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Sunday, 31 December 2017 15:01

A HISTORY OF UKRAINE. EPISODE 12. THE SLAVS

Oleksandr Palii, A History of Ukraine, 31.12.2017 

 

EPISODE 11 HERE 

 

The Slavs were first mentioned under the name Veneti in the 1st century AD. 

Contemporaries described them as a large and militant people inclined to anarchy and self-rule. 

Roman historians wrote about their long raids on land and unions with the Sarmatians. 

Byzantine military commanders noted the Slavs’ special skills in fighting in the woods, tracking enemies, capturing informers as prisoners, hiding in the water for hours and breathing through blades of reed etc.

 

the slavs animal
Fantastic animal, silver-gilt plate, Cherkasy Oblast, 6th century AD. 


At present, most scholars believe that the homeland of the Slavs was in the Northern Carpathians and Volhynia, as well as in Polisia and the area on the right bank of the Dnipro. Purely Slavic names of rivers are concentrated in this part of modern Ukraine.  

 

Other parts of Ukraine frequently feature Indo-Iranian (Scythian and Sarmatian) and Turkic names for rivers. (For example, the name of the Dnipro, Dniester, Danube and the Donets come from the Sarmatian word for water). 

 

Since the 3rd century AD Slavic groups were noted as living along the Lower Dnipro and near the Black Sea. 

 

The location of the first Slavic settlements in the forests of Volhynia and Polisia protected them against numerous attacks, which were common in the steppe. 

 

At the same time, the Slavs learned the art of war through contacts with the steppe people in Greater Scythia, through unions with the Sarmatians and by being part of the Hunnic Empire. 

 

In the first half of the 1st millennium AD, the Slavs split into the Antes and the Sclaveni. 

 

The Sclaveni lived between what is now Ljubljana and the Dniester and up to the Vistula River in the north. 

 

The Antean tribal union (4th to 7th centuries AD) was made up of the Slavs and the Sarmatians (largely Roxolani) and inhabited the greater part of Ukraine, in particular all of Right-Bank Ukraine between the Dnipro and the Dniester, including the northern coast of the Black Sea. 

 

The families of Antean princes included both Slavic and Sarmatian tribes. The Greeks called the Antes “the most powerful of all Slavs” and referred to their “countless tribes”. 

 

In the first centuries AD, the giant Serpent Walls — defensive fortifications stretching across most of the steppe and forest-steppe zone in Ukraine — were built. They were 2,000 kilometers in length, reaching over 15 meters in height. It is not known with certainty whether they were built against the Goths or the Huns. At the times of Kyivan Rus’, people no longer knew who built them and when.

 

the slavs fibula
Slavic fibula of the Antean period, silver, 6th-7th century AD. 


After the defeat of the Byzantine army near Adrianople in 551 AD, part of the Antes and the Sclaveni resettled to Byzantine lands. Contemporaries compared this resettlement to a flood. 

 

The resettlement of the Slavs until the 580s AD led to the total Slavicization of the northern Balkans (the territories of Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Macedonia and Bosnia). 

 

Groups of Slavs dared attack imperial fortresses with much larger garrisons. Since then, the Balkans have many names peculiar to Ukraine — Kyiv, Malyn, Sambir, etc. 

 

Slavic tribes settled even in the Peloponnesus in Greece — the heart of the Byzantine Empire — establishing separate autonomous principalities, slavinia, in the lands of the empire. 

 

In the 7th century, the Slavs settled in the vicinity of Novgorod (now Muscovy), among Baltic and Finno-Ugic people. 

 

In the 8th century, the first Slavs came to the territory of northern Belarus, intermixing with the local Baltic people. 

 

In the 9th and 10th centuries, the Slavic tribes of Vyatichi and Radimichi came from Poland to what is now Central Muscovy, populated by numerous Finno-Ugric peoples back then, and intermixed with them.

TO EPISODE 13 

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