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The Thracians (//; Ancient Greek: Θρᾷκες Thrāikes; Latin: Thraci) were an Indo-European people who inhabited large parts of Eastern and Southeastern Europe in ancient history. Thracians resided mainly in the Balkans, but were also located in Asia Minor and other locations in Eastern Europe.
The exact origin of Thracians is unknown, but it is believed that proto-Thracians descended from a mixture of Indo-Europeans and indigenous peoples during the second millennium BC. The proto-Thracian culture developed into the Dacian and Thracian culture.
Thracian culture was described as tribal by the ancient Greeks and Romans. They remained largely disunited with the first permanent state being the Odrysian kingdom in the fifth century BC. They faced subjugation by the Achaemenid Empire around the same time. Thracians experienced a short period of peace after the Persians were defeated by the Greeks in the Persian Wars. The Odrysian kingdom lost independence to Macedonia in the late 4th century BC, and never regained total independence following Alexander the Great's death.
The Thracians faced conquest by the Romans in the mid second century BC under whom they faced internal strife. They composed major parts of rebellions against the Romans along with the Macedonians until the Third Macedonian War. Thracians were integrated into Roman society and later converted to Christianity. The last reported use of a Thracian language was by monks in the sixth century AD.
Thracians were described as "warlike" and "barbarians" by the Greeks and Romans and were favored as mercenaries. Ancient descriptions of a vicious people are disputed and archaeology has been used since the mid-twentieth century in southern Bulgaria to identify more about them.
Thracians spoke the extinct Thracian language and shared a common culture. They followed a polytheistic religion with the exception of the monotheistic Dacians who worshipped Zalmoxis. The study of the Thracians is known as Thracology.
The first historical record of the Thracians is found in the Iliad, where they are described as allies of the Trojans in the Trojan War against the Ancient Greeks. The ethnonym Thracian comes from Ancient Greek Θρᾷξ (plural Θρᾷκες; Thrāix, Thrāikes) or Θρᾴκιος (Thrāikios; Ionic: Θρηίκιος, Thrēikios), and the toponym Thrace comes from Θρᾴκη (Thrāikē; Ionic: Θρῄκη, Thrēikē). These forms are all exonyms as applied by the Greeks.
In Greek mythology, Thrax (by his name simply the quintessential Thracian) was regarded as one of the reputed sons of the god Ares. In the Alcestis, Euripides mentions that one of the names of Ares himself was "Thrax" since he was regarded as the patron of Thrace (his golden or gilded shield was kept in his temple at Bistonia in Thrace).
The origins of the Thracians remain obscure, in the absence of written historical records. Evidence of proto-Thracians in the prehistoric period depends on artifacts of material culture. Leo Klejn identifies proto-Thracians with the multi-cordoned ware culture that was pushed away from Ukraine by the advancing timber grave culture or Srubnaya. It is generally proposed that a proto-Thracian people developed from a mixture of indigenous peoples and Indo-Europeans from the time of Proto-Indo-European expansion in the Early Bronze Age when the latter, around 1500 BC, mixed with indigenous peoples. During the Iron Age (about 1000 BC) Dacians and Thracians began developing from proto-Thracians.
Ancient Greek and Roman historians agreed that the ancient Thracians, who were of Indo-European stock and language, were superior fighters; only their constant political fragmentation prevented them from overrunning the lands around the northeastern Mediterranean. Although these historians characterized the Thracians as primitive partly because they lived in simple, open villages, the Thracians in fact had a fairly advanced culture that was especially noted for its poetry and music. Their soldiers were valued as mercenaries, particularly by the Macedonians and Romans.
Identity and distribution
Divided into separate tribes, the Thracians did not manage to form a lasting political organization until the Odrysian state was founded in the fifth century BC. A strong Dacian state appeared in the first century BC, during the reign of King Burebista. The mountainous regions were home to various peoples, including the Illyrians, regarded as warlike and ferocious Thracian tribes, while the plains peoples were apparently regarded as more peaceable.
Thracians inhabited parts of the ancient provinces of Thrace, Moesia, Macedonia, Beotia, Attica, Dacia, Scythia Minor, Sarmatia, Bithynia, Mysia, Pannonia, and other regions of the Balkans and Anatolia. This area extended over most of the Balkans region, and the Getae north of the Danube as far as beyond the Bug and including Pannonia in the west. There were about 200 Thracian tribes.
