Slavs (ethnonym)

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 mentionsEdit

Possibly the oldest mention of Slavs in almost historical form *Slověne is attested in Ptolemy's Geography (2nd century) as Σταυανοί (Stavanoi) and Σουοβηνοί (Souobenoi/Sovobenoi, Suobeni, Suoweni), both listed as Scythian tribes living near Alanians north of Scythia (first roughly between Volga and Ural Mountains, second between the Baltic Sea and Black Sea).[1][2][3] Zbigniew Gołąb accepted Pavel Jozef Šafárik's opinion that Greeks inserted "τ" or "θ" for Slavic "sl-" (reconstructing Proto-Slavic *Slɔu̯ǣnæ), and "through the labialized articulation of the vowel /ɔ/ conditioned by the preceding /u̯/" in Proto-Slavic *Su̯ɔbǣnæ (*Svoběne).[1]

Sporoi (Greek: Σπόροι) or Spori was according to Eastern Roman/Byzantine 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 traced their common origin back to not the Veneti (as per Jordanes) but a people that he called Sporoi.[4] He derived the name from Greek σπείρω ("I scatter grain"), because "they populated the land with scattered settlements".[5] He described their society as democratic, and their language as barbaric.[6]

The 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 una stirpe exorti, tria nomina ediderunt, id est Veneti, Antes, Sclaveni); that is, the West Slavs, East Slavs, and South Slavs.[7] 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.[8][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).[9]

Thus, the Slav ethnonym at first denoted the southern group of the early Slavs. That ethnonym is attested by Procopius in Byzantine Greek as Σκλάβοι (Skláboi), Σκλαβηνοί (Sklabēnoí), Σκλαυηνοί (Sklauēnoí), Σθλαβηνοί (Sthlabēnoí), or Σκλαβῖνοι (Sklabînoi),[10] while his contemporary Jordanes refers to the Sclaveni in Latin.[11] In Ancient Greek there are no words with the root sl-, thus the original ethnonym was transformed into skl-, as that root was present (in sklērós, "hard").[12]

Church Slavonic manuscriptsEdit

In East Church Slavonic manuscripts, the ethnonym is spelt Slověne (Словѣне), such as in the Primary Chronicle, Sofia First Chronicle, Novgorod First Chronicle and Novgorod Fourth Chronicle.[13] In the source dating to 898 included in the Primary Chronicle, the term is used both for East Slavic tribes and more often for a people (in the Kievan Rus' society, alongside Varangians, Chuds and Kriviches).[14]


The Slavic autonym *Slověninъ is usually considered a derivation from Proto-Slavic adjective svobъ ("oneself", "one's own"; derivative svoboda > sloboda also "freedom", "free settlement"), which derives from Indo-European *s(w)e/obh(o)- "a person or thing apart, separate", root *swobh "his/hers", meaning "all the members of an exogamic moiety > actual or potential affines/blood relatives".[1] It can be interpreted as "a tribe of the free, of their own people".[3] Names of many Germanic tribes derive from the same root, which was not an exonym but endonym.[3] Eventually with dissimilation of svobъ > slobъ was associated with 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", namely němci, meaning "mumbling, murmuring people" (from Slavic *němъ "mumbling, mute").[1][3] The latter word may be the derivation of words to denote "Germans" or "Germanic peoples" in many later Slavic languages, e. g., Czech Němec, Slovak Nemec, Slovene Nemec, Belarusian, Russian and Bulgarian Немец, Serbian Немац, Croatian Nijemac, Polish Niemiec, Ukrainian Німець, etc.,[15] but another theory states that rather these words are derived from the name of the Nemetes tribe,[16][17] which is derived from the Celtic root nemeto-.[18][19]

The word slovo ("word") and the related slava ("glory, fame, praise") and slukh ("hearing") originate from the Proto-Indo-European root *ḱlew- ("be spoken of, glory"), cognate with Ancient Greek κλέος (kléos "fame"), whence comes the name Pericles, Latin clueo ("be called"), as well as English loud.[citation needed]

Alternative proposals for the etymology of *Slověninъ propounded by some scholars have much less support. B. Philip Lozinski argues that the word *slava once had the meaning of "worshipper", in this context "practicer of a common Slavic religion"; 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 theorize that Slavyane (Russian: Славяне) is of toponymic origin, from a place named Slovo or a river named Slova;[22] this, according to some, is implied by the suffix -enin.[citation needed] 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 Slověne.[23]

