San José State University
Department of Economics
Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley

The Economy and Economic History of Croatia

The Origins of the Croatians

In the matter of the origin of the Croatians there are several legitimate answers depending upon the concept of Croatians. What appears to be the story is that a subtribe of Sarmatians, an Iranian-language speaking people from Central Asia, established a kingdom called White Croatia in what is now southeastern Germany. There was a companion kingdom called White Serbia in what is now the Bohemia region of the Czech Republic.

The people whom these Sarmatians ruled were Slavic. In due time the Sarmatian rulers were assimilated into the Slavic population.

In the fourteenth century the kingdoms of White Croatia and White Serbia moved south into the Balkan Peninsula. Not all of the people of these kingdoms moved south. There are descendants of those that remained still living in southeastern Germany where they are known as Sorbs or Wends.

The kingdoms of Croatia and Serbia which were established in the Balkan Peninsula undoubtably included Slavic and non-Slavic populations which were already living there. The relative proportions of those who were immigrants from White Croatia versus those who were indigenous is not known. However the non-Slavic elements of the population were assimilated into the Slavic Croatian culture. Thus the origins of the Croatians would include the indigenous population, possible pre-Croatian Slavs, Slavic White Croatians and possibly some remnant of the Sarmatian rulers of White Croatia. There are family names which appear to have Iranian origins.


Because of the vagaries of history the nation state of Croatia has a forked shape. The northern branch of the fork is called Slavonia and corresponds to the Roman province of Pannonia. The southern fork extends along the coast of the Adriatic Sea and corresponds to the Roman province of Dalmatia.

The northern fork lies in a plain which is bounded on the north by the Danube River and on the south by the Drava River. There are scattered low hills in the region. The plain terminates on the south in the rugged mountains which separate the two branches of Croatia.

The region of the Adriatic Coast has been inhabited from time immemorial. The occupants of this Adriatic Coast at the dawn of history were called Illyrians. The Illyrians were spread from the Po River Valley in what is now Italy to what is now Greece.

In the golden age of Greece commercial colonies were established along the Dalmatian coast. The Illyrians preyed upon the Grecian colonies and their trade. Warfare ensued between the Grecian colonies and the Illyrians and ultimately the Grecian colonies sought the protection of the Roman Republic. The Illyrian tribes then formed an alliance to fight the Romans and the Greeks. It took a Roman expeditionary force of twenty thousand infantry, two thousand cavalry and two hundred ships to subdue the Illyrians.

(To be continued.)

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