Slavic Settlement in Povardarje (FYROM) Reviewed: History, Ethnology and Modern Politics

A Map of the Medieval Slavic Expansion

A Map of the Medieval Slavic Expansion

This article presents a brief outline of Slavic settlement on the territory of modern-day Povardarje – Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). The current state of knowledge about the transformation of the ethnic character of this region in Middle Ages shall be restated. While summarizations of known historical events-or set of events, as is the case here, taking place from 6th to 7th century CE-are useful as orientation points within the body of historiography, concise narrative of this event is particularly necessary due to the confusion created by the adherents of Pseudomacedonian propaganda, both in FYROM and abroad. An atmosphere of denouncement and rejection of the Slavic ethnic aspect engulfed the general “Macedonian” population of FYROM. Motivated by impressive propagandist  efforts based on ignorance, low self-esteem and a desire to impose an exclusive, pure “Macedonian” ethnogenetic theory for political purposes bordering on fraud, the propagandist managed to add to the identity-crisis among Slavs of FYROM. Also, the indolence of the organized scholars in FYROM deserves criticism: while they are competent to uphold the factual, documents based state of knowledge regarding the problem of early Slavs in the Balkans, not much has been done with the much needed upgrade of the theoretical base.

The non-productivity of a rigid, too conservative methodology still broadly employed in FYROM is aggravated by either deficits or complete absence of anthropological, paleobotanical, paleoeconomical , demographic and technological studies. Not rarely, the form in which this issue is presented in school textbook and popular literature offers nothing more than oversaturation with crudely presented and well-known facts. The time is ripe for a new wave of research and publicist activity which may lead to a firmer, in-depth knowledge of what is a crucial point in region’s ethnodemographic history. The well founded historical fact about settlement of the Slavs in the Balkans today finds its opponents embodied in the pseudoscientist circles of FYROM lead by Aleksandar Donski, Tašo Belčev, Vasil Iljov, Vangel Božinovski, Aristotel Tentov, Tome Boševski and others. The most substantiated criticism of their collective body of work is its apriorism and obvious nationalistic bias in the process that appears to have outward form of a scientific inquiry but is unable to withstood serious criticism. In this article we shall summarize the main body of historical, archaeological and linguistic evidence about settlement of Slavs in the territory of modern day FYROM.

A note should be made about Early Slavs and their original habitat. This is one of the most puzzling issues in Europe’s ethnic history. Principal Slavic homeland was sought from Central Europe and the Baltic all the way to Danube and steppes of Central Asia. Today the most accepted theory supported by archeology and paleolinguistics (Slavic character of hydronymy, otherwise a remarkably conservative feature) is that the primitive area of formation and ethnic living of Slavs is to be sought between the Middle Dniepar and southern tributaries of the river Pripet. Another type of evidence is furnished by retention of the common Proto-Indo-European (PIE) words for birch, oak, ash, alder, aspen, elm, maple and hornbeam in modern Slavic languages. This fact conclusively establishes their homeland in the temperate zones north and northeast of the Carpathians. This would be the area of collapse of the Balto-Slavic linguistic commonwealth and crystallization of the Proto-Slavic, probably well before 1st millennium BCE.

The most plausible theory about the origin of the ethnonym Slav (Slowene) is that it is derived from “slovo” (word, speech) having the meaning of “(people) who speak a same language”, in contrast to the ethnic name given by Slavs to Germanic peoples “Nemci” (speechless, mute, dumb people).

Based on the archaeological and linguistic research, it may be deduced that Slavs retained a stability with regard to the occupation of their primordial space. Challenges related to the expansions and regrouping of the nearest ethnic groups, the Germanic people in particular by all likelihood caused a certain reorientation of the early Slavic society to a more stratified (but still without a centralized authority) form of organization which included a military aspects as evidenced by the Germanic loanwords signifying economic terms and weaponry. This early deficiency of basic military structuralism is evident from the fact that some of the terminology for certain types of arms in early Slavic is of Germanic origin: mečĭ “sword” from Gothic mēkeis, Helmŭ, Old Church Slavonic Šlěmŭ, “helmet” from Germanic helm, as well as military term vitȩdzĭ “knight” and *pǔlkǔ “military formation” from Common Germanic *fulkaz “armed troop”.

