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Origins of Polish Slavs

ZakopanTG 1 | 5
30 Apr 2012 #1
Where did the Polish people originate? What groups are the ancestors of Poles? I know they must have come from somewhere in Russia, but what came before that?
Bieganski 17 | 896
30 Apr 2012 #2
Poland has a long and complex history going back centuries. I'm sure there are websites you can search or books you can order that go in great detail about this. One thought is that when humans left Africa they moved through the Middle East and then Central Asia before turning back towards Europe and this would in part explain the term Indo-European such as when some similarities are found among very different language groups.

However, it is very unlikely that you will find a consensus that Polish Slavs can be traced to just one group migrating en masse from one part of the world and settling in isolation in the often changing historical borders of Poland around them.

Poland's development of a national consciousness with unique culture and language is no different than how many other countries develop; i.e., it happens over a very long period of time, in situ, with many external influencing playing their part.

Just look at how the English, French, Italians and Americans developed their own identities from very different origins and often with a lot of turbulent periods in their histories. This process roughly repeats itself all around the world.

Perhaps one day there will be a large enough DNA database to show a better pattern of human migration but by then it may show only tenuous links.
rybnik 18 | 1,461
30 Apr 2012 #3
Where did the Polish people originate?

This is a very good question. One that I've been asking for years. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find that seminal text which can answer those questions. Maybe someone on this forum can help?
OP ZakopanTG 1 | 5
30 Apr 2012 #4
But how did the Slavic peoples come into existence? Which region did the groups that formed them live in before they migrated? I want to find out how basically what the legend of Lech, Czech and Rus explained but in realistic terms.
Wulkan - | 3,243
30 Apr 2012 #5
I know they must have come from somewhere in Russia

No, they don't
maciciel - | 7
1 May 2012 #6
I know they must have come from somewhere in Russia, but what came before that?

WHAT???! where the hell did u read this nonsense?! (unless you're referring to the southern caucasus region of russia and surrounding nations, often regarded as being the homeland of the indo-european peoples, which we and most europeans are descended from).

in fact, it is highly debated whether or not ALL slavs originated from the land that today constitutes Poland.

we might be the birth place of Slavia. :))

Ozi Dan 26 | 569
1 May 2012 #7
Where did the Polish people originate?

Hi ZTG - I always thought they originated from peoples like the Huns, Avars, Sarmatians and so on? I recall reading as a child an excellent book called "The World of the Ancient Slavs". I can't recall the author, but I recall it had discussions on origins.

However, it is very unlikely that you will find a consensus that Polish Slavs can be traced to just one group migrating en masse from one part of the world and settling in isolation in the often changing historical borders of Poland around them.

Quite right. How then could one explain certain physical/appearance traits that a lot of Poles seem to have (ie high foreheads, flat back of head, high cheekbones, vampire hairline)?
Bieganski 17 | 896
1 May 2012 #8
These physical appearances you mention may just be more noticeable to outsiders but they are not universal to the Polish population. The tempestuous runway model Naomi Campbell has many of these facial features too but neither she nor anyone in the world would conclude that this makes her Polish.

Often times advertisers and other media outlets find people with very exaggerated physical traits to present an ideal which is often quite removed from reality.

Like most nations in Europe Poland was settled by successive waves of migrating groups. Some died out, some simply moved on, some remained and were assimilated. We may never know the complete picture of who all these groups were. But as I stated earlier Poland established its identity and national consciousness as it grew in place along with periods of considerable stability as well as upheaval.

Poland and the Poles cannot be seen as developing in isolation though. Germany, Sweden, Lithuania, Russia, France, Belarus, Ukraine, Austria, Hungary and others all played a role in shaping Poland and the Poles including settlement in each others country and offspring from interethnic marriages.

Even if one argues that Poles appear to be a homogenous society then even a casual look at the wide variation of folk style of clothing, traditional music and cuisine among the different regions of Poland show that Poles have actually been quite heterogeneous over its history. These variations may be due to different groups which passed through or settled in Polish lands over the centuries but are now forgotten in time or it can be attributed to neighboring influences which became pronounced in bordering areas of Poland but not other parts.

