Every third European is a speaker of a Slavic language. By area, nearly half of Europe speaks Slavic. But who are the Slavic-speaking people by origin?
We know quite a bit about the Slavs from linguists, archaeologists, and historians. However, the advance of population genetics in recent decades adds a whole new dimension to the picture. The detailed genome analysis of the present-day populations reveals a lot about their ancestors and kinship.
The Great Migration – Slavs on the move
In the first millennium, much of Europe was on the move. The internal crisis and barbarian invasions challenged the Western Roman Empire. Between 300 and 500 AD, Germanic tribes such as the Goths, Vandals, Angles, Saxons, and others gained control of most of the empire’s areas. Between 500 and 700, other tribes, including the Slavs, pushed Germanic people westwards.
Historical records suggest that a major Slavic expansion across Europe took place in approximately 500–1000 AD. As mentioned, in Central-West Europe it affected groups speaking Germanic languages. In Eastern Europe it affected areas previously occupied by Baltic, Finno-Ugric and Turkic speaking populations; and in the Balkans populations of diverse linguistic affiliation.
Linguistic reconstruction supports the migration timing suggested by historians. Namely, the diversification of the Slavic languages into East, West, and South Slavic occurred around 100 AD. Intensive further diversification and development of individual Slavic dialects started around 500 AD.