Apis in Serbia

Thomas Laqueur in the LRB, reviewing Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914:

Clark, however, begins with an earlier terrorist act, the grotesque murder in 1903 of the Serbian King Alexander and his wife, Draga, by a small group of officers acting as part of a larger conspiracy…

One of the plotters – Dragutin Dimitrijević, ‘Apis’ (the Serbian word for ‘bull’) as he was known – would in 1911 become a founding member of the secret, ultra-nationalist organisation Union or Death, a.k.a. the Black Hand.

Apis? That’s some ancient bull-god as far as I could remember. Egyptian, in fact. How come it was adopted by Serbian, of all languages? Google Translate gives “bik” and “vo” but no mention of Apis. Nothing like Apis in Greek, Turkish, Albanian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Croatian. That’s as far as Google Translator goes, of course, since I don’t have proper dictionaries for these languages.

But it looks to me that Dragutin Dimitrijević was nicknamed Apis after that horned god.


  1. From what I remember, he was named Apis because he resembled a bull, either in looks or character. The nicknamers probably took the word from their Classical education (the Apis bull is in Herodotus, for example).

    Incidentally, the Serbian dynasty “Apis” brought back to power in 1903, Karageorgevic (excuse my spelling), shows another example of Christians borrowing “Muslim” names, just like some Armenians did. “Kara” is Turkish for black, mixed with the Greek-derived “George”. (“Black George” Petrovic was the founder of the dynasty).

    • Yes, like Karageorgiou and Karagiannis in Greece. There are lots of “Kara-” surnames in Russia but I can’t think of a Slavic or Slavicized Greek/Aramaic root to go with the Turkic one. Karamzin, Karamanov, Karatayev perhaps (if from “karaçay”) but nothing like “Karaivanov.”

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