The term "Slavs" designates an ethnic group of people who share a long-term cultural continuity and who speak a set of related languages known as the Slavic languages (all of which belong to the Indo-European language family). Little is known about the Slavs before they are mentioned in Byzantine records of the 6th century CE, and most of what we know about them prior to this time is mainly derived from archaeological and linguistic studies. The Byzantine authors refer to the Slavs as "Sclaveni".


The Slavs are the least documented group among the so called "barbarian" enemies of Rome during late antiquity, so there is no scholarly consensus regarding their origin. Authors who wrote about the Slavs do not agree: some say the Slavs were nomads, and others claim they lived in permanent settlements located in forests and swamps; some accounts say they lived under the rule of a king, while others that they embraced a form of democracy. In addition to these discrepancies, we must bear in mind that most of these accounts are filled with the bias of the Romans, who saw all barbarian peoples as primitive, uncivilized, and violent.

Based on archaeological evidence, we know that Proto-Slavic people were already active by 1,500 BCE from Poland to Belarus.

Some authors have traced the origin of the Slavs back to indigenous Iron Age tribes living in the valleys of the Oder and Vistula rivers (in present-day Poland and the Czech Republic) around the 1st century CE. This is, however, still a matter of debate. Based on archaeological evidence, we know that Proto-Slavic people were already active by 1,500 BCE within an area that stretched roughly from western Poland to the Dnieper River in Belarus. Rather than having a centre of origin of the Slavic culture, it seems more reasonable to consider a wide territory in which a common cultural trait was shared by its inhabitants.

Linguistic evidence suggests that at some stage during their early times, the territory of the Slavs reached into the western region of Russia and the southern Russian steppes, where they came in contact with Iranian speaking groups. This is based on Slavic languages sharing a striking number of words with the Iranian languages, which can only be explained through diffusion from Iranian into Slavic. Later on, as they moved westward, they came into contact with German tribes and again borrowed several additional terms from Germanic languages. Interestingly, a Polish thinker named Józef Rostafiński had noticed that in all Slavic languages the words for beech, larch, and yew are borrowed from foreign languages, which implies that during early times these type of trees were unknown to the Slavs, a suggestion that could be used as a clue to determine where the Slavic culture originated.


We have very little Slavic mythological material; writing wasn't introduced into Slavic culture until the 9th and 10th centuries CE, during the process of Christianisation.

One important god of the Slavs was Perun, who was related to the Baltic god Perkuno. Like the Norse god Thor, Perun was a thunder god, considered a supreme god by some Slavs, just like Thor was considered the most important god by some Germanic peoples. The male god of youth and spring, named Jarilo (or Iarilo), and his female counterpart, Lada, the goddess of love, were also ranked highly in the Slavic pantheon. Both Jarilo and Lada were gods who died and were resurrected each year, and Jarilo in particular might have had a connection with fertility motifs. During the rise of Christianity, Jarilo played an important role, as he had some attributes in common with Jesus Christ.

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Several multiple-headed gods were also included in Slavic mythology, such as Svantovit (or Svantevit), the god of war, who had four heads, two of them males and the other two females; Porevit, with five heads, representing the summer; Rujevit, with seven faces, the incarnation of autumn; and Triglav, who displayed three heads and was simultaneously looking into the sky, the earth, and the underworld.


In the middle of the 5th century CE, a political vacuum affected the entire region of the Balkans as a result of the fall of the Hunnic Empire. Attila's campaigns left large areas south of the Danube unsuitable for living and therefore empty. The borders of the Roman Empire bordering the Balkans were kept with difficulty, as new groups were moving within the devastated region. Among these new groups were the Slavs.

Between 531 and 534 CE Roman forces engaged in a series of military campaigns against the Slavs and other groups. During the 550s CE the Slavs advanced towards Thessalonica, entering the region of the Hebrus River and the Thracian coast, destroying several fortified settlements and (according to Roman sources) turning women and children into slaves and killing the adult males. However, they could not reach their target: Thessalonica was saved from disaster due to the presence of a Roman army under the command of Germanus. Later during the early 580s CE, the Slavs combined with the Avars to overwhelm Greece, Thrace, and Thessaly.

The Romans made a pact with the Avars, who received an annual payment of 100,000 gold solidi in return for leaving the Roman borders untouched. The Slavs, on the other hand, did not take part in the agreement, and they marched on to Constantinople in 585 CE but were driven off by the Roman defence. The Slavs continued attacking other settlements, and they finally established the first Slavic permanent settlements in Greece.

Early in the 600s CE, Rome organized a campaign against the Slavs with no positive results. The Slavs and the Avars joined together once again, forming a massive force in 626 CE and, aided by the Bulgars, laid siege to Constantinople. The barbarian coalition almost accomplished its goal, but the Romans managed to repel the attack. After this event, the Avar-Slav alliance came to an end. The Slav occupation of Greece lasted until the 9th century CE, when the Byzantines finally expelled them. By that time, the Slavs had a solid presence in the Balkans and other regions in central and eastern Europe.


Early in the Middle Age, the Slavs occupied a large region, which encouraged the emergence of several independent Slav states. From the 10th century CE onwards, the Slavs underwent a process of gradual cultural divergence that produced a set of closely related but mutually unintelligible languages classified as part of the Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family.

Today, a large number of Slavic languages are still spoken including Bulgarian, Czech, Croatian, Polish, Serbian, Slovak, Russian, and many others, stretching from central and eastern Europe down into Russia.

Slave (n.)

late 13c., "person who is the chattel or property of another," from Old French esclave (13c.), from Medieval Latin Sclavus "slave" (source also of Italian schiavo , French esclave , Spanish esclavo ), originally "Slav" (see Slav) so used in this secondary sense because of the many Slavs sold into slavery by conquering peoples.

