Pre-Roman, Slavic toponyms of the ancient Balkans

During my research into the ancient history of the Balkans, I have come across many words that sound like they could be Slavic. At the same time, many of these words predate the supposed arrival of the Slavs in the 5th-6th centuries AD. My list grew over the years, to the exent that cannot be ignored. Even the oldest name for the Balkan Peninsula, “Helm,” can be best explained through the Slavic word xъlmъ, which means “hill”.

The highest concentration of such toponyms is in the region of Pannonia, modern day Serbia. The ancient references come from Ptolemy’s “Geography”, 2nd century AD, Tabula V. However, as this map is very large and detailed, I will have to zoom in on particular points of interest as we go.


Serbinum – Srbac

The city of Serbinum once stood in the Roman province of Pannonia. The first mention comes from the map of Ptolemy, in the 2nd century AD, although the city probably predated the Romans. Most scholars identify Serbinum with modern-day Gradishka, Bosnia and Herzegovina.


However, there is another city, juts over 30 kilometers from Gradishka, that would probably be a much better candidate for Serbinum. That city is called Srbac – the city of Serbs.

It is reasonable to consider Srbac as the ancient Roman settlement of Serbinum because the two toponyms share a similar name, and if we assume that they both relate to the Serbs, it would make sense for them to have the same name.

Additionally, the geographical features surrounding Srbac align better with the map of Ptolemy than those around Gradishka. For instance, the mountain chain in the background of Srbac is more similar to the one depicted on Ptolemy’s map, which supports the theory that Srbac is the site of Serbinum.

On a side note, Pliny mentions the tribe called Serapilli in this region. Modern scholars see them as Celts.

Breuci – Brchko

There is a general concensus that the name of the city of Brchko comes from the tribe of Breuci who ones dwelled in this region. Also, when we compare this map with the modern map, it is evident that the outline of Sava river is very similar, as well as the shape of the mountain chain on the south.

The only city that Ptolemy lists here is Certissa. Chertica is a common Slavic toponym, but this could also be a mispelling of the name Grchica (Gertissa), as this village matches the general location marked on Ptolemy’s map.

But back to the name of Brchko. This word can only be of Slavic origin, as cluster B-R-CH isn’t recorder in any other Indo-European language. In Slavic languages however, we have the following words:

  • брчати (brchati) – to murmur, to buzz
  • брчка (brchka) – a jingle, a clinking sound
  • брчкање (brchkanye) – jingling, clinking

In other words, Brchko would the city built on a place where the river “murmurs”.

Another possible etymology derives this name from the Slavic word “brdo”, meaning “hill” or “elevation”. The suffix “-ko” is a common Slavic diminutive suffix, which is often added to place names to denote a smaller or more intimate version of a place. Thus, “Brčko” would mean “little hill” or “small elevation”. This name is fitting for the city, as it is situated on a hill overlooking the Sava River and is surrounded by rolling hills and wooded areas.

In any case, Slavic lands are full of similar toponyms, for example Borcha, Borach, Brach. Therefore it wouldn’t be possible that Slavs settled this region in the 6th century and modified some tribal name of unkown etymology. The only option is that Slavs had already been there before the 2nd century, when the maps were made.

Bassiana – Bosut

Modern scholars identify Bassiana with an archaeological site in Donji Petrovci. However, I believe that Bosut is a much better candidate. First of all, Bosut matches closely the distance from Sirmium – modern day Sremska Mitrovica, as well as Taurunum, a part of the modern-day Belgrade (both cities are visible on the maps).

But more importantely, Bosut is also an archaeological site, and a more important one that Donji petrovci. The culture discovered there is even name Bosutska kultura.

Bosut culture, also known as Bosut-Basarabi culture, is an archaeological culture that flourished in the central and eastern parts of the Pannonian Plain (modern-day Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina) during the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age, roughly from the 9th to the 5th century BCE.

The culture is named after the Bosut River, a tributary of the Sava River, where the first archaeological sites of this culture were discovered. The Bosut culture is characterized by its distinctive burial practices, which involved cremation of the deceased and the deposition of ashes and grave goods in pit-graves. The grave goods included pottery vessels, bronze weapons and tools, jewelry, and other personal items.

