Slavic migrations to the Balkans

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The Slavic migrations to the Balkans have taken place since the mid-6th century and first decades of the 7th century in Early Middle Ages after a series of wars between the Sasanian Empire and the Avar Khaganate against the Eastern Roman Empire. The settlement was facilitated by the substantial fall of the Balkan population during the Plague of Justinian. The backbone of the Avar Khaganate consisted of Slavic tribes, which, after the failed siege of Constantinople in the summer of 626, remained in the wider Balkan area after they had settled the Byzantine provinces south of the river Sava and Danube, from the Adriatic toward Aegean up to the Black Sea. Exhausted by several factors and reduced to the coastal parts of the Balkans, Byzantium was not able to wage war on two fronts and to regain its lost territories, but reconciled with the fact of establishing Sklavinias and created an alliance with them against the Avar and Bulgar Khaganate.


Before the great migration period the population of the Balkans was possibly composed of local Illyrians and Thracians who had been Romanized and Hellenized. There may have been also small communities of the Heruli, Bastarnae, Langobards and Scirii. After the destructive campaigns of Attila the Hun, and the Goths who previously were foederati, which resulted in the fall of the West Roman Empire, Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I began the reconstruction of fortresses, cities, and Christianity. However, the Plague of Justinian (541–549 until the mid-8th century[1]) decimated the native population resulting in the weakening of the Pannonian and Danubian Limes. All those years of war, pillage, pandemic, and natural catastrophes eventually allowed the conquest and migration of the Early Slavs who were also led by the Pannonian Avars.[2][3]


Posible Slavic migrations to the Balkans, per Relja Novaković (1981)

The Slavs who settled in the Balkans are divided into two groups, Antae and Sclaveni. It is considered that small groups of Slavs probably participated since the end of the 5th century in the campaigns of the Huns and Germanic tribes. The first sure Slavic raids can be dated to the early 6th century during the time of Eastern Roman Emperor Justin I (518–527), coinciding with the end of Vitalian revolt (511–518).[4] Procopius recorded that in 518 a large army of the Antae, "who dwell close to the Sclaveni", crossed the Danube river into the Roman territory. They continued with ever faster and stronger incursions at the time of Justinian I (527–565),[5] with Procopius recording that the whole of Illyricum and Thrace was almost every year pillaged by the Huns,[nb 1] Sclaveni, and Antae, which did enormous damage to the native Roman population, making the region into a "Scythian desert".[8] As the Danubian Limes lacked garrisons, Justinian I managed to make an alliance with the Antae to stop barbaric intrusions over Antae territory in Lower Danube. This caused more Slavic intrusions from the region of Podunavlje, but it was also followed by peaceful permanent settlement on the Byzantine territory which began in 550 or 551.[9] Things would change with the arrival of the Pannonian Avars who fought against the Antae and subjugated masses of both Antae and Sclaveni. After the death of Justinian I's death, the new Roman Emperor Justin II (565–574) halted the payment of subsidies to the Avars which sparked almost a century-long war period. With the Byzantines preoccupied with the 572–591 and 602–628 wars with the Sasanian Empire, Avars and Slavs made devastating intrusions from Northern Italy up to Southern Greece, and by the 7th century, the Slavs settled in all of the Balkans and Peloponnese. Roman Emperor Maurice in his Balkan campaigns (582–602) did not manage to stop them from making successful sieges of Sirmium, Viminacium, Thessalonica, destroying various cities including Justiniana Prima and Salona, culminating with the Siege of Constantinople (626).[10][11]

According to Procopius, Slavic social and political organization was a kind of demokratia in which the tribal community was ruled by the council of nobles. This allowed them to stay together regardless of environmental factors, but according to Johannes Koder, "impeded coordinated military resistance against the enemy" which put them in a situation of being under foreign political leadership.[11][12] When the Slavs and later Avars entered the Balkans they didn't have advanced siege warfare, but around 587 they acquired the knowledge of making it in contact with Byzantine culture because of which no urban settlement and fort could oppose them anymore.[13] With the destruction of the Roman fortifications happened a loss of Byzantine military and administrative power in Roman provinces. The native population was often decimated and the devastated lands were resettled by smaller or larger groups of Slavs. It is considered that the settlement among the natives, often replacing them, happened during the Autumn when winter supplies were secured for the people and animals. After mixing with the natives who survived in smaller communities depending on the region, the Slavic tribes mostly had names of toponymic origin.[14] They densely populated the Balkans, more precisely the Praetorian prefecture of Illyricum: in the late Roman province of Noricum was the Slavic settlement of the Eastern Alps (including Carantanians) while in Pannonia were the Pannonian Slavs (with Pannonian Dulebes); province of Dalmatia was settled by the White Croats (and Guduscani), Serbs, Narentines, Zachlumians, Travunijans, Kanalites while Praevalitana by Diocleans; provinces of Moesia and Dardania were inhabited by Merehani, Braničevci, Timočani and Praedenecenti; province of Dacia Ripensis and Moesia Secunda was inhabited by Seven Slavic tribes and Severians; while in part of the Diocese of Thrace were Smolyani, and Strymonites in whole of Diocese of Macedonia were numerous tribes of Drougoubitai, Berziti, Sagudates, Rhynchinoi, Baiounitai, Belegezites, Melingoi and Ezeritai. Part of the Slavs in Thrace was also relocated to Anatolia, later known as Asia Minor Slavs.[15]

