7th century White Croats had established and fortifed Horods (Gord), which became a commerce and trade center.[22] Galicia was an important geographical location because it connected via an overland route Kiev in the East with Krakow, Buda, Prague and other cities in the West, as well as northwest to the Baltic Sea and southeast to the Black Sea.[22] Along these routes were founded the settlements of Przemyśl, Zvenyhorod, Terebovlia, and Halych.[22]

Polish chronicler Wincenty Kadłubek in his Chronica Polonorum (12-13th century) recounted that Bolesław I the Brave (992 to 1025) conquered some "Hunnos seu Hungaros, Cravatios et Mardos, gentem validam, suo mancipavit imperio".[51][54] The occurrence of the Croatian name among the toponyms, indicates that the Croatia near the Vistula river corresponded with the later territory of Lesser Poland.[55]

Many Croats also lived in the territory of Bohemia. The Prague Charter from 1086 AD (actually with data from 973) mentions that on the northeastern frontier of the Prague diocese lived "Psouane, Chrouati et altera Chrowati, Zlasane...".[56] They were also probably settled around the Elbe River, now in the Czech Republic, while others were present along the upper Vistula River in Poland.[57] Some scholars located these Czech Croats within the territory of present-day Chrudim, Hradec Králové, Libice and Kłodzko.[58][59] Vach argued that they had the most developed techniques of building fortifications among the Czech Slavs.[60] Many scholars consider that the Slavník dynasty, which competed with the Přemyslid dynasty for control over Bohemia and eventually succumbed to them, was of White Croat origin. According to a legend about Wenceslaus I, his mother Drahomíra fled in exile to Xorvaty.[61][62] After the Slavník dynasty's main gord (fortified settlement) Libice was destroyed in 995, the White Croats aren't mentioned anymore in that territory.[63]

Thietmar of Merseburg recorded in 981 toponym Chrvuati vicus (also later recorded in 11th-14th century), which is present-day Großkorbetha, between Halle and Merseburg in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.[64] The Chruuati (901) and Chruuati (981) near Halle.[65] In charter by Henry II is recorded Chruazzis (1012), by Henry III as Churbate (1055), by Henry IV as Grawat (also Curewate, 1086). This settlement today is Korbetha on river Saale, near Weißenfels.[64]

In the 10th-12th centuries Croatian name can be often found in the territory of March and Duchy of Carinthia, as well March and Duchy of Styria.[66] In 954, Otto I in his charter mentions župa Croat - "hobas duas proorietatis nostrae in loco Zuric as in pago Crouuati et in ministerio Hartuuigi",[67] and again in 961 pago Crauuati.[68] The pago Chruuat is also mentioned by Otto II (979), and pago Croudi by Otto III.[69]

In the 10th century, Arab historian Al-Masudi in his work The Meadows of Gold mentioned Harwātin or Khurwātīn, between Moravians, Chezchs and Saxons.[70][71] In the geography book Hudud al-'Alam in the area of Slavs is mentioned their two capital cities, Wabnit (actually Wāntit, considered Antes[72]), the first city East of Slavs, and Hurdāb, a big city where rulers reside on river Rūtā (probably Prut).[73][74] In the chronicles of the time word šahr meant "country, state, city" - thus Hurdāb represented Croats.[75] In work by Abu Saʿīd Gardēzī it is mentioned as ʒ(h)-rāwat.[75] Ahmad ibn Rustah recounts that the land of Pechenegs is ten days away from the Slavs, and that the city in which lives Swntblk (Svatopluk) is called ʒ-r-wāb (Džervab > Hrwat), where every month Slavs do three-day long trade fair.[72] Swntblk is called "king of kings", has riding horses, sturdy armor, eats mare's milk, and is more important than Subanj (considered Slavic title župan), who is his deputy.[76] George Vernadsky considered these details as evidence of Alanic and Eurasian nomadic origin of the ruling caste among those Slavs.[76] In the Hebrew book Josippon are listed four Slavic ethnic names from Venice to Saxony; Mwr.wh (Moravians), Krw.tj (Croats), Swrbjn (Sorbs), Lwcnj.[77] Those Croats are probably those who were located in Bohemia.[77]

It is considered that the migration of those (White) Croatian tribes who arrived in the 7th century was the second and final Slavic migratory wave to the Balkans.[39][40][23] Although it is possible that some Croatian tribes were present among Slavs in the first wave in the 6th century, the Croatian migration in the second wave wasn't equally numerous to make a significant common-linguistical influence.[40][23] The Croatian tribes are seen as a warrior group who assimilated into already present Slavs who were in majority.[40]


Mound of the gord Stilsko.

According to research by Valentin Vasilevich Sedov in 1979, all early mentions of Croatian ethnonym are in the areas where ceramics of Prague-Penkovka culture were found. It originated in the area between Dniester and Dnieper, and later expanded to the West, and its bearers were the Antes tribes.[78] Archaeological excavations in the 1980s revealed a big city of about 250 ha between Stilsko and Iliv, in Western Ukraine. Ukrainian archeologists attribute it to the White Croats.[79] Excavations of Slavic kurgans and tombs in Carpathian Mountains in the 1930s and 1960s were also attributed to them.[80] Some scholars linguistically and archeologically draw parallels between Croats and Slavs, and the Carpi, who previously lived in the territory of Carpathian Mountains.[81] In the 11th and 13th century, the appearance of tiled tombs in Western Dnieper region is attributed to the Croats, and sometime Tivertsi.[82] Scholars attribute to the Croats forts West and North of river Prut and in Northern Bukovina; the Revno, Červona Dibrova, Kodin, Bila, Široka Poljana, Klokučka, Grobnica, Červenovo, Orosijevo, Červone, Ungvár.[83]


Croatian tribes were like other Slavs polytheists - pagans.[84] Their worldview intertwined with worship of power and war, to which raised places of worship, and demolished those of others.[85] These worships were in contrast to Christianity, and conflict when Christianism became official ideology among the Slavs.[86] The White Croats at the earliest historical sources are mentioned as pagans, and they were similar to the inhabitants of Kievan Rus' who also received Christianity late (988).[87] Slavs often related places of worship with natural environment, like hills, forests and water.[88] According to Nestor, Vladimir the Great in 980 raised on a hill near his fort pantheon of Slavic gods; Perun, Hors, Dažbog, Stribog, Simargl, and Mokosh.[53] One of the probable reasons Vladimir attacked Croats in 992 was because they didn't want to abandon their old beliefs and accept Christianity.[53] Some scholars derived Croatian ethnonym from the Iranian word for Sun - hvar.[89][90] Paščenko argued possibility that in the ethnonym of the Croats could be seen archaic religion and mythology - the worship of the Slavic solar deity Hors (Sun, heavenly fire, force, war[91]), which is of Iranian origin.[92]


The origin of the names of five brothers and two sisters are matter of dispute. They are often considered to be of non-Slavic origin,[23] and genuine names, as the anonymous Slavic narrator (probably a Croat) couldn't invent the non-Slavic names of their ancestors in the 9th century.[93] It was probably part of an oral tradition.[23] J.J. Mikkola considered them to be of Turkic origin,[94][95] Vladimir Košćak of possible Iranian-Alanic origin,[96] while Alemko Gluhak saw parallels in Old Prussian and Baltic languages.[97] Henri Grégoire rejected Turkic origin, and related them to Slavic place names which previously were part of White Croatia.[98] According to Gluhak, names Kloukas, Lobelos, Kosentzes and possibly Mouchlo don't seem to be part of Scythian or Alanic name directory.[99] Josip Modestin connected their names to toponyms from Lika, where early Croats settled.[100] In this legend is probably reflected migration of seven tribes.[101]

Chrobatos; read as Hrovatos, is generally considered to represent Croatian ethnonym Hrvat/Horvat, and the Croatian tribe.[101] Some scholars like J. B. Bury related it with the Turkic name of the Bulgars khan Kubrat.[42][102] This etymology is problematic, beside from historical viewpont, as in all forms of Kubrat's name, the letter "r" is third consonant.[102]

Kloukas; has Greek suffix "-as", thus the root Klouk- has several derivations; Mikkola considered Turkic Külük, while Tadeusz Lewicki Slavic Kuluk and Kluka.[103] Grégoire related it with cities Cracow or Głogów.[98] Modestin related it to village Kukljić.[100] Gluhak noted several Prussian and Latvian personal names and toponyms with root *klauk-, which relates to sound-writing verbs *klukati (peck) and *klokotati (gurgle).[99] The first mentioned king of the Alans was named Kuluk (c. 51-78 AD).[104]

Lobelos; Mikkola considered it a name of uncertain Avar ruler.[103] Osman Karatay considered common Slavic shift Lobel < Alpel (as in Lab < Elbe).[105] Grégoire related it with city Lublin.[98] Modestin related it to Lovinac.[100] Gluhak noted many Baltic personal names with root *lab- and *lob- e.g. Labelle, Labulis, Labal, Lobal, which derive from *lab- (good) or lobas (bays, ravine, valley).[106]

Kosentzis; Mikkola considered Turkic suffix "-či", and derived it from Turkic koš (camp), košun (army).[103] Grégoire related it with city Košice.[98] Modestin related it to Kosinj.[100] Many scholars consider relation with Old-Slavic title word *kosez or *kasez, that meant social class members who freely elected the knez of Carantania (658–828). In the 9th century they became nobles, and their tradition preserved until the 16th century. There were many toponyms with the title in Slovenia, but also in Lika in Croatia.[29] Gluhak also noted Baltic names with root *kas- which probably derives from kàsti (dig), and Thracian Kossintes, Cosintos, Cositon.[107]

Mouchlo; Mikkola related it to the name of 6th century Hunnic (Bulgar[105] or Kutrigur[108]) ruler Mougel/Mouâgeris.[103] Modestin related it to Mohljić.[100] Gluhak noted Lithuanian muklus and Latvian muka which refer to the mud and marshes, and Prussian names e.g. Mokil, Mokyne.[109] There existed Antes king with similar name Musokios/Musocius.