The Thracians are mentioned in Homer's Illyiad, meaning that they had been already present in the eigth century BC.
The first Greek colonies in Thrace were founded in the eighth century BC.
Thrace south of the Danube (except for the land of the Bessi) was ruled for nearly half a century by the Persians under Darius the Great, who conducted an expedition into the region from 513 to 512 BC. The Persians called Thrace "Skudra".
In the first decade of the sixth century BC, the Persians conquered Thrace and made it part of their satrapy Skudra. Thracians were forced to join the invasions of European Scythia and Greece. According to Herodotus, the Bithynian Thracians also had to contribute a large contingent to Xerxes' invasion of Greece in 480 BC. Subjugation of Macedonia was part of Persian military operations initiated by Darius the Great (521–486) in 513: after immense preparations, a huge Achaemenid army invaded the Balkans and tried to defeat the European Scythians roaming north of the Danube River. Darius' army subjugated several Thracian peoples at the same time, and virtually all other regions that touch the European part of the Black Sea, including parts of present-day Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia, before returning to Asia Minor. Darius left in Europe one of his commanders, Megabazus, whose task was to accomplish conquests in the Balkans. The Persian troops subjugated gold-rich Thrace, the coastal Greek cities, and the powerful Paeonians. Finally, Megabazus sent envoys to Amyntas I, King of Macedon demanding acceptance of Persian domination, which the Macedonian agreed to. By this time, many if not most Thracians were under Persian rule.
By the fifth century BC, the Thracian population was large enough that Herodotus called them the second-most numerous people in the part of the world known by him (after the Indians), and potentially the most powerful, if not for their lack of unity. The Thracians in classical times were broken up into a large number of groups and tribes, though a number of powerful Thracian states were organized, such as the Odrysian kingdom of Thrace and the Dacian kingdom of Burebista. The peltast, a type of soldier of this period, probably originated in Thrace.
The Odrysian Kingdom was a state union of over 40 Thracian tribes and 22 kingdoms that existed between the 5th century BC and the 1st century AD. It consisted mainly of present-day Bulgaria, spreading to parts of Southeastern Romania (Northern Dobruja), parts of Northern Greece and parts of modern-day European Turkey.
During this period, contacts between the Thracians and Classical Greece intensified.
After the Persians withdrew from Europe and before the expansion of the Kingdom of Macedon, Thrace was divided into three regions (east, central, and west). A notable ruler of the East Thracians was Cersobleptes, who attempted to expand his authority over many of the Thracian tribes. He was eventually defeated by the Macedonians.
The conquest of the southern part of Thrace by Philip II of Macedon in the fourth century BC made the Odrysian kingdom extinct for several years. After the kingdom was reestablished, it was a vassal state of Macedon for several decades under generals such as Lysimachus of the Diadochi.
In 279 BC, Celtic Gauls advanced into Macedonia, southern Greece and Thrace. They were soon forced out of Macedonia and southern Greece, but they remained in Thrace until the end of the third century BC. From Thrace, three Celtic tribes advanced into Anatolia and established the kingdom of Galatia.
In western parts of Moesia, Celts (Scordisci) and Thracians lived alongside each other, as evident from the archaeological findings of pits and treasures, spanning from the third century BC to the first century BC.
During the Macedonian Wars, conflict between Rome and Thrace was unavoidable. The rulers of Macedonia were weak, and Thracian tribal authority resurged. But after the Battle of Pydna in 168 BC, Roman authority over Macedonia seemed inevitable, and the governance of Thrace passed to Rome.
Initially, Thracians and Macedonians revolted against Roman rule. For example, the revolt of Andriscus, in 149 BC, drew the bulk of its support from Thrace. Incursions by local tribes into Macedonia continued for many years, though a few tribes, such as the Deneletae and the Bessi, willingly allied with Rome.
The next century and a half saw the slow development of Thracia into a permanent Roman client state. The Sapaei tribe came to the forefront initially under the rule of Rhascuporis. He was known to have granted assistance to both Pompey and Caesar, and later supported the Republican armies against Antonius and Octavian in the final days of the Republic.
The heirs of Rhascuporis became as deeply enmeshed in political scandal and murder as were their Roman masters. A series of royal assassinations altered the ruling landscape for several years in the early Roman imperial period. Various factions took control with the support of the Roman Emperor. The turmoil would eventually end with one final assassination.
