Start page

Valentyn Stetsyuk (Lviv, Ukraine)

Personal web site


The Slavic Expansion

Of all the Slavs, only Belarusians remained in their ancestral homeland, only slightly expanding their territory (see map on the left).

Слева: The ancestral home (the border is marked in red) and the ethnographic territory of the Belarusians (the borders are marked in dark).
Arrows indicate the directions of migration of Belarusians.

The area in the Sozh basin was later populated by them. The rest of the Slavs moved in search of new lands, but began their expansion rather late, when other Indo-European peoples had already created highly developed states and cultures known in history in new places of their settlements.

The Slavs acted on the world stage rather late, when the other Indo-European peoples created known in the history of advanced states and cultures on new places of their settlement. For the first time, the Slavs clearly appeared in historical sources soon after 500 AD, and in the thirties, it was regularly reported on the invasions of the Slavs in the north of the Lower Danube (POHL WALTER. 2002: 96). The reason for this delay was the location of the Slavic Urheimat in the north-western edge of the whole Indo-European territory and their continued migration towards the Baltic Sea and the Lower Vistula. The invasion of the Huns in Eastern Europe at the end of the 4th mill resulted in the movement of the local population and the Slavs took part in this "Great Migration of Peoples".

However, historians have repeatedly noted that the large-scale expansion of the Slavs in all directions – to the Balkans, to the shores of the Oder and Elbe, the Western Dvina and the Volga River was peaceful and almost invisible to contemporaries, and, obviously, was the consequence of their large number, which determined the assimilation of the local population in Slav mass. Although, in fairness, it should be noted that the Slavs were assimilated themselves among the population of a higher culture, as it was, for example, in Greece, or later in Germany. The Slavs behaved more aggressively in the Balkans, and this obviously can be explained by the fact that they were acting in alliance with the Avars, and under their supremacy. Indirect evidence of the latter may be known in the passage about the treatment of the Obrs (Avars) to the Slavs in the Chronicle. Nevertheless, the disappearance of the Avars without a trace may be explained by their assimilation among the Slavs.

Prior to this large-scale movement of masses of people, at least during the Zarubintsy culture, the Slavic tribes did not descend below the river Tyasmina. But even in the Tyasmine and north of it, the first Zarubintsy sites were quick, that is at the end of the 1st cen Ad, replaced by the Chernyakhiv culture of the other, according to Yu. Kukharenko, ethnicity than Zarubintsy folk (KUKHARENKO Yu.V. 1960: 299). Initially, this culture was considered by Soviet archaeologists doubtless the Slavic (BRAYCHEVSKYI M.Yu. 1857), but over time many of them came to the conclusion that its formation on polyethnical basis (VYNOKUR I. S., TYMOSHCHUK B.O. 1977: 24, 25). For example, the V. Sedov said that it was formed by creators of the Zarubintsy culture, German settlers from the Polish Pomerania (the Wielelbark culture), and the remnants of the local Scythian and Sarmatian population (SEDOV V.V., 1990-1: 84). Other scholars have tried hard to prove a genetic continuity of the Zarubintsy, Chernyakhiv, and later Slavic cultures. Attempts to improve the ranking of the ancient Slavic culture due to more developed neighbor ones is a consequence of ideologization historical science, and serious historians do not always dare to object to certain complex for politicians. With harsh criticism of such views advocated Tretyakov, who believed unequivocally the Chernyakhiv culture as Germanic and obviously was right (TRET'YAKOV P.N., 1982: 10-15). It is advisable to bring the views of the Tretyakov verbatim:

Quite a different character had early medieval Slavic culture, which creators have never been so closely connected with the world of ancient civilizations. If their agricultural production, perhaps only slightly inferior to Chernyakhiv culture, all other industries – metallurgy and metalworking, pottery, bone processing, etc. – differed significantly primitiveness without going beyond the elementary techniques for home craft (Ibid: 14-15).