The Bosut culture was part of a broader cultural complex in the Pannonian Plain, which also included the Vatin culture, the Tumulus culture, and the Belotić culture. The Bosut culture is believed to have been an important precursor to the Illyrian and Celtic cultures that emerged in the region in later periods.

But more importantely, the Basarabi region in present-day Romania also sounds like Bosut. Over there, they too have similar toponyms, such as:

  1. Bosca – A village in northeastern Romania, close to the border with Moldova.
  2. Buznea – A village in northern Moldova
  3. Bosînța – A village in northeastern Romania, close to the border with Moldova.
  4. Bosîncea – A village in northeastern Romania, close to the border with Moldova.

So what is the etymology of this word? If we translate it with Slavic languages, it would mean “barren land”, a clearing where there are no trees. Proto Slavic word “bosъ” meant “bare” and it was derived from From Proto-Balto-Slavic *basás – in other words, very close to Bassiana. Bosut river indeed flows through a barren land, and the same might have been true of the river Bosna, which gave name to Bosnia.

Rittium – Rit

The Slavic word “rit” meaning “swamp” or “marsh” has its roots in the Proto-Slavic language, which was spoken more than a thousand years ago. The Proto-Slavic word for “swamp” was *rǫtъ, which evolved into various forms in the different Slavic languages.

In Old Church Slavonic, an early Slavic language used in religious texts, the word was written as “ročь” or “roči”. In Old East Slavic, the predecessor of modern Russian, the word was spelled as “рыть” (ryt’).

The word “rit” is still used in several Slavic languages today, including Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, and Czech. In these languages, the word is spelled “rit” or a slight variation of it, and it still means “swamp” or “marsh”.

Bolentium – Balaton

The name Bolentium sounds very close to the name of the lake Balaton, and it also matches its approximate location on the map. According to Wikipedia, the name Balaton comes from the Slavic word “bolto/blato“, meaning “mud, swamp”.

This is supposed to be the direct translation of the Roman name for the swamp – Pelsodis, Pelso. However, if this is really a Slavic toponym from the 2nd century, it is more likely that it was the Romans who translated the name of the lake.

Osseriates – People who lived between lake Balaton and lakes around Varazdin, Croatia

This is the name of a tribe. They are marked as “Oderiates” on this map, but the version Osseriates was more common in other ancient sources. Once again, scholars label them as Celts. In reality, the etymology of their name is unknown, as is virtually anything else about them.

They lived near the lake Balaton, a large lake that dominates the landscape of flat fertile plains in modern-day Hungary. For this reason, many Slavic researchers have connected their name with the Old East Slavic word for lake – ozero.

However, the Slavic translation would be “People of lakes” – so I tend to believe that this name reffered to people who live between Balaton and numerous lakes in the Varazdin region of Croatia.

Sogora – Zagora

Sogora sounds very similar to the common Slavic toponym “Zagora” (a place behind the hill, forest). There are literally dozens of such toponyms all around the Slavic-speaking countries. But more importantly, there is one Zagora that perfectly matches the location.

Latobici – Letovanic

The etymology of this tribal name is unknown. However, similar toponyms exist in many Slavic countries, for example: Latowicz, Latowice, Latowisko, Latowicka in Poland or Lytovezh in Ukraine.

“Lato” is a personal name of Slavic origin, and its etymology is related to the Slavic word “lato”, which means “summer”. The name “Lato” would therefore mean “son of summer” or “born in the summer”. It was a popular name in medieval Slavic cultures, and variants of the name can be found in different Slavic languages, such as “Latomir” and “Latoslav”.

Lato of Kiev was a legendary ruler of the Eastern Slavic tribe of Polans who is said to have lived in the 8th century. He is mentioned in the Primary Chronicle, a medieval East Slavic chronicle that covers the history of Kievan Rus’ from the earliest times up to the 12th century. This same chroncle states that Slavic homeland was in the Balkans.

