Origins of the Croats

Who exactly are the Croats? Historians have long been aware that the name, Hrvati (Croats), is not a Slavic name; yet today's Croats are thoroughly Slavic in both language and ethnicity. Some historians believe the answer lies in Persia where a number of ancient documents and inscriptions mention the names Harauvat-is, Hu-urvatha and Horovathos (522 - 200 BC.). Proponents of this theory site similarities in the name Hrvati and the Persian word, hu-urvatha, meaning 'friend' or haurvata, meaning 'shepherd'. But how credible are these links and have they been drawn by historians who are proficient in Persian philology?

Some historians believe the answer to the latter question is 'no', citing alternative interpretations of the same words. According to Professor Radoslav Katicic of Zagreb and Vienna Universities, an expert on Indo-Iranian philology, Harauvat-is is the Indo-Iranian name of a river, and the similarity with the name Hrvati, is coincidental. However, he does not rule out the validity of theories behind the words hu-urvatha and haurvata.

Although historians disagree on the likelihood of Persian origins, they do agree that by the 4th century AD. Croats were a settled, resourceful, agrarian people, living in a state called White Croatia, encompassing today's Southern Poland. Their language, culture and ethnicity were entirely Slavic as was their administrative hierarchy. Extended families were organised into zadruga, which were in turn organised into plemena, which were in turn organised into zupe, and led by a zupan.

In the second and seventh centuries, the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) was under severe pressure from raiding Avars, Visigoths and Slavs. According to Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, an alliance was procured between the White Croatians and his predecessor, Emperor Heraclius (610 - 641), in which the latter requested the Croats to fight the Avars and expel them from the Empire. In return, he promised the Croats ownership of the liberated provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia. Heraclius' offer enticed a large group of White Croatians to settle in the two Roman provinces during the 620s, with the intention of organising it into a new state.

Those who remained in White Croatia, gradually melted into the present day Polish, Czech and Slovak nations. Interestingly, a large number of Poles, Czechs and Slovaks bear surnames with Croatian origins, for example: Horvat, Harvat, Horvath, Horvatik, Horvatic, Horvatovic, Horvathova, Horvatkova and Horvatovicova. According to a US Government report on immigration during the early 20th century, about 100,000 immigrants from Southern Poland declared their nationality to be "Bielo-Chorvat" or White Croatian.

The White Croatians who moved south, settled in the areas known today as Slavonia, Istria, Dalmatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and the coastal region of Montenegro; maintaining their administrative hierarchy of zadruga, plemena and zupa.

Pope John IV (640 - 642), who originated from Roman Dalmatia, took a great interest in the Croats and sent a mission led by Abbot Martin, to establish ties. The Croats were welcomed by many who saw them as liberators from incessant Avar attacks. Shortly after their first contact with Christianity, the Croats gradually converted, starting with those who settled in Dalmatia and Istria (due to their close proximity to former Roman settlements). Slavonian Croats and Bosnian Croats followed shortly afterward. The process of conversion lasted approximately 160 - 180 years with the entire nation fully converted by the early 800s.

The close relationship with the Holy Roman Church and Western Europe, plus the convenient situation for commerce on the Adriatic, enabled Croatia to develop slightly faster than their brethren who remained in White Croatia. In 925, Tomislav was blessed by Pope John X as King of Croatia, establishing the first durable and permanent kingdom in Central and Eastern Europe.

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