West Slavs

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West Slavs
Słowianie Zachodni (pl.)
Západní Slované (cz.)
Západní Slovania (sk.)
Zôpôdni Słowiónie (csb.)
Pódwjacorne Słowjany (dsb.)
Zapadni Słowjenjo (hsb.)
Slavic europe.svg
  West Slavic countries
Total population
c. 80 million
Regions with significant populations
Central Europe, historically Western Europe
(modern-day Eastern Germany)
Poles c. 60 million
Czechs c. 10–12 million
Slovaks c. 6–7 million
Silesians c. 2–5 million [1] (847,000 as nationality) [2]
(included in Poles)
Kashubians c. 500,000 [3] (228,000 as nationality) [2]
(included in Poles)
Moravians c. 500,000
(included in Czechs) (630 899 as nationality [4] )
Sorbs c. 60,000 [5] –80,000 [6]
(Poles, Slovaks, Silesians, Kashubians, Moravians and minority among Sorbs and Czechs)
Protestantism (majority among Sorbs)
irreligious (majority among Czechs)
Related ethnic groups
Other Slavs
(especially Catholic Slavs, i.e. Slovenes and Croats)
West Slav tribes in the 9th and 10th centuries West slavs 9th-10th c..png
West Slav tribes in the 9th and 10th centuries
Reconstruction of the Slavic temple in Gross Raden WalRhad.jpg
Reconstruction of the Slavic temple in Groß Raden

The West Slavs are a subgroup of Slavic peoples who speak the West Slavic languages. They separated from the common Slavic group around the 7th century, and established independent polities in Central Europe by the 8th to 9th centuries. The West Slavic languages diversified into their historically attested forms over the 10th to 14th centuries.


West Slavic speaking nations today include the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Sorbs and ethnic groups Kashubians, Moravians and Silesians. They inhabit a contiguous area in Central Europe stretching from the north of the Baltic Sea to the Sudetes and the Carpathian Mountains in the south, historically also across the Eastern Alps into the Apennine peninsula and the Balkan peninsula.

The West Slavic group can be divided into three subgroups: Lechitic, including Polish, Kashubian and the extinct Polabian and Pomeranian languages as well as Lusatian (Sorbian) and Czecho-Slovak. [7] Culturally, West Slavs developed along the lines of other Western European nations due to affiliation with the Roman Empire and Western Christianity. Thus, they experienced a cultural split with the other Slavic groups: while the East Slavs and part of South Slavs converted to Orthodox Christianity, thus being culturally influenced by the Byzantine Empire, all the West Slavs converted to Roman Catholicism, thus coming under the cultural influence of the Latin Church.


In the Middle Ages, the name "Wends" (derived from Roman-era Veneti) was applied to Western Slavic peoples. Mieszko I, the first historical ruler of Poland, also appeared as "Dagome, King of the Wends".[ citation needed ]

The early Slavic expansion began in the 5th century, and by the 6th century, the groups that would become the West, East and South Slavic groups had probably become geographically separated. The first independent West Slavic states originate beginning in the 7th century, with the Empire of Samo (623–658), the Principality of Moravia (8th century–833), the Principality of Nitra (8th century–833) and Great Moravia (833–c. 907). The Sorbs and other Polabian Slavs like Obodrites and Veleti came under the domination of the Holy Roman Empire after the Wendish Crusade [8] in the Middle Ages and had been strongly Germanized by Germans at the end of the 19th century. The Polabian language survived until the beginning of the 19th century in what is now the German state of Lower Saxony. [9]

At this time only 60,000-80,000 Sorbs have survived as a group which kept its language and traditions, living predominantly in Lusatia, a region in modern Germany in the states of Brandenburg and Saxony. [10] However, the process of Germanization should not be understood as an expulsion by German settlers. The relationship between Slavs and Germans varied, depending on time and region. Often, German and Slavic villages co-existed as neighbours for centuries. In today's Saxony, many geographic names, even these of major cities such as Dresden, Leipzig or Zwickau are of Slavic origin. The Wendish Crusade did not involve these areas and the development of Slavic and German interaction remained largely peaceful.

The central Polish tribe of Western Polans created their own state in the 10th century under the Polish duke Mieszko I. For many centuries Poland has had close ties with its western neighbors, with the Polish ruler Bolesław I the Brave declared by Holy Roman Emperor Otto III as Frater et Cooperator Imperii ("Brother and Partner in the Empire"). [11]

The precursors of the Czechs (i.e. Bohemians) migrated into Bohemia in the late 6th century and had established various fiefdoms by the 10th century when their rulers eventually became vassals (1002) of the Holy Roman Emperors. Kingdom of Bohemia stayed part of that Empire between 1002–1419 and 1526–1918. Predecessors of Slovaks came under Hungarian domination after 907 (doom of the Great Moravia) – together with other Slavic groups as Croats, Slovenians, Serbs and Rusyns. Both the Czechs and the Slovaks were under the rule of the Habsburg monarchy from 1526 to 1804; then in the Austrian Empire and between 1867 and 1918 part of Austria-Hungary.