After Rhoemetalces III of the Thracian Kingdom of Sapes was murdered in AD 46 by his wife, Thracia was incorporated as an official Roman province to be governed by Procurators, and later Praetorian prefects. The central governing authority of Rome was in Perinthus, but regions within the province were under the command of military subordinates to the governor. The lack of large urban centers made Thracia a difficult place to manage, but eventually the province flourished under Roman rule. However, Romanization was not attempted in the province of Thracia. The Balkan Sprachbund does not support Hellenization.
Roman authority in Thracia rested mainly with the legions stationed in Moesia. The rural nature of Thracia's populations, and distance from Roman authority, certainly inspired local troops to support Moesia's legions. Over the next few centuries, the province was periodically and increasingly attacked by migrating Germanic tribes. The reign of Justinian saw the construction of over 100 legionary fortresses to supplement the defense.
Thracians in Moesia were Romanized. Those in Thrace and surrounding areas would come to be known as the Bessi. In the 6th century AD the Bessian (i.e. Thracian) language was reportedly still in use by monks at a Mount Sinai monastery.
Thracians were regarded by other peoples as warlike, ferocious, and bloodthirsty. They were seen as "barbarians" by ancient Greeks and Romans. Plato in his Republic groups them with the Scythians, calling them extravagant and high spirited; and his Laws portrays them as a warlike nation, grouping them with Celts, Persians, Scythians, Iberians and Carthaginians. Polybius wrote of Cotys's sober and gentle character being unlike that of most Thracians. Tacitus in his Annals writes of them being wild, savage and impatient, disobedient even to their own kings.
Polyaenus and Strabo write how the Thracians broke their pacts of truce with trickery. The Thracians struck their weapons against each other before battle, "in the Thracian manner," as Polyaneus testifies. Diegylis was considered one of the most bloodthirsty chieftains by Diodorus Siculus. An Athenian club for lawless youths was named after the Triballi.
According to ancient Roman sources, the Dii were responsible for the worst atrocities of the Peloponnesian War, killing every living thing, including children and dogs in Tanagra and Mycalessos. Thracians would impale Roman heads on their spears and rhomphaias such as in the Kallinikos skirmish at 171 BC. Herodotus writes that "they sell their children and let their maidens commerce with whatever men they please".
The accuracy and impartiality of these descriptions have been called into question in modern times, given the seeming embellishments in Herodotus's histories, for one. Archaeologists have attempted to piece together a fuller understanding of Thracian culture through study of their artifacts.
Aftermath and legacy
The ancient languages of these people and their cultural influence were highly reduced due to the repeated invasions of the Balkans by Ancient Macedonians, Romans, Celts, Huns, Goths, Scythians, Sarmatians and Slavs, accompanied by, hellenization, romanization and later slavicisation. However, the Thracians as a group did not entirely disappear, with the Bessi surviving at least until the late 4th century. Towards the end of the 4th century, Nicetas the Bishop of Remesiana brought the gospel to "those mountain wolves", the Bessi.[page needed] Reportedly his mission was successful, and the worship of Dionysus and other Thracian gods was eventually replaced by Christianity. In 570, Antoninus Placentius said that in the valleys of Mount Sinai there was a monastery in which the monks spoke Greek, Latin, Syriac, Egyptian and Bessian. The origin of the monasteries is explained in a medieval hagiography written by Simeon Metaphrastes, in Vita Sancti Theodosii Coenobiarchae in which he wrote that Theodosius the Cenobiarch founded on the shore of the Dead Sea a monastery with four churches, in each being spoken a different language, among which Bessian was found. The place where the monasteries were founded was called "Cutila", which may be a Thracian name. The further fate of the Thracians is a matter of dispute. Some authors like Schramm derived the Albanians from the Christian Bessi, or Bessians, an early Thracian people who were pushed westwards into Albania,[page needed] while more mainstream historians support Illyrian-Albanian continuity or a possible Thraco-Illyrian creole.[page needed][page needed][page needed][page needed] Most probably the remnants of the Thracians were assimilated into the Roman and later in the Byzantine society and became part of the ancestral groups of the modern Southeastern Europeans.