The factors that united Poles into a more common identity and eventual nationhood were the standardization and teaching of the Polish language, the role of religion, development of widespread communication and other infrastructure, and the rule of law, rights and trade. Of course, external threats always reinforce the need to emphasize shared values, beliefs and characteristics.
boletus 30 | 1,366
1 May 2012 #9
Absolutely. That's what Norman Davies has been saying all along - in reference to Poland, as well as to UK. This mechanism can be easier to understand and accept after focusing on history of a little portion of a country - perhaps one town only, or perhaps a small region.

Here is for example a fascinating Tatra's Timeline
AdamKadmon 2 | 508
1 May 2012 #10
Where did the Polish people originate? What groups are the ancestors of Poles?

The Austrian historian, Walter Pohl, is an expert in the porcess of emerging ethnic identities in the Middle Ages. His theory throws some light on the origin of Polish people among other ethnicities.

Conceptions of ethnicity in early medieval studies
Natasa 1 | 580
1 May 2012 #11
The Austrian historian, Walter Pohl, is an expert in the porcess of emerging ethnic identities in the Middle Ages.

Austrian kind of introduction. Apologetic. Negative bias toward phenomenon from the start.
Bieganski 17 | 896
1 May 2012 #12
Here is for example a fascinating Tatra's Timeline

Thanks for adding the details about inhabitation of the Tatra's throughout history. It was very interesting and showed an amount of diverse influences which are even more than I had imagined. If the Tatra's alone had such a complex history then there is no doubt that other parts of Poland underwent no less of an intricate development as well.
Alligator - | 261
1 May 2012 #13

Not "sława" but rather "słowa".
There are many theories explainig the origin of the word "słowianie", but the most probable (at least to me) is the theory that says that the word "słowianie" comes from "słowo" - "word". It was a way to describe people who knew words, who had the same language.

This theory explains also why we call Germans - Niemcy. Niemcy from "niemi" - "mute", people without words, people who don't use the same language and people with whom "słowianie" can't communicate.
Ozi Dan 26 | 569
2 May 2012 #14
Thanks for your excellent analysis Bieganski - I enjoyed reading it and you're obviously well learned in this field. Cheers
OP ZakopanTG 1 | 5
2 May 2012 #15
Thank you Boletus for the link Tatra's Timeline; I found it very interesting as that is the part of Poland that I am from.
boletus 30 | 1,366
2 May 2012 #16
I want to find out how basically what the legend of Lech, Czech and Rus explained but in realistic terms.

A prominent Renaissance Polish man of letters, Jan Kochanowski(1530 - 1584), in his essay on the origin of the Slavs, makes no mention of the third "brother", Rus. Moreover, he dismisses the legend entirely, stating that "no historian who has taken up the subject of the Slavic nation [...] mentions any of those two Slavic leaders, Lech and Czech". He goes on to assume that "Czechy" and "Lachy" are quite probably the original names for the two nations, although he does not dismiss the possibility that there might have been a great leader by the name Lech whose name replaced the original and later forgotten name for the Polish nation.

Decaying Rogalin Oaks,


Rogalin Landscape Park contains Europe's largest group of monumental oak trees. Rogalin Oaks became symbols of Wielkopolska Province. The most famous are the three ones growing in the English-style palace park, "Lech", "Czech" and "Rus" with circumference 635, 726 and 926 cm correspondingly, and "Edward" with a circumference of 650 cm growing on the edge of the park, on the slope of the Warta river valley. The oaks were counted for the first time in 1904. The recent count : 1435. Nearly a thousand has a trunk of circumference greater than 2 m, 860 were considered natural monuments.

translated from

A food for thought: There were Celts once at the area of today's Poland. The left some river names behind, such as Dunajec. How about Lech?