The Slavic word for king/duke knez is derived from Germanic kuningas. Družina-the Slavic council of noblemen is probably a Scythian influenced formation. According to Procopius, Slavs were not ruled by a single men, but the lived in a democracy. The rule of a tribal chief and council is an Indo-European vestige.

As a derivative of their mythology, the name of the god of horned animals “Veles” became a name of the town of Veles, south-east from Skopje. The cult of Veles-Volos was present in Russian folklore until recent times.

The name of the supreme Slavic god, Perun, the god of thunder, cognate to Lith. Perkǔnas was given to the mountain peaks Perun on the Kozjak mountain, and Perun over the village Vitolište in Mariovo, both localities being in FYROM

Scholars generally agree that the “Slavic problem” started with the Huns in the first half of the fifth century, although there is no firm historic or archaeological hypothesis. It is known that Slavs were in company of Attila’s Huns at whose funeral Jordanes mentions the feast as the Slavic word “strava”. Priscus, a Byzantine diplomat sent as envoy to the Huns, noticed that the people in Banat and Bačka drink “medos”, also a term with Slavic root.

After the death of Attila, Hunnic tribes roamed between the Dnieper and the Ural mountains. From these, the Bulgarian groups of Kutrigurs and Utigurs raided Thrace, Macedonia and Thessaly from 493 to 517, a period after which the Slavic raid escalated in intensity. Procopius, in his work “About the Gothic Wars” mentions an event regarding German, a military commander: “When Justin, uncle by German’s grandmother, held the Imperial throne, The Antes which lived quite close to Slavs passed through Danube and with a great army they went into the Roman land”. The ferocity as well as the magnitude of the attack is well presented by Procopius : “Illyricum and all of Thrace, i. e. the whole country from the Ionian Gulf [the Adriatic to the outskirts of Byzantium, including Greece and the Chersonese, was overrun almost every year by Huns, Slavs and Antae, from the time when Justinian became Roman emperor [527], and they wrought untold damage among the inhabitants of those parts. For I believe that in each invasion more than two hundred thousand Romans were killed or captured, so that a veritable ‘Scythian wilderness’ came to exist everywhere in this land. ”

The Empire under Justinian started a mass program of establishing fortifications throughout the Balkan. According to Procopius, 11 cities had their fortifications significantly expanded. These measures were not sufficient not only to stop the Slavs, but the incoming raiders from Asia, the Avars. Organized around heavily militarized horsemen formations, the Avars were joined by Huns and Bulgars. Often aligned with Slavs, Avars managed to impose their own dynamics in the military relationships in the later half of the 6th century. Byzantine historian Menander Protector states: “In the fourth year of Tiberius’s rule [578] , around 100. 000 Slavs ravaged Thrace and many other areas. . . . . Hellada was devastated”. The occupation of Sirmium by Avars in 582 and of Singidunum two years later marked the devastation of the Byzantine defense system. John of Ephesus states in his “History of the Church”[585] that Slavs attacked and devastated the Roman areas from Constantinople to Thrace, Thessaly and Hellada. With the murder of Emperor Maurice in 602, the possibility of concentrating the defense effort against Slavs, obtained after his victory over the Persian, was lost. A wholesale invasion and settlement of Slavs was to follow.

The source “Miracula Sancti Demetrii” mentions how Thessaloniki was sacked and how all of Greece and the Aegean islands were attacked between 610-626. The tribes mentioned are Draguvites, Sagudates (perhaps a tribe of Hunnish origin) Velegezites, Vaiunites, Berzites (Brsjaci of modern-day FYROM?) and others. This book uses the term Σκλαβιναι in order to designate every land populated by Slavs.

According to Bishop Isidore of Seville , the Slavs “took Greece from the Romans” (Sclavi Graeciam Romanis tulerunt”), which must be consider an exaggeration, since the highly fragmented and insular character of Greece in the narrower term of the word wasn’t convenient for mass settlement by Slavs , who used their primitive vessels, the monoxyles , to perform limited raids. The Slavic invasion ended before the middle of the seventh century. The scope of Slavic colonization is evident from the “Armenian geography” which mentions that Thrace and Macedonia, among other lands were populated by Slavs.