Meaning "one who has lost the power of resistance to some habit or vice" is from 1550s. Applied to devices from 1904, especially those which are controlled by others (compare slave jib in sailing, similarly of locomotives, flash bulbs, amplifiers). Slave-driver is attested from 1807 extended sense of "cruel or exacting task-master" is by 1854. Slave state in U.S. history is from 1812. Slave-trade is attested from 1734.

Old English Wealh "Briton" also began to be used in the sense of "serf, slave" c. 850 and Sanskrit dasa- , which can mean "slave," apparently is connected to dasyu- "pre-Aryan inhabitant of India." Grose's dictionary (1785) has under Negroe "A black-a-moor figuratively used for a slave," without regard to race. More common Old English words for slave were þeow (related to þeowian "to serve") and þræl (see thrall). The Slavic words for "slave" (Russian rab , Serbo-Croatian rob , Old Church Slavonic rabu ) are from Old Slavic *orbu , from the PIE root *orbh- (also source of orphan (n.)), the ground sense of which seems to be "thing that changes allegiance" (in the case of the slave, from himself to his master). The Slavic word is also the source of robot.

2. Myth #2: The South seceded from the Union over the issue of states’ rights, not slavery.

This myth, that the Civil War wasn’t fundamentally a conflict over slavery, would have been a surprise to the original founders of the Confederacy. In the official declaration of the causes of their secession in December 1860, South Carolina’s delegates cited 𠇊n increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery.” According to them, the Northern interference with the return of fugitive slaves was violating their constitutional obligations they also complained that some states in New England tolerated abolitionist societies and allowed Black men to vote. 

As James W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me and The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader, wrote in the Washington Post: “In fact, Confederates opposed states’ rights—that is, the right of Northern states not to support slavery.” The idea that the war was somehow not about slavery but about the issue of states’ rights was perpetuated by later generations anxious to redefine their ancestors’ sacrifices as a noble protection of the Southern way of life. At the time, however, Southerners had no problem claiming the protection of slavery as the cause of their break with the Union.

Slavs of America An Essay

The current estimated population of Slavs in America is over 20 million.
( America's Slavs are mostly descendants of : Poles, Russians, Czechs, Ukrainians, Slovak, Croatians and Bosnians. Residing mostly in Midwest and Northeast of America )

The top 10 States with the most Slavic Americans ( Poles, Russians, Czech and Slovaks ) are:
New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania .

Does anyone know the true number of Slavic Americans in this country?

Who is representing you? Who's fault is it?

Slavic Americans and the coming elections.
Our financial resources may be limited. But, our constituency doesn't have to be. Therefore, let's forget our past European differences and unite. Due to past European history, this may be a "hard pill to swallow" and justly so. But, this is America and Americans don't much care about history and look toward the future ( it all started with George Washington).

There is always something "new" on the American mind. We, Slavic Americans (thank God), must also think "new". Otherwise, we will get lost in the political shuffle. Look at the data and judge for yourself.

Besides voting on the issues presented to us by any candidate, regardless of race, religion, national origin or sex, let's inform that candidate in advance of any other issues that we may have as Slavic Americans.

With a large constituency, we just don't vote on the issues - we can have some control over the issues. Therefore during elections, unite and support the candidate that can best represent you.

At least, let's get counted as Slavic Americans. With a large constituency, the elected politician(s) can't afford to ignore us any longer.

How do Slavs of America compare to other ethnic groups?

[ Population, Education, Income ]

If the data from the Census Bureau is correct, then why are we so poorly represented in political offices.

Although some progress has been made by some ethnic (Slavic) groups, we have the determination and the manpower to be politically equal. Therefore, let's support each other and those who support us.

Political power is more than just political.


Belarussians Croatians Poles Serbs Slovenes Wends Yugoslavs "Coming together is a beginning keeping together is progress working together is success " --Henry Ford"
Bosnians Czechs Macedonians Russians Rusyns Slovaks Ukrainians

The Origin of the Slavs from the Bronze Age

Tradition and the Polish Immigrant
University of Delaware Library
( Special Collections Department )

If you've found this site useful, please link to us so that others can benefit. Please let us know so that we may link to you. ( No Adult sites, Please )

Origin of Slavs and Little of Slavic History
"Little is known of the origins of Slavs. Philologists and archaeologists theorize that the Slavs settled very early in the Carpathian Mountains or in the area of present-day Belarus. By A.D. 600, they had split linguistically into southern, western, and eastern branches.The East Slavs settled along the Dnepr River in what is now Ukraine then they spread northward to the northern Volga River valley, east of modern-day Moscow, and westward to the basins of the northern Dnestr and the western Bug rivers, in present-day Moldavia and southern Ukraine. "
The Library of Congress Country Studies

More On Early History from Library of Congress: See Opposite Side.

West Slavs or the Polanie People
" Westward migration and gradual differentiation of the early West Slavic tribes following the collapse of the Roman Empire. About twenty such tribes formed small states between 800 and 960 AD. One of these tribes, the Polanie or Poliane "people o.f the plain", settled in the flatlands that eventually formed the heart of Poland, lending their name to the country. Over time the modern Poles established themselves to the east of the Germanic regions of Europe with their ethnographic cousins, the Czechs and Slovaks, to the south."

--The Library of Congress Country Studies

More On Early History from Library of Congress: See Opposite Side.
Czechs Slovaks Polish

Who are the Slavs?
"Although little is known of the early history of the Slavs, they had by the seventh century A.D. divided into three distinguishable groups the eastern, western and the southern group."

