Aryan and Scythian origins of Serbs and Croats
Theory of Aryan origins of Serbs and Croats is nothing new. There have been quite a few works published on this topic by local and foreign authors. I decided to take as a reference one article written by certain Dr. Samar Abbas from India and published on “Iranian Chamber Society” website, named “Common origins of Serbs, Croats and Jats“. I simply liked the idea of how this article connects India, Iran and Balkans, places that are relevant for Aryan studies.
Before we jump to any conclusions, lets us first define the basics. Who were the Aryans? Here is the official definition:
c. 1600, as a term in classical history, from Latin Arianus, Ariana, from Greek Aria, Areia, names applied in classical times to the eastern part of ancient Persia and to its inhabitants. Ancient Persians used the name in reference to themselves (Old Persian ariya-), hence Iran. Ultimately from Sanskrit arya- “compatriot;” in later language “noble, of good family.”
Also the name Sanskrit-speaking invaders of India gave themselves in the ancient texts, from which early 19c. European philologists (Friedrich Schlegel, 1819, who linked the word with German Ehre “honor”) applied it to the ancient people we now call Indo-Europeans (suspecting that this is what they called themselves); this use is attested in English from 1851. The term fell into the hands of racists, and in German from 1845 it was specifically contrasted to Semitic (Lassen).
German philologist Max Müller (1823-1900) popularized the term in his writings on comparative linguistics, recommending it as the name (replacing Indo-European, Indo-Germanic, Caucasian, Japhetic) for the group of related, inflected languages connected with these peoples, mostly found in Europe but also including Sanskrit and Persian. Arian was used in this sense from 1839 (and is more philologically correct), but this spelling caused confusion with Arian, the term in ecclesiastical history.
Gradually replaced in comparative linguistics c. 1900 by term Indo-European.
As you can see, before this term got misused by the Nazi’s, it was a really broad term, encompassing pretty much whole of the Europe, with parts of the Middle East and North India, places where people have paler skin, blue eyes, blonde and red hair and other Caucasian characteristics. Therefore, it is not too far-fetched to imagine that this term could simply mean “white”. (of course, without the Nazi idea of the master race).
We also do know for sure that people called Aryans had really existed. Many ancient historians write about them, including Herodotus “the father of history” in the 5th century BC. True, Aryans are mainly mentioned in relation to the Middle East and India, (where the fair skin would indeed stand out) and it is officially accepted that they gave Iran its name, as well as to Haryana, one of the 29 states of India. However, as I already pointed out in different articles, it may be so that the term “Gaul” and “Albanian” are just Greek and Latin translations of the same word. It also may be so that even Ireland owes its name to Aryans. You can read more about this in the article: Iber, a river that tells Aryan story.
Genetically, haplogroups officially related to Aryans are R1a and R1b, two distinct groups that share the same kinship. According to Eupedia, R1a haplogroup is typically Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian, while R1b is Italo-Celtic, Germanic, Hittite, Armenian. We will not talk about R1b in this article as this topic has already been discussed in the article: Armenia, homeland of the Germans?
In this article we will deal only with Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian R1a. This will help us narrow down our search for origins of Serbs and Croats, but I sincerely hope that after all said above it is really clear by now that the goal is not to prove that ancestors of Serbs and Croats were the only and exclusive Aryan tribes, just important ones. I can’t stress this enough as I see that many clicks on this blog come from Google searches labeled “Serbs, Croats or Albanians are Aryans”
Secondly, in terms of modern nations, most of South-Eastern Europe and particularly Balkans nowadays has only around 30% of both R1a and R1b haplogroups combined, and this number gets cut down in half if we focus only on R1a (without getting deeper in different mutations) meaning that out of 100 people, only 15-30 could claim to have some form of Aryan ancestry trough their paternal lineage. Dominant haplogroups on Balkans are Old European I2 and E1b from North Africa. More on this in the article: Genetics speaks, who is who on Balkans.
But guess what, the same situation is in Iran. Even though they have the highest percentages of R1a in the Middle East, it accounts only for 16,5% according to this Eupedia chart.
The situation is a bit different in India, where most of the members of the highest caste in India – the Brahmins, belong to R1a haplogroup and where according to research it may go as high as 72%. The same situation is with Jats, mentioned in the article that we will soon discuss. In few words, Jats are people from Northern India that claim to have the Scythian origin, and more precisely, a Gothic one, claiming that Jat and Goth are actually synonyms.