Tribal groups

Bavarian Geographer

In 845 the Bavarian Geographer made a list of West Slavic tribes who lived in the areas of modern-day Poland, Czech Republic, Germany and Denmark: [13]

Pos.Latin name in 845English nameno. of gords
1NortabtreziNorth Obotrites 53
2Uuilci Veleti 95
7Hehfeldi Hevellians 8
14OsterabtreziEast Obotrites 100
15Miloxi Milceni [13] 67
16PhesnuziBesunzane [13] 70
17ThadesiDadosesani [13] 200
18Glopeani Goplans 400
33Lendizi Lendians 98
36Prissani Prissani 70
37Uelunzani Wolinians 70
48Uuislane Vistulans /
49Sleenzane Silesians 15
50Lunsizi Sorbs 30
51DadosesaniThadesi [13] 20
52Milzane Milceni 30
53BesunzanePhesnuzi [13] 2
56LupiglaaŁupigoła [13] 30
57Opolini Opolans 20
58Golensizi Golensizi 5

Linguistic grouping

West Slavic languages Zapadoslovanske.jpg
West Slavic languages

See also

Related Research Articles

Sorbian languages Language group in Lusatia, Europe

The Sorbian languages are two closely related, but only partially mutually intelligible, West Slavic languages spoken by the Sorbs, a West Slavic minority in the Lusatia region of eastern Germany. They are classified under the West Slavic branch of the Indo-European languages and are therefore closely related to the other two West Slavic subgroups: Lechitic and Czech–Slovak. Historically, the languages have also been known as Wendish or Lusatian. Their collective ISO 639-2 code is wen.

Slavs European ethno-linguistic group

Slavs are a European ethno-linguistic group of people who speak the various Slavic languages of the larger Balto-Slavic linguistic group of the Indo-European languages. They are native to Eurasia, stretching from Central, Southeastern and Eastern Europe, all the way north and eastwards to Northeast Europe, Northern Asia, and Central Asia, as well as historically in Western Europe and Western Asia. From the early 6th century they spread to inhabit most of Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Today, there is a large Slavic diaspora throughout the Americas, particularly in the United States, Canada, and Brazil as a result of immigration.

Wends Historical term for Slavs

Wends is a historical name for Slavs living near Germanic settlement areas. It refers not to a homogeneous people, but to various peoples, tribes or groups depending on where and when it was used. In the modern day, communities identifying as Wendish exist in Lusatia, Texas, and Australia.

Sorbs Ethnic group in Lusatia, Europe

Sorbs are a West Slavic ethnic group predominantly inhabiting Lusatia, a region divided between Germany and Poland. Sorbs traditionally speak the Sorbian languages, which are closely related to Polish, Kashubian, Czech, Silesian, and Slovak. Sorbian is an officially recognized minority language in Germany. Sorbs are genetically closest to the Poles and Czechs. They also share their origins with Serbs.

The Lechiticlanguages are a language subgroup consisting of Polish and several other languages and dialects that were originally spoken in the area. It is one of the branches of the larger West Slavic subgroup; the other branches of this subgroup are the Czech–Slovak languages and the Sorbian languages.

Lusatia Historical region

Lusatia is a historical region in Central Europe, split between Germany and Poland. Lusatia stretches from the Bóbr and Kwisa rivers in the east to the Pulsnitz and Black Elster rivers in the west, and is located within the German states of Saxony and Brandenburg as well as in the Polish voivodeships of Lower Silesia and Lubusz. Lusatia's central rivers are the Spree and the Lusatian Neisse, which constitutes the border between Germany and Poland since 1945. The Lusatian Mountains, separate Lusatia from Bohemia in the south. Lusatia is traditionally divided into Upper Lusatia and Lower Lusatia.

Czech lands

The Czech lands or the Bohemian lands are the three historical regions of Bohemia, Moravia, and Czech Silesia. Together the three have formed the Czech part of Czechoslovakia since 1918, the Czech Socialist Republic since 1 January 1969 and the Czech Republic since 1 January 1993. The term which refers to these three lands is Czechia.

West Slavic languages Subdivision of the Slavic language group

The West Slavic languages are a subdivision of the Slavic language group. They include Polish, Czech, Slovak, Kashubian, Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian. The languages are spoken across a continuous region encompassing the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland as well as the former East Germany and the westernmost regions of Ukraine and Belarus.