East Slavs, South Slavs and West Slavs
"The East Slavs, ancestors of the Russians, the Ukrainians, and the Belarussians. The West Slavs, ancestors of the Poles, the Czechs, and the Slovaks. And the South Slavs, ancestors of the Bulgarians, the Serbs, and the Croatians"

More On Early History From Library of Congress: See Opposite Side

--The Library of Congress Country Studies

Religion of the Slavs
The two major religious groups are the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic. Other religious groups are: Muslim, Jewish, Protestant and other. Click the links above to see the religion practiced in each individual country.

Articles Featuring Slavery In America From History Net Magazines

It had been decades since the first mention of the issue in Parliament. In 1791, 163 Members of the Commons had voted against abolition. Very few MPs dared to defend the trade on moral grounds, even in the early debates. Instead, they called attention to the many economic and political reasons to continue it. Those who profited from the trade made up a large vested interest, and everyone knew that an end to the slave trade also jeopardized the entire plantation system. &ldquoThe property of the West Indians is at stake,&rdquo said one MP, &ldquoand, though men may be generous with their own property, they should not be so with the property of others.&rdquo Abolition of the British trade could also give France an economic and naval advantage.

Before the parliamentary debates, Englishmen like John Locke, Daniel Defoe, John Wesley and Samuel Johnson had already spoken against slavery and the trade. In a stuffy party at Oxford, Dr. Johnson once offered the toast, &ldquoHere&rsquos to the next insurrection of the Negroes in the West Indies.&rsquo&rsquo Amid such scattered protests, the Quakers were the first group to organize and take action against slavery. Those on both sides of the Atlantic faced expulsion from the Society if they still owned slaves in 1776. In 1783 the British Quakers established the antislavery committee that played a huge role in abolition.

The committee began by distributing pamphlets on the trade to both Parliament and the public. Research became an important aspect of the abolitionist strategy, and Thomas Clarkson&rsquos investigations on slave ships and in the trade&rsquos chief cities provided ammunition for abolition&rsquos leading parliamentary advocate, William Wilberforce.

Mockingly&mdashand sometimes respectfully others called Wilberforce and his friends &ldquothe Saints,&rdquo for their Evangeli- cal faith and championing of humanitarian causes. The Saints worked to humanize the penal code, advance popular education, improve conditions for laborers and reform the &ldquomanners&rdquo or morals of England. Abolition, however, was the &ldquofirst object&rdquo of Wilberforce&rsquos life, and he pursued it both in season and out.

May 12, 1789, was clearly out of season for abolition. Sixty members of the West Indian lobby were present, and the trade&rsquos supporters had already called abolition a &ldquomad, wild, fanatical scheme of enthusiasts.&rdquo Wilberforce spoke for more than three hours. Although the House ended by adjourning the matter, the Times reported that both sides thought Wilberforce&rsquos speech was one of the best that Parliament had ever heard.

Wilberforce had concluded with a solemn moral charge: &ldquoThe nature and all the circumstances of this trade are now laid open to us. We can no longer plead ignorance.&rdquo Having failed to obtain a final vote, the abolitionists redoubled their efforts to lay open the facts of the trade before the British people. So far, the public had easily ignored what it could not see, and there had been no slaves in England since 1772. English people saw slave ships loading and unloading only goods, never people. Few knew anything of the horrors of the middle passage from Africa.

Over time, it became more and more difficult for anyone to plead ignorance of this matter. William Cowper&rsquos poem &ldquoThe Negro&rsquos Complaint&rdquo circulated widely and was set to music. Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, by an African man named Ottabah Cugoano, also became popular reading. Thomas Clarkson and others toured the country and helped to establish local antislavery committees.

These committees in turn held frequent public meetings, campaigned for a boycott of West Indian sugar in favor of East and circulated petitions. When, in 1792, Wilberforce again gave notice of a motion, 499 petitions poured in. Although few MPs favored immediate abolition, this public outcry was hard to ignore.

An amendment inserting the word &ldquogradual&rdquo into the abolition motion eventually carried the day. While in theory a victory of conscience, the bill as it then stood came to nothing. The abolitionist cause endured disappointments and delays each year following until 1804 and each year, British ships continued to carry tens of thousands of Africans into slavery in the Western Hemisphere.
Anxiety about the bloody aftermath of the French Revolution contributed to Parliament&rsquos conservative, gradualist decision in 1792 and the next year brought war with France. Wartime England lost her fervor for the cause. Although Wilberforce stubbornly brought his motion in Parliament each year until 1801, only two very small measures on behalf of the oppressed Africans succeeded in the first decade of the war. Respect for Wilberforce and his ilk turned to annoyance, and many seconded James Boswell&rsquos sentiments:

Go W&mdash with narrow skull,
Go home and preach away at Hull&hellip
Mischief to trade sits on your lip.
Insects will gnaw the noblest ship.
Go W&mdash, begone, for shame,
Thou dwarf with big resounding name.

The state of affairs in France also brought abolitionist ideals under suspicion. One earl thundered: &ldquoWhat does the abolition of the slave trade mean more or less in effect, than liberty and equality? What more or less than the rights of man? And what is liberty and equality and what are the rights of man, but the foolish fundamental principles of this new philosophy?&rdquo

Even so, after more than a decade, the war with France began to lose its sense of urgency, however much the future of the world might&mdashand did&mdashhang in the balance. Slowly, public opinion began to reawaken and assert itself against the trade.

Conditions in Parliament also became more favorable. Economic hardship and competition with promising new colonies weakened the position of the old West Indians. In 1806 abolitionists in Parliament managed to secure the West Indian vote on a bill that destroyed the three-quarters of the trade that was not with the West Indies. This bill, though in the West Indians&rsquo competitive interest, also did much to pave the way for the 1807 decision.

