Ethnogenesis and culture of the Early Slavs. Linguistic studies

Oleg Trubačev





The main point of the author's conception is the dispute against the thesis of a primitive "non-existence" of Slavs apart from the Balts.


Being convinced of the priority of dialectology of any ancient language and ancient culture as well, we consider the Common Slavic (Slavic parent-language) an Indo-European dialect and the ancient Slavic culture a dialectal variant of the I.-E. culture. So we date the beginning of developed religious notions among the Slavs not earlier as the time of Slavic-Iranian contacts, i.e. approximately mid-First millennium B.C. Not earlier than this time have appeared Slavic composite theonyms (names of gods). Without any doubt there was a primacy of taboo, elusive mention, tacit worship of deities, a primitive ancestral cult, and just this cultural stage is to be correlated with the earliest Slavic-Latin contacts (Slavic *gověti - Lat. favere, Slavic *manъ/mana - Latin manes), supposedly the Third millennium B.C. Just that Slavic-Latin (and not Slavic-Iranian) contacts reveal also the earliest special isoglosses in the denominations of natural phenomena (palūdem - *pola voda).


Besides a tribal ideology, the Slavic lexicon testifies the existence of the ideology of an agricultural society. The name of a part of Western Slavs - *lędjane 'virgin soils ploughmen' - mirrors both this ideology and the secondary coming of Polish tribes into the Vistula basin as well. The Slavic agriculture has been oriented towards the ancient Danubian-Alpine agricultural center as to the agricultural implements (Slavic *plugъ), the sorts of cereals and their names (Russian пóлба 'the spelt', Slavic *rъžь 'rye', with its new etymology '(one) that tears (the wheat)'). There is an opinion that Germanic tribes have obtained the culture of rye from the Slavs.


As regards the metals and their Slavic names, there is a possibility of a special cultural chronology. It is noteworthy that the Slavic and the Armenian do correspond not in naming the metal 'iron', but only in a premetallic name of an organic lump, 'gland'. An areal I.-E. name for 'gold' does unite since a supposedly early time the Slavic with the Germanic, a part of East Baltic (the Letton) and perhaps the Thracian (the source of this isogloss to be localized in Transilvania and the Danube basin). A so to say





"Kupferargument" unmistakably divorces the Early Slavic and the Early Baltic (there are quite different names for 'copper'). Only such late metal as the 'iron' presents its new name, common for Slavs and Balts, and the Iron Age (about mid-First millenium B.C.) makes a probable terminus post quem of a Balto-Slavic areal approaching. The names for 'silver' in Slavic, Germanic and Baltic are comparable, but it is a quite evident loanword of an eastern origin, from the Northern Caucasus, with the participation of the North-Pontic Indoarians.


We see the Danube river as an axis of localization of ancient I.-E. dialects, amongst them the Early Greek (the problem of Danaoi), the Early Armenian. The Slavic concerned before all the Middle Danube, whose name the Slavs loaned in its Celtic-Germanic form (probably from the Upper Danube). The Lower Danube was primarily unknown to the Slavs and its ancient names Ἴστρος, Ματόας) as well.


We see the Middle Danube lands as a center of the further Slavic migrations, including that to the north of the Carpathians, along the Vistula Valley. It was a sort of a northern infiltration not only of the Slavs, but also of other I.-E. tribes that came into the future Poland earlier than the Slavs and together with them what led to an intermingled coexistence. What specially proves the presence of non-Slavic Indo-Europeans to the north of Sudeta mountains is this "Third" ethnic element between the Germanic and Slavic tribes, supposedly of Venetic (Illyro-Venetic) linguistic origin. As a sign of crisis of Polish autochthonist theories and immediately after them a conception has been put forward according to which there has been in the Oder and Vistula basins up to the coming of the Slavs in the VIth Century A.D. (?) a lack of settlement (pustka osadnicza, Polish archaeologist Godlowski). While regarding this new theory as another extreme, we should stress to the contrary the reality of direct Venetic-Slavic ethnolinguistic contacts (cf. the etymology of Licicaviki, Śrem and much other names inherited by the onomastics of Polish lands), hence a considerably earlier appearance of the Slavs in this country. As the Preslavic Illyrians to the north of the Carpathians we regard also the Şilingi (Polish Śląsk < *sьlęg-, Silesia) and Milingi, concealed under a placename Mlądz, near Warsaw (<*mьlęg-, according to Stieber), carried then away by the Slavic reflux up to the Greek Peloponnese (in Constantine Porphyrogenetos' De administrando imperio οἱ Μηλιγγοί are already a Slavic tribe).


Specialists that suppose the primitive area of the Balts somewhere on the Upper Dnieper and Oka rivers (Gołab, Birnbaum) do obviously underestimate earliest Baltic-Thracian contacts (presumably Third millennium B.C.) which took place in any case to the south of the Pripet river. Just there is to be supposed the earliest area of the Balts also. As concerns the BalticSlavic contacts, they are post-ethnogenetic and should have had the character of an enduring Sprachbund (beginning from the Iron Age, see above).


As to the linguistic characteristics of the Middle Danube area it should be indicated that the river-name Morava which spread then in the East, West and South has been initially endemic for the Middle Danube area. Slavic





Morava, evolved from an earlier Maru-s is one of non-differentiated Indo-European ("alteuropäisch") Wasserworter, etymologically congener to I.-E. *mori, Slavic *mor᾽e 'sea'. The Slavic hydronymie inventory of the Middle Danube area reveals, notwithstanding a millennial domination of the Hungarian language with quite different structure, the presence of undoubtedly Early Slavic wordformational and morphological features (derivatives and composita) and some archaic moments (a nearly exclusive use of the physiographic lexicon of the type of mentioned Krahe's "Wasserwörter").


What was said above can be repeated about the western part of the Middle Danube basin, the so-called Pannonia (or Transdanubia). Step by step are being clarified the details of Early Slavic nomenclature of the Balaton lake and its environs. So Slavic *Pleso (lacus Pelso, Plin. NH Ш, 24) has been the name of the greater, straight part of the lake, and only the lesser, more marsh-ridden, part of it has had the Slavic name *Bolto 'marsh, swamp', hence a Church-Slavic city-name *Blatьnъ gradъ, an ancient city at the western shore of the lake. Very near to Slavic nomenclature stands an ancient tribal name Oseriates (perhaps only the suffixal formation -iatof the latter tends to non-Slavic, Illyrian; here we cannot but evoke an obviously hybrid ethnonym Ἐζερῖται, Const. Porph. De adm. imp., mentioned there as an already Slavic tribal name, beside the Milingi, in the southwestern Peloponnese).


Hereby we touch an important question of neighbourhood and coexistence of Slavic and non-Slavic within the same territory, namely the lllyrian-Slavic succession, because the Slavic meaning 'marsh, marshy' (in Hungarian Balaton, see above) correctly reproduces the meaning of yet Illyrian names Pannonia, *Pannona. One such pair of Illyrian-Slavic successivity does outweigh substantially the negative factor of paucity of what has been really attested. Therefore Udolph's verdict - "Die Slaven kamen nicht aus Pannonien" - is far from indisputable.



[Back to Index]