I recently spoke to a group and there were a couple of questions I thought would be perfect to answer here on my blog. The information is in the book I just published, but I’m going to go a little deeper in this post.
One of the questions was, “What are Slavs and what do they have to do with Czechs?”
I knew this was something many Czechs possibly didn’t know about, as I also hadn’t known before I did my research. The only reason I even knew to research Slavs was because of the artist, Alphonse Mucha’s paintings called The Slav Epic. His 20 room-sized paintings which tell the history of Slavic people are what motivated me to write the book Czech & Slavic Epic History.
You see, way back in time, before the common era and in the first centuries of the first millennium (from the birth of Christ to 1,000 C.E.), much of Europe and East Asia consisted of tribes of people.
I came to understand the idea of tribes versus civilizations better by using a timeline of civilizations in the ancient world. Every person who has studied ancient history already knows all of this, but I hadn’t and maybe some of this information will be new to you as well.
I knew that Rome had been a major power as had the ancient Greeks; I had heard about the cradle of civilization; I’d heard the terms Holy Roman Empire and Ottoman Empire, yet I had no solid dates in my mind about when these people ruled, how they ruled, or who the people they ruled were. I certainly had no idea about the Czech people’s ancient history.
It’s true, there were major civilizations in the world as early as 3500 BCE. Yet humans began migrating out of the fertile crescent as early as 50,000 years ago, then more significantly 15 to 13,000 years ago. Those migrating people went across a channel from Africa into the Arabian Peninsula, and some went eastward into East Asia or upward into Europe. Wherever they went, they were hunters and gatherers and settled in small communities of people where they raised crops and animals. These migrating people were the antecedents of the people who created the Greek and Roman empires. But first, back in the fertile crescent, the Mesopotamians got the ball of civilization rolling.
- 3500 BCE: Mesopotamian Civilization
- 3000 BCE: Egyptian Civilization
- 2500 BCE: Indus Valley Civilization
- 2000 BCE: Ancient China
- 2000 BCE: Aegean Civilization
- 2000 BCE: Nubian Civilization
- 1500 BCE: Mesoamerica
- 1200 BCE: Greek Age
- 1000 BCE: Ancient Andean Region
- 1000 BCE: Anceint Steppe Empires
- 500 BCE: Roman Republic
- 500 BCE: Indian Kingdom
- 0-500 CE: Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire
All the above occurred before anything is ever mentioned in written history about Slavic people. It isn’t until around 551 CE (around 300 years after the Roman Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity and made it the religion of The Roman Empire) that the 6th-century Byzantine historian, Jordanes in 551 wrote: “although they (slavic people) derive from one nation, now they are known under three names, the Veneti, Antes and Sclaveni”
In this time period, Europe didn’t look at all like it does today. Kingdoms and borders weren’t stable, and empires ruled over vast areas of land. The land was ripe for the taking by powers strong enough to make it their own. The bigger civilizations conquered land only to have other civilizations wage war to take the land away. When these battles occurred, the smaller, ununited tribes of people, such as the Slavs, were either chased out of wherever they had been living or absorbed into the new culture.
The current thought is that the Slavic tribes dwelled in the Baltic region. These areas in the late centuries before the common era would have been ruled by the Greeks. After the Greeks fell, Persians came into the area to rule. Then came the Romans. Huns invaded eventually as did Gothic tribes. By the end of the Roman Empire, the Baltic region was a passageway for invading people moving westward toward Europe.
But Slavs weren’t part of these wars unless they were fighting to protect themselves or being enslaved to be used as warriors. So tribes of Slavs emigrated out of their homelands and went up and east, down and south, or west. There, they may have been able to settle for a few centuries or more. If the lands were already settled by Germanic, Celtic, Middle Eastern, or Asian people, the Slavs blended with those people. Again, once in those areas, other civilizations came in to take over those lands, such as the Ottoman Turks, and in the case of the western tribes of the Wends in the Czech Lands, Austria (Germanic), and then Austria with Hungary (Magyar). Slavs were sometimes taken as slaves, women were raped, and even during WW II under the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, some Czech children were taken and given to German families who couldn’t have children of their own.
