The theory of Aryan origins of Serbs and Croats is nothing new. There are quite a few works on this topic by both local and foreign authors. I decided to refer to one article written by certain Dr. Samar Abbas from India and published on the “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, three places related to ancient Aryans.
Who were the Aryans?
Before we jump to any conclusions, lets us first define the basics. Who were the Aryans? In the classical time, this was a label for the inhabitants of ancient Persia. They referred to themselves as “Ariya”. The original Sanskrit meaning was “compatriot”, and later it meant simply “noble”. The word “Iran” comes from the same word.
But “Aryans” was also the name of the Sanskrit-speaking invaders of India. In 1819. Friedrich Schlegel first used it as a label for the people we now call Indo-Europeans. German philologist Max Müller (1823-1900) popularized the term further. For over a century, scholars had used this term in relation to the Indo-European culture and languages. However, this all changed with the Nazi’s. The term “Aryan” gradually became “Indo-European”.
As you can see, before the Nazi’s, this was a really broad term. It related to almost the whole of Europe with parts of the Middle East and North India. In other words, places where people have paler skin, blue eyes, blonde and red hair, and other Caucasian characteristics. Therefore, we really could assume that this term meant “white”. (of course, without the Nazi idea of the master race).
But unlike “Indo-Europeans” the 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, perhaps even the terms “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 the Aryan story.
Genetics of Aryans
The “Aryans haplogroups” would be 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. There is a separate article on that topic here: Armenia, the homeland of the Germans?
Here, we will deal only with Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian R1a. This will help us narrow down our search for the origins of Serbs and Croats. But I sincerely hope that after all said above it is really clear that the goal is not to prove that ancestors of Serbs and Croats were the only and exclusive Aryan tribes, just some of the 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 nowadays has only around 30% of both R1a and R1b haplogroups combined. This number gets cut down in half if we focus only on R1a (without getting deeper in different mutations). It means that out of 100 people, only 15-30 could claim to have some form of Aryan ancestry through 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%.
The situation is a bit different in India. Most of the members of the highest caste in India – the Brahmins, belong to R1a haplogroup. According to research, here the percentage of R1a may go as high as 72%. The same situation is with Jats, who dwell in the region of Sarasvati river. Jats are people from Northern India that claim to have the Scythian and Gothic origins. They state that Jat and Goth are synonyms.
Scythians are the only possible “suspect” if we search for a tribe that could have been present in all these places. Their territory had stretched from Indo-Scythia to Iran and Balkans. If you compare the two pictures below you will see that the map of Scythia matches perfectly the borders of R1a haplogroup migrations as given on Eupedia.
And the last thing to note is that R1a appears on Balkans as early as 4200BC when (proto) Scythians have first mixed with the local population. They kept coming in successful waves 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)
Croats as Aryans
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 comes from “Harahvaiti”. This was an Avestan province. (“Arachosia” in Greek). A 6th century BC, Darius inscription calls their inhabitants “Harahvaitai / Horohoati”
- There were two Persian cities – “Habroatis and Chroates”, mentioned by the Roman leader Ammanius Marcellinus.
Next, the author suggests the migration route, based on toponyms:
- Arachosia / Harahvaiti – a province on the Sarasvati river
- Afgaistan and Iran: Harahvaiti and Haruvati
- Armenia and Georgia: Hurravat and Huttvuhe
- Azov and Black sea: Horoouathos
- Modern-day Croatia
“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 are closely related.”
Furthermore, Jats themselves claim relations to Massagetae, Getae, and Goths. And in the medieval texts, Croats were sometimes labeled as Goths.
And finally, the author points out some common cultural traits. The Croatian coat of arms has the 64 red and white checkers symbol. The same symbol existed among the Iranian and Turkic tribes. And both Serbs and Croats assigned a color to each of the cardinal points. These colors are white – west, green – east, black – north and red – south. The same color system existed in ancient Persia.
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
Serbs as Aryans
In a similar fashion, we can trace the “Serbian” toponyms.
In Afganistan, there is a Sarbani tribe. Their dominant haplogroup is R1a, and their origins are Scythian. Their mythical ancestor was Sarban, the first son of the founding father of the Pashtuns. Many authors identify Pashtuns with Paktyans of Herodotus. They were one of the Arachosian tribes. And as we saw, Croats relate to Arachosia too. Moreover, the Paktyans were the most famous elephant handlers of this region. Is this why Indra’s elephant is Airavata? (and Krishna’s cow Suhrabi)
Moreover, one of the ancient regions of Afganistan was Aria. Its inhabitants were Arians. The Persian term for Aria was “Haraiva”. And this sounds very close to Hrvat – the original pronunciation of the word Croat.