Polabian Slavs collective term applied to a number of West Slavic tribes

Polabian Slavs is a collective term applied to a number of Lechitic tribes who lived along the Elbe river in what is today eastern Germany. The approximate territory stretched from the Baltic Sea in the north, the Saale and the Limes Saxoniae in the west, the Ore Mountains and the Western Sudetes in the south, and Poland in the east. They have also been known as Elbe Slavs or Wends. Their name derives from the Slavic po, meaning "by/next to/along", and the Slavic name for the Elbe.

Veleti Lehitic ethnic group that formed around the 6th century

The Veleti, also known as Wilzi, Wielzians, and Wiltzes, were a group of medieval Lechitic tribes within the territory of Hither Pomerania, related to Polabian Slavs. They had formed together the Confederacy of the Veleti, a lose monarchic confederation of the tribes. Said state existed between 6th and 10th centuries, after what, it was succided by the Lutician Federation.

Upper Lusatia

Upper Lusatia is a historical region in Germany and Poland. Along with Lower Lusatia to the north, it makes up the region of Lusatia, named after the Slavic Lusici tribe. Both Lusatias are home to the West Slavic minority group of the Sorbs.


The Milceni or Milzeni were a West Slavic tribe, who settled in the present-day Upper Lusatia region. They were first mentioned in the middle of the 9th century AD by the Bavarian Geographer, who wrote of 30 civitates which possibly had fortifications. They were gradually conquered by Germans during the 10th century. Modern descendants of the Milceni are the Sorbs of the Free State of Saxony, Germany.

Lechites, also known as the Lechitic tribes, is a name given to certain West Slavic tribes who inhabited modern-day Poland and were speakers of the Lechitic languages. Distinct from the Czech–Slovak subgroup, they are the closest ancestors of ethnic Poles and the Pomeranians and Polabians.

Czech–Slovak languages

The Czech and Slovak languages form the Czech–Slovak subgroup within the West Slavic languages.

Pomerania during the Early Middle Ages

Pomerania during the Early Middle Ages covers the History of Pomerania from the 7th to the 11th centuries.

Samos Empire Early Medieval West Slavic tribal union

Samo's Empire is the historiographical name for the West Slavic tribal union established by King ("Rex") Samo, which existed between 631 and 658 in Central Europe. The centre of the union was most likely in Moravia and Nitravia (Nitra), additionally the union included Czech tribes, Sorbian tribes and other West Slavic tribes along the river Danube. The polity has been called the first Slavic state.

Sorbs (tribe)

The Surbi, also known as Sorbs in modern historiography, was an Early Slavic tribe in Lower Lusatia, part of the Wends. In the 7th century, the tribe was part of Samo's Empire. The tribe is last mentioned in the late 10th century, but its descendants are an ethnic group of Sorbs.

North Slavs Subgroup of Slavic peoples

The North Slavs are a subgroup of Slavic peoples who speak the North Slavonic languages, a classification which is not universally accepted although it has been in use for several centuries. They separated from the common Slavic group in the 7th century CE, and established independent polities in Central and Eastern Europe by the 8th and 9th centuries.


  1. "The Institute for European Studies, Ethnological institute of UW" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-08-16.
  2. 1 2 "Wyniki Narodowego Spisu Powszechnego 2011, GUS" (PDF). Retrieved 2011.Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  3. "The Institute for European Studies, Ethnological institute of UW" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-08-16.
  4. 2011 in Czech Republic and Census 2011 in Slovak Republic
  5. Catherine Hickley. Germany's Sorb Minority Fights to Save Villages From Vattenfall. Bloomberg. December 18, 2007.
  6. "Sorbs of East Germany". faqs.org. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  7. Bohemia and Poland. Chapter 20.pp 512-513. [in:] Timothy Reuter. The New Cambridge Medieval History: c. 900-c.1024. 2000
  8. Christiansen, Erik (1997). The Northern Crusades. London: Penguin Books. p. 287. ISBN   0-14-026653-4.
  9. Polabian language
  10. Die Sorben in Deutschland, M.Schiemann, Stiftung für das sorbische Volk, Görlitz 1997
  11. Rez. MA: M. Borgolte (Hg.): Polen und Deutschland vor 1000 Jahren - H-Soz-u-Kult / Rezensionen / Bücher
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Jerzy Strzelczyk. Bohemia and Poland: two examples of successful western Slavonic state-formation. In: Timothy Reuter ed. The New Cambridge Medieval History: c. 900-c. 1024. Cambridge University Press. 1995. p. 514.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Krzysztof Tomasz Witczak (2013). "Poselstwo ruskie w państwie niemieckim w roku 839: Kulisy śledztwa w świetle danych Geografa Bawarskiego". Slavia Orientalis (in Polish and English). 62 (1): 25–43.