Analysis of Slavic hydronyms in Bulgaria by the linguist V. Georgiev demonstrated that the bulк of Slavic river names are to be found in North-Western Bulgaria and Eastern Serbia, thus demonstrating the route of Slavic colonization via Vardar and Struma rivers.

G. Pisida mentions the newly-introduced Balkan ethnic group as Σκλωοις. The source “Paschal Chronicle” from the first half of the VIIth century speaks about Σκλαβους. Theophanes the Confessor is the first author who mentions Sklavinias in relation to Macedonia (“Sklavinias throughout Macedonia”).

Archaeological surveys of FYROM discovered a number of Slavic finds belonging to the earliest era of Slavic settlement. These are however, rare, due to poor fundings and primitiveness of local archaeology

Some of them are:

Slavic pits for keeping grain with ceramic vases in Berovo, Prilep, Bašino Selo near Veles.

Belt application from St. Erazmo, Ohrid, Amphorae, Vases, Torc and fibulae from the same location, ceramic vases from Prilep.

The monk Hrabar in his tractat “O Pismeneh” (9th century) uses the following terms to designate ethnolingustic realities of his time :словѢане (Slavs), словѢньскы (Slavic), словѢньскаа писмена (Slavic letters), словѢньскоу рѢчь (Slavic word), родь словѢньскыи (Slavic breed), словѢньскы книгы (Slavic books), по словѢньскомоу іазыкоу (in Slavic language).

Teophilactus mentions that the brothers from Thessaloniki found “Slavic letters” (“Σθλοβενικα γραμματα”). The Pope John VIII issues a document in which he calls that language: lingua sclavinica, sclavina.

After the colonization of Slavs on the area of FYROM, much of the old geographic terminology was replaced with Slavic names: towns of Struga, Ohrid (Lihnid), Velbužd (Pautania), Kičevo, Debar, Raven, Kočani, Radoviš, Prosek, Delčevo, Stena, Sokolec, Črnče, Trnovo, Modrič, Belica, Železnec, Dobrun, Črešče, Lukovica, SlaviÅ¡te, rivers Sateska, Bistrica, Lepenec, Pčinja, Kriva Reka, Treska, mountains Korab, Bistra, Belasica, Vodno etc.

Slavic personal names attested in medieval period are: Bratan, Bratislav, Boleslav (cf. Polish. Boleslaw), Boleslava, Vladimir, Verota, Vŭlkan, Grdju, Dobri, Dobresin, Dobroslav, Dragomad, Desislav, Dragan, Draža, Krasna, Kurica, Litovoj, Milju, Miroslava, Obrada, Prodan, Prevo, Rado, Radoslav, Stana, Stano, Slava, Slav, Tihomir, Černikosa etc.

From all of these matters combined we can conclude that the area of FYROM was indeed colonized by Slavic settlers who changed the ethnic make-up of the population, consisting mostly of Greek and Vulgar Latin speaking people. The Slavs were novelty to the Balkan peninsula which brought rudimentary material artifacts in their cultural inventory, but nevertheless managed to establish themselves demographically and later politically. The process of Slavic settlement from Eastern European core homeland to FYROM can be traced via historical, archaeological and linguistic evidence. The Slavic character of Pseudomacedonians is evident from their language, folklore and mythology. Slavs are not autochtonous population in Northern Geographic Macedonia, as some pseudo-scholars, motivated by aprioristic ideological fixations suggest

Further reading:

Adžievski, K. “Pelagonija vo sredniot vek”, Skopje 1994
Antoljak, S. “Srednovekovna Makedonija”, Vol. 1, Skopje 1985
Backman, C. R. , “The Worlds of Medieval Europe”, Oxford 2003
Belderovski Z. , “Slovenski srednovekovni jami od Berovo”, Macedoniae Acta Archaeologica No 9, 1983-1984, p. 230-232
Dabinovic, A. “Early Balkan Migration”, Slavonic and East European Review 16 (1937-1938), p. 363-411
Dimevski, S. “Makedonskite opštestveno-kulturni tekovi vo feudalizmot”, Skopje 1981
Đerić, V. “Nekoliko glavnih pitanja iz etnografije Stare Srbije i Maćedonije”, Sremski Karlovci 1922
Gimbutas, M. “The Slavs”, London 1971
Haldon, J. “Byzantium at War, AD 600-1453”, 2003
Ilievski P. Hr. , “Pojava i razvoj na pismoto”, Skopje 2001, p. 233
Ivanovski, O. “Makedonskite Sloveni od VI do IX vek”, Skopje 1962
“Knjiga o Balkanu”, Vol. 1, Beograd 1936
Lunt, Horace G. “The Beginning of Written Slavic. ” Slavic Review 23, no. 2 (1964): 212-19
Obolensky, D. “Byzantium and the Slavs, 1994
Ostrogorski, G. “Vizantija i Sloveni”, Beograd 1969
Pančovski, I. G. , Panteonyt na drevnite slavjani i mitologijata im, Sofija 1993
Pohl, W. “Conception of Ethnicity in Early Medieval Studies”, p. 13-24 in: “Debating the Middle Ages: Issues and Readings”, Ed. Little K. L. , Rosenwein, B. H. ”, 1998
Stefoska, I. “Slovenite na počvata na Makedonija”, Skopje 2002
“Vizantijski izvori za istoriju naroda Jugoslavije”, Vol. 1, Beograd 1955
Živković, T. “Sloveni i Romeji”, Beograd 2000
Zogović, S. “Etničkite zaednici vo Makedonija do krajot na raniot sreden vek”, Prilep 2001


7 responses to “Slavic Settlement in Povardarje (FYROM) Reviewed: History, Ethnology and Modern Politics

  1. First I would like to congratulate you for the creation of this blog and the homonymous site.
    Just allow me some small comments on the above article:
    1) About Veles:

    What was Veles?

    St. Clemens, the pupil of Saints Kyrillos and Methodius, who had preached Christianity among the Slavs of the region of Ahrida, due to the greek Archbishop od Ahrida Dimitrios Chomatianos (1216-1235) was a bulgarian: “This our great father and illuminator of the Bulgaria, as regards his nation was from the European Mysians, whom the common people call Bulgarians”!
    St. Clemens was a bishop of Velitza, the modern city of Veles (former Kiouprouli). Older names of the city were “Drevenitza”, “Dremvitza” and another one “Drogvista”! This last one gives us the national identity of the slavs in Veles and around Veles: they were of the tribe of Droguvites!!!!!

    “Makedonci” and blue dicks!!!!!!!!!”Makedonci ” my ass!!!!!!

    What was Veles before the arrival of the Slavs?
    According to W. Tomaschek, “Die alten Thraker”, Bd. I, Wien 1893, p. 18: “weiter zeigt Vylazor [in greek in his text], das heute Weles oder slavische Welica, “being the greatest city of Paionia” [greek text](Polybios 5, 97, 1)”, the ame also accepts in the second volume of the same work about the Ancient Thracians: Bd. II/2, Wien 1894, p. 61: “Vylazor, Vylazora [in greek] grosse Stadt der Paionien am Axios, slav. Welica, alb. Weleze”. The same thinks also I. Snegarov, “Po vaprosa za eparhijata na Kliment Ochridski”, Sofia 1962, p. 212 ss.

    So, things are very clear, for more than 110 years now about Veles: The area was Paionia in Antiquity, a thracian tribe, extremely hostile to Macedonian, above thier northern borders. The greatest city of these Paionen was Vylazor, or Vylazora, on the river Axios, where now is Veles. During the hellenistic period (after Alexander the Great) this thracian tribe slowly hellenized and during the roman period was totally hellenized, as it is proven by the archaeological findings! And this was so natural, when in the Empire the prevailing culture was the greek one – the greek way of living and thinking. So, everybosy rushing to abandon any remained barbarian manners.
    About the process of Hellinazation of the Paiones, situated north of the greek Macedonians speaks also an inscription, discovered in 1877 at Olympia on the base of a statue, which inscription states that it was set up by the community of the Paionians in honor of their king and founder Dropion. Another king, whose name appears as Lyppeius on a fragment of an inscription found at Athens relating to a treaty of alliance is no doubt identical with the Lycceius or Lycpeius of Paionian coins (see B. V. Head, Historia numorum, 1887, p. 207).