Touga; Mikkola related it with male Turkic name Tugai.[103] Modestin related it to the Tugomirići, one of the Croatian "twelve noble tribes" described in the Pacta conventa and Supetar Cartulary.[100] Gluhak noted Old Norse-Germanic *touga (fog, darkness), which meaning wouldn't be much different from other names with Baltic derivation.[110]

Bouga; Mikkola related it with male Turkic name Buga, while Lewicki noted Turkic name of Hun Bokhas, Peceneg Bogas, and two generals of Arabian kalifs, Bogaj.[94] Grégoire related it with the Bug River.[98] Modestin related it to Bužani (probably related to Buzhans), medieval Croatian tribe.[100] Gluhak noted Proto-Slavic word *buga which in Slavic languages mean "swamp" like places, and the river Bug itself derive from.[110]

Porga; it derives from Iranian pouru-gâo, "rich in cattle".[111]

Modern era[edit]

Polish writer Kazimierz Władysław Wóycicki released work Pieśni ludu Białochrobatów, Mazurów i Rusi z nad Bugu in 1836.[112]

In 1861, in the statistical data about population in Volhynia governorship released by Mikhail Lebedkin, were counted Horvati with 17,228 people.[113][71]

According to some American documents from the beginning of the 20th century, Polish immigrants to the US born in around Kraków declared themselves as Krakus, Crakowiak, or Bielochrovat (i.e. White Croats) by nationality.[114]

Legacy and legends[edit]

According to Chezch and Polish chronicles, the legendary Lech and Czech came from (White) Croatia.[63] The Chronicle of Dalimil (14th century) recounts;

"V srbském jazyku jest země, jiežto Charvaty jest imě; v téj zemi bieše Lech, jemužto jmě bieše Čech".[63]

Alois Jirásek recounted as "Za Tatrami, v rovinách při řece Visle rozkládala se od nepaměti charvátská země, část prvotní veliké vlasti slovanské" (Behind the Tatra Mountains, in the plains of the river Vistula, stretched from immemorial time Charvátská country (White Croatia), the initial part of the great Slavic homeland), and V té charvátské zemi bytovala četná plemena, příbuzná jazykem, mravy, způsobem života (In Charvátská existed numerous tribes, related by language, manners, and way of life).[115]

One of the legendary figures Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv who founded Kiev, brother Khoryv or Horiv, and its oronym Khorevytsia, is often related to the Croatian ethnonym.[116][117] This legend, recorded by Nestor, has similar Armenian transcript from the 7th-8th century, in which Horiv is mentioned as Horean.[118] Paščenko related his name, beside to the Croatian ethnonym, to solar deity Hors.[117] Near Kiev there's a stream where previously existed large homonymous village Horvatka or Hrovatka (destroyed in the time of Joseph Stalin), which flows into Stuhna River.[119] In the vicinity are parts of the Serpent's Wall.[120]

Scholars consider that Croats could have been mentioned in the Old English and Nordic epic poems. The verse in Old English poem Widsith (10th century):

Wulfhere sohte ic ond Wyrmhere; ful oft þær wig ne alæg, I visited Wulfhere and Wyrmhere; there battle often raged,
þonne Hræda here heardum sweordum, when the Hræda with their sharp swords,
ymb Wistlawudu wergan sceoldon in the Vistula woods had to defend
ealdne eþelstol Ætlan leodum. their ancestral seat against Attila's host.

The Hræda is genitive plural of *Hraede, and is usually related with the Goths (Hred-Gotum, Hreth-Gotan, Hreidhgotar).[121] However, this verse is similar to the one in Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks (13th century), where prior the battle between Goths and Huns, Heidrek died in Harvaða fjöllum (Carpathian Mountains[122][123]) which is often translated as "beneath the mountains of Harvathi".[121][124] Lewicki argued that Anglo-Saxons, as in the case of Alfred the Great where called Croats Horithi, often distorted foreign Slavic names.[125]

The legendary Czech hermit from the 9th century, Svatý Ivan, is mentioned as the son of certain king Gestimul or Gostimysl, who according to the Czech chronicles descended from the Croats or Obotrites.[126]

The White Croats contributed and assimilated into Czech, Polish and Ukrainian ethnos.[127] Some historians suppose White Croats as the predecessors of the Rusyn people.[128][129]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ Magocsi 2010, p. 49.
  3. ^ a b Dzino 2010, pp. 113, 21.
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  5. ^ Heršak, Nikšić 2007, p. 262.
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  8. ^ Gluhak 1990, p. 102.
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  11. ^ Paščenko 2006, p. 84.
  12. ^ Gluhak 1990, p. 115–116.
  13. ^ Paščenko 2006, p. 84–87.
  14. ^ Košćak 1995, p. 111.
  15. ^ a b Paščenko 2006, p. 141.
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  17. ^ Živković 2012, p. 84–88.
  18. ^ Gluhak 1990, p. 122–125.
  19. ^ Paščenko 2006, p. 27.
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  21. ^ Magocsi 1983, p. 49.
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  26. ^ Škegro 2005, p. 12.
  27. ^ Norris 1993, p. 15.
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  31. ^ Škegro 2005, p. 13.
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  65. ^ Marčinko 2000, p. 183.
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