History is a messy venture, and once you understand how the tides of time have moved people and changed ruling classes, as well as battles or all-out wars, it becomes easier to understand how genetic variants of other ethnicities such as German, Asian, or Greek might show up in what we had previously thought of as 100% Czech genetics.
Here is a breakdown of the ancient Slavic tribes and where they went.
Three basic groups:
- East Slavs-Antes
- West Slavs-Venet or Sporoi
- South Slavs- Sclaveni
The Eastern Antes
The Ante tribes were the ancestors of the Slavs who settled in the East and were also the ancient ancestors of the Western and Southern Slavs as well. There are many Ante tribes and some of the families within the Ante tribes created their own tribes of people. Some of the tribal names were the Dulebes, the Buzhans, the Dregoviches, the Polans, the Teverians, the Khorvaty, the Ulichians, the Smolenians, the Zalessians, the Vyatichians, or the Shelonians. These are just some of the many Ante Tribes which migrated out of the Balkans to other places east, like Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Croatia. The Dulebes and Buzhan tribes would possibly be found in some ancient Czech ancestry.
The Southern Sclaveni
These tribes have some shared ancient ancestry with the Western Slav tribes. When these tribes migrated out of the Balkans, they would have landed in Bosnia, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Bohemia. Some of the names of Southern Sclaveni tribes would have been: Bosnians, Carantanians, Docleani, Guduscani, Timočani, Milcovci, Sklavenoi, and Smolyani. There are many more tribes that settled in different places during their migrations.
The Western Veneti or Wends
These are the Czech-Moravian-Slovak group of tribes:
Bohemian tribes had names such as the Berunzani, the Chekhove, the Děčané, the Dudlebi, the Khébané, the Khodove, the Lemuzi, the Lupiglai, the Pshovane, the Sedlichane, the Volynyane, the Luchane, the Litoměřici, or the Zlicans.
Moravian tribes had names such as the Ganátsi, the Gorátsi, the Golasitsi, or the Podyjští Moravané.
Slovak tribes may have been called the Slovieni.
Outside of these basic tribal groups, there are unclassified Slavs who went their own way. Of these, one tribal name jumped out at me as my maiden name was Navrkal. These were the Navari (also called the Neuri) who were mentioned by Herodotus, an ancient Greek writer. He said that they lived near the Narew River in Poland. Herodotus told the tale that this tribe of people had been driven from their land by an invasion of snakes, so they were forced to live among the Budini, who were a nomadic people. Herodotus said that the Navari or Neuri turned into wolves once a year for several days before returning to their previous form. This would have been written in the 5th century B.C.E. Since I am becoming fairly forgetful, it is possible these are simply times I turn into a wolf.
There are thirteen countries considered to be Slavic nations. All Slavic languages derive from a Baltic, Indo-European language, and beside each country are how they would say the word, “mother.”
- Russia – the word mother is said: мать
- Poland – the word mother is said: mama
- Ukraine – the word mother is said: мати
- Serbia – the word mother is said: Majka
- Czech Republic – the word mother is said: matka
- Bulgaria – the word mother is said: майка
- Belarus – the word mother is said: маці
- Croatia – the word mother is said: majka
- Slovakia – the word mother is said: matka
- Bosnia – the word mother is said: majka
- Slovenia – the word mother is said: mati
- Macedonia – the word mother is said: majka
- Montenego – the word mother is said: majka
As you can see, eight out of these 13 countries say the word mother very much the same: majka, mati, matka, manka, and mama. Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus seem to adhere more to Cryllic script than the Latinized version of language the other Slavic countries use.
In the end, I hope this helps you understand what Slavs have to do with Czechs. Slav are not necessarily Czech, but Czechs are always a people who originally derived from Slavic tribes.
So, now you know! Thanks for reading.