    In 280 BC the Gallic invaders under Brennus ravaged the land of the Paionians, who, being further hard pressed by the Dardani (which capital were the Scupi, modern Skopje), had no alternative but to join the Macedonians, but the Paionians and Macedonians were defeated.
    (Parenthesis about Skopje: The byzantine historian of the sixth century, Procopius in his work “Peri ktismaton” [De aedificiis] includes lists of the fortresses built or rebuilt by the Emperor Justianian I (527-565) in order to confront the Avaroslavic invasions. In the list of the castles in Dardania includes also: Skoupion [in greek]-Scupium (see: Procopius, De aedificiis, IV, iv, 285)

    After the Roman conquest of Macedon in 146 BC, Paionia east and west of the Axios formed the second and third districts respectively of the Roman province of Macedonia (Livy xiv. 29). Centuries later under Diocletian, Paionia and Pelagonia formed a province called Macedonia Secunda or Macedonia Salutaris, belonging to the Praetorian Prefecture of Illyricum.

    And this have things remained till the arrival of the Slavs.

    What has happened after the arrrival of the slavs, which in this case were a branch of the Droguvites? All we know what has happened! The civilization has been destroyed, although after the first sudden beat the greek empire, known as Byzantium, has soon stroke back under Justinianus II (685-695). Only excavations would show as the luck of Vylazora. It seems that has ceased to exist or from a great city became a filthy village. Outside of it were the Slav Droguvites, who of course had not the single relation with the ancient-already hellenized-Paiones. Actually Droguvites killed as many Paiones as they could.
    The rest of the history of this region, after 890, as regards its political accession from time to time this is a matter of the history of the byzantino-bulgarian conflicts, wars and relation, and after the midth of the 13th c. a matter of the Byzantino-serbian conflicts, wars and relations also.
    The slavs of the region after about 2 centuries of their arrival begun slowly to accept christianity due to the Slavic Project of the Greek Byzantine Empire. Half a century later, in the second half of the 9th c., 270 years after their arrival and after they have inhabited the land were massivly christianized by the Saint Missionaries, and especially by Saint Clemens, a slav himself, who was appointed by the bulgarian tsar Symeon, as a bishop of a newly founded bishopric, the one of Velitza, where remained till his death, in 916, having put superhuman efforts to civilize the district again! For his efforts soon recognized as a saint, belonging to the Seven Saints, the missonaries-illuminators of the Bulgarians.
    He was appointed in Velitza, although the biggest city in his ecclesiastical juridiction was Ahrida [Ohrid] because he was much needed in here, where the vast majority of the newly christianized volk were, Ahrida being probably still a greek civilized city.
    What was Velitza at this times (end of the 9th-beginning of the 10th c.) nobody knows: perhaps a filthy village around a monastery, whose churh was the siege of the bishop, St. Clemens (Klimis, in greek).
    That Velitza was under the modern(???) city of Titov Veles, now simple Veles (known also with the turkish name as Kiouprouli) is beyond any doubt.
    But how “Vylazora” became “Velitza”?[“Vel itsa” probably meant in slavic, or for the slavs, “great village” (this ofcourse might be a euphemestical expression, due to the misunderstanding, as we will explain further)]. But it is clearly and obvious. All the barbarians after arriving and being settled in a new land, much more civilized that themselves, of course they hear the old names but as they cannot understand them, they try to assimilate them in their barbarian language. Common tutkish practice, common slavic practice, common for all the barbarians in history. So the Droguvites thought that the paionian ending -zora (of the Vylazora) was the same as the slavic word “zora” which means “dawn”. So isolating the first remaining syllabes they thought that “Vyla” [pronounced: vila] had to do with their word: Velik=big, high.
    So they named what has remained from Vylazora as Velitza, or Velitsa.
    The modern majmundonians ofcourse as completely illiterated bastards, traitors of their own bulgarian grandfathers, are giving us a faulse (loughing stock) hetymology for the name in order to prove (to whom? who is more idiot than them) that their slavic language it is a preslavic one and that it is “makedoniki” or perhaps marsian: So they say that “Vylazora” means “Bela [=white]”+Zora [=dawn].

