(Chapter VI, section 7)

The Slavs

The Slavs, together with their close neighbors and linguistic relatives the Balts, stepped relatively late into the theater of European history. Speaking an archaic form of the Sateen branch of Indo?European, they almost miraculously succeeded in maintaining their linguistic integrity through the period of obscurity which preceded their time of dispersion, despite the widespread activities of the Kelts, the Scythians, and the Germans. Slavic is close in many respects to the original form of Indo-Iranian, a fact which cannot fail to have cultural and geographical significance.

It is not yet possible to associate the early, united Slavs with any specific archaeological horizon more remote in tune than the comparatively recent Burgwall mooted villages of the early centuries of the present era. Although all Slavic scholars are not in agreement as to the location of their original home, the opinion of Niederle, the dean of Slavic prehistorians, bears the greatest weight.100 He would place it in the densely forested basin of the Pripiet River, in northwestern Ukraine and southeastern Poland. This region is bounded on the west by the Vistula, on the south by the upper course of the Dniester, and on the east by the great forests of the former Tchernigov and Poltava Governments. In other words, the Slavic ancestors escaped loss of ethnic identity at the hands of the Scythians and the Goths through their occupancy of a relatively wooded and swampy country.

Their neighbors to the west were Germans and Kelts, who lived on the other side of the Vistula; the Adults occupied the side facing the sea after which they have been collectively named, while the undivided Finns dwelt along the forested stream hanks near the sources of the Volga, Oka, and Don. The early Iranians, near linguistic relatives of the Slavs, had occupied the plains to the south and cast, while the Thracians bordered the Slavs on the far side of the Carpathian mountain chain.

Like the earliest Iranians and unlike the Scythians, the Slavs were simple farmers and herdsmen. Living in swamps and forests, they had adapted themselves to difficult climatic conditions. For some reason still imperfectly understood by the students of population dynamics, they grew increasingly numerous in the period between the second and fifth centuries A.D., and began spilling outward in all possible directions.

The westward Slavic expansion over much of what is now Germany was temporary, for the Germanic peoples themselves soon went through a period of eastward expansion during which they Germanized many of the new Slavic groups, either by force or by peaceful assimilation. A few islands of Slavic speech and culture survived this movement, notably that of the Wends in the Saxon Spreewald. The movement of the South Slavs took them to the Dinaric mountain chain behind Lower Austria, which certain bands crossed to the peninsula of Istria at the head of the Adriatic, and into northern Italy itself. The main body moved southeastward along the Adriatic coast, following the Dinaric mountain chain to Montenegro, and to the Gore' region of northeastern Albania. A southern Slavic nucleus .vas formed in the kingdom of Old Serbia, centered around Prizren and Skoplje. From this nucleus they expanded into the plain of Kossovo which, however, they were soon to lose in great part to Turks and Albanians. The Serbs, the most important single people involved in this southern expansion, still speak a language closely allied to that of the Wends in Germany.

The movements of the Slavs to the eastward constituted an intensive reoccupation of the rich, black earth belt by peasants, for, since Late Neolithic times, this fertile strip of treeless lowland had been the favorite pasture and campaigning ground of tribes and nations of warlike nomads, inimical to the full utilization of the ground for tillage. From this black earth region the eastern Slavs followed the watercourses of central Russia northward into the forest country then inhabited by Finns. This upstream movement dislodged some of the Finnish tribes, and brought about their historic migration to the Baltic. Many of the Finns, however, stayed behind and became Slavicized, mixing with their conquerors. Still others remained aloof in small ethnic islands, which even today retain their Finnic speech.

The eastward expansion of the Slavs did not stop with the Urals, but gradually continued, after interruptions by Turks and Mongols, into Siberia, until finally°, in the seventeenth century, its outpost, reached the Pacific. The Slavs are still growing more numerous and still moving eastward. Their period of efflorescence, the latest of the Indo-European expansions, has not yet come to an end.

Since the Slavs continued the practice of cremation well into the early centuries of the present millennium, skeletons from the period of unity are non-existent, and those from the early centuries of expansion are not abundant. However, in this instance, literary evidence antedates the osteological, for numerous descriptions of the early Slavs, assiduously collected by Niederle, occur in the writings of Byzantines, Arabs, and Persians.101 With only one exception, these make the Slavs tall, spare, and blond or ruddy. They were often confused with Germans, and this fact strengthens the likelihood that they were predominantly of light pigmentation. Only one voice was raised to the contrary, that of a Jew named Ibrahim ben Yakub, who, having crossed Bohemia in 965 A.D., remarked that the Bohemians were surprisingly dark haired. Niederle interprets this solitary dissention as evidence that Ibrahim, accustomed to or expecting blond Slavs, was struck by a local enclave which differed from the Slavs as a whole. In view of the preponderance of contemporary opinion to the contrary, ben Yakub's dissention must not be given too much weight.102

If the evidence of literary sources makes the early Slavs Nordic in stature and pigmentation, that of ostcology makes them the same in the metrical and morphological sense. In brief, all of the earliest Slavic skeletal material, dating mostly from the eighth to the eleventh centuries, falls, by ,groups if not as individuals, into one or more of the Nordic categories already found to be characteristic of Iron Age Indo-Europeanspeaking peoples.

That from Poland, the eastern half of which was included in the home of the Slavic peoples before their period of dispersion, is not very abundant. Altogether less than 40 male crania may be assembled, and few of these have complete measurements.103 (See Appendix I, col. 46.) These skulls are all predominantly dolichocephalic; the mean cranial index is 73, and not a single round-headed example is included. Among these Polish skulls are some notably long and large specimens Nvith long. narrow faces. The noses of the ,group, as a whole, are fully leptorrhine. On the whole, the ancestral Slavs of Poland were Nordics, within the range of the Indo-European group; these skulls lean to the longer- and larger-headed Corded extreme, and resemble in many respects, the Hannover series, and by extension, the Anglo-Saxons.

