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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Slav \Slav\ (sl[aum]v or sl[a^]v), n.; pl. Slavs. [A word originally meaning, intelligible, and used to contrast the people so called with foreigners who spoke languages unintelligible to the Slavs; akin to OSlav. slovo a word, slava fame, Skr. [,c]ru to hear. Cf. Loud.] (Ethnol.) One of a race of people occupying a large part of Eastern and Northern Europe, including the Russians, Bulgarians, Roumanians, Servo-Croats, Slovenes, Poles, Czechs, Wends or Sorbs, Slovaks, etc. [Written also Slave, and Sclav.]


Slavs are the largest Indo-European ethno-linguistic group in Europe. They are native to Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Southeast Europe, Northeastern Europe, North Asia and Central Asia. Slavs speak Indo-European Slavic languages and share, to varying degrees, cultural traits and historical backgrounds. From the early 6th century they spread to inhabit most of Central and Eastern Europe and Southeast Europe. The Slavic nations compose over 50% of the territory of Europe. Present-day Slavic people are classified into West Slavs (chiefly Poles, Czechs and Slovaks), East Slavs (chiefly Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians), and South Slavs (chiefly Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Macedonians, Slovenes, Montenegrins of the Former Yugoslavia and Bulgarians). For a more comprehensive list, see the ethnocultural subdivisions. Modern Slavic nations and ethnic groups are considerably diverse both genetically and culturally, and relations between them – even within the individual ethnic groups themselves – are varied, ranging from a sense of connection to mutual feelings of hostility.

Slavs (ethnonym)

The Slavic autonym is reconstructed in Proto-Slavic as *Slověninъ, plural *Slověně. The oldest documents written in Old Church Slavonic and dating from the 9th century attest Словѣне Slověne to describe the Slavs. Other early Slavic attestations include Old East Slavic Словѣнѣ Slověně for "an East Slavic group near Novgorod". However, the earliest written references to the Slavs under this name are in other languages. In the 6th century AD Procopius, writing in Byzantine Greek, refers to the Sklaboi, Sklabēnoi, Sklauenoi, Sthlauenoi, or Σκλαβῖνοι Sklabinoi, while his contemporary Jordanes refers to the Sclaveni in Latin.

The Slavic autonym *Slověninъ is usually considered a derivation from slovo " word", originally denoting "people who speak (the same language)", i.e. people who understand each other, in contrast to the Slavic word denoting "foreign people" – němci, meaning "mumbling, murmuring people" (from Slavic *němъ – "mumbling, mute"). The latter word may be the derivation of words to denote German/Germanic people in many later Slavic languages: e.g., Czech Němec, Slovak Nemec, Slovene Nemec, Belarusian, Russian and Bulgarian Немец, Serbian ''Немац, Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian Nijemac'', Polish Niemiec, Ukrainian Німець, etc., but another theory states that rather these words are derived from the name of the Nemetes tribe, which is derived from the Celtic root nemeto-.

The English word Slav could be derived from the Middle English word sclave, which was borrowed from Medieval Latinsclavus or slavus, itself a borrowing and Byzantine Greeksklábos "slave," which was in turn apparently derived from a misunderstanding of the Slavic autonym (denoting a speaker of their own languages). The Byzantine term Sklavinoi was loaned into Arabic as Saqaliba صقالبة (sing. Saqlabi صقلبي) by medieval Arab historiographers. However, the origin of this word is disputed.

Alternative proposals for the etymology of *Slověninъ propounded by some scholars have much less support. B.P. Lozinski argues that the word *slava once had the meaning of worshipper, in this context meaning "practicer of a common Slavic religion", and from that evolved into an ethnonym. S.B. Bernstein speculates that it derives from a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European, cognate to Ancient Greek λαός laós "population, people", which itself has no commonly accepted etymology. Meanwhile others have pointed out that the suffix -enin indicates a man from a certain place, which in this case should be a place called Slova or Slava, possibly a river name. The Old East SlavicSlavuta for the Dnieper River was argued by Henrich Bartek (1907–1986) to be derived from slova and also the origin of Slovene.

Last scientific opinions about the earliest mentions of Slavic raids across the lower River Danube show that they may be dated to the first half of the 6th century, yet no archaeological evidence of a Slavic settlement in the Balkans could be securely dated before c. 600 AD.

Usage examples of "slavs".

These were Slavs, whether originally Croat or Serb, who had been converted to Islam in the late Middle Ages by the Turkish occupiers and whose religion gradually became synonymous with their ethnic identity.

Elijah, in Bulgarian Orthodox tradition, is a transmuted version of Perun, a pagan god of lightning and stormy heavens, to whom the pre-Christian Slavs sacrificed bulls and human beings.

Byzantines, Visigoths, the Huns under Attila, Avars, Gepidae, Slavs, Bulgars, Hungarians, Tartars, Turks, and various others all invaded.

To these Greeks, all Slavs who called themselves "Macedonian" were "dirty Gypsies.

The Lombards then migrated into Italy, while Avars and Slavs filled in their former territories.

Meanwhile the Slavs were raiding and looting Byzantine settlements in the Balkans, north of modern Greece, so the Roman emperor persuaded Bayan to march against his sometime allies.

The Avars were horsemen, and the Slavs, fighting on foot, could not match them.

It was not a situation the Slavs enjoyed, in the early seventh century.

The Slavs suffered from the same problem as always: they could agree on no single one of them to govern others for more than a single battle.

But their contempt nevertheless betrayed them, because they allowed the Slavs to select the battle site.

In the sixth century a motley crowd of Longobards and Saxons and Slavs and Avars invaded Italy, destroyed the Gothic kingdom, and established a new state of which Pavia became the capital.

The Lombards and Saxons and Slavs who succeeded the Goths were weak and backward tribes.

The eastern frontier (defenceless except for the short stretch of the Carpathian mountains) was at the mercy of hordes of Huns, Hungarians, Slavs and Tartars.

The Greeks had sometimes met these Slavs and a few travellers of the third and fourth centuries mention them.

They had conquered many lands from the heathenish Slavs and Lithuanians who were living in the plain between the Baltic Sea and the Carpathian Mountains, and the Franks administered those outlying districts just as the United States used to administer her territories before they achieved the dignity of statehood.