On the night of the decisive 283-16 vote for total abolition of the trade in 1807, the House of Commons stood and cheered for the persistent Wilberforce, who for his part hung his head and wept. The bill became law on March 25, and was effective as of January 1, 1808.

At home after the great vote, Wilberforce called gleefully to his friend Henry Thornton, &ldquoWell, Henry, what shall we abolish next?&rdquo Thornton replied, &ldquoThe lottery, I think!&rdquo&mdashbut the more obvious answer was the institution of slavery itself.

For the next century, England fought diplomatic battles on many fronts to reduce the foreign slave trade. British smugglers were stopped in their tracks by the 1811 decision that made slaving punishable by deportation to Botany Bay. Smuggling under various flags threatened to continue the Atlantic trade after other nations had abolished it, and the British African Squadron patrolled the West African coast until after the American Civil War.

In 1833 slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. This radical break was possible partly through an &ldquoapprenticeship&rdquo system, and a settlement to the planters amounting to 40 percent of the government&rsquos yearly income. The news reached Wilberforce two days before his death. &ldquoThank God that I should have lived to witness a day in which England is willing to give 20 millions Sterling for the abolition of slavery,&rdquo he said.

Some time before, Wilberforce had said, &ldquothat such a system should so long have been suffered to exist in any part of the British Empire will seem to our posterity almost incredible.&rdquo He was right. It is bittersweet, 200 years later, to commemorate the end of one of the most atrocious crimes in history. Yet the dismantling of an immensely profitable and iniquitous system, over a relatively short period of time and in spite of many obstacles, is certainly something to commemorate.

This article by Andrea Curry was originally published in the May 2007 issue of British Heritage Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to British Heritage magazine today!

The Earliest Origins of the Kievan Rus’

From the earliest times, the shores of the Baltic Sea were inhabited by Slavic tribes . But the old Balts, ancient cousins of the Slavs, only thrived in the northwestern area of the Baltic Sea. From those lands, all the way south to the Black Sea , the East Slavic tribes thrived for many decades, always settling the easternmost reaches of Slavic tribal expansion.

In the very north, around the city of Novgorod, the tribe of Ilmen Slavs or Slovenes, who were linguistically connected to the Polabian Slavs to the West, thrived. Neighboring them were the important Kryvichi, a powerful Slavic tribal union. Other Slovene neighbors included the Drevlyans, the Volhynians, the Polans, the Radimichs, the Dregovichs, and the Vyatichs. To the north of the Slovenes were the Finnic tribes , mainly Chuds and Veps. And to the East were the Volga Finnic tribes, the Mordvins, Merya, Mari, and the Muromians.

Kievan Rus' trade negotiations with the Eastern Slavs. ( Public domain )

The multitude of tribes, different languages, and cultures made for an interesting setting. However, relations between these tribes were largely peaceful, with only minor conflicts.

The Slavic and Finnic tribes of the region were for the most part simple, peaceful agrarians. They were worshippers of a well-developed natural polytheistic pantheon, without a strong central authority. These tribes were for the most part familial clans, similar to the Scottish Highland clans or the old Serbian tribes of Montenegro.

The East Slavic and Finnic tribes were relatively easy to exploit by their larger and more powerful neighbors. Around the 9 th century AD, the territories of these peoples were continuously influenced by the Khazars to the southeast, and the Varangians to the northwest. These Varangians (Old Norse Væringjar) were Vikings, Norsemen mostly from Sweden, who sailed eastwards through the river systems of the lands they called Garðaríki (The Realm of Towns). These river systems were protected by Slavic river forts. At some point the Varangians began settling in these lands, and soon after they imposed a tribute “tax” on the Slavic tribes.

According to the writings of the Primary Chronicle , the Slavs fought the Varangians in 862, and drove them out of their lands. But soon after, as they had no centralized leadership, they lapsed once more into inter-tribal conflicts, much to their disadvantage. It is said that these tribes decided to let the Varangians govern them according to certain laws, in order have centralized rule for a greater cause.

Relying on ancient writings such as the Primary Chronicle for the definitive historical facts can be questioned. We can’t know for sure whether the Norse rulers were “invited” to rule over the Slavic tribes, or if they imposed their rule through force and power. Nonetheless, it is known that three prominent Varangian chiefs settled in the most prominent Slavic towns as rulers. These were Sineus, Truvor, and Rurik, and they ruled Izborsk, Beloozero, and Novgorod, respectively. Soon after, only Rurik remained alive, and thus he became the sole ruler of the entire realm, and the progenitor of a powerful ruling dynasty known as the Rurikids, which ruled over Russia until 1610.

How the Norsemen of the North Became the Kievan Rus’
But who were these Rus’ people over whose lands did the Rurikids began to rule? To this day, the ethnicity of the Rus’ people is debated. The name Rus’, still an extant Slavic word, could easily come from the Proto-Slavic word *rusъ, which means “fair-haired, blonde.” But whether these were Norse immigrants into Slavic lands, or Slavs themselves, cannot be stated with certainty. Either way, the small Norse population that came to rule over the Slavs quickly became assimilated into Slavic society and culture, and their Norse names were Slavicized.

The first Rurikids during the rise of the Kievan Rus’ (Братья Белоусовы / Public domain )

After Rurik died in 879 AD his kinsman, Prince Oleg (Old Norse Helgi) became regent, since Rurik’s son Igor (Old Norse Ingvar) was still too young to rule. A year after becoming regent, Oleg of Novgorod sailed his forces up the Dnieper River to Kiev, capturing several towns on the way. He killed the two Norse chieftains in Kiev, Askold and Dir, captured the city, and made it the capital of all Rus’ lands thereby creating the foundation of the Kievan Rus’.

