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Byzantine sources report that part of the White Serbs, led by the Unknown Archont, migrated southward from their Slavic homeland of White Serbia (Poland) in the late sixth century and eventually overwhelmed the Serbian lands that now make up Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Dalmatia. After settling on the Balkans, Serbs mixed with other Slavic tribes (which settled during the great migration of the Slavs) and with descendants of the indigenous peoples of the Balkans: Greeks, Thracians, Dacians and Illyrians.

Almost one millennium afterwards, overwhelmed by the Ottoman wars in Europe which ravaged their territories, Serbs once again started crossing the rivers Sava and Danube and resettling the previously abandoned regions in Central Europe which are today's Vojvodina, Slavonia, Transylvania and Hungary proper. Apart from the Habsburg Empire, thousands were attracted to Imperial Russia, where they were given territories to settle: Nova Serbia and Slavo-Serbia were named after these refugees. Two Great Serbian Migrations resulted in a relocation of the Serbian core from the Ottoman-dominated South towards the developed (Christian) North, where it has remained ever since.

Serbs have played a significant role in the development of the arts and sciences. Prominent individuals include the scientists Nikola Tesla, Mihajlo Pupin, Jovan Cvijić, and Milutin Milanković; the renowned mathematician Mihailo Petrović and controversial co-author of Theory of Relativity Mileva Marić (Albert Einstein's first wife); the famous composers Goran Bregovic, Stevan Mokranjac and Stevan Hristić; the celebrated authors Borislav Pekić, Ivo Andrić and Miloš Crnjanski; the prolific inventor Ogneslav Kostović Stepanović; the polymath Đura Jakšić; the famous sports stars Pete Maravich ("Pistol Pete"), Vlade Divac, Dejan Bodiroga, Peđa Stojaković, Novak Đoković, Janko Tipsarević, Jelena Janković, Ana Ivanović, Nemanja Vidić, Nikola Zigic, Danko Lazović, Marko Pantelić, Dragan Stojković, Darko Miličić, Nenad Krstić, Vladimir Radmanović, Dejan Stanković, and Mateja Kežman; actors Karl Malden (Mladen Sekulovich), Rade Šerbedžija and the actress Milla Jovovich, Sasha Alexander, Lolita Davidovich (half Serbian). Famous directors like Dušan Makavejev, Peter Bogdanovich and Emir Kusturica. The Serb ruler during the Middle Ages (see List of Serbian rulers), Stephen Nemanja, and his son, Saint Sava, founded the monastery of Hilandar for the Serbian Orthodox Church, one of the greatest and oldest Orthodox Christian monuments in the world. Current governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, George Voinovich, former governor of the US state of Ohio, Gregg Popovich coach of the San Antonio Spurs, and famous singers "Weird Al" Yankovic, Željko Joksimović and Marija Šerifović are of Serbian origin.

The mother of the last (Eastern) Roman Emperor, Constantine XI Paleologos Dragases, was a Serbian princess, Helena Dragash (Jelena Dragaš), and she liked to be known by her Serbian surname of Dragaš.

Mehmed-paša Sokolović a 16th-century Ottoman Grand Vizier. Born in an Orthodox Serb family in southeast Bosnia, Sokolović was taken away at an early age as part of the devshirmeh system of Ottoman collection of young boys to be raised to serve as janissaries or in the imperial administration.

Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914, precipitating the crisis between Austo-Hungary and Serbia that led to World War I.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, himself a Russian, composed the Slavonic March (Marche Slave) in 1876, known at first as the “Serbo-Russian March”, based on the Serbian folk melody “Come, my Dearest, why So Sad this Morning?”.


The Serbs are a highly family-oriented society. A peek into a Serbian dictionary and the richness of their terminology related to kinship speaks volumes.