Scythians are indeed the only possible “suspect” if we analyze a group of people that could have been present in all these places in the remote antiquity. Their territory had stretched from Indo-Scythia to Iran and Balkans. If you compare the two pictures below you will see that map of Scythia also matches perfectly the borders of R1a haplogroup migrations as given on Eupedia.
And last important thing to note is that R1a appears on Balkans as early as 4200BC, when (proto) Scythians have first mixed with the local population, after which they were coming in successful waves in different periods all the way until the Roman conquest. Haplogroup R1b appears in Europe only a few thousands of years later. (Source: Eupedia articles on R1a and R1b haplogroups)
Ok, so what does this all have to do with Serbs and Croats? Here are some of the author’s most important claims about Croats:
The name “Hrvati” is derived from the Avestan province “Harahvaiti” (Greek: “Arachosia”)…
…in Darius’ inscriptions from the sixth century B.C. an old Persian province and people are mentioned, called Harahvaitai, Harahvatis, Horohoati…
the Roman leader Ammanius Marcellinus mentioned that two cities arose in ancient Persia called Habroatis and Chroates.
Indeed, philologists trace the migration of the Croats from Harahvati (Arachosia, Sarasvati) in the following manner using fossil place-names along the path of migration:
- Harahvaiti and Harauvati in Iran and Afghanistan
- Hurravat and Hurrvuhe in Armenia and Georgia
- Horoouathos in Azova and the Black Sea
- Present day Croats Horvati and Hrvati along the Adriatic
Since the Croats are named after the Harahvaiti or Sarasvati River, and the Jats are the present-day inhabitants of the lost Harahvaiti, it would appear that Jats and Croats would be very closely related indeed.
Ancient Croatian folk art bears eastern and Iranian traces, particularly the Croatian “troplets”. The Croats also brought over from Iran their national coat of arms with its 64 red and white checkers
After the Iranian fashion the ancient Croats ascribed a specific colour to each of the four cardinal points of the compass in the territory which they inhabited. The colour white designated the west, red the south, green the east, and black the north.
The Croats were also commonly named by the medieval chroniclers as “Goths”
Manuscript Hazine of the Saray Albums, 15th c. CE; Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul, Turkey – Turkmen soldier – compare with Croatian red and white checkers
If you want to read the full text the link is at the beginning of this article. Another interesting article from the same website: Identity of Croatians in Ancient Iran
Unfortunately, the author doesn’t say much about Serbs, probably because this topic is more popular in Croatia than in Serbia, and it is quite clear from his writing that he was influenced by the works of some Croatian authors. This is why I will now add few things about Serbs:
As already discussed in the article: Did Serbs construct the tower of Babel? Slavic medieval Chronicles (Czech and Russian) claim descendants from Serbs who came from the South – from Balkans, and Mediterranean region, and before that Middle East and Babylon. In the 5th century BC, Herodotus claimed that Scythians had conquered Persia, crossing the Caucasus mountains, precisely where the tribe of Sirbi can be seen on the map of Ptolemy.
As far as Iran is concerned, one of the most famous epic of the 10th century revolves around two heroes named Rostam and Sohrab, where Sohrab could be the mythical ancestor of the mentioned Sirbi tribe. There is also a Sarbani tribe in Afganistan, with R1a dominant, whose origins are considered to be Scythian.
Another interesting toponym is Serbonian bog and Lake Serbonis in Egypt, in whose mud, according to Herodotus, an army of horsemen had disappeared, giving it it’s name. Today it is considered that these horsemen belonged to Shardani people, ie. “people of the seas”, but once again, if we look at the Ptolemy map we see that there was a tribe of Suardeni in proximity of the Sirbi tribe – so once again it could be Scythians.
Serbian toponyms indeed appear all over Europe in the earliest of writings, particularly during the Roman period. Agood example is Sorbio-dunum, Roman name of Old Sarum, England. Recent discoveries push the dating of this settlement all the way to the bronze age, and its circular shape is very reminiscent of ancient Slavic settlements on continental Europe. There is also Serbinum in Bosnia, Republic of Srpska mentioned by Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD, four centuries before the supposed migration of North Slavs to Balkans. And on this map of pre-Roman tribes of Portugal we see a tribe called Serbi.