From Kiev, Oleg of Novgorod led further campaigns along many river systems into the lands of the Slavs. He conquered the Slavs, imposed his rule, taxed them, and consolidated his power. The area of the Kievan Rus’ was a highly lucrative location, and the Norse peoples clearly understood this fact when entering Rus’ lands. Major trade routes passed through the lands of the Slavs, and the region was rich in natural resources, slaves, and furs. These economic factors gave the Kievan Rus’ the wealth and power for further greatness.

From his new capital of Kiev, Oleg soon launched an ambitious raid on the heart of the Byzantine Empire : Constantinople. In 907 AD, with the Slavic warriors at his back, he successfully attacked Constantinople and affixed his shield to its gates. The attack concluded with a trade agreement which greatly benefited the Kievan Rus’.

Oleg’s successor was Igor. He continued the expansion of the Kievan Rus’, and besieged Constantinople twice, in 941 and 944 AD. In 945 AD, he concluded a favorable peace treaty with the Byzantines. In that same year, Prince Igor was killed by the Slavs while exacting tribute from them. The Slavs bent two tall, young birch trees, tied the Prince between them, and let them spring back into position, thus tearing him into pieces. He was eventually succeeded by his son, the legendary Sviatoslav I of Kiev.

The Ideal Kievan Rus’ Warrior – Sviatoslav of Kiev
In the history of the Kievan Rus’, Sviatoslav was the first Rurikid ruler to rule over a dynasty with a Slavic name (Sviato Slav – holy Slav ), indicating the speed of their assimilation into Slavic society. Of course, it is possible that Sviatoslav was named to further appease the Slavic tribes and make the Rurikid rulers more acceptable.

Sviatoslav reigned from Kiev from 945 to his death in 972 AD and is one of the most famous rulers of the Kievan Rus’. His rule was marked by continuous and successful military campaigns in the east and to the south, campaigns that led directly to the collapse of two very powerful entities: the First Bulgarian Empire and Khazaria.

Sviatoslav’s rule clearly demonstrates the true nature of the Rurikid rule. He further divided the Slavs, and from Kiev he led conquests to successfully subdue the semi-independent East Slavic tribes. And he continued to defeat the Alans and the Volga Bulgars . At the same time, he frequently formed alliances with the Pechenegs and Magyars, traditional enemies of Slavs.

However, Sviatoslav I was probably the first Rurikid ruler to be thoroughly Slavicized, only his Norse heritage argued otherwise. His appearance is well documented. He wore the traditional Slavic side hair lock, had a large moustache, and swore by the Slavic gods Perun and Veles.

Sviatoslav’s highly successful and influential reign ended abruptly in 972 AD when he was assassinated. To hamper his success and further the enmity between the Pechenegs and the Kievan Rus’, the Byzantines bribed the Pecheneg Khan to assassinate Sviatoslav. This occurred at the Khortitsa cataracts. The Pecheneg Khan made his skull into a drinking cup.

After Sviatoslav’s death, the history of the Kievan Rus’ entered a crucial period. He had three sons, two, Oleg and Yaropolk, by an unknown wife, and one, Vladimir, by a bondswoman, a Slavic servant woman named Malusha. After Sviatoslav’s death tensions between the three sons grew as they all vied for the throne of the Kievan Rus’.

These tensions culminated in a full-fledged war between Yaropolk and Oleg in 976 AD. Oleg was killed in this conflict leaving only Yaropolk and Vladimir. Upon hearing of his brother’s death, Vladimir fled to Scandinavia to his cousin Haakon Sigurdsson, to avoid being killed. There he assembled a force of Viking mercenaries, and returned to his lands in 980 AD. He then murdered Yaropolk through treachery and became the sole ruler of the Kievan Rus’.

The Height of Kievan Rus’ Power Under Yaroslav I
Once he became the ruler, Vladimir brought Kievan Rus’ to its greatest heights of power and influence. He became Vladimir the Great, Grand Prince, and continued the steady expansion of his lands. And, due to the political influences of the time, Vladimir renounced the pagan Slavic faith and proceeded to formally Christianize Kievan Rus’.

As was expected, when Vladimir died, his sons immediately began feuding for the right to rule. His son, Sviatopolk I killed three of his own brothers, but was eventually defeated by his remaining brother, Yaroslav.

Yaroslav the Wise leads the Kievan Rus' to their greatest glory ( Public domain )

Yaroslav I or Yaroslav The Wise ruled over Kievan Rus’ for a long period, and during that time Kievan Rus’ reached its absolute peak in military, cultural, and political power. He successfully consolidated his rule, protected all his borders, and successfully campaigned against the Byzantines. Furthermore, he began the important codification of legal customs, which evolved into a code of law, the first of its kind in Kievan Rus’ history.

Unfortunately, after the death of Yaroslav I, the power of the Kievan Rus’ gradually declined. Regional clans and rulers gained more power, which greatly fragmented the state. Furthermore, successions became increasingly difficult, with brothers constantly feuding and murdering each other in order to attain power. From these feuds emerged a pronounced fragmentation, and conflict between major cities. These conflicts produced the Republic of Novgorod , and the Principality of Polotsk, who both feuded for power. In the north, Slavs began forming a territory that would become the foundation of the later Grand Duchy of Moscow, another fragmentation of Kievan Rus’ lands. These regional feuds also created another principality, Vladimir-Suzdal.