According to the widespread view known since 18th century, the English word slave, which arrived in modern language from Middle English sclave, from Old French esclave, from Late Middle High German sklave, from Medieval Latin sclāvus, from Late Latin Sclāvus, from Byzantine Greek Σκλάβος [Sklábos], Έσκλαβήνος [Ésklabḗnos] and displaced native Old English þēow, derives from Byzantine loanword from a Slavic gen self-name *Slověninŭ - Σκλάβινοι [Sklábinoi], Έσκλαβηνοί [Ésklabēnoí], that turned into the meaning 'prisoner of war Slave', 'slave' (Σκλάβος, Έσκλαβήνος, Late Latin Sclāvus) in 8th/9th century, because they often became captured and enslaved (see also Saqaliba).[24][25][26][27][28][29][30] Similarly the popular Italian-language (and international) salutation Ciao is also derived from that Slavic athnonym.[31][32] However this version is disputed since 19th century.[33][34]

Alternative contemporary hypothesis states that Medieval Latin sclāvus via secondary form *scylāvus derives from Byzantine σκυλάω [skūláō, skyláō], σκυλεύω [skūleúō, skyleúō] - "to strip the enemy (killed in a battle)", "to make booty / extract spoils of war".[35][36][37][38] This version is criticised as well.[39]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Gołąb, Zbigniew (1992), The Origins of the Slavs: A Linguist's View, Columbus: Slavica, pp. 291–295, ISBN 9780893572310
  2. ^ Bojtár, Endre (1999), Foreword to the Past: A Cultural History of the Baltic People, Central European University Press, p. 107, ISBN 9789639116429
  3. ^ a b c d Belaj, Vitomir; Belaj, Juraj (2018). "Around and below Divuša: The Traces of Perun's Mother Arrival into Our Lands". Zbornik Instituta za arheologiju / Serta Instituti Archaeologici, Vol. 10. Sacralization of Landscape and Sacred Places. Proceedings of the 3rd International Scientific Conference of Mediaeval Archaeology of the Institute of Archaeology. Zagreb: Institute of Archaeology. pp. 75–76. ISBN 978-953-6064-36-6. n 1980 Ivanov and Toporov dedicated an extensive paper to ancient Slavic ethnonyms, in which they mentioned Ptolemy's Souobene (Ivanov, Toporov 1980: 14-18). The Greeks did not tolerate in their language the initial consonant cluster sl-, σλ-, and they also did not clearly distinguish the sounds l and b, λ and β. Besides, their alphabet does not even have a letter corresponding to the Latin "v", so Greek writers used the letter beta: β, for the sound "v" which they heard in words of non-Greek origin. If we know that, then we may read the name that Ptolemy wrote in the form Σουοβηνοί13 as the Sloveni. Later they transformed the Slavic name into Σκλαβηνοι, which was then adopted by the Romans in the form Sclaveni, Sclavi. This form would then solidify due to popular etymology, which associated the name Sclaveni with the Latin word sclavus, "slave", which would result, for instance, in the Italian form Schiavoni.
  4. ^ Paul M. Barford (2001). The Early Slavs: Culture and Society in Early Medieval Eastern Europe. Cornell University Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-8014-3977-3. Archived from the original on 2017-02-03. Retrieved 2016-11-10.
  5. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 2019-12-24. Retrieved 2016-11-10.
  6. ^ Łukaszewicz 1998, p. 130.
  7. ^ Frank A. Kmietowicz (1976). Ancient Slavs. Worzalla Publishing Company. Archived from the original on 2019-12-28. Retrieved 2016-11-10. Jordanes left no doubt that the Antes were of Slavic origin, when he wrote: 'ab una stirpe 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 the East Slavs and the Sclaveni, the South or Balkan Slavs.
  8. ^ Jordanes, Getica 5.
  9. ^ 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.[dead link]
  10. ^ Procopius, History of the Wars, VII. 14. 22–30, VIII. 40. 5.
  11. ^ Jordanes, The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, V. 33.
  12. ^ Łukaszewicz 1998, p. 131.
  13. ^ А.А. Шахматов. Разыскания о древнейших русских летописных сводах. Рипол Классик. pp. 304–. ISBN 978-5-517-87978-3. Archived from the original on 2020-06-30. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
  14. ^ Виктор Живов (5 September 2017). Разыскания в области истории и предыстории русской культуры. ЛитРес. pp. 180–. ISBN 978-5-457-50213-0. Archived from the original on 15 July 2020. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  15. ^ Stephen Barbour and Cathie Carmichael (eds.), Language and Nationalism in Europe (2000), p. 193.