If this Serbi tribe was indeed related to Scythians, that migrated from Middle East to Europe in prehistory, it is interesting to mention that the typical Scythian pants were known as “sarabara” or “saraballa” in Latin, while the Arabs still call them “serbal” or “serval” nowadays. It is well known that the fashion of wearing pants came to Europe with Scythians, who probably needed to invent them for easier horse-riding, and as Xenophon writes in his “Persian expedition”, even Alexander the Great was impressed by this fashion, as in ancient Greece of that time the male and female clothing was not so different.
Scythian pants, Marlik culture, Iran, 2nd half of 2nd millennium BC.
Besides, in Farsi, the language of Persia, “sarbaz” means “soldier”, while “sarbaz-e sorbi” is the main soldier. The word “sorb” in this language (as well as Latin) means “red” – the color that marked South for Scythians, and in the caste system of Mahabharata relates to the warrior caste. These are the only logical etymologies of the ethnonym “Serb” in any language.
This list goes on and on. But to cut the long story short, it seems that “Serb” was once a generic term for Slavs, before the term Slav came to be in the 6th century AD. Serbs in Balkans and Sorbs in Germany still preserve this ancient name, just like countries Slovenia and Slovakia preserve the name of Slavs.
Because of such a high frequency of Serbian toponyms scattered all around the place in antiquity, most of Serbs who start doing this sort of research fall into trap of thinking that it is the Balkan Serbs who once conquered the world. I don’t believe that this is the case, but rather that they preserve the name of a tribe of nomadic people who had no country of their own and considered the whole world as theirs, weather you call them Scythians, Sarmatians or Aryans. It is them who had conquered Balkans and indigenous population of Vinca as early as 4200BC, for which there is plenty of genetic and archaeological evidence. They kept coming in waves, again and again every few hundred years, creating a Thracian and Illyrian cultures as a result of this mixing with indigenous cultures, a cultures that lasted until the arrival of the Romans (similar to the Gaulish culture of the North). We do not have any written records of this mixing, neither we know if the assimilation was a peaceful one or brutal, but we do have plenty of archaeological evidence to prove that it really happened. It means that Serbia, Croatia and Albania simply carry the name of these ancient nomads who came and conquered the local population leaving their name of the country and significant cultural and genetic traces in the process. This was actually a very typical scenario in ancient days – we do know that the similar faith happened to Hun-garia, Bulg-aria, Roma-nia, Eng-land and numerous other places in history who had their own conquerors.
As the author quoted in the article: “After the Iranian fashion the ancient Croats ascribed a specific color to each of the four cardinal points of the compass in the territory which they inhabited. The color white designated the west, red the south, green the east, and black the north.” The same thing was valid for Serbs, as we know that White Serbia existed in the Northern Europe. Even the word “Sorb” can maybe be traced to Iranian (and Latin) root meaning “red”, which designates South. But the author makes a crucial mistake by labeling this custom “Iranian”, for it is clearly Scythian, and it is well documented in ancient writings. The same goes for the Aryan heritage of Iran. What I think that most of the Iranian authors don’t understand is that they also just preserve the name of nomadic conquerors from the steppes, it is not a native culture of the region.
We do know that R1a had developed in the steppes of Ukraine, and we do know that the highest percentages in terms of modern countries can be found in countries such as Poland, Ukraine and Russia. However, this haplogroup is not strictly reserved to Slavs. Tatars for example, are also an important tribe that has R1a dominant and whose language can be related to some of the Scythian words that Herodotus mentions. But that is another story. I am just saying that theory that puts Iran as the cradle of Aryans is wrong in my opinion, and brings a lot of confusion to researchers of this subject. Herodotus clearly mentions that Scythians have conquered Persia, going trough the Caucasian passage, directly where tribe of Sirbi can be seen on Ptolemy’s map. This is where Slavic chroniclers might have taken the idea about Serbs being in Babel.
In conclusion, it seems that ancestors of Serbs and Croats were indeed Scythian tribes, also labeled as Aryans at times. Their element was probably a proto-Slavic one, and not Iranian as it is almost exclusively understood nowadays. They started their journey in Ukrainian steppes and traveling great distances in a time frame that stretches over a several millennia, they moved from South to North, following the Balkan route trough Danube, and an Eastern route trough Ukraine. This happened long before the Germanic R1b even reached Europe, and certainly before the arrivals of Romans and Huns, after which Southern and Northern lands became forever separated. They were nomads, but well traveled ones and they were far from primitive barbarians. They were probably the first masters of iron, which still bears their name, and they may have named the constellation of Orion, to which many ancient monuments are aligned.
If you would like to read more on this topic on this blog you can check the following articles: