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The origin of the Croatian tribe before the great migration of the Slavs is uncertain. According to the most widely accepted[28] Slavic theory of the 7th century, the Croatian tribe moved from the area north of the Carpathians and east of the river Vistula (referred to as White Croatia) and migrated into the western Dinaric Alps. White Croats formed the Principality of Dalmatia in the upper Adriatic. Another wave of Slavic migrants from White Croatia subsequently founded the Principality of Pannonia. However, some scholars doubt the above theory, which is based primarily on De Administrando Imperio, a tenth century work by Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus. The doubt is primarily on archaeological and historiographical grounds. D.A.I. states that the Croats arrived during Heraclius' regnal years (610-640 AD). However, there is little archaeological supporting such a migration. Moreover, it is unlikely that any political entity such as White Croatia ever existed[29]. Instead, Curta points to some burial assemblages in the northern Dalmatia region, which he dates to 800 AD. Here, there are some exceptionally rich burials showing Byzantine, Avar, Frankish and Slavic material elements, perhaps representing a "community of Croats". That is, Curta suggests that the Croats emerged as some kind of an elite caste of Slavic-speaking warriors, consequently spreading their influence, thus their name, over much of Dalmatia and parts of Pannonia. Subsequent papal recognition ensured the evolution from a prominent tribe to a medieval kingdom.

According to the Gothic theory, Croats would be descendants of Ostrogoths/eastern Goths. This theory is based on a historic chronicle from Thomas the Archdeacon called 'Historia Salonitana' where he mentions Croats as Goths. Also, Slavs in area of today Croatia are equated to Goths in Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja.

According to the autochthonous model, mostly promoted by the Illyrian Movement in the 19th century and abandoned[28] by the mid-19th century, the homeland of Slavs is actually in the area of southern Croatia, and they spread northwards and westwards rather than the other way round. A revision of the theory, developed by Ivan Muzić [30] argues that Slav migration from the north did happen, but the actual number of Slavic settlers was small and that the Illyrian ethnic substratum was prevalent for formation of Croatian ethnicity.

The Iranian theory suggests that the Croats are a tribe from Arachosia, this theory is based solely on linguistic evidence and spread of the Old Croatian ethnonym *xъrvatъ, which is almost certainly a borrowing into Slavic. The earliest claimed mention of the Croatian name, Horouathos, can be traced on two stone inscriptions in the Greek language and script, dating from around the year 200 AD, found in the seaport Tanais on the Azov sea, located on the Crimean peninsula (near the Black Sea). Both tablets are kept in an archaeological museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Whilst not impossible, such a theory is solely based on the disputable premise that the term Horouathos is actually related to the Croat ethnonym. The two words may have separate origins. This theory became popular amongst some Croatian scholars during the Homeland War of Independence from Yugoslavia.

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