LLech is a Breton/Welsh word for "stone", as in Cromlech (crooked stone)

Welsh: Lech; English: slate, tables; Polish: stoły, tablice.
Welsh: Llech; English: rickets, slate; Polish: krzywica
Welsh: Lach; English: healthy, attack, criticized. Polish: zdrowy.
Old Breton: Lech; English: bed, bedrock.

Lech river, a river in Austria and Germany, the right tributary of Danube.
Alligator - | 261
2 May 2012 #17
There were Celts once at the area of today's Poland.

They were in the southern part of Poland. I saw in Kraków the exibition of Celts artefacts from the area of Małopolska few years ago. There is a theory that the name of Kielce city comes from Celts.
AdamKadmon 2 | 508
2 May 2012 #18
I find an interesting article[/url] by Walter Pohl, an Austrian historian, who is an expert in ethnogenesis:

Traditional Germanic societies had virtually split up into an active, aggressive part that stimulated - and fulfilled - the Roman demand for military manpower on the one hand; and those staying behind as deprived peasants, unable to cling to the ancient rural traditions that gave their existence a name and a meaning. This gap was filled by the Slavs. They reestablished the old bipolarity between a more or less self-sufficient "barbarian" periphery and the Roman world. It has often been argued that their apparent "primitiveness" made them a victim to any foreign intervention.
Jadowniki 1 | 24
29 Dec 2014 #19
In order to understand the origins of poles, one must break down the origins of the slavs. This is very hard, as slavs come into Roman sources only by the late date of 518 A.D. Slavs are a people of mystery.The most common theory is that the slavic people originated in the Northern Ukraine around the pripet marshes. This theory comes from the linguistic study, that shows that while many slavic words for Beech and oak trees are germanic loanwords, the word for hornbeam, the indigenous species of the area has a shared slavic origin. While this theory is very likely, and is backed by other studies, it has also met with difficulty. Baltic tribes are show to have inhabited the area, as shown by the place names of the area and river names. It is possible that slavs lived alongside baltic tribes, or the slavs formed from a mixture of Baltics from the north, and sarmations in the forest-steppe zone to the south. This zone of ethnic mixing would create a cultural identity that would soon become distnict, yet with certain similarities with Baltic and sarmation peoples.

The archeology shows that slavic migrations spread out from the western ukraine to other parts of europe, spreading the more eglatarian culture across eastern europe. Slavs spread down to the danube, south of the carpathians, and east into more central ukraine. The first slavic sub-culture to enter Poland north of the carpathians was called the Mogiła group. It spread across south eastern poland, replacing the scant remains of germanic populations that had left the area in the wake of the hun invasions. These slavs assimilated any remaining germans and formed a strong slavic presence in south east in what is know Małopolska and Podkarpackie. Slavic culture would also spread to central poland, while slavic expansion into North western poland was a bit slower, with scattered depopulated germanic tribes living in the area which would later be absorbed into slavic populations. North east poland, was at this time inhabited by western baltic cultures, but signs of mixing between slavic and baltic cultures would be seen in the following centuries.

As we see, Poland is a slavic nation, with distant germanic mixing in the north west (Pomerania), and Balts in the North east. The populations of South east poland and east central poland are the most slavonic, as shown by genetic testing, Where the highest groupings of r1a1 is found around krakow, rzeszow, Lublin and Warsaw regions. Thus is were the Mogiła group is present. Celtic influences exist in the south west. Thus we see through out early polish history, slavic tribes migrated to poland in the 6th century, assimilating smaller ethnic groups into their body resulting in some mixture. While this mixture occered ro an extent, it must be realized that the scattered germanic tribes living in poland were assimilated and became, in all sense of the word, slavs, by the overwhelming slavic ethnic population.

There is also a theory of the scythian sarmation origins of the polist nations. While I believe that this was exaggerated by the Polish szlachta, there is some truth to this. I do believe that slavs and sarmations in the earliest stage could have been related as well. This is shown by the similarities of sarmation cult symbols and polish coat of arms, and also by the settlemen of sarmations tribe in parts of east poland.

