Slovenia: Alpine Slavs of the Migration Period

For my next contribution to the ABC of world history I’ve drawn S for Slovenia! For which I decided to take the chance to look into my favourite era of Slavic history: the migration period.

When compared with its other south Slavic neighbours, Slovenia definitely has some differences, most of which can perhaps be attributed to its geographical location and features. Being situated on the very eastern edge of the Alps is certainly a significant feature in Slovenian history, as is being on the very western edge of the Balkan region. Unlike the rest of their south Slavic cousins, who spent much of their history under the rule of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, the Slovenes instead found themselves within the Carolingian, and then the Holy Roman Empire. Despite the differences in history, Slovenia is certainly a south Slavic country, with a language very closely related to that of Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia, and there are distinctly Slavic indigenous Slovenes in neighbouring regions of Italy and Austria.

So what is the story of the first Slavs that settled in the region that was to become Slovenia? To begin with let’s go back to the first Slavs in general. The original term used for Slavs in the region “Sclavenes” was used in sixth century Byzantine sources as an umbrella term for a multitude of groups living north of the Danube frontier which could not otherwise be classified as either Huns or Gepids. They were also mentioned as having appeared at the Byzantine borders along with the “Antes”, another Slavic group which would become known as East Slavs. To these Byantine, largely military authors the Sclavenes were essentially seen as a new kind of enemy to be aware of to the extent that their forms of warfare were different from other barbarians. This likely means that a general Sclavene or Slavic ethnicity was initially an invention of the early Byzantines. But invention does not mean pure fiction, as Byzantine authors seem to have used “Sclavene” to make sense of a process of group identification which was taking place under before their eyes on the frontier of the Empire. An identity did certainly seem to take form during this time, with evidence in distinct styles of material culture spreading amongst these communities north of the Danube. This was perhaps as a direct result of the isolation lack of movement that the fortified frontier caused, as political and military mobilization was the response to the conditions that various groups of proto-slavs took, and increased social competition led to the rise of leaders among them.

Continue reading “Slovenia: Alpine Slavs of the Migration Period”