However, after the settlement of the Slavs, the Balkans turned to paganism and entered the Dark Ages, in which most of Europe had been until then. Many Slavs soon began to accept the cultural customs of the highly civilized Byzantine provinces,[16] and in order to expand their cultural and state influence on the South Slavs, the Byzantines began the process of Christianization.[17] Eventually the Slavs settled in the late Roman provinces of Pannonia and Dalmatia reached a substantial amount of autonomy or independence establishing Sklavinias influenced by both Francia and Byzantine Empire, in most of the former diocese of Dacia and Thracia became part of the First Bulgarian Empire, while in the diocese of Macedonia (Southern Balkans and Peloponnese) lacked political organization because of which Byzantine Empire regained control and after 200 years became assimilated by the Greek majority, while on the territory of today's Albania by Albanian speaking majority.[18][19][20]


Slavs mostly traveled along the river valleys, while in Southern Balkans, where they encountered greater resistance by the native Greek forces, along the mountain ranges.[21][22] Very soon after the arrival the typical Slavic archaeological culture was changed by the influence of native Roman and Greek cultures.[23] According to the archaeological data it is considered that the main movement of the Slavs was from the Middle Danube valley.[24] The Ipotesti–Candesti culture was composed of a mixture of Slavic Prague-Korchak and mostly Penkovka culture with some elements of the so-called Martinovka culture.[25] The majority of the Slavic population in the Balkans and Peloponnese was accordingly descending from Antae.[26] According to archaeological data and historical sources, the Slavs mostly were engaged in agriculture, cultivating proso millet, which introduced,[1] wheat, but also flax.[27] They grew various fruits and vegetables, learned viticulture.[28] They were actively engaged in animal husbandry, using horses for military and agricultural purposes, and raising oxen and goats.[29] Those living in hilly terrain mostly lived as shepherds.[29] Those living near lakes, rivers, and seas also used various hooks and nets for fishing.[30] They were known to be especially skilled in woodworking, also used for shipbuilding, but also knew about metalworking and pottery.[31]


Admixture analysis of autosomal SNPs of the Balkan region in a global context on the resolution level of 7 assumed ancestral populations: the African (brown), South/West European (light blue), Asian (yellow), Middle Eastern (orange), South Asian (green), North/East European (dark blue) and beige Caucasus component.[32]

According to the 2013 autosomal IBD survey "of recent genealogical ancestry over the past 3,000 years at a continental scale", the speakers of Serbo-Croatian language share a very high number of common ancestors dated to the migration period approximately 1,500 years ago with Poland and Romania-Bulgaria cluster among others in Eastern Europe. It is concluded to be caused by the Hunnic and Slavic expansion, which was a "relatively small population that expanded over a large geographic area", particularly "the expansion of the Slavic populations into regions of low population density beginning in the sixth century" and that it is "highly coincident with the modern distribution of Slavic languages".[33] According to Kushniarevich et al. 2015, the Hellenthal et al. 2014 IBD analysis,[34] also found "multi-directional admixture events among East Europeans (both Slavic and non-Slavic), dated to around 1,000–1,600 YBP" which coincides with "the proposed time-frame for the Slavic expansion".[35] The Slavic influence is "dated to 500-900 CE or a bit later with over 40-50% among Bulgarians, Romanians, and Hungarians".[33] The 2015 IBD analysis found that the South Slavs have lower proximity to Greeks than with East Slavs and West Slavs and that there's an "even patterns of IBD sharing among East-West Slavs–'inter-Slavic' populations (Hungarians, Romanians and Gagauz)–and South Slavs, i.e. across an area of assumed historic movements of people including Slavs". The slight peak of shared IBD segments between South and East-West Slavs suggests a shared "Slavonic-time ancestry".[35] According to a recent admixture analysis of Western Balkan, the South Slavs show a genetic uniformity,[32][36] with the modeled ancestral genetic component of Balto-Slavs among South Slavs being between 55% and 70%.[35] According to 2017 admixture study of Peloponnesian Greek population, "the Slavic ancestry of Peloponnesean subpopulations ranges from 0.2 to 14.4%".[37]

The 2006 Y-DNA study results "suggest that the Slavic expansion started from the territory of present-day Ukraine, thus supporting the hypothesis that places the earliest known homeland of Slavs in the basin of the middle Dnieper".[38] According to genetic studies until 2020, the distribution, variance and frequency of the Y-DNA haplogroups R1a and I2 and their subclades R-M558, R-M458 and I-CTS10228 among South Slavs are in correlation with the spreading of Slavic languages during the medieval Slavic expansion from Eastern Europe, most probably from the territory of present-day Ukraine and Southeastern Poland.[39][40][41][42][43][44][45]


  1. ^ The ethnonym of the Huns, like those of Scythians and Türks, became a generic term for steppe-people (nomads) and invading enemies from the East, no matter of their actual origin and identity.[6][7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Koder 2020, p. 84.
  2. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 206–207.
  3. ^ Lester K. Little, ed. (2007). Plague and the End of Antiquity: The Pandemic of 541-750. Cambridge University Press. pp. 15, 24, 116, 118, 125, 286–287. ISBN 978-0-521-84639-4.
  4. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 207–208.
  5. ^ Koder 2020, p. 82.
  6. ^ Beckwith, Christopher I. (2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton University Press. p. 99. ISBN 9781400829941. Like the name Scythian up to the early medieval period, the name Hun became a generic (usually pejorative) term in subsequent history for any steppe-warrior people, or even any enemy people, regardless of their actual identity.
  7. ^ Dickens, Mark (2004). Medieval Syriac Historians' Perceptionsof the Turks. University of Cambridge. p. 19. Syriac chroniclers (along with their Arab, Byzantine, Latin, Armenian, and Georgian counterparts) did not use ethnonyms as specifically as modern scholars do. As K. Czeglédy notes, "some sources... use the ethnonyms of the various steppe peoples, in particular those of the Scythians, Huns and Turkic tribes, in the generic sense of 'nomads'".
  8. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 208.
  9. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 208–209.
  10. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 209–212, 215.
  11. ^ a b Koder 2020, p. 83.
  12. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 229.
  13. ^ Vryonis, Speros (1981). "The Evolution of Slavic Society and the Slavic Invasions in Greece. The First Major Slavic Attack on Thessaloniki, A. D. 597". Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. 50 (4): 378–390. doi:10.2307/147879.
  14. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 212, 215.
  15. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 212–218, 382, 413, 444, 458.
  16. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 207.
  17. ^ Živković, Tibor (2013). "On the Baptism of the Serbs and Croats in the Time of Basil I (867–886)" (PDF). Studia Slavica et Balcanica Petropolitana (1): 33–53.
  18. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 229–232.
  19. ^ Vedriš 2015, p. 581–603.
  20. ^ Koder 2020, p. 91–95.
  21. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 216.
  22. ^ Koder 2020, p. 88–89.
  23. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 217.
  24. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 218, 220–221.
  25. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 219, 221–222.
  26. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 221.
  27. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 225–227.
  28. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 225–226.
  29. ^ a b Sedov 2013, p. 226.
  30. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 227.
  31. ^ Sedov 2013, p. 227–228.
  32. ^ a b L. Kovačević; et al. (2014). "Standing at the Gateway to Europe - The Genetic Structure of Western Balkan Populations Based on Autosomal and Haploid Markers". PLOS One. 9 (8): e105090. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0105090. PMC 4141785. PMID 25148043.
  33. ^ a b P. Ralph; et al. (2013). "The Geography of Recent Genetic Ancestry across Europe". PLOS Biology. 11 (5): e105090. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001555. PMC 3646727. PMID 23667324.
  34. ^ "Companion website for "A genetic atlas of human admixture history", Hellenthal et al, Science (2014)". A genetic atlas of human admixture history.
    Hellenthal, Garrett; Busby, George B.J.; Band, Gavin; Wilson, James F.; Capelli, Cristian; Falush, Daniel; Myers, Simon (14 February 2014). "A Genetic Atlas of Human Admixture History". Science. 343 (6172): 747–751. Bibcode:2014Sci...343..747H. doi:10.1126/science.1243518. ISSN 0036-8075. PMC 4209567. PMID 24531965.
    Hellenthal, G.; Busby, G. B.; Band, G.; Wilson, J. F.; Capelli, C.; Falush, D.; Myers, S. (2014). "Supplementary Material for "A genetic atlas of human admixture history"". Science. 343 (6172): 747–751. doi:10.1126/science.1243518. PMC 4209567. PMID 24531965. S7.6 "East Europe": The difference between the 'East Europe I' and 'East Europe II' analyses is that the latter analysis included the Polish as a potential donor population. The Polish were included in this analysis to reflect a Slavic language speaking source group." "We speculate that the second event seen in our six Eastern Europe populations between northern European and southern European ancestral sources may correspond to the expansion of Slavic language speaking groups (commonly referred to as the Slavic expansion) across this region at a similar time, perhaps related to displacement caused by the Eurasian steppe invaders (38; 58). Under this scenario, the northerly source in the second event might represent DNA from Slavic-speaking migrants (sampled Slavic-speaking groups are excluded from being donors in the EastEurope I analysis). To test consistency with this, we repainted these populations adding the Polish as a single Slavic-speaking donor group (“East Europe II” analysis; see Note S7.6) and, in doing so, they largely replaced the original North European component (Figure S21), although we note that two nearby populations, Belarus and Lithuania, are equally often inferred as sources in our original analysis (Table S12). Outside these six populations, an admixture event at the same time (910CE, 95% CI:720-1140CE) is seen in the southerly neighboring Greeks, between sources represented by multiple neighboring Mediterranean peoples (63%) and the Polish (37%), suggesting a strong and early impact of the Slavic expansions in Greece, a subject of recent debate (37). These shared signals we find across East European groups could explain a recent observation of an excess of IBD sharing among similar groups, including Greece, that was dated to a wide range between 1,000 and 2,000 years ago (37)
  35. ^ a b c A. Kushniarevich; et al. (2015). "Genetic Heritage of the Balto-Slavic Speaking Populations: A Synthesis of Autosomal, Mitochondrial and Y-Chromosomal Data". PLOS One. 10 (9): e0135820. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0135820. PMC 4558026. PMID 26332464.
  36. ^ P. M. Delser; et al. (2018). "Genetic Landscape of Slovenians: Past Admixture and Natural Selection Pattern". Frontiers in Genetics. 9: 551. doi:10.3389/fgene.2018.00551. PMC 6252347. PMID 30510563.
  37. ^ G. Stamatoyannopoulos; et al. (2017). "Genetics of the peloponnesean populations and the theory of extinction of the medieval peloponnesean Greeks". European Journal of Human Genetics. 25: 637–645. doi:10.1038/ejhg.2017.18.
  38. ^ Rebała, K; Mikulich, AI; Tsybovsky, IS; Siváková, D; Dzupinková, Z; Szczerkowska-Dobosz, A; Szczerkowska, Z (2007). "Y-STR variation among Slavs: Evidence for the Slavic homeland in the middle Dnieper basin". Journal of Human Genetics. 52 (5): 406–14. doi:10.1007/s10038-007-0125-6. PMID 17364156.
  39. ^ A. Zupan; et al. (2013). "The paternal perspective of the Slovenian population and its relationship with other populations". Annals of Human Biology. 40 (6): 515–526. doi:10.3109/03014460.2013.813584. PMID 23879710. However, a study by Battaglia et al. (2009) showed a variance peak for I2a1 in the Ukraine and, based on the observed pattern of variation, it could be suggested that at least part of the I2a1 haplogroup could have arrived in the Balkans and Slovenia with the Slavic migrations from a homeland in present-day Ukraine... The calculated age of this specific haplogroup together with the variation peak detected in the suggested Slavic homeland could represent a signal of Slavic migration arising from medieval Slavic expansions. However, the strong genetic barrier around the area of Bosnia and Herzegovina, associated with the high frequency of the I2a1b-M423 haplogroup, could also be a consequence of a Paleolithic genetic signal of a Balkan refuge area, followed by mixing with a medieval Slavic signal from modern-day Ukraine.
