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The Slavs

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The Slavs were that people which, by 600 A.D., was the dominant ethnic group of the East European plain. The origin of the Slavs is ill-known, with maybe a early settlement in the Carpathian mountains or in present day Belarus. Slavs likely are the 'Venedi' (which is likely the Latin form for 'Wendes,' the name the Germans used) as quoted by Pline the Elder and Tacitus. The Venedi were the eastern neighbors to the Germans. Slavs might also match the 'Suovenoi' as quoted by Ptolemy. Slavs are a Indo-European people, close to the Balts and Germans and maybe directly related to Scythians. They likely were part of multiethnic confederations which dwelled at the confines of Europe and Asia, like the Sarmatians, Huns, or Bulgars. Slavs really turned a people of their own by the times of the Great Invasions when they settled in the territories which had been abandoned by the Germanic peoples. Three river routes were crossing the territories of the original Slavic groups, running through the Vistule, the Niemen and Dnieper, and the Dvina and Dniepr. By 600 A.D. Slavs had already split linguistically into a eastern, a western, and a southern branch respectively. A Polish myth evokes the fact by saying that three brothers had parted in the forests of Eastern Europe, each moving in a different direction and founding a family of distinct, but related peoples. Slavs were farmers and beekeepers, hunters, fishers, herders and trappers. The Eastern Slavs settled along the Dnepr River, in present day Ukraine, spreading from there. They were the ancestors to the Russians, the Ukrainians and the Belarussians. The Western Slavs moved West, at the time of the collapse of the Roman empire, into the vast North-European plain. They were the ancestors to the Poles, the Czechs and the Slovaks. The Southern Slavs migrated southwards and were the ancestors to the Serbs, the Croatians and the Bulgarians. The Slavic migration, in the West, generally, occurred between 600 and 800 A.D., as it confronted itself to the presence of the Avars. The Byzantines called the Slavs 'Sklavenes' (for the southern Slavs) and 'Antes' (for the Russians). The partition of Slavic languages into three groups occurred at the time of the Slavic invasions and the development of Slavic culture was due to the contact with the Byzantine world as Slavic political systems knew the influence of peoples at the borders or which they dwelled, like the Carolingian empire, the Byzantine Empire or the Kazar kingdom

It was from the Baltic Sea down to present day Croatia, that the Carolingian empire was in contact with the Slavs. Hence the Carolingian empire had to deal mostly with the Western Slavs. It was eventually the conquest of the Avar Ring which brought Carolingians on contact with Slavs, generally. Obodrites easily accepted the Carolingian authority by 785 A.D., Sorabes and Bohemians by 806, or the Wilzes in 812. Those Slaves constituted a kind of eastern glacis. North, it was along the Elbe River that they were found. About twenty Slavic tribes formed small states between 800 and 900 A.D. Roman Legions likely had led expeditionary missions on the territory of current Poland to protect the amber trade. The Slavic tribes who would form Poland migrated to these areas in the second half of the 5th century AD, with their Slavic paganism. A confederation occurred, the Obodrites, or the Wends, which reunited the Obotrites proper (from the Wismar Bay to Lake Schwerin), the Wagrians (eastern Holstein), the Warnower (upper Warnow and Mildenitz) and the Polabians (between Trave and the Elbe rivers) as the Linonen (near Lenzen), the Travnjane (near the Trave river), or the Drevani (Hanoverian Wendland and northern Altmark) were also part. The Obotritic confederation was the ally of Charlemagne against the Saxons or the Veleti, which were other Slavs. After the defeat of the Saxons, part of their lands in Holstein, North of the Elbe river, were given to the confederation by 804 A.D. following the deportation of Saxons. The term Wends had been applied to German's neighbours to the East, the ancien Veneti and then generally to the Slavs which replaced them. The Veleti as far as they are concerned, or Wilzians, or Wiltzes were related to Polabians. The Veleti, after the massacre of Verden (782 A.D.), allied with the Danes and the Linonen against the Franks but a Frankish-led contingent of Obotrites, Sorbs and Frisians crossed the Elbe and Havel and defeated them in 786 or 789 -- the only expedition in Slavic territories led by Charlemagne himself. The Veleti after that parted into tribes and eventually turned the Lutici after the 10th century. It was the tribe of the Polans (Polanie, lit. 'people of the fields') which was the tribal predecessor of the Polish state since about 900 A.D., as Polans settled in the flatlands around the emerging strongholds of the time. Accelerated rebuilding of old tribal fortified settlements, construction of massive new ones and territorial expansion took place during the period ca. 920–950 and then the Polish state developed from these tribal roots after 950, under the Piast dynasty. After that Mieszko's forces were twice defeated in 963 by the Veleti tribes acting in cooperation with the Saxon exile Wichmann the Younger, Mieszko's tribal state accepted Christianity by 966 A.D. and became the Polish state, beginning in the area of Gniezno (before the town itself existed) and swiftly encompassing about current Poland as the Polanie tribe conquered and merged with other Slavic tribes and first formed a tribal federation, then a centralized state. Christianity was questioned by about 1030. At the time of Mieszko, the Carolingian empire, strictly, exerted no power anymore in the region, as Germany had begun then a history if its own. Prince Mieszko gradually expanded his principality, making it independent from the German empire and setting obedience to the Holy See. His dynasty, the Piasts, lasted four centuries. During the Carolingian times, the Slavic peoples at the Carolingian borders served, until these areas where christianized, like the reservoir to the Radhanite merchants which traded slaves. 'Saqaliba,' for example, were brought down into Arabic Spain where they eventually held important posts, like civil servants, eunuchs, soldiers, etc.

