History Files


Eastern Europe

Tracing the Croatian Name

by Željko Buzov, Croatia, 15 July 2002



The history of the Croatian people is a history of their name. The very records of the name of the Croats, who from time immemorial appear in numerous historical sources scattered on the vast territory of Eurasia, testify with great certainty about the existence, prehistory and origin (ethnogenesis) of the Croats, and of their migrations.

Traces of the name HRVAT (Croat) can be found in European place names scattered over a wide area, but are specially numerous in present day Austria and Slovenia. The name has, to the present day, been preserved in place names in Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, Macedonia, Greece, Montenegro and Albania. In the tenth century the name HRVAT could be found in every nation known today as a Slavic nation. In the mid-nineteenth century a group of Eastern Orthodox Ukrainians still called themselves HORVATS (Croats). The Russian linguist and historian Derzavin believes that there is an old Russian tribe, called the Croats, in the very foundations of the Ukrainian nation, although this is suspected to be more to do with the Russian habit of adopting everything and proclaiming it as "Russian".

At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century White Croats still lived around Krakow (Pope John Paul II was born in Krakow as Karol Woytila. His mother's birth records state her nationality as "White Croat" The lady was born in Poland at the end of the nineteenth century and the records can be verified).

There have been various explanations of the name HRVAT (Croat). There are those who believe that in the beginning the name did not have any ethnic meaning, it simply meant a social status. Today, scientists agree that the name Croat is not of Old Slav origin; many linguists believe that the name Croat is of Old Iranian origin. The oldest known record of the Croatian name was found in the written documents of the Mittannian-Hurrian King Tusratta (circa 1420-1400 BC) who called himself the Great King and the King of the Mittanni. He called his kingdom Huravat Ehillaku - Croatian Kingdom. The present name HRVAT devolved from the name H(u)R(a)VAT over the next two thousand years. The old Huravat Kingdom is, in historical sources, found under different names:

The Hittites and the Medians called it Mittanni, the Egyptians referred to it as Naharian (the land of the river, or river basin) while in Assyro-Babylonian records, on the other hand, it is known as Haniagablat. The kingdom spread across a vast territory, from the Tigris to the Mediterranean Sea, on one side, and from the Habura River to the Assyrian border with Egypt, on the other. In the fifteenth century BC it was a major power in the Middle East. On the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, west of present-day Syria, and north of the Tiberiad Sea (the Sea of Galilee), where the mighty Kingdom of Huravat once flourished, there stood a town named Arvat (Hrvat), until the Arabs conquered the whole area in the seventh century AD. The majority of the population were the Hurrits, known in historical sources as: Hurrs, Harrs, Horrs and Horrians. They peacefully migrated to Mesopotamia crossing present-day Kurdistan from which later emerged Armenia

The elite class were the Indo-European-Asian mounted warriors and conquerors known as Mariani (incidentally, ninth century AD Latin documents call Old Croatian warriors from the Nereveta River the Mariani). The ruling class was known as the Mittanni and from that, very often, even the Kingdom of Huravat was called the Land/State of Mittanni. The Aryan Mittanni probably rode to Mesopotamia, crossing Iran, from their Aryan homeland which lies around the Caspian Sea. In that region there is, even today, a place known as Kyzil Arvat (Red Croat). The Mittanni brought business efficiency to the Hurrites, which they lacked. The result was the emergence of a new power in the Middle East. The name Huravat probably came from the word Hurrit, which was known as the Caucasian region. The Old Testament places the Hurrites in Palestine. 

The Anglo-Saxon King Alfred the Great (871-901), in his translation of Orosius's History of the World uses the word Horrits for the Croats. It is believed that the Iranian province of Horrati could easily be the ancestral homeland of the Croats. In present-day Afghanistan, which the Hurrites must have crossed on their way to Mesopotamia, a group of people speak a language which the Afghans themselves call Croatian (in French: le croate). In the archives of the capital of the Hittite Kingdom of Husa, today the Turkish village Bogazkoy in Asia Minor, there still exist tablets with inscriptions in the Hurrit (proto-Croatian Huravat) language. Among other texts written on those tablets, there is a part of a translation of the Sumerian-Babylonian epic Gilgamesh into, what is supposed to be a pre-Croatian language. The hero of the epic bears the title Ban (viceroy). 