  40. ^ Underhill, Peter A. (2015), "The phylogenetic and geographic structure of Y-chromosome haplogroup R1a", European Journal of Human Genetics, 23 (1): 124–131, doi:10.1038/ejhg.2014.50, PMC 4266736, PMID 24667786, R1a-M458 exceeds 20% in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Western Belarus. The lineage averages 11–15% across Russia and Ukraine and occurs at 7% or less elsewhere (Figure 2d). Unlike hg R1a-M458, the R1a-M558 clade is also common in the Volga-Uralic populations. R1a-M558 occurs at 10–33% in parts of Russia, exceeds 26% in Poland and Western Belarus, and varies between 10 and 23% in the Ukraine, whereas it drops 10-fold lower in Western Europe. In general, both R1a-M458 and R1a-M558 occur at low but informative frequencies in Balkan populations with known Slavonic heritage.
  41. ^ O.M. Utevska (2017). Генофонд українців за різними системами генетичних маркерів: походження і місце на європейському генетичному просторі [The gene pool of Ukrainians revealed by different systems of genetic markers: the origin and statement in Europe] (PhD) (in Ukrainian). National Research Center for Radiation Medicine of National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. pp. 219–226, 302.
  42. ^ Neparáczki, Endre; et al. (2019). "Y-chromosome haplogroups from Hun, Avar and conquering Hungarian period nomadic people of the Carpathian Basin". Scientific Reports. Nature Research. 9 (16569): 16569. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-53105-5. PMC 6851379. PMID 31719606. Hg I2a1a2b-L621 was present in 5 Conqueror samples, and a 6th sample form Magyarhomorog (MH/9) most likely also belongs here, as MH/9 is a likely kin of MH/16 (see below). This Hg of European origin is most prominent in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, especially among Slavic speaking groups.
  43. ^ Pamjav, Horolma; Fehér, Tibor; Németh, Endre; Koppány Csáji, László (2019). Genetika és őstörténet (in Hungarian). Napkút Kiadó. p. 58. ISBN 978-963-263-855-3. Az I2-CTS10228 (köznevén „dinári-kárpáti") alcsoport legkorábbi közös őse 2200 évvel ezelőttre tehető, így esetében nem arról van szó, hogy a mezolit népesség Kelet-Európában ilyen mértékben fennmaradt volna, hanem arról, hogy egy, a mezolit csoportoktól származó szűk család az európai vaskorban sikeresen integrálódott egy olyan társadalomba, amely hamarosan erőteljes demográfiai expanzióba kezdett. Ez is mutatja, hogy nem feltétlenül népek, mintsem családok sikerével, nemzetségek elterjedésével is számolnunk kell, és ezt a jelenlegi etnikai identitással összefüggésbe hozni lehetetlen. A csoport elterjedése alapján valószínűsíthető, hogy a szláv népek migrációjában vett részt, így válva az R1a-t követően a második legdominánsabb csoporttá a mai Kelet-Európában. Nyugat-Európából viszont teljes mértékben hiányzik, kivéve a kora középkorban szláv nyelvet beszélő keletnémet területeket.
  44. ^ Fóthi, E.; Gonzalez, A.; Fehér, T.; et al. (2020), "Genetic analysis of male Hungarian Conquerors: European and Asian paternal lineages of the conquering Hungarian tribes", Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 12 (1), doi:10.1007/s12520-019-00996-0, Based on SNP analysis, the CTS10228 group is 2200 ± 300 years old. The group’s demographic expansion may have begun in Southeast Poland around that time, as carriers of the oldest subgroup are found there today. The group cannot solely be tied to the Slavs, because the proto-Slavic period was later, around 300–500 CE... The SNP-based age of the Eastern European CTS10228 branch is 2200 ± 300 years old. The carriers of the most ancient subgroup live in Southeast Poland, and it is likely that the rapid demographic expansion which brought the marker to other regions in Europe began there. The largest demographic explosion occurred in the Balkans, where the subgroup is dominant in 50.5% of Croatians, 30.1% of Serbs, 31.4% of Montenegrins, and in about 20% of Albanians and Greeks. As a result, this subgroup is often called Dinaric. It is interesting that while it is dominant among modern Balkan peoples, this subgroup has not been present yet during the Roman period, as it is almost absent in Italy as well (see Online Resource 5; ESM_5).
  45. ^ Kushniarevich, Alena; Kassian, Alexei (2020), "Genetics and Slavic languages", in Marc L. Greenberg (ed.), Encyclopedia of Slavic Languages and Linguistics Online, Brill, doi:10.1163/2589-6229_ESLO_COM_032367, retrieved 10 December 2020, The geographic distributions of the major eastern European NRY haplogroups (R1a-Z282, I2a-P37) overlap with the area occupied by the present-day Slavs to a great extent, and it might be tempting to consider both haplogroups as Slavic-specic patrilineal lineages