Further South, other Western Slavs had settled, by the 6th century A.D., in present day Czech Republic and Slovakia. 'Cechen,' that is the Czechs, had settled in Bohemia and Moravia, as the ancestors of the Slovaks had settled East, in Slovakia. All those tribes built there the characteristically circular Slavic villages and developed a peaceful life. As soon as the end of the century, they passed under the influence of the invading Avars. The Avars did not conquer all of them, with some subjugated as others the object of raids only. The Bohemian tribes with Samo, likely a Frankish merchant, regained their freedom about 625. That 'empire of Samo' disintegrated when Samo died in 658. Vysehrad stand above, at the location of Prague, the Vltava River and the place was the seat of the Czech princes since the 10th century A.D. In the 8th century A.D., Princess Libuse predicted the founding of Prague as she was the daughter of a Czech leader, Krok. Their tribesmen did not support his reign and asked her to choose a prince. It was Premysl, a ploughman, who became kuke and was with the princess at the origin of the dynasty of the Premyslides. The Bohemian Czechs managed to warrant their independence. In 806, Bohemia eventually paid tribute to Charlemagne. The Czechs of Moravia, as far as they are concerned, eventually helped Charlemagne to destroy the Avar empire, about 796. They were rewarded by receiving a part of the later in fief. Although paying the tribute to the Carolingian empire, the Moravians enjoyed a large independence. By the beginning of the 9th century A.D., Mojmir eventually formed the Moravian kingdom which took the name of Kingdom of the Moimorides, from him, as its leader bore the name of 'Maharanee.' Moimir's successors expanded their domain and including Bohemia, Slovakia, southern Poland and western Hungary. This formed the 'Great Moravian Empire.' The Moravians were at the northern crossroad between Frankish dominions and the Byzantine empire. Mojmir and his fellow chiefs were baptized at Regensburg in 846, as Mojmir's successor, Rostislav (850-870), fearing a too large Carolingian influence, turned to Byzantium. That constituted the famed episode when the monks Cyril and Methodius, the 'Apostles of the Slavs' -who formerly had missionarized among the Kazars at the demand of their chagan- introduced the Eastern Christianity, creating a new Slavic script, the Cyrillic alphabet for the purpose of the evangelization. The installment of the Slavonic alphabet in the Greater Moravia made of that country the place of birth of the Slavic litterature and written culture by about the mid-9th century A.D. Svatopluk (871-894) however gave the preference back to German clerics, bringing the region into the sphere of Rome and of the Germans, in terms of politics. The Czechs and the Slovaks came back to the Latin alphabet. The Moravian Empire was shattered in 907 by the Magyar invasion. Bohemia, then, broke from the tribes in Moravia, swearing allegiance to the Carolingian emperor Arnulf, with Spitihnev I later founding the Premysl dynasty. The Slovaks, as far as they are concerned, were included into Hungary of the Magyars, bringing to these distinct Czech and Slovak cultures. The era is the one whence the Slavs of the region parted into those who fell under the influence of Francia orientalis then the Holy Roman Empire and those that of Byzantium, or even those who sought patronage from the pope in Rome

Farther South, more Western Slavs, Czechs and Slovaks, along with Slovenes and Croats, were found further. They had settled in the eastern Alpine-Danubian region, present day Austria. The western parts of the region were settled by Alemanni (later known as Swabians) and Bavarians. The area of the Slavic tribes came into the sphere of the Avars. The Carolingian first imposed their power on the Swabians and the Bavarians by the end of the 8th century A.D., as the areas of Slavic settlement were controlled after that when the Carolingians further continued to move East. The area formed the "Ostmark". Some other Slovenes and Croats retained their independence, forming tributary principalities in the area of present day Slovenia and Croatia. Croatia began to be populated by a mixture of Illyrians -- who were Indo-Europeans -- and Celts, these peoples finally defeated by the Romans because of the activities of piracy in the Adriatic of those inhabiting the coasts. The region was then devastated by the peoples of the Great Invasions, the Huns and eventually the Avars who opened the way of the Danube to the Slavs of Bohemia and Moravia. The Croats arrived in the 7th century A.D. in the wake of the Avars. They were Eastern Slavs called by the Byzantines which preserved their control of the coasts, while the Croats -- probably Slavs formerly subjugated by the Alains, a Indo-Persian people, and mingled with them -- eventually made themselves independent in the interior and then developed towards the coastal cities. By the end of the 8th century, the French advance conquered the region and organized it according to the Carolingian system, with Greats and bishops. Croats depended on the Patriarchate of Aquileia and the Patriarch, in the 9th century, sent missionaries (including the Cyril and Methodius brothers) to evangelize the region. Cyril and Methodius were sent by the Byzantine emperor as well as formalized by the pope, but they eventually clashed with the hostility of the Patriarch of Aquileia and the Archbishop of Salzburg, who intended to reserve the Catholic influence among southern Slavs to Germanic clerics. The region was to be destabilised by the Hungarians about 890 A.D. As early as 845, the Carolingians had granted a degree of autonomy to Prince Trpimir, a situation which Pope John VIII had formalized about 885 by granting the title of Duke to Branimir. A royal title was granted by the Pope in 925 and then 956. Towards the year 1000, Venice settled on Croatian coasts to suppress the activity of piracy of the Croats. In 1054, the Croats ranked on the side of Rome during the schism between the Pope and Constantinople

Of note, at last, that the Swedes, that part of the Northmen, these Vikings, undertook raids which led them eastwards, to the lands of the Eastern Slavs. Ruric, a raiders' chieftain, founded the famed 'Varangian kingdom' in 850, with its capital Novgorod. The kingdom swiftly stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea, being at the origin of Russia

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 5/29/2017. contact us at
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