Numerous remains of the Slavic expansion into Germany show clearly the physical types of the particular invaders concerned in this quarter. The most important series is that studied by Asmus, who collected the skulls of the ancient Wends of Mecklenburg.104 (See Appendix I, col. 47.) These form a reasonably homogeneous group of high dolichocephals and low mesocephals, with a moderate vault height, a low sloping forehead, long narrow faces, leptorrhine or mesorrhine noses, high orbits, and a strongly built jaw. These Old Wends, rounder headed than the Poles, fall very close metrically to the Kelts and to the Scythians. In intermediate parts of Germany, particularly in western Prussia and Pomerania, the Old Slavic skulls are higher vaulted, and closer in this respect to the Polish sub-type.105

Those in Bohemia are for the most part the same as the Wend crania in Germany, except for one series of Matiegka (see Appendix I, col. 48); in this, the vaults are extremely high, nearly reaching early Corded dimensions. This is true to a minor extent of a small group from Slovakia and of individual skulls.106 Thus, in Bohemia, the Slavs included three sub-types, with Hallstatt, Polish, and Keltic analogies.

The Slavs who invaded Styria between the seventh to ninth centuries are basically the same as those in Germany, and fall very close to an older Keltic mean.107 They formed, without question, a mixed group and included in their number a minority of round-headed forms. Some of the Slavic crania from Styria, recalling the Polish prototype, are extremely large and powerful. We have, unfortunately, no data with which to trace the further progress of the southern Slavs into the Dinaric mountain stronghold, and thence into Old Serbia and the Kossovo plain. We rnay, however, study a third Slavic movement, that which penetrated Russia.108

The skulls of these invaders belong to a generalized Nordic form, with a cranial index of 75 to 76, and an intermediate vault height. The Ukrainian skulls from the eighth to the ninth centuries A.D. do not greatly diverge from this general standard, but the early Slavic crania from the Moscow region in Russia, dated from the eleventh to twelfth centuries A.D., are, in fact, almost purely dolichocephalic, with a mean cranial index of 73.5.

On the whole, the Slavic racial type, as exemplified by skeletal series from Poland, Germany, Bohemia, Austria, and Russia, was reasonably uniform. In view of its geographical location, the Polish group probably represents most nearly the original form, while those who expanded southward and westward absorbed local Keltic and other Indo-European-speaking populations. The Slavs, like all the other Indo-European-speaking peoples whom we have been able to trace, were originally Nordic, and there is no suggestion in their early remains, in the regions studied, of the numerically predominant brachycephalic racial increments which today are considered typically Slavic. However, the Slavs who migrated to southern Hungary, like the Germanic Gepidae before them, mixed with a local short-statured, broad-faced, and broad-nosed brachycephalic people, who, antedating the historic arrival of the Magyars, were descended from the central Asiatic Avars.109 Most of the Slavs retained their original dolichocephalic cranial form until at the earliest the thirteenth, and the latest the fifteenth, century. At that time, those who inhabited Russia and central Europe grew progressively brachycephalic, at a rapid but consistent rate. Well-documented series from Bohemia and the Moscow government show how this change progressed from century to century, so that normal means of 73 to 75 rose as high as 83 by the nineteenth. Few Slavs were spared this change, which was parallel to that which affected the southern Germans and other peoples of central and eastern Europe. Although it took place in the full light of late mediaeval and modern history, no one fully satisfactory explanation has vet been offered.


100 Niederle, L., ACIA, 2me Session, Prague, 1924, pp. 241-247. For source material see his exhaustive series of volumes on the history of the Slavs, Slovanské Starozitnosti.
For a recent review of Slavic problems, Sonnabend, H., L'Espansione degli Slavi.

101 Niederle, L., AnthPr, vol. 7, 1929, pp. 62-64; also Slovanské Starozitnosti vol. 1, 1925, pp. 98 ff.

102 The passage in question has been translated ,and retranslated through a number of languages. I have been unable to find the Arabic original.

103 Kopernicki, I., ZWAK, part i, 1883.
Majewski, E., Swiatowit, vol. 9, 1911, pp. 88-94.
Rutkowski, L., Swiatowit, Vol. 7, 1907, pp. 3-21, 22-38.

104 Asmus, R., AFA, vol. 27 1902 pp. 1-36.

105 Müller, W., JVST, vol. 5, 1906, pp. 60-77.
Reuss, K., JVST, vol. 6, 1907, pp. 93-112.
Schumann, H., ZFE, vol. 23, 1891, pp. 589-592, 704-708; vol. 26, 1894, pp. 330-336; vol. 30. 1898, pp. 93-100.
Virchow, R., ZFE, vol. 23, 1891, pp. 349-350, vol. 24, 1892, pp. 550-555.

106 Cervinka, J. L., and Matiegka, J., AnthPr, vol. 3, 1925, pp. 97-108.
Jelinek, B., MAGW, vol. 20, 1890, pp. 136-147.
Matiegka, J., AFA, vol. 25, 1896, pp. 150-154.
Szombathy, J., MAGW, vol. 52, 1922, p. 20.
Wankel, H., MAGW, vol. 12, 1882, pp. 123-128.

107 Toldt, C., MAGW, vol. 42, 1912, pp. 247-280.

108 Derviz, D., AntrM, vol. 4, 1930, pp. 93-105.
Derviz, D., RAJ, vol. 12, 1923, pp. 24-38.
Stefko, W. H., and Schugaiew, W. S., AFA, vol. 50, 1932, pp. 44-55.

109 Sziráky, S., and Huszár, G., MAGW, vol. 63, 1933, pp. 229-232.