Also commodity-money relations were at a low level among the Slavs in the pre-state period, although in historiography there is a widespread opinion about their early development. However, this opinion cannot be confirmed by archaeological finds such as early Slavic weight accessories:

Despite all attempts by researchers to isolate material traces of the use by the early Slavs of certain standard weight equivalents of value in precious metals earlier than the second half of the 9th century, this still cannot be confirmed by real archaeological data: neither the finds of weight accessories nor the standardization of the weight of jewelry (KOMAR A.V. 2017: 85).

The fact that the Slavs relatively late mastered metallurgy and metalworking is confirmed by folk beliefs and customs. The world ritual practice widely used metals, particularly iron, but the metals appear in the customs of the Slavs rarely, and if it happens, it just shows that they are of great value. For example, till our time, Russians and Ukrainians have a ban on burying metal objects with the deceased, and the find of a horseshoe portends happiness. Other people also, for example, among the Germans it was customary to put into the grave with the dead man and his weapons. It is clear that the value of metal objects was significantly reduced at advanced metallurgy.

The Chernyakhiv culture certainly belonged to the Goths which came to the northern Black Sea Region from Poland and founded here their own state, which witnessed the historical sources. Another well-known culture, corresponding to the time of stay of the Goths in Ukraine, just does not exist, but the Goths could not leave behind any cultural traces. Attempts to connect with the Goths some archaeological sites, such as, for example, Ditinetsky burial ground are untenable because they are very small to bind them with a large population of the Goths. In the early first millennium BC population between the Dnieper and Dniester rivers was very colorful. On the Lower Dnieper, they were descendants of Cimmerian, Scythian, Sarmatian tribes, and descendants of the Greek cities of the Black Sea Region. There were also Germanic tribes of Bastarnae, the Celts which destroyed Olbia in the middle of the 1st cen. AD. Somewhat before, the Celts had their settlements in the Upper Dniester, which is witnessed by the discovery of Celtic sites near the village of Bovshev. The Low Dniester was populated by the Thracians (the Lipetsk culture). The Goths, obviously, displacing most of the local Scythian and Sarmatian population of the Dnieper, occupied large space on the right bank:

The Chernyakhiv ancient artefacts cover vast territorial space. The south-western border of their spread space is the lower reaches of the Danube and Transdanubia. They reach the left bank of the Dnieper on east and northeast, up to the Riverlands of the rivers Vorskla and Seym. Northern boundary Chernyakhiv culture was the Ukrainian Polesie Ukraine and southern one was the land of the Northern Black Sea Coast (Ibid: 19)

Having set in motion by the current Indo-European tradition of right-bank Slavic tribes predominantly moved westward or stayed on the old places, and the left-bank ones, except for the ancestors of modern Russian, crossing the Dnieper moved towards the Balkans. According to place names the Slavs first compact settled Western and partly North-western Bulgaria (GEORGIEV VLADIMIR, 1960: 75), so we can assume that most of the Slavs moved into the Balkans through the Carpathian Mountains, but not along the shore of the Black Sea. This move is consistent with the spreading maps of two types of Slavic clayware – Prague-Korchak and Kolochin-Penkov ones which can be found at reputable historians (BARAN V.D. 1978; SEDOV V.V. 1979; TRET'YAKOV P.N. 1982). It should be noted that Slavic pottery was undeniably more primitive in form than the clayware of the Chernyakhiv culture, although their findings overlap stratigraphically as excavations in the Transnistrian village Bakota and elsewhere have shown (VYNOKUR I. S., TYMOSHCHUK B.O., 1977: 40).

The map, the basis of which was taken by two maps compiled by V. Sedov (SEDOV V.V. 1979, Fig: 20, 21) shows the spread of Slavic pottery in Eastern Europe.

One can see on the map that the pottery of the first group (Prague-Korchak type) is spread over a vast space of territory between the Elbe and Saale to the Dnieper and captures all the territory of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the central and southern Poland, the Polesie.