  16. ^ The Journal of Indo-European studies, vol. 2 (1974) Archived 2017-12-08 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ Grzegorz Jagodziński, O przenoszeniu nazw ludów (in Polish).
  18. ^ Xavier Delamarre (2003). Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. Éditions Errance, p. 233.
  19. ^ John T. Koch (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, p. 1351.
  20. ^ B. Philip Lozinski, "The Name 'Slav'", in: Essays in Russian History. A Collection Dedicated to George Vernadsky, edd. A. D. Ferguson and A. Levin. Archon Books, Hamden, Connecticut 1964, S. 19–32 (online text Archived 2017-03-22 at the Wayback Machine).
  21. ^ Bernstein 1961.
  22. ^ Татьяна Григорьевна Винокур (2004). Древнерусский язык. Лабиринт. p. 37. ISBN 978-5-87604-147-0. Archived from the original on 2020-07-13. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
  23. ^ Etudes slaves et est-européennes: Slavic and East-European studies, vol. 3 (1958), p. 107.
  24. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition 1989, s.v. slave
  25. ^ "slave | Origin and meaning of slave by Online Etymology Dictionary". Archived from the original on 2020-05-26. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
  26. ^ Jankowiak, Marek (February 2017). "What Does the Slave Trade in the Saqaliba Tell Us about Early Islamic Slavery?". International Journal of Middle East Studies. 49 (1): 169–172. doi:10.1017/S0020743816001240.
  27. ^ "The international slave trade". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  28. ^ Lewis 1992, Chapter 1.
  29. ^ Kłosowska, Anna (2020), Kłosowska, Anna; Karkov, Catherine E.; van Gerven Oei, Vincent W.J. (eds.), "The Etymology of Slave", Disturbing Times, Medieval Pasts, Reimagined Futures, Punctum Books, pp. 151–214, ISBN 978-1-950192-75-5, JSTOR j.ctv16zk023.7, retrieved 2021-04-07
  30. ^ Company, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing. "The American Heritage Dictionary entry: slave". Retrieved 2021-04-07.
  31. ^ Quaderni di semantica. Vol. 25–26. Società editrice il Mulino. 2004. pp. 214–215. Archived from the original on 2020-07-13. Retrieved 2018-01-29. In the case of the sequence Slav > sclavus > scia(v)o > ciao, however, there is no problem, because the etymology is absolutely reliable
  32. ^ Folia Linguistica Historica: Acta Societatis Linguisticae Europaeae. Vol. 12. Mouton. 1992. pp. 110–118–. Archived from the original on 2020-07-08. Retrieved 2018-01-29. This is also the case for ciao and sciao, for the etymology of these words is the late Latin word sclavus, ultimately of Slavic origin, originally meaning "Slavic", and then "slave". As is known, most western European words that designate "slave" derive from the word sclavus: not only English slave, but also German Sklave, Dutch slaaf, Danish slave, Swedish slaaf, Welsh slaf, Breton sklav, French esclave, Spanish esclavo, Portuguese escravo, Albanian Skllaf, Modern Greek skla- vos, ...
  33. ^ Kluge, Friedrich (1899). "Artikel Sklave". Etymologisches Wörterbuch Der Deutschen Sprache (6 ed.). Strassburg: Trübner. p. 366.
  34. ^ Достоевский Ф.М. (1981). "Самое последнее слово цивилизации". In В. Г. Базанов и др., ИРЛИ (ed.). Полное собрание сочинений. В 30 томах. Vol. 23. Дневник писателя за 1876 год. Май-октябрь. Ленинград: Наука. Ленингр. отд-ние. pp. 63, 382.
  35. ^ Korth, Georg (1970). "Zur Etymologie des Wortes 'Slavus' (Sklave)". Glotta, Zeitschrift fur Griechische und Lateinische Sprache. Glotta. Vol. 48. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht (GmbH & Co. KG). pp. 145–153. JSTOR 40266114.
  36. ^ Kluge, Friedrich (1989). "Artikel Sklave". In Elmar Seebold (ed.). Etymologisches Wörterbuch Der Deutschen Sprache (22 ed.). Berlin - New York: De Gruyter. p. 676. ISBN 3-11-006800-1.
  37. ^ Köbler, Gerhard (1995). "Sklave". Deutsches Etymologisches Rechtswörterbuch. Tübingen: Mohr. p. 371. ISBN 978-3-8252-1888-1.
  38. ^ Scholten, Daniel (2020). "Sklave und Slawe". Deutsch für Dichter und Denker: Unsere Muttersprache in neuem Licht. Bright Star Books. ISBN 978-3948287061.
  39. ^ Ditten, Hans (1972). "Kritik an G. KORTH". Byzantinoslavica. Vol. 33. Prague: ACADEMIA, de l’Academie Tchecoslovaque des Sciences et Lettres. pp. 183–184.

Further readingEdit