Throughout the centuries, Poland would be shown to be extremely multi-ethnic. Numerous populations would settle in poland and become polonized. The tatars from the central asian steppes would settle in polish lithuania, and soon 300,000 thousand would live in poland. Thus many poles have distant turkic heritage. Jews, armenians, germans and Scots also migrated to poland in large numbers, and in the earlier middle ages and during the deluge in the 1600s, northern poland was influenced by scandinavians. In addition, due to poland expansion to the east, many poles are mixed with ukrainians, belorussian and Lithuanian descent even if they are unaware. Eastern slav presence is very heavy in poles along the eastern borders. The carpathian region has seen mixture with vlachs and hungarians. Thus we see, from the most ancient of times, to more recent history, our people have been primarily unified by a cultural identity as poles, and not a exclusively ethnic one. Poland is slavic no question, but we have mixed alot. The reselt of being in a tolerant and exepting society like ours;)

Lech Czech and Rus. While this legend is a result of romantic myths, it has grains of truth. Actually the legend would support the historical evidence is archeology. It is possible that there could have been tribal divisions aamongst slavs, for example, lech could have been the name of a certain slavic tribal dynasty. The same for rus and czech.
Veles - | 234
29 Dec 2014 #20
Ok, in shortern way: you shouldn't ask anyone from where did Slavs came and where they originated. There are only theories and no one truly knows, how they emerged.

In general what we know is that Slavic people are divided on three groups: Western Slavs (Czechs, Poles, Slovaks, Sorbs), Eastern Slavs (Belorussians, Russians, Rusyns, Ukrainians) and Southern Slavs (Bosniaks, Bulgarians, Croats, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Serbs, Slovenes). Of course, there were more Slavs in the past, but they distinct before they created nations. In the past, in times when we can consider the legend, there was no nations, but tribes, so even speaking about the origins of "Polish Slavs" is not truly logical, when you talk about Lech, Czech and Rus. During Mieszko's I reign, when he created Poland, he have done this by conquering and uniting other Western Slavic tribes. He led the tribe of [Western] Polans (there were also Eastern Polans located in present-day Ukraine) and conquered e.g. Mazovians, Vistulans and Lendians. So there was no Polish Slavs, but the tribes that united with each other and created the nation (it took more time). Just let's think about... let's say... Volhynians - they lived on the area of present borderline between Poland, Ukraine and Belarus (probably). So are they Polish Slavs? Or maybe Ukrainian or Belorussian?

What I can understand in this legend is not one person, but whole group of people. Lech would be a personification of lechitic tribes that settled on modern Polish lands. Czech would be a personification of Czechs, Moravians and Slovaks, while Rus would be a general people settled on the area later known as Kievan Rus'.

Southern Slavs are not mentioned there, as we know from where they came to the Balkans. Formerly, they were living among Western and Eastern Slavs, for example Serbs on the borderline of present-day Poland and Germany, and Croats near Poland, Ukraine and maybe Slovakia. They were not indigenous inhabitants of Balkans and were not related to ancient Celts or Greeks who were living there. However, from where Slavs came in general? No one knows. Some say that Slavs are related to Scythians, other that Slavs are related somehow to Germanics, Sarmathians, Goths etc. Everything is just speculation.

Ancient Romans were literated people, however as we know they were not present in the territory of modern Poland. It was still Germania for them with Scythia and Sarmatia further on east. Local people were not that literated to leave any information about their past, so I think we will never know how we came here.
gumishu 12 | 6,045
29 Dec 2014 #21
Ok, in shortern way: you shouldn't ask anyone from where did Slavs came and where they originated.

actually early geography of Slavs is pretty well documented linguisticly and also inferred from archaelogy. Early Slavs lived in the area of northern Ukraine - it is from there they have expanded
Jadowniki 1 | 24
29 Dec 2014 #22
Veles, I agree with you when you say that there was no exclusively polish tribe to start with, slavs would merge with other tribes and later would form polish identity. However, it is very important to understand to some extent slavic origins before we break down the origins of poles. In this I agree with gumishu.