The pottery of the second group is spread in Moldova, Wallachia, Dobruja, and south of the Danube in Bulgaria. Here, there are also sites of the first group, but much less frequently. This ceramic of Kolochin-Penkov type, which is common in the middle reaches of the Sula, Psel, and Vorskla rivers. The pottery identical in the form to the Slavic pottery of the second group is found Chernihiv Desna area and Kursk Seym area. It should be noted that if there are in the western regions which represent two types of pottery, then the eastern areas have no such confusion. This indicates that the Slavs, beginning a great migration southward and westward, had two large streams which are crossed, sometime after the beginning of the movement. This feature allows trace the origins of migration of both groups of Slavs in the reasonable expectation that the first type of pottery was left by the ancestors of today's Czechs, Slovaks, and Poles, and pottery of the second group was by the ancestors of the southern Slavs. The Slavs being representative of the first group of the pottery had such a source in the territory south of the Pripyat River, ie the common Urheimat of the Czechs and Slovaks. Southern Slavs (the second group) began to move from the banks of the rivers Desna, Seym, and Sula, that is there, where we put the ancestors of the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and Bulgarians.

V. Sedov placed the Urheimat of the Slavs between the rivers Dnieper and Dniester, and then the Slavs had to settle in two opposite directions, which therefore was even unbelievable that they had to move towards the nomads going from the east what would be unwise.

So, these two groups of Slavs (actually Slavs and Antes) consisted of an initial part of the western branch of the Slavs and the eastern one. According to the existing division, they are today's western and southern Slavs. Those Slavs who remained close to their homes now make up a group of Eastern Slavs.

We already know that the ancestral home of Ukrainians was in the area between the rivers Pripyat and the Berezina. They remained there, apparently, to the Great Migration caused by the invasion of the Huns at the end of the 4th cent. BC. When the ancient ancestors of today's southern and western Slavs began to leave their homelands, their place at once was occupied by settlers from the left bank of the Lower Pripyat, Berezina, and Sozh. And again the same ethno-producing areas began to form Old Ukrainians tribes of the Dulebs, Drevlians, Polans, and Severians. The Dulebs populated area between the Bug and the Sluch, they were called also Volynians, since this area has previously called Volhynia.

The area of Drevlans was between the Sluch, Pripyat, and Teteriv rivers. This tribal name can be related to the name of another Germanic tribe, or Thervingi or Trevers, which the name of Drevlians means "people of the forest."

The Polans populated the area between the Teteriv, Ros’, and Dnieper rivers. The consonance between the names of the Polans and the Poles, of course, is no coincidence when you consider that the homeland of the Poles was in the neighborhood on the left bank of the Pripyat River. First, these two Slavic branches have a common ethnonym, which the Poles have preserved until now. True, the ethnonyms of the Polans and Poles area are perplexing as they are like Sl pole “field” but their homelands are located in forest areas. However, the explanation could be that. The Urheimat of the Greeks was also been – on the left side of the flow of Pripyat. The Greek word φυλον means "a clan, tribe". Self-names of different peoples like “people”, “folk”, “tribe” are numerous, so this explanation may have the right to exist.

The Severians were living on the banks of the Desna and Seym. L. Niederle outlines their range mainly in the area between the Desna and Sula (NIDERLE LUBORЪ, 1956: 159). They populated the right bank of the Desna up to the Snov River, where began the land of the Radimiches, one of the two ancient tribes of Southern Russians (the other was the tribe Viatiches). Consequently, some of the old Ukrainian tribes crossed the Dnieper above the Desna and then moved to the south-east till the Vorskla, while the Radzimiches, remaining on the left flank, came to the Seym. The tribal name of the Severians can be compared with several ethnonyms, including Serb, Sabir, Savar, and with a large nest of words in different languages which have a sense of "a neighbor, friend, brother" – Ukr. siaber, Blr. siabr, Serb. sebar, in Rus. sieber, Lit. sebras, Mord. shabra, Alb. sember, etc. Perhaps all these words originate from the shorted OGmc *nähwa-gabur, as was discussed previously, but for us it is important that the settlements of the Severians covered the area of the Serbs. Already P. J. Šafárik and L. Niederle believed that the two ethnonym are related and this relationship has a real reason, as they are bound to the same territory. The Serbo-Croat area is divided by the River Snov River into two approximately equal halves, so it is possible that the Serbian and Croatian dialects began to form even on the common homeland of the Serbs and Croats. The origin of the tribal names of Croats also can be considered as the effect of the substrate left by the previous Iranian population. In this regard, the following passage in the article by R. Novaković has a particular interest:

Ludat says that Sakach found in the Persian source the name of the land and the people Haravaiti, Harvahwatiš in south-eastern satrapy, which corresponds to the present-day southern half of Afghanistan, Baluchistan and eastern Iran (NOVAKOVICĦ REЉA, 1973: 328).

The Urheimat of the Afghans was located on the left side of the river Desna and the Croatian one was on the right bank, where the Sogdian language was previously formed. Thus, the coincidence of tribal names can not be accidental and confirms the location of the ethnic-generating areas. However, at present, the traces of the Croats are absent in these counties, in contrast to the Serbian one.

The left by the Proto-Ukrainians their Urheimat was occupied by the Belarusian tribe Dregoviches, which gradually occupied all the territory on the right bank of the Dnieper between the Pripyat and Western Dvina, as the tribe of the speakers of North-Russian dialect also left their ancestral home and moved away northward to the headwaters of West Dvina, the Volga and further along the river Lovat to Lake Ilmen. Assimilating on this large area various local Baltic and Finnish ethnic groups, the Slavs were divided into separate tribes of the Kriviches, Polochans, and Novgorod Slovenes. Following the Kriviches, the Dregoviches penetrated to the north-east of Belarus spreading the Bantserov culture that has replaced the Dnieper-Dvina one, created by the Balts. The assimilation of the Balts by the Slavs was as always peaceful and continued even in XII – XIII century (ZVERUGO Ya.G., 1990: 32-33).

The ancestors of the Russians speaking South Russian dialect, the Viatiches and Radimiches, moved mainly eastward, herewith the Viatiches as the first came into contact with Mordvins and other Finno-Ugric tribes that were assimilated by the Slavs for centuries already in historical times. The maitre of Russian linguistics O. Trubachev, holding theme development new lands by Eastern Slavs, limited it, by his own admission, "a kind of apology of Viatiches". The need for this apology was caused by chronicle characteristic of the Vyatiches as "extremely backward and wild people living like animals in the forest, eating all the unclean, foul-mouthed, not ashamed of parents and women's race." Of course, while some justification for such characteristics has been, they can not be taken literally, but in their zeal Trubachov presented the Viatiches almost as a people of Western culture, trying to find a grain of truth in the statement of the chronicle that they allegedly came "from the Poles." Likewise, you need to evaluate Trubachev's remark that the Viatiches met Baltic in Oka basin though he did not mention at all Finnish tribes (TRUBACHEV O.N. 2000, 4-24).

Following Trubachev, the idea of the western origin of Viatiches is defended by A.L. Shilov, who tried to restore the paths of Slavic expansion according to place names (SHILOV A.L. 2010). This is a very difficult task because the dialectal differences of those times are not so expressive and numerous that they are completely trusted. For example, the prevalence of the root tereb from Moscow till the Carpathians and even to Hungary and the Czech Republic can not be the basis for linking "the Viatiches, Polanes and other southern Eastern Slavic tribes" (SHILOV A.L. 2010: 56). Ignoring the location of the primary Slavic areas, it is impossible to restore the later migration routes of the Slavs only by place names.

Ancient Finnish substratum wass largely influenced the racegenesis and ethnogenesis of the Russian people (ALEKSEYEV V.P., 1974-2). Visually displays the deep Finnish roots in Russian culture the popular in folklore idiom "hut on chicken legs". Why this idiom arose, can be seen from a photo of a traditional raised Saami storehouse (see on the right photo from Wikipedia).

