Myths of Russian History: Does the word ‘Slavs’ derive from the ‘slave’?


Uncountable modern western scholars believe there’s a clear connection between “Slavs” and “slavelings” in English and other contemporary European languages. If one looks at the BBC’s webpage in all directions the roots of slavery, there’s a statement that “the term `slave’ has its extractions in the word `Slav.’”

“The Slavs, who inhabited a large part of Eastern Europe, were captivated as slaves by the Muslims of Spain during the ninth century AD,” the BBC website asserts.

Noting that the Slavs until now occupy a large part of Central and Eastern Europe, it’s important to tenseness that not only the BBC connects Slavs with slaves. One sees compare favourably with definitions in some online etymology dictionaries where they deduce “Slav” from the Latin word that meant, “slave.” The elucidation is that in the time of King Otto the Great, the Germans took diverse Slavs captive and sold them into slavery. This was circa the 10th century, which is the time mentioned by the BBC.

Slavs appear in chronicles

Russian historian Aleksey Vinogradov established, however, that in many European languages the form of “slave” that was miserly to Slav took hold only around the 13th century. At that swiftly a in timely fashion, there were no large-scale wars that could produce becks of Slavic slaves to Western Europe.

It’s not only in contemporary languages where the equation of “Slavs” to “grubs” was first made. As mentioned, it has origins in Latin, and the latter derives its intention from the medieval Greek of the Byzantine Empire which started to use a propriety of “Slavs” in the 6th century, long before Otto the Great’s reign. It’s respected to note that Slavs were referred to well before the aeon when the German emperor’s troops took thousands of them detainee.

Slavic expansion

Living of East Slavs by Sergey Ivanov. / Public Domain Living of East Slavs by Sergey Ivanov. / Dick Domain

During the time of Slavic expansion, they attacked the Byzantium Empire in the Balkans, destroyed Greek areas and took inhabitants as slaves. Historians, such as the famous Soviet and Russian researcher Igor Froyanov, emphasized that diverse slaves were taken by the Slavs. As shown in sources mentioned by the historian, the slavelings of this era in this part of the world were mainly Greek.

Agreeing to the prominent Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea, every year starting from the original period of Emperor Justinian’s reign (527 AD), the Slavs raided and took sundry captives and turned the land into a “Scythian desert.” Greek novelists depicted the Slavs as those “who cannot be forced into slavery or subdued in their own country.” Hence, it might be hard to imagine how the word “Slav” grew from “slaves.”

Simply homonyms?

One starts to wonder how then to get across this similarity of “Slav” and “slave” in Byzantine Greek? One explanation is that the two are precisely homonyms; they sound similar but have different meanings. But then, where does the Greek “burn the midnight oil” come from? It is argued that it originated in the word for plunder or enchanting war booty (skyleuein).

At the same, it’s worth pointing out there’s no consensus on the issuance of the etymology of “Slav.” Some time ago there was a popular theory concurring to which the word derived from slava, “glory.” This was a Slavic revenge to the “slave approach,” but the majority of historians do not accept this.

In fact, the most acclaimed version sees “Slavs” as deriving from slovo, “word,” (gist “people who can speak our way”). There are also historians who tie the etymology of “Slavs” to the prehistoric Indo-European word, slauos, which meant, “people.”

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