A battle between the Republic of Novgorod and Vladimir-Suzdal after the fall of Kievan Rus’ (Public domain )

All of these feuds and fragmentations created a highly unstable political situation in the region, and effectively left the once all-powerful Kievan Rus’ in a state of decline. When the Mongols invaded Kievan Rus’ lands in the 13 th century AD, this dissolution of what was once Kievan Rus’ was finally complete. The Kievan Rus’ lands would not be united again until 1547 AD, with the emergence of the Russian Empire under Ivan IV the Terrible.

Ultimately Greed Defined Kievan Rus’ Success and Failure
The history of the Kievan Rus’ is certainly interesting. Although the Kievan Rus’ did not rule for centuries, their importance cannot be denied. As is almost always the case with great, powerful, and wealthy nations and dynasties, greed drove a destabilizing wedge between brothers, sons, and fathers, ultimately leading to downfall.

Greed was the defining trait of the Vikings. They saw the potentials for power and wealth in the undisturbed lands of the Slavs, and they exploited that potential. And from those Vikings only one rose to prominence. Rurik and his descendants ruled for centuries and accomplished great deeds that significantly influenced the developments of global history. These deeds led to the emergence of the Russian Empire , and many other important developments. If the Kievan Rus’ didn’t rule over the Slavs, how different would our lives be today?

Top image: Calling of the Varangians, part of early Kievan Rus' history Source: Алексей Кившенко / Public domain

Abolition in Recent Times

  • 1950-1989 International anti-slavery work slows during the Cold War, as the Soviet Block argues that slavery can only exist in capitalist societies, and the Western Block argues that all people living under communism are slaves. Both new and traditional forms of slavery in the developing world receive little attention.
  • 1954 China passes the State Regulation on Reform through Labor, allowing prisoners to be used for labor in the laogai prison camps.
  • 1956 The Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery regulates practices involving serfdom, debt bondage, the sale of wives, and child servitude.
  • 1962 Slavery is abolished in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
  • 1964 The sixth World Muslim Congress, the world’s oldest Muslim organization, pledges global support for all anti-slavery movements.
  • 1973 The U.N. General Assembly adopts the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, which outlaws a number of inhuman acts, including forced labor, committed for the purposes of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group over another.
  • 1974 Mauritania’s emancipated slaves form the El Hor (“freedom”) movement to oppose slavery, which continues to this day. El Hor leaders insist that emancipation is impossible without realistic means of enforcing anti-slavery laws and giving former slaves the means of achieving economic independence. El Hor demands land reform and encourages the formation of agricultural cooperatives.
  • 1975 The U.N. Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery is founded to collect information and make recommendations on slavery and slavery-like practices around the world.
  • 1976 India passes a law banning bonded labor.
  • 1980 Slavery is abolished for the fourth time in the Islamic republic of Mauritania, but the situation is not fundamentally changed. Although the law decrees that “slavery” no longer exists, the ban does not address how masters are to be compensated or how slaves are to gain property.
  • 1989 The National Islamic Front takes over the government of Sudan and begins to arm Baggara tribesmen to fight the Dinka and Nuer tribes in the south. These new militias raid villages, capturing and enslaving inhabitants.
  • 1989 The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child promotes basic health care, education, and protection for the young from abuse, exploitation, or neglect at home, at work, and in armed conflicts. All countries ratify it except Somalia and the United States.
  • 1990 After adoption by 54 countries in the 1980s, the 19th Conference of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference formally adopts the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which states that “human beings are born free, and no one has the right to enslave, humiliate, oppress, or exploit them.”
  • 1992 The Pakistan National Assembly enacts the Bonded Labor Act, which abolishes indentured servitude and the peshgi, or bonded money, system. However, the government fails to provide for the implementation and enforcement of the law’s provisions.
  • 1995 The U.S. government issues the Model Business Principles, which urges all businesses to adopt and implement voluntary codes of conduct, including the avoidance of child and forced labor, as well as discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, or religious beliefs.
  • 1995 Christian Solidarity International, a Swiss-based charity, begins to liberate slaves in Southern Sudan by buying them back. The policy ignites widespread controversy—many international agencies argue that buying back slaves supports the market in human beings and feeds resources to slaveholders.
  • 1996 The RugMark campaign is established in Germany to ensure that handwoven rugs are not made with slave or child labor. In 2010, RugMark changes its name to GoodWeave.
  • 1996 The World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children is held.
  • 1997 The U.N. establishes a commission of inquiry to investigate reports of the widespread enslavement of people by the Burmese government.
  • 1997 The United States bans imported goods made by child-bonded labor.
  • 1998 The Global March against Child Labor is established to coordinate worldwide demonstrations against child labor and to call for a U.N. Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.
  • 1999 Despite being barred from entering Burma, the U.N. collects sufficient evidence to publicly condemn government-sponsored slavery, including unpaid forced labor and a brutal political system built on the use of force and intimidation to deny democracy and the rule of law.
  • 1999 The ILO passes the Convention Against the Worst Forms of Child Labor, which establishes widely recognized international standards protecting children against forced or indentured labor, child prostitution and pornography, their use in drug trafficking, and other harmful work.
  • 1999 The first global analysis of modern slavery and its role in the global economy, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, estimates that there are 27 million people in slavery worldwide.


The recession of the late 19th century hit the US. Knight riders went out in the dark, burning the homes of African Americans who bought their own land. They rode up to Washington to demand change as southern white Democrats rolled back many of the albeit limited freedoms from Reconstruction just a couple of decades before.

The Jim Crow era of segregation forbade African Americans from drinking from the same water fountains, eating at the same restaurants or attending the same schools as white Americans – all lasting until, and sometimes well past, the 1960s.