Yes, you are correct, there are many theories of where the slavs came from, but very little have any reliable information. One theory says that the slavic people were ancient Balkan peoples, another that slavs originated in pannonia. I am aware that one theory, based on evidence from the przeworsk culture, states that slavs originated in modern day poland, or lived subdued under a germanic ruling class. This is less likely however, than the ukrainian belorussian theory of origines. This area of east europe would be the most likely place for the formulation of slavic tribal identity. So Veles, I agree, no one knows where slavs came from, but it is important to go over the most likely theories of our origin, in order to understand the origin of any slavic country.

As for your view on the relatin of slavic people, I some what differ. You are right, everything is in speculation but I disagree that slavic people might be relaTed to germanic tribes. I know you did not say they were I am only commenting. In Roman records, it is certain that slavs came from the north east. In byzantine sources of balkan slavs, the slavs are described in relation to sythians, huns, and avars, not germanic peoples. The systems of slavic government were very different from germanic systems. Also, as we see from archeology, slavic tribes had a much more eglatarian culture than late germanics, who became metal workers. This shows that slavs, for a long time we're isolated from germanic cultures. In actually fact, the slavic launguage contains around 30 loanwords from indo-Iranian launguage, which could be the result of assimilation or common origin. As for today, I believe that slavic people are the most closely related to baltic people's of litwa and latvia. Your suggestions of scythians and sarmations are very likely to me.

Also during the time of slavic migrations, the byzantine romans had some knowledge of the land north of the carpathians. They knew that many of the germans of germania invaded in the last centuries, and that the geo political landscape changed. During the 500s byzantine sources talk of sclavenes(slavs) living along the vistula river. Before the birth of christ, the Romans were ignorant about this part of the world but, in the 6th and 7th centuries they had already large contact with tribes from the area and knew of changes. Also poland lay amougst the amber trade, attracting traders from the south. Also, germanic traders would pass on information to on to the byzantines. Also in the later centuries, the expansion of the holy Roman empire to the east would uncover multiple slavic polan tribes. Thus, poland during the time of slavic settlement was not covered by a large question mark. Ofcourse, no body knew details, but it was known that slavs did expand into poland. Again, I agree with many of your points, it is a good discussion. I agree with your czech lech and rus hypothesis
Veles - | 234
29 Dec 2014 #23
Early Slavs lived in the area of northern Ukraine - it is from there they have expanded

You mean Nestor's writings, for example? Well, yes, he mentioned Slavs, but he didn't said from where they came and who were their ancestors.

In Roman records, it is certain that slavs came from the north east.

Could be. We are definitely related to the Balts, even pre-Christian beliefs have much in common.

We need to have in mind sociological aspect. Many people were nomads, were moving from less "good" areas to better ones. Some researches shown that Slavs are similiar somehow to native people from Afganistan (don't remember in which case), so it is possible to me, that they moved from there and settled here. Maybe they also mixed with other tribes or nations we know from history. But I really doubt that this is a native land to Slavs. What I think is that they moved here, some tribes gone east, other west, et cetera. I'm just guessing. In the past people were moving and mixing with each other, assimiliating... They couldn't just disappear - for example Scythia was a huge land. But Scythians weren't a nation - they could have mixed with Sarmatians, Roxolani, Iazyges, and many others "creating new" tribes.

And to be honest, Romans were present here. In the nearest town some archaelogical researches discovered some Roman coins, so Romans had to be present on eastern Poland. I do not mean military actions, but some merchants, etc. :)

Ofcourse, no body knew details, but it was known that slavs did expand into poland.

