All Slavic languages: wojewoda


Dear friends,

I'm interested in Estern-European languages and history, and trying to learn Slavic languages. Reading a bit Polish and Russian history (adapted for children's level... that's all I can understand...), I met the word "wojewoda" for an ancient leader. If I understood correct, in the Russian context it was a military leader, derived from the word "war", Война; However in the Polish context - again, if I understood correct - the meaning was civil (something like a regional governor). First, I would like to know if that's correct, are these kind of "false friends" or did I misunderstand; Second, I'd appreciate more information about this word, also in other Slavic languages.
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  • marco_2

    Senior Member
    Hello biala, the word "wojewoda" and all its Slavic versions comes from two words: wój, which former meant soldier, warrior and the verb wodzić which in Polish meant to lead, hence wojewoda was a military leader in his province, in Poland called województwo. Nowadays, the meaning of this word in Polish is, as you noticed, civil - wojewoda in Poland is a kind of governor of a province. However, in other Slavic languages (I know it about Russian and Bulgarian) воевода / войвода is an old, obsolete word and it preserved its former meaning as a military leader.


    New Member
    marco_2 told you about the etymology of the word in Bulgarian. The word first have been used during the Second Bulgarian country (1187-1396) and it was used as a military title given to the commanders of military units. The title was given during war. There was also <<Velik voevoda>> who even replaced the monarch in managing the army.
    When Bulgaria became under Ottoman slavery, the word was used in a bit different way. <<Voevoda>> was called every man who has gathered and is commanding a small group of patriotoc men in resistance against the Ottomans.
    In Slovak there are two rather similar terms vojvoda and vojvodca, probably coming from the same source or the latter could be a neologism. Both are composed from voj- (which means literally a row of the warriors in a formation, but can be extended to mean vojna=war). The second part voda/vodca is derived from the verb 'viesť' = to lead and means the performer of the action described by this verb, -vodca being the proper noun in standard Slovak which mens leader and can be used on its own in this meaning, whereas -voda feels a bit outdated, cannot be used as a standalone word in Slovak and seems to be related to a similar compound found in Slovak -vod used for example in lodivod (a 'ship driver').

    I don't know the exact reason for the split but it is also attested in Czech vévoda/vojevůdce, not sure about other Slavic languages. It can be possibly ascribed to the different function of both, vojvoda being a civil title and vojvodca military term.

    Vojvoda/vévoda = Duke (Lat. Dux, German Herzog, Italian Duce) is an aristocratic title of a very high rank coming from medieval feudal times and means a certain rank of rulers that that ruled in their respective realms (vojvodstvo - duchy) as sovereigns. It can be compared in rank to the title Prince (Knieža, Kníže, Fürst). There was also a modification (or magnification) of this title > veľkovojvoda/velkovévoda = Grand Duke (Grossherzog) for a ruler of Veľkovojvodstvo = Grand Duchy. Specific title of the ruler of the Austrian lands was arcivojvoda/arcivévoda = Arch Duke and Austrian lands were Arcivojvodstvo = Arch Duchy. Up until our times a Grand Duchy of Luxembourg exists as an independent state ruled by Grand Duke of Luxembourg (Luxemburské veľkovojvodstvo - veľkovojvoda luxemburský).

    Vojvodca/vojevůdce - is a term meaning the leader/commander of a major military formation in a battle or even in general in times of peace as one's (main) occupation. E. g. Alexander the Great was a 'vojvodca'. This term does not say anything of one's status of nobility. It may be a simple free man or any nobleman not necesarilly vojvoda. E. g. the famous Austrian military commander Prince Eugene of Savoy (vojvodca knieža Eugen Savojský).

    Apologies for a long post... Just wanted to be snappy and descriptive at the same time :)