On this map we see that Latobici lived in the region of Sisak, Croatia. In fact, the name Sisak repats twice on this map, once as Sciscia, and once as Sisopa. This was probably a mistake, as scholars relate both names to Sisak. On Google Maps, however, we also see the name Sisak repeat two times – once to label the city and once for the county. In between these labels, there is a town and a mountain called Letovanic – sounding very similar to Latobici.

Olimachum – Olimje

The toponym Olimachum matches that of Olimje, a small town near the border of Croatia and Slovenia. That is also the general geographical area where we would expect to find it based on the Ptolemy’s map.

The meaning of this word is uncertain. Some theories relate it to olive trees, others to a word for a mountain, similarly to Greek Olympus. However, this toponym is certainly Slavic, as there is a similar one near Brno, Czezh Republic (also known since antiquity). This toponym is Olomučany – which sounds very close to Olimachum.

Moreover, the flag of this region is the same red and white checkered flag that Croats use as their national flag.


Mursella was a city on the Mur river. According to Wikipedia, this name is Slavic and comes from the word “dark”.


Also known as Lugio. Strabo claimed that the Illyrian word for swamp was “lugas”. For Slavs, that word is “lug” (swamp, meadow) and it appears in numerous toponyms.


Carnus lies in the proximity of Sacrabanta, modern-day Sopron, and today we know it as Caruntum in Austria. The etymology of this word is unknown, but perhaps we can relate it to the nearby Csorna. As you can see on Wikipedia, it was Slavs who named this city (when?) that now lies on the border between Hungary and Austria. Its name means “black”. (see the etymology here)


Interestingly, Ptolemy knew one more city of Corrodunum. And this wasn’t just any city – it was the modern-day Krakow, Poland! The etymology of this name is obscure, and at first glance, the suffix “dunu” points to the Celtic origin (dun – hill, dunon – castle).

However, as with many other toponyms on Ptolemy’s maps, this could be a misspelled word “Gradina” – a common Slavic word for an old city. There are more than twenty such placenames in Slavic countries, but most are in the Balkans.

Also, scolars actually believe that Corrodunu matches the locality Gradina in Croatia! Gradina lies on the Drava river, precisely where we would expect it to be based on Ptolemy’s map.

The connection between this Corrodunum and the Krakow in Poland is very important, as we will now see.


Boei, or more commonly spelled Boii, are also supposed to be Celts. However, the most logical (and virtually only) etymology for their name comes from Slavic “soldiers, army”. See the Proto-Slavic etymology here. And army is precisely what the Boii were. I wrote a separate article on them, so I will not go into greater detail here. But here is a summary of the most important facts.

Buckle up, as this is the mainstream version of history, and it gets really weird:

Boii, whose name makes the most sense in Slavic, lived in Pannonia, amongst Serapilli and near Serbinum, but there were no Slavs or Serbs there, only Celts. From here, Boii moved to Bratislava, Slovakia and ended up in Bohemia, Poland. But back then, there were no Slavs in these countries either, only Germans and Celts. Remember, in the 2nd century AD, there were two cities named Corrodunu known to Ptolemy – one was in Poland and the other one was in the Balkans.

And so, the Celtic Boii gave name to their new home in Bohemia, Poland and disappeared from the face of the earth.

Later, in the 6th century, massive numbers of Slavs appeared from nowhere and started occupying large parts of Europe. Poland (and Bohemia) was inhabited by Serbs and Sorbs, two Slavic groups that (according to western historians) just happen to share the name but, in fact, are not too closely related. Anyhow, the Sorbs decided to stay in this new-founded homeland and ended up being Germanized for the most part.

On the other hand…

Serbs left Bohemia in Poland and (of all places) decided to settle in the ancestral lands of the Boii in the Balkans. In the 10th century, a Byzanthian emperor claims that Serbs still call their Polish homeland Boika (Bohemia).

All clear? I am not going to give you the alternative version. This is the official, mainstream history, and I will leave this here and let it sink.

Bononia = Pannonia – the homeland of the Boii

Now that we defined who the Boii (officially) were, I would like to add my theory of the etymology of the name Pannonia itself. According to Pocorny, it comes from the Proto-Indo-European root “pen”, meaning “swamp”.