They did. In fact, "Slavic territory" was located to Elbe river, though these tribes were conquered by Germans, unfortunately. Only Lusatian Sorbs are still aware of their heritage.
gumishu 12 | 6,045
29 Dec 2014 #24
Well, yes, he mentioned Slavs, but he didn't said from where they came and who were their ancestors.

linguistic chronology tells more or less that Slavs are a branch of Baltic peoples that separated quite early, came into contact with the Iranian speaking peoples of the steppes of Ukraine then early in our era ca. 3-4th century came in contact with the Gothic people in who settled first in Volhynia then in southern Ukraine. Then Hun invasion of Europe and Migration Period happened. Slavic expansion followed. (first into the almost emptied lands to the west and south of northern Ukraine then also to the east and north)
Veles - | 234
29 Dec 2014 #25
It may explain the legend of Lech, Czech and Rus. ;)
Crow 157 | 10,828
29 Dec 2014 #26
Origins of Polish Slavs

That question should be put in front of the Polish government, parliament and academic circles.

But, today, more then ever before, that is political question. Poland`s partners within EU, NATO and why not dare to say- within global Catholic Circles, don`t have interest to allow confirmations about Slavic, with it Polish too, aoutohtonicity in Europe. See, while for example, German, British or French governments speak of Germans, Britons and French as of native Europeans, Polish government can`t say that for Poles. That is forbidden to any Slavic government. Its because of enormous level of the assimilation of Slavs what magnates of the western Eirope and USA for sure consider as something necessary and inevitable.

One of the reasons for the restoration of the Commonwealth around Poland (as great Pilsudski suggested) is necessity for scientific truth about Slavic history. Only in strong Commonwealth, we Slavs from Baltic to Balkan and Black see can found strength to defend our history, in order to secure our future. For we are enslaved true natives of Europe.
Jadowniki 1 | 24
29 Dec 2014 #27
Yes Veles I agree with many of your points.😊 And yes, I found that interesting, your point to Afghanistan. It turns out that like in poland, Afghanistan has a very high frequency of r1a1 haplogroup. Central Asians as well. This would reinforce the link with ancient scythian tribes. Also, linguists have shown that a region in northern iran is called Pul or Pol. Try Google it. They have connected this name with Pol, or Polani. They believe it is possible that an scythian tribe could have been assimilated into proto-slavs, giving it the name Polani. Like what the Bulgars did in Bulgaria to the local slavs. By the time these polani migrated to poland, they were considered slavs by culture and ethnicity. You are right, the people's of the vast lands of eastern europe did not just disappear, instead, they must have assimilated into a dominant culture and mixed in, this culture being slavs. In the case of this theory about the Pul, I am not sure about it , but it's possible. It is in northern iran, and scythians were northern iranians in speech. This is very much like the Croats and serbians, slavs who carry a possible sarmature tribal name. Also, the region of Pul if I remember is a land of vast green plains and fields, and the root of Polanie, which means land of green feilds. Veles and gimishu, what do you think of this?

Yes and again Veles to your point, your right history is very fluid. Lots of mixing occured.

And yes, around my town they also found Roman coins, near Brzesko Małopolska. It was some time ago.
PlasticPole 7 | 2,650
29 Dec 2014 #28
The Poles came from the same places as others. People kept moving onto other places where there was more food, more to hunt and gather, and less crowding. That is how Europe, Russia and Asia were populated with humans. They just kept breaking away and moving on, little splinter groups, or races if you will since many of them consisted of a small group of closely related individuals. Sounds kinda weird to us now but that is how things were back then.
Des Essientes 7 | 1,291
29 Dec 2014 #29
The Poles came from the same places as others. People kept moving onto other places where there was more food, more to hunt and gather, and less crowding.

If the Polish Slavs are the autochthonic population of Poland then they did indeed arrive as hunter-gatherers many thousands of years ago, but if Slavs had been in Central Europe all along then why are they not mentioned in any written sources until 550 AD? The more widely accepted theory is that Slavs migrated into the area not as hunter-gatherers but as horticulturalists and herders during the Fifth Century.
gumishu 12 | 6,045
29 Dec 2014 #30
yes this is precisely the point - the names of the majority of Polish rivers don't mean a thing in Polish (or any Slavic language) - they have been taken from former inhabitants and modified to suit Slavic phonology

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