The Kingdom of Huravat existed from the sixteenth to the fourteenth century BC as and independent state and then it became an integral part of the Hittite state. The Hittites had already been intermarrying with the Huravats and worshipped many of their gods. The Huravat scribes and magicians were also received in the Hittites' court. The Huravats taught the Hittites the art of writing, and the Hittites adopted the cuneiform script invented by the Sumerians. The Huravats taught them the craft of stone-cutting and the decoration of standing tomb-stones. Part of the Huravats retreated from Mesopotamia into present-day Armenia. There they found their fellow countrymen, the Hurrits. The two together formed a new state with its capital and headquarters on Van Lake. The new state, like the Mesopotamian one, was called the Kingdom of Huravat; the Persians knew them by the same name. In other foreign sources the Kingdom of Huravat is called the State of Uruatu, and in world history books the Van Empire. 

According to historical sources, this other Croatian state existed from about the thirteenth to about the sixth century BC. In its own sources it is known as Bilaini; the Bible calls it Ararat. The Kingdom of Huravat, with its capital Tushpa, flourished during the tenth century BC, and very successfully resisted all Assyrian attacks. During the eighth century BC when the Assyrians were quite weak, the Kingdom of Huravat became the leading power in that part of Asia. It occupied Northern Assyria and spread to the Southern Caucasus, and from Urmia Lake to the Black Sea. At the beginning of the sixth century BC it became a part of the Maad Harhvati.

The culture of the Van Huravats, which apart from the Mesopotamian culture, had links with Mediterranean Greek culture, later influenced Armenian and Georgian culture as well (architecture, pleat design, standing tombstones, script).

In texts by the Assyrian King Tiglatapilester III, the name Huravat appears as Araquttu. Linguists agree that it is the same as the Old Iranian Harhavat, Old Persian Hara(h)uvats, Avestian, Harah(v)aiti, Indian Sarasvati, and Greek Arahozia. In all these examples and forms, the name Harahvat means (land) rich with water, rivers. From the thirteenth century BC when the Van Huravat Kingdom was founded, it is believed that on the territory of the present-day Iran and Afghanistan, there existed another Croatian state which was called Harahvati and Harahvatia where the proto-Croat Hurrite had been living.

This Croatian State is mentioned by Zoroaster, the Old Iranian teacher, reformer and founder of Zoroastrism, in the holy books of Avesta (Vendidat I, 12). In his books Zoroaster writes that one of the six immortal virtues is Harvat - well-being. The Avestian form of the word is the same in the Croatian Chakavian dialect: Haravat. 

The celebrated Persian poet Firdusi, in his epic Book of Kings (which is a kind of a history of Iran), says that Zoroaster's father was an Aurvat. This word corresponds to a Croatian form of the word Arvat, which very often appears in old Croatian written records, as well as in spoken folk tradition (in Muslim folk songs there is frequent mention of: Arvat's Ajka; Mujo of the Arvats; Arvat's Mujo.) Zoroaster was probably a Harahvat-Hrvat (Croat), by origin. This can be deduced from a hymn found in the Avesta which he wrote to honour his beloved Harahvaiti: "As the tenth among the best places and settlements I, Ahuramazda, have created the beautiful Harahvaiti."

In the vicinity of the Afghanistani town of Kandahara, on the site of the former capital of the Harahvaiti state, there is a village called Haravacia. In the village, the ornaments are the same as those found in Istria and on the island of Krk, while women wear the same kind of aprons that are found in some Croatian provinces today.

In a Glagolitic charter from 1463, Hungarian-Croatian King Matthias Corvin calls himself Matthias, King of Hungary, Dalmatia and Hrvacia, by God's mercy! In a complaint filed by a noblemen named Gusetic and addressed to Ban (Viceroy) Pavao I Subic of Bribir, he mentions a region called Hrvatia in the province of Lika.



The views expressed here are the author's own. They may not reflect the views of others and no inference should be made that this is the case.
Text copyright the original author(s). An original feature for the History Files.