Slavery in Medieval Italy

In the late 1360s, Francesco Petrarch was living in Venice where he could see the unloading of cargo from Venetian merchant galleys and commented (with unfortunate racism):

‘Whereas huge shipments of grain used to arrive by ship annually in this city, now they arrive laden with slaves, sold by their wretched families to alleviate their hunger. An unusually large and countless crowd of slaves of both sexes has afflicted this city with deformed Scythian faces, just like when a muddy current destroys the brilliance of a clear one.’

Most people associate slavery with the ancient world, or with the African slave trade of the modern era. However, between those two periods slavery did not disappear from Europe but persisted and even flourished right around the Mediterranean.

The chaos brought about by the Barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire did not entirely disrupt the Roman way of life and in many parts of the former empire Roman law and practices continued, including the keeping of slaves. The laws of the invading Germanic tribes allowed for slavery as a form of punishment, while in England, at the time of the Norman Conquest, 10% of the population was counted as slaves, though it is not possible to distinguish between domestic slaves and those tied to the land as serfs.

Even in the early Middle Ages in Christian Europe, stories of slaves being owned, traded, given as gifts and bought to be freed can be found. Most likely these slaves were prisoners of war, sold by their families to pay off debts, or captured in raids on non-Christian settlements. Records show that the Venetians were supplying Italy with Muslim slaves as early as the eighth century. Although the Church did nothing to abolish slavery, they passed laws to ensure slaves were well-treated and to prohibit the enslaving of Christians.

A flourishing slave trade continued amongst the non-Christian Slavonic people as well as the Muslim world and as the Venetian and Genoese traders secured footholds in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea ports they took an active role in this lucrative trade. The slaves they traded came mostly from Eastern Europe and Central Asia and were acquired from slave markets or by raiding the unprotected coastlines of the Black Sea and the disintegrating Byzantine Empire. While Western Christians were nominally protected, Christians of the Eastern Rite were still considered fair game and slaves also came from the Greek islands which were under the control of the Venetians and Genoese.

While most of these slaves were sold into the Muslim world where they were in high demand, thousands were brought back to Italy for the domestic market. Little is recorded about slavery in Medieval Italy and historians have had to piece together its history and prevalence from scant documents. However, while Italians like Petrarch may have felt overwhelmed by the influx of foreign slaves, slave labour never played the significant role in the Italian economy that it did in Ancient Rome or the Americas. The numbers of slaves in Italy were never high. While the proportion of slaves in Palermo in Sicily is estimated to have been as high as 12% of the population, in Genoa it was never more than 2–5%. In Florence there were about 1000 slaves at the end of the fourteenth century, and numbers in the low hundreds in other Tuscan cities.

At the same time, however, the slave trade was lucrative, both to the city states which exacted custom duties on the trade, and the merchants who could expect profits of up to 150% despite the risks of transporting the slaves by sea, such as shipwreck, disease and rebellion. Christian merchants were obliged by canon law not to purchase Christian slaves, but unscrupulous traders might obfuscate the slaves’ origins to avoid such strictures.

The slaves sold in Italy were Russians, Circassians, Tartars, Abkhazi, Mingrelli, Geti, Vlachs, Turkish, and others from the Balkan, Caucasus, and Central Asian regions. Genoese traders sold Greek Orthodox Christians until the late fourteenth century, when the Genoese government finally banned the practice. So prevalent were the slaves from Central Asia that Tartar became the generic term for slave. Sub-Saharan Africans were only a small proportion of the slave population until the fifteenth century when the eastern ports were closed to Italian merchants and were much more numerous in Sicily, with its close ties to the Muslim world, than in northern Italy.

Slaves commanded a high price, but despite the cost, people from all levels of society owned slaves including nobles, priests, notaries, master craftsmen, spice merchants, sailors, and textile workers. By far the majority of slaves were women and the high prices paid for them indicate that they were largely forced to undergo sexual servitude. Records show they were often sold off by their masters’ widows. The Church seemed to turn a blind eye to such concubinage and its social acceptability is shown by the fact that over time the children of slave women could inherit their fathers’ social status. However, not all such children were accepted by their fathers and most were unacknowledged and even abandoned.

Though it was not common, slaves could be freed by the outright granting of manumission, usually late in life, or as a condition of their master’s will. However, even after they were freed, they might still be obliged to remain in the family’s service for a set term in a form of reciprocal patronage. Eventually the slaves and their descendants were absorbed into Italian society, but it is hard to tell how successfully they were assimilated. As Petrarch’s comments show, medieval Italians were as prone to racism as at any other time. It can be imagined that the lighter skinned slaves were more easily accepted than the darker skinned, but this is a subject on which the records are silent.

With the rise of the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century, the ports of the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea were closed to Venetian and Genoese merchants. They had to turn to Africa and the Balkans, though slaves from such sources may well have become scarce. While the slave trade in the Eastern Mediterranean was closing out European merchants, the demand for labour in the New World shifted the focus of the slave trade on to the Atlantic and the infamous mass trade in African slaves.

The growing scarcity of slaves in Italy and the consequent rise in prices made it easier to employ cheap free labour or indentured workers than to buy slaves, causing a decline in domestic slavery. By 1427 there were only 400 slaves in Florence and they would soon almost disappear from Tuscany. However, slaves continued to be traded in Genoa and the South. Over the next two hundred years, while domestic slavery waned, state ownership of galley slaves took its place. At the same time, Venetians and Genoese merchants found themselves losing their pre-eminence in the trade to their Spanish and Portuguese rivals.