And finally, just like Sarban is the ancestor of all Pashtuns, Slavic medieval chronicles claim that Serb was the oldest ethnonym of Slavs. (See my article on Babel below.)
Most of the scholars assume that the Pashtuns originally had Iranian roots. However, they also agree that modern people might be far from the ancients, in both genetics and language. (see Wikipedia on Pashtuns) But in Iran too, one of the most famous epics of the 10th century revolves around two heroes named Rostam and Sohrab.
Also, the fashion of wearing pants came to Europe with Scythians. They were necessary for horse-riding. As Xenophon writes in his “Persian expedition”, even Alexander the Great was impressed by this fashion. In ancient Greece of that time, the male and female clothing was not so different. The Latin name for these pants was “sarabara” or “saraballa”. The Arabs still call them “serbal” or “serval” nowadays.
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”. As we saw, for Scythians this color marked the south. And in the caste system of Mahabharata, it relates to the warrior caste.
In the article: Did Serbs construct the tower of Babel? I showed that Slavic medieval Chronicles (Czech and Russian) claim that their ancestors were Serbs. These Serbs came from the South – from the Balkans and Mediterranean region. But these chronicles locate them first in the Middle East and Babylon. In the 5th century BC, Herodotus claimed that Scythians had conquered Persia, crossing the Caucasus mountains. This is exactly where we see the tribe of Sirbi on Ptolemy’s maps of the second century. And this is where Slavic chroniclers might have taken the idea about Serbs being in Babel.
Other interesting toponyms are Serbonian bog and Lake Serbonis in Egypt. According to Herodotus, in their mud an army of horsemen had disappeared, hence the name. Scholars claim that these horsemen were Shardani people – “people of the seas”. But on the same Ptolemy’s map, there was a tribe of Suardeni in the proximity of the Sirbi tribe. So once again, we have the Scythians connection.
Serbian toponyms appear all over Europe, in the earliest writings, like those of the Roman period. A good 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. Also, its circular shape is very reminiscent of ancient Slavic settlements in 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.
On the map above, we see that in pre-Roman Portugalia, just like in Asian Sarmatia of Ptolemy, and just like in modern Balkans – Serbs, and Albanians are neighbors. Surely, this cannot be a coincidence? Moreover, the whole region is called Lusitania. Sorbs, a Slavic minority in Germany, still call themselves Lusatians to this day.
Long story short, it seems that “Serb” was once a generic term for Slavs, before the 6th century AD. Serbs in Balkans and Sorbs in Germany still preserve this ancient name. The same goes for Slovenia and Slovakia who preserve the name of Slavs. The word “Albania” is just a Greek translation of the word “Arya” – white. Modern Albania in fact owes its name to the ancient city of Albanopolis – white city, which in Slavic language would translate as Belgrade – the capital of Serbia.
Because of such a high frequency of Serbian toponyms scattered all around the place in antiquity, many Serbs 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, whether you call them Scythians, Sarmatians or Aryans.
It is them who had conquered Balkans and the indigenous population of Vinca as early as 4200BC. They kept coming in waves, creating a Thracian and Illyrian culture as a result of the mixing with the indigenous cultures. These cultures lasted until the arrival of the Romans (just like 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. This was actually a very typical scenario in ancient days. We do know that a similar faith happened to Hun-garia, Bulg-aria, Roma-nia, Eng-land and numerous other places in history who had their own conquerors.
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. The reason I say this is a fairly low percentage of R1a in modern-day Iran (around 16,5%).
R1a developed in the steppes of Ukraine, and we do know that the highest percentages are in countries such as Poland, Ukraine, and Russia. However, this haplogroup is not strictly Slavic. 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.
In conclusion, it seems that the ancestors of Serbs and Croats were Scythian tribes, also labeled as Aryans at times. The main element was proto-Slavic and not Iranian, as almost exclusively understood nowadays. But at a later stage, there were surely some Iranian elements too. Proto-Slavs started their journey in Ukrainian steppes. From there they traveled great distances in a time frame that stretches over several millennia. A part of them reached the Indus-Valley civilization but after its decline started the journey to the west. The route was the same as that of the silk road – it went through Iran and Caucasus and ended on Balkans. This would explain numerous parallels between Slavic and Vedic religion: On some connections between ancient Slavs and India
They moved from South to North, following the Balkan route through the Danube, and an Eastern route through Ukraine. This happened long before the arrival of Romans and Huns – when the Southern and Northern Slavic lands were separated. These people were nomads, but well-traveled ones, 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.