I believe that the root lies in the name of the Boii – warriors, army. Namely, even today, the Serbian name for Pannonia is “Vojvodina” – which means “Earl’s land”. The root of the word “vojvoda” (earl) is “voi” – meaning “battle”, the same as Old Church Slavonic “boi”.

Moreover, the Serbian name for a central part of Pannonia is Banat. The root of this word is the title “ban“, which is attested already in the 10th century and officially means “lord, master”. But the oldest meaning of this word must have been “earl” as scholars reconstruct its root as “boian” – meaning “ruler of the horde” in Pannonian Avar, or simply “warrior” in Slavic.

This title “ban” is characteristic for the Balkans. In Western Slavic countries it is first attested in the 14th century but as a softened “pan”. The word is still in use in most of these countries.

However, it seems that a similar linguistic change took place in antiquity. Namely, as the Greeks do not have the sound “B”, they hand no choice but to label it as “Pann-onia”. Later the Romans must have acquired this word from the Greeks.

I think that my theory is much more plausible than the load of nonsense that you can read about these etymologies. As final proof, I would like to add the city of Bologna, in Italy. Its ancient name was “Bononia” and it was named like this because of the same Boii, who had moved here to fight the Romans, together with the Etruscans.

Of course, as the Romans didn’t have the problem with the sound “B”, there was no reason to change “Bononia” to “Panonia”. The same goes for Boulogne sur Mer in France, also called “Bononia” and also founded by the same Boii. And not to mention that this toponym Bologna, pronounced with the soft “P” sounds like “Pologna” – Poland, which could be the alternative explanation for the name of the country.

The city of Bononia that we see on this map was the capital of the Boii in Pannonia. its location corresponds to modern-day Banostor. According to Wikipedia, this is an early medieval name meaning “Earl’s monastery” and this name has nothing to do with the ancient Bononia that was located in the same place. (???)

Bustricius river – Bistrica

River Bustricius was mentioned in the Upper Pannonia (Rav). It does not appear on the map of Ptolemy, and it is not identified. The most commonly proposed etymology relates it to Slavic “bystro” – meaning “quick/clear”. There are quite a few rivers and streams with this name in the Slavic world.Ulcisia, Ulca, Ulcaea, Ulcinj

Different authors mention different places with this root. River Vuka for example, in modern Croatia, was known as Ulca in antiquity. (Peut., Ennod) or Volcea (Dio Cass.) Obviously, the word means “wolf” in Slavic languages (volk, from Proto Balto Slavic wilkas). This same logic was applied to the name of Ulcinj, Montenegro. Shockingly, the Wikipedia article on Ulcinj claims that the word for the wolf comes from Albanian, and nobody has a problem with that!

Moesia – Serbia and the neighbouring regions

Neisus – Niš

Niš is a third largest city in modern-day Serbia. It is named after the Nishava river. This ancient toponym was attested in ancient Greek as ΝΑΙΣΣΟΣ (Naissos), Latin Naissus. Then, according to the official history, Serbs settled there in the 6th century AD, and changed it to Niš (written Нишь and Ньшь). Some “scolars” even claim (without any serious grounds) that the toponym was Proto-Albanian in origin.

However, this Albanian theory is clearly a nonsense. There is another river called Nisa (Nisha) in Czech Republic, known as Neisse in German. Now, this region has never been inhabited by Albanians, but by the Lusatian Sorbs. What are the chances that Sorbs have river Nisha, and Serbs river Nishava, and that these names are unrelated?

Moreover, as the Serbian river and the city of Nish go back more than 2,000 years, we can exclude the option that Serbs brought the name in the 6th century to the Balkans. It would be far more likely that they took it to the Czech Republic, as the medieval Slavic chronicles claim.

Illyria – countries of the Adriatic coast

Trieste, Italy and Trogir, Croatia

According to the mainstream theory, the name of Trieste (originally Tergeste, Tergestum) comes from the Illyrian word “terg” – market. The only cognate in any language is the Old Church Slavonic “tьrgъ”. The same etymology probably works for Trogir, Croatia.