Political Cartoon Depicting Leading Secessionists Slavery existed in Alabama even before it became a state. Beginning in the territorial period in the early nineteenth century, the institution expanded, coinciding with the development and growth of plantation agriculture. Slavery in the United States was a labor system that depended upon captive Africans who were held by their owners as legal property in a state of permanent bondage. Most enslaved individuals in Alabama were born into enslavement in other states and brought into the area as part of the South's internal slave trade. Although the living conditions and work required of slaves varied widely across the state, the patterns and variations in Alabama broadly reflected the slave experience elsewhere in the Deep South. Bell Rack The enslaved performed work according to age, gender, and physical condition. Able-bodied men and some women worked as plow-hands. Slaves usually began working in the fields between the ages of eight and twelve. Most women, however, hoed weeds, which was less strenuous than plowing. Children and elderly or disabled slaves tended livestock and maintained the yard around the plantation house. A small number of slaves acquired skills such as blacksmithing, masonry, and carpentry. Typically, slaves were in the fields before sunrise every day of the week except Sunday and worked until sunset: Saturdays often involved a half-day's labor. Before retiring to their cabins for the evening, slaves chopped wood, repaired tools, and tended vegetable gardens, among other tasks. The spring planting and the fall harvest seasons were strenuous times when slaves labored 14 or more hours daily. Horace King A small number of slaves worked in Alabama's rising industrial sector. Textile manufacturers such as the Hobbs brothers used slave labor in their Limestone County factory. In Huntsville, slaves operated the Bell Factory's 100 looms and 3,000 spindles. Iron manufacturing pioneers Horace Ware and Moses Stroup trained slaves to work their furnaces. Slaves also worked as coal miners, harbor pilots, and railroad brakemen. In an extraordinary example, engineer John Godwin appointed slaves, including Horace King, to supervise, sometimes independently, the construction of several bridge projects in Alabama. King's engineering talents helped him earn his freedom in 1846. Forks of Cypress Slave Dwelling During the antebellum period, the material conditions of most slaves in Alabama improved in comparison with their colonial-era ancestors. This improvement partly resulted from the closure of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in 1808, which forced slaveholders to create conditions in which the region's slave population would continue to expand internally without the continued importation of African slaves. Thus, owners had to provide slaves with better rations and keep them healthier because with external supplies cut off, replacements were not as readily available. Slaves received a weekly allotment of a peck (eight quarts) of cornmeal and two-and-a-half to four pounds of pork. Slave clothing was utilitarian. Plantation owners typically issued clothing twice annually. Most of the clothing was made from coarse cotton materials or sometimes wool. Slaves lived in small cabins that measured less than 300 square feet of living space and were generally inhabited by a single family. Located close to the fields, the cabins typically were built out of roughly hewn logs. Some cabins had wood plank floors, but most had only dirt floors. St. Bartley Primitive Baptist Church Evangelical Christianity dominated the religious life of Alabama's slave population. During Alabama's territorial period, slaveholders were only marginally interested in efforts to Christianize slaves. Attitudes began to change during the mid-eighteenth century, however, when large percentages of slaves converted to Christianity as a result of the Great Awakening (a period of religious fervor that swept the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s). Decades later, during the Second Great Awakening (c.1790-1840), a brand of evangelical Christianity spread among southern slaveholders that was inspired by revivals targeting both masters and slaves. Like their white owners, the majority of slaves in Alabama were Baptists and Methodists. In 1808, the African Huntsville Church was founded, and by 1849 its membership rolls had swelled to more than 400 slaves. Similar independent black churches existed elsewhere in Alabama. White churches routinely baptized and extended membership to slaves. Antebellum churches often had segregated seating areas for black worshipers. The spread of evangelical Christianity among slaves was influenced by sermons delivered by preachers who warned slaveholders to promote the faith among their slaves or risk damnation. Slaveholders were equally motivated to spread Christianity among their slaves in response to northern abolitionists who criticized the morality of Christian believers who owned slaves. Anti-Slavery Cartoon, 1856 During the antebellum period, Alabama politicians such as William Lowndes Yancey and J. L. M. Curry actively defended the right to expand slavery into areas acquired by the United States through the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and Mexican War (1846-1848). In 1848, state Democrats issued the Alabama Platform in response to the Wilmot Proviso, a piece of legislation that proposed excluding slavery from any newly acquired territory resulting from the Mexican War. The Alabama Platform aimed to ban state Democrats from supporting any presidential candidate who favored the Wilmot Proviso or popular sovereignty—the right of territorial legislatures to determine the status of slavery before statehood. The national Democratic Party failed to adopt the Alabama Platform on two occasions—1848 and 1860—a reflection of the state's limited national political influence. During the 1860 Democratic National Convention held in Charleston, South Carolina, delegates from Alabama and six other slave states, under Yancey's leadership, walked out of the meeting in protest of the party's nomination of Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. Pro-slavery proponents saw Douglas's Freeport Doctrine, which argued that slavery could not exist in a territory without police regulations to protect it, as a threat to slavery. Alabama's support for the preservation and expansion of slavery ultimately led the state to secede from the Union following the election of Republican Party presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Lincoln's platform, that slavery should be prohibited from expanding into areas of the country where it did not currently exist, alarmed southern slaveholders. At the time of Alabama's secession, more than 435,000 slaves were held in bondage in Alabama.

The outcome of the American Civil War ended slavery in Alabama. The Thirteenth Amendment permanently abolished slavery in the United States in 1865. Alabama freedpeople welcomed emancipation but endured continuing hardships because of the prevailing and pervasive racial prejudices of the state's white inhabitants. Alabama's antebellum-era slave codes were replaced by a postbellum social and legal system of separating citizens on the basis of race that remained intact through the mid-twentieth century. The racist ideology that had once excused the actions of the state's slaveholders survived the Civil War and emancipation and carried over into the post-bellum era to support an array of Jim Crow laws that trampled upon the civil liberties of African Americans until they were overturned during the civil rights movement.

Baptist, Edward E. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. New York: Basic Books, 2014.

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