    2) About the slavic God Perun: The name was also survived in an obit of the traditional greek thracian society, known also to many greek macedonian villages, this of “Perperuna”s. This is a magic action in periods of rigidity. A girl is adorned with flours and leaves. On her her they put a vessel as a cover or hut. The girl accompanied by other girls goes arround the streets of the community and while a special song is singing and they pass under the windows, water is poured above the covered head of the adorned girl who is called “Perperuna” for the occasion. The song is something like that: “Perperuna is wandering arround, praying to the God: O, God, give us a rain, a good one rain…”.

  2. 3) A third comment would be that:

    Prof. Lilic in Skopje has gathered in a book all the Late Roman and Early Byzantine Castles (Refugia, Vici, Castella, Castra, etc.) in Povardarje built to protect the cities (civitates) from the slavic raids. These povardarjan castles most of them of the 6th century, built in majority by Iustinians’s administration (527-565) but many also from the times of Anastasius (491-518). This task of registration and mapping has unfortunately not even been undertaken by the Greek Archaeological System (for the Greek Macedonian territory) being trapped itself in Sacred Triangles and Sacred Rocks. What I want to say is that systematic excavations in these sites, which were the second line of defence till the beginning of the 7th c. will provide us the adequate evidence for the clarification of this “Dark Ages” problem, concerning the Slavic Emmigration. Furthermore because many of these castles survive as “Gradiste” or “Gradjani” even till the turkish occupation.

    4) Many arcaheological evidence of the last years prove that the desertness of the Balkan Peninsula due to the slavic raids is another historical myth and exaggeration! The brilliant but slandered after (because of their iconomachic policy) dynasty of the Isaurs saves the Empire and its Greek Character both at the East, against the Arabians, and at the West, against the Slavs. It seems that this dynasty introduced or accelerated the Byzantine Slavic Project, this means the Systematically Organized Efforts of the Empire to assimilate (civilize) the newcomers. This programm had allready begun by the emperors of the Heraclean Dynasty (Contans II and Justinian II). One of the greatest Emperors of the Isaurian dynasty, Konstantinos the V (741-775), built everywhere across the main roads castles or he renovated old ones, and we should say that under him at least all the continental territory of today’s Greece was thoroughly under the Emperor’s and his officials’ control and the greek population regained its safety.

  3. 5) The word Σκλαβηνία is a technical- administrative one and when mentioned always referred to specail administrative units with special status, recognising the Emperor’s authority, with officials appointed and paid by the Emperor and the state.

  4. 6) About the Slavic new names: As is is shown allready it is not a coincidense that Veles is above the ancient Vylazora. Stena: is not from the slavic word “stena” (walls) but from the greek one Stena (-ae), later also a latin one, which means narrow pass, narrow valley, kleisura (clausura).

  5. It is ironic that on the modern fyromian banknote of 50 dinars there is the picture of a byzantine follis, from the times of Justinian, especially its reverse (back) side, with the greek letter “M” on it, meaning of course “40”, indicating its value of 40 nummies (tessarakontanummion or follis) [and not of course “macedonia”!!!!!!]. The irony is on that: that these follis most possible belonged to some treasure (=a pick of money) being concealed by a greek one after hearing of an approaching slavic raid. Skopjan archaeologist have found this coin just because most pausible this greek one was killed in this raid and was never been able to return and draw up again his hidden money. So, the descendants of the murderers come now to put on their coinage the picture of the money of their victim. Claiming of course-otherwise why to put a foreign, alien people’s money picture-that these are the descendans of the people who possessed these money!!!!!!!

  6. It seems though that todays Fyromians have not only slavic and bulgarian blood and origin but also a turkish one, or better say hungarian (Turks Vardariotes):

    As about the assimilated Greek-Vlachs see also the book of Popovic, O Cincarima, Beograd 1937 (re-edition in 1998), where one could understand that the assimilation of the Vlachs and the denial of their greek character for nationalistic (aline from the greek spirit reasons) was the purpose of the Serbian Kingdom also. Actually was started with the Serbs:

  7. God speed with your mission, a worthy cause and friend of truth. You are stuff that legends are made out of. The world has not look kindly on us but the universe smiles on us and so your and our voice shall echo into eternity.

    With Fraternal Love from the Hellenic people

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