Of all Slavs and Orthodox Christians, only Serbs have the custom of slava. The custom could also be found among some Russians and Albanians of Serbian origin although it has often been lost in the last century. Slava is celebration of a saint; unlike most customs that are common for the whole people, each family separately celebrates its own saint (of course, there is a lot of overlap) who is considered its protector. A slava is inherited from father to son and each household may only have one celebration which means that the occasion brings all of the family together.

Though a lot of old customs are now no longer practised, many of the customs that surround Serbian wedding still are.

The traditional Serbian dance is a circle dance called kolo. It is a collective dance, where a group of people (usually several dozen, at the very least three) hold each other by the hands or around the waist dancing, forming a circle (hence the name), semicircle or spiral. Similar circle dances also exist in other cultures of the region.

Serbs have their own customs regarding Christmas. The Serbian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar, so Christmas currently falls on January 7 of the Gregorian calendar. Early in the morning of Christmas Eve, the head of the family would go to a forest in order to cut badnjak, a young oak, the oaktree would then be brought into the church to be blessed by the priest. Then the oaktree would be stripped of its branches with combined with wheat and other grain products would be burned in the fireplace. The burning of the badnjak is a ritual which is most certainly of pagan origin and it is considered a sacrifice to God (or the old pagan gods) so that the coming year may bring plenty of food, happiness, love, luck and riches. Nowadays, with most Serbs living in towns, most simply go to their church service to be given a small parcel of oak, wheat and other branches tied together to be taken home and set afire. The house floor and church is covered with hay, reminding worshippers of the stable in which Jesus was born.

Christmas Day itself is celebrated with a feast, necessarily featuring roasted piglet as the main meal. Another Christmas meal is a deliciously sweet cake made of wheat, called koljivo whose consumption is more for ritual than nourishment. One crosses oneself first, then takes a spoonful of the cake and savours it. But the most important Christmas meal is česnica, a special kind of bread. The bread contains a coin; during the lunch, the family breaks up the bread and the one who finds the coin is said to be assured of an especially happy year.

Christmas is not associated with presents like in the West, although it is the day of St Nicolas, the protector saint of children, to whom presents are given. However, most Serbian families give presents on New Year's Day. Santa Claus (Deda Mraz (literally meaning grandpa frost)) and the Christmas tree (but rather associated with New Year's Day) are also used in Serbia as result of globalisation. Serbs also celebrate the Orthodox New Year (currently on January 14 of the Gregorian Calendar).

Religious Serbs also celebrate other religious holidays and even non-religious people often celebrate Easter (on the Orthodox date).


One oft-quoted aspect of the Serbian character is inat (инат), roughly translating as "spite," or the stubborn refusal to submit (regardless of the reason), or acting to the contrary, even to the point of harming oneself. While inat can have negative connotations, some cite Serbian tenacity in sports and in warfare to this characteristic.

Another related feature, often lamented by Serbs themselves, is disunity and discord; as Slobodan Naumović puts it, "Disunity and disaccord have acquired in the Serbian popular imaginary a notorious, quasi-demiurgic status. They are often perceived as being the chief malefactors in Serbian history, causing political or military defeats, and threatening to tear Serbian society completely apart." That disunity is often quoted as the source of Serbian historic tragedies, from the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 to Yugoslav wars in 1990s. Even the contemporary notion of "two Serbias"—one supposedly anational, liberal and Eurocentric, and the other conservative, nationalist and Euroskeptic—seems to be the extension of the said discord. Popular proverbs "two Serbs, three parties" and "God save that Serbs may unite!", and even the unofficial Serbian motto "only unity saves Serbs" (Samo sloga Srbina spasava) illustrate the national frustration with the inability to unite over important issues.

As with many other peoples, there are popular stereotypes on the local level: in popular jokes and stories, inhabitants of Vojvodina (Lale) are perceived as phlegmatic, undisturbed and slow; Montenegrins are lazy and pushy; southern Serbians are misers; Bosnians are raw and stupid; people from Central Serbia are often portrayed as capricious and malicious, etc.

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