Now, you might say that this proves nothing and that Slavs simply adopted this term from Illyrians in the 6th century, which would be a valid point. But hold your horses…

In Spain, there is a city called Trujillo. Its ancient name was Turgalium, etymology unknown. Turgalium belonged to the region Lusitania, which just happened to host a tribe called Seurbi. These Seurbi spoke a non-Celtic, Indo-European language, still unknown. However, (you guessed it) these Suerbi have nothing to do with the Serbs or Sorbs who are by the way, also known as Lusitani.

It’s just another really bizarre coincidence…

Also, if you think that Spain is too far from Pannonia and Poland, just remember that the Boii actually fought Caesar in modern-day France. That is a historical fact.

Duklja, Montenegro

In the 3rd century AD, centuries before the arrival of the Slavs to the Balkans according to mainstream history, Roman emperor Diocletian built the city of Doclea. Centuries later, Slavs built a medieval city-state around it and preserved the original name – Duklja. However, the original toponym Doclea was surely not Roman, but of local origin. The etymology is unknown, but strangely enough, there is a place called Duklja in Poland as well.

As Montenegrian toponym Doclea dates to Roman times, we can only imagine that the migration went from the Balkans to Poland and not vice-versa as mainstream history claims. Indeed, most of the medieval Slavic support this claim. They state that groups of Slavs migrated from the Balkans to Poland, escaping the Romans.

However, the oldest mention of this name was probably the ancient Boeotian town of Decelea, attested already by Herodotus.

Epidamnos, Albania

Scolars identify Epidamnos with Durres, Albania. The whole region around the city was known as Epidamnia in ancient times. The legend says that the Romans didn’t like the name, as “damnos” means “cursed” so they changed it to Dyrachium. However, there is no explanation why was this city “cursed” in the first place.

The Greek suffix “epi” means “before, pro” and put together, this compound word is a direct translation of the name for the unhospitable mountain chain that Serbs call Prokletije (cursed mountains) and that lies not too far from this region.

Albanopolis, Albania

Officially, Albanopolis was the seat of the Albani, a tribe that gave name to modern Albania. However, as the word “alba” means “white” and “polis” means “city”, we can also translate this name as “white city”, or in Slavic version “Belgrade” as in the capital of Serbia. The location of Albanopolis is unknown, but what is certain is that it is in general proximity to the city of Berat, which is officially a modern corruption of the original Slavic name – Belgrade.

That Belgrade (and white city) is typically, a Slavic construction can be proven by the fact that both Moscow and Kyiv, arguably the two most important Slavic cities, were called “Belgrade” at one point in time. There are many other similar toponyms in Slavic countries. And interestingly, even the name of Vienna, Austria, was once Vindobona, which translates to “white city”. On the first map, we can see it just above the Boii territory, in the top left corner, but Ptolemy marks it as Iulio Bona.



The city of Byalazora was mentioned in the 2nd century AD by authors such as Polybius and Livius. It was the city of Paeonians before it got captured by the armies of Philip V. Many alternative historians have noticed that this name would mean “white dawn” in Slavic languages.

However, it should be said that the “white dawn” toponym has no parallels in other Slavic countries, and that is a bit strange. Slavic toponyms are quite predictable and they repeat over and over again, from the Balkans to Siberia.

It could be that the word is a corruption of “Vila Azorum”, as the city called Azorum does exist on Ptolemy’s map. A similar explanation exists for the town Vilassar in Spain.


The name Gordynia could be another corruption of the Slavic toponym “gradina”. Most scholars agree that the root “gord” means “a city”, and they label the word as Phrygian. Indeed, Gordion was a famous city of the Phrygians. In the middle ages, it was known as Gordo-Serbon or Gordo-Serba…


On Ptolemy’s map, Stobi is very close to Gordynia. The city still exists under the same name. Its name means “columns” in Slavic, and this is the official etymology of its name. (compare with Sanskrit “stupa”). The name probably referred to a group of ancient dolmens or some natural formation such as Pobiti Kamani in Bulgaria.


Next to Gordinia and Stobi we see Aedesa. In antiquity, there were many cities with such names, mainly on the territory of ancient Thrace, for example ancient Varna in Bulgaria or modern-day Edessa in Turkey. Scolars agree that the name is derived from the word for water – which is “voda” in Slavic, but “hydro” in Greek. Also “Vode” / “Vodice” are very popular Slavic toponyms.