You can also trace the impact of the Finnish language and substratum which was studied by many experts(VEENKER W., 1967; KIPARSKI V., 1969; BIRNBAUM HENRIK, 1990; ANIKIN A.E. 1990). The southern dialect of Russian and Mordvinic languages (Erzya and Moksha) have many mutual borrowings, but it is interesting that the Ukrainian and Mordvinic languages also have some lexical correspondences. For example, Moksha rohams exactly corresponds to Ukr. rohkati "to grunt" and Ukr. tsiatka "dot" obviously borrowed from Moksha tsiatka "spark" since there is also Mar. chatka "the same" . The determination of the relative time of this contact can be made by the Mordvinic word šivets "a cobbler". Phonetics of words responds well to PSl. šъvьcь, therefore, borrowing occurred before the fall of reduced vowels.

There were violent events in the steppes of Ukraine in the middle of І mill. AD and it is almost impossible to restore their course. When the Hunnian empire has been broken up after Atilla’s death, the aggressive tribes of the nomads of the different ethnic origin began to roll like a wave after a wave here, conducting struggle between themselves and with the previous newcomers for pastures and the convenient ways for extortionate attacks to the provinces of Byzantium, to Transcaucasia and Central Europe. Historical chronicles have kept for us the names of Avars, Acacirs, Barsils, Bulgars, Cutrigurs, Savirs, Saragurs, Khazars, and many others. They were mainly Turkic tribes, the deal from them stayed here since Scythian times, and the part has come from the Kazakh steppes later. However, how we have seen, the ancestors of the modern Magyars, Alans, Iranian tribes of Ossets, and Kurds had to stay here. Maybe, the part of those Slavs who moved to the Balkans has lagged behind the tribesmen and stay in the steppes, going to the nomadic way of life. In short, these times require special research, but it is obvious that in such conditions the bulk of Slavs from the Middle Dnepr country could not occupy the southern steppe open spaces, as there was an opportunity to move west- and eastward.

The moving of the Slavs should go for a certain time continuously so, that any area was not left empty, h.e. particular tribes are always remaining in contact among themselves during the movement. Moving westward, the Ukrainians followed the Poles and Slovaks, and they proceeded their movement also when the Czechs, Slovaks, and Poles, having no opportunity for moving further, have stopped on this territory which they are occupied by them now. Therefore some deal of the Ukrainian people stratified on the Poles and Slovaks. In such a way, it can be explained that Ukrainians have seized rather wide spaces far behind the river San and behind the Carpathian mounts in days of the Kyiv Rus'. Yevhen Tymchenko determined the boundary of the Ukrainian settlements along the Danube and the Prut up to the city of Chernivtsi, further westward to the city of Siget on the Tysa (now Sigetul-Marmatiei in Romania) and along the southern hill-sides of the Carpathian mountains up to the river Poprad, then northward by the river Dunayets up to the town of Tarnow and further to the city of Bialsk Podlaski in Poland. In the north, the frontier between Ukrainians and Belorussians was the Pripyat from its tributary Yaselda" (TYMCHENKO Ye. 1930). Approximately so the boundaries of the Ukrainian ethnographic territory were determined also by Reinhold Trautman (TRAUTMAN REINHOLD. 1948: 153). It is necessary to pay attention that the frontiers between particular Slavic areas were not precise if they did not go on natural boundaries. Movement eastward, the Ukrainians, undoubtedly, reached the Don, and, probably, the Volga, but the definition of the eastern frontier of this first Ukrainian colonization is complicated by the latest Ukrainian resettlements on the Sloboda Ukraine and in the Volga region

The Slavic tribe of Dregoviches, the ancestors of the Belorussians, have gradually resettled the territory of modern-day Belorussia, on the east reached the river Desna near the town of Trubchevsk and the upper Volga in the area of the town Rzhev. The Desna became the border between the Belorussians and the southern branch of the Russians (Ibid: 135)