The city of Corabia lies on the mountain chain that is today known as Korab. As you can see here, korab is exclusively a Slavic word, and a common Slavic toponym, sometimes precisely as Korab, as for example, in the case of a village in Bulgaria, or a city in Romania. But even more commonly we see it as “brod”, which is another word for ship.

The association between mountain tops and ships is very ancient, perhaps even as old as the flood narratives.


Tristolus (on the north) is probably one of the most interesting toponyms in Macedonia. Its name would mean “three chairs” or “three thrones” in Slavic languages. This toponym is Slavic without any doubt, as there is a place that Czechs call Tristolicnik in Bavaria, Germany. Germans translated this name to Dreisesselberg – three chairs.

Without any doubt, the Slavic toponym is older than German, and we see the same toponym in ancient Macedonia, in the 2nd century AD!

As for what those “thrones” are, I believe that these were astronomical observation points, typical for megalithic observatories. One such example is Kokino, in North Macedonia, located in the general area of the ancient Tristolus. The thrones of Kokino are one of the main reasons that NASA listed this site as one of the top 10 ancient observatories in the world.


This ancient toponym sounds like “stene” – rocks in Slavic languages. And this is precisely what it is. see Stenae.

Interestingly, many of these Macedonian toponyms are clustered around the region of ancient Boeotia. Boeotia (Boiotia in some sources) apparently got this name from the mountain Boeon (unknown etymology). It’s inhabitants called themselves Boiotoi.

What if once again, we see here the name of Boii, before their homeland was destroyed by Macedonians and perhaps, before their migration to Pannonia?


Divsipara, Turkey (on the Balkan side)

I discovered this city recently, and to my knowledge, Ptolemy is the only person who mentions it. I couldn’t find any other info online, nor have I ever heard anybody mention it. What caught my eye is that it sounds very close to Divcibare, a famous mountain in Serbia. In the case of the Serbian toponym, the etymology is more-less clear. It is a compound word, made of the words “divci” which means “girl’s” or and “bare” meaning “small lakes”. In other words, these were probably famous baths in antiquity.

Confirmation for this etymology comes from Czech “Dívčí Hrad” (girl’s town) whose German name is a literal translation – Maidelberg. Whether we can relate it to Divsipara of Ptolemy is of course questionable. But interestingly, this area of Turkey is known for its floodplains, it is full of small lakes and waterfalls – see İğneada Floodplain Forests National Park.


We know virtually nothing of this tribe, but some Slavic authors claim that this was a misspelled name of the Krivichs (Kryvichi), one of the most important Slavic tribes, and the founders of Kyiv. Kyiv is not too far from the place marked on the map. Their name was perhaps supposed to mean “of the same blood.”



    • Yes, it is quite possible, as the Greeks did not have the “B” sound and they substituted it with “V” or “P”. For this reason, it is also possible that the name of the Ptolemy dynasty comes from the toponym Bitula in Macedonia, with both words meaning “battle”. But like I said in the intro, I decided to stick only to firmer eymologies in this article.

      • I see, thank you for your response! The Ptolemy and Bitola connection seems very possible, I have never heard of it before, but isn´t it more likely for Bitola to have come from Old Church Slavonic ˝обитѣль˝ meaning monastery?

        • Yes, that is the official etymology and I am aware of it. However, even the scholars admit that they are not sure if this is the real meaning. Dropping the initial “O” sound of the word “obitel” would be strange as it is not difficult to pronounce, and I am not aware of any similar examples.

          On the other hand, I have this idea (just an idea) that we should analyse this word as it is, starting with the root “bit”, a Slavic (Indo-European) root meaning “to hit, fight”. In that case, the name Bitula would be a cognate with English “battle” or French “bataille”, as well as with Greek “Ptolemy”.

          Of course, the idea would be that the city lies on a location of an ancient battlefield.

          • Nice theory, a major battle actually did occur around the Bitola region, it is known as the Battle of Lyncestis.

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