One notable cult that existed in Thrace, Moesia and Scythia Minor was that of the "Thracian horseman", also known as the "Thracian Heros", at Odessos (near Varna) known by a Thracian name as Heros Karabazmos, a god of the underworld, who was usually depicted on funeral statues as a horseman slaying a beast with a spear. Dacians had a monotheistic religion based on the god Zalmoxis. The supreme Balkan thunder god Perkon was part of the Thracian pantheon, although cults of Orpheus and Zalmoxis likely overshadowed his.
The Thracians were polygamous. Menander puts it: "All Thracians, especially us and the Getae, are not much abstaining, because no one takes less than ten, eleven, twelve wives, some even more. If one dies and has only four or five wives he is called ill-fated, unhappy and unmarried." According to Herodotus virginity among women was not valued, and unmarried Thracian women could have sex with any man they wished to. There were men perceived as holy Thracians, who lived without women and were called "ktisti". In myth Orpheus became attracted to men after the death of Eurydice and is thought of as the establisher of homosexuality among Thracian men. Because he advocated love between men and turning away from loving women he was killed by the Bistones women.
The Thracians were a warrior people, known as both horsemen and lightly armed skirmishers with javelins. Thracian peltasts had a notable influence in Ancient Greece.
The history of Thracian warfare spans from c. 10th century BC up to the 1st century AD in the region defined by Ancient Greek and Latin historians as Thrace. It concerns the armed conflicts of the Thracian tribes and their kingdoms in the Balkans and in the Dacian territories. Emperor Traianus, also known as Trajan, conquered Dacia after two wars in the 2nd century AD. The wars ended with the occupation of the fortress of Sarmisegetusa and the death of the king Decebalus. Besides conflicts between Thracians and neighboring nations and tribes, numerous wars were recorded among Thracian tribes too.
Several Thracian graves or tombstones have the name Rufus inscribed on them, meaning "redhead" – a common name given to people with red hair which led to associating the name with slaves when the Romans enslaved this particular group. Ancient Greek artwork often depicts Thracians as redheads. Rhesus of Thrace, a mythological Thracian king, was so named because of his red hair and is depicted on Greek pottery as having red hair and a red beard. Ancient Greek writers also described the Thracians as red-haired. A fragment by the Greek poet Xenophanes describes the Thracians as blue-eyed and red haired:
Bacchylides described Theseus as wearing a hat with red hair, which classicists believe was Thracian in origin. Other ancient writers who described the hair of the Thracians as red include Hecataeus of Miletus, Galen, Clement of Alexandria, and Julius Firmicus Maternus.
Nevertheless, academic studies have concluded that people often had different physical features from those described by primary sources. Ancient authors described as red-haired several groups of people. They claimed that all Slavs had red hair, and likewise described the Scythians as red haired. According to Dr. Beth Cohen, Thracians had "the same dark hair and the same facial features as the Ancient Greeks." On the other hand, Dr. Aris N. Poulianos states that Thracians, like modern Bulgarians, belonged mainly to the Aegean anthropological type.
This is a list of historically important personalities being entirely or partly of Thracian ancestry:
- Orpheus, mythological figure considered chief among poets and musicians; king of the Thracian tribe of Cicones
- Spartacus, Thracian gladiator who led a large slave uprising in Southern Italy in 73–71 BC and defeated several Roman legions in what is known as the Third Servile War
- Amadocus, Thracian King, the Amadok Point was named after him
- Teres I, Thracian King who united many tribes of Thrace under the banner of the Odrysian state
- Sitalces, King of the Odrysian state; an ally of the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War
- Burebista, King of Dacia
- Decebalus, King of Dacia
- Maximinus Thrax, Roman Emperor from 235 to 238.
- Aureolus, Roman military commander
- Galerius, Roman Emperor from 305 to 311; born to a Thracian father and Dacian mother
- Licinius, Roman Emperor from 308 to 324
- Maximinus Daia or Maximinus Daza, Roman Emperor from 308 to 313
- Justin I, Eastern Roman Emperor and founder of the Justinian dynasty
- Justinian the Great, Eastern Roman Emperor; either Illyrian or Thracian, born in Dardania
- Belisarius, Eastern Roman general of reputed Illyrian or Thracian origin
- Marcian, Eastern Roman Emperor from 450 to 457; either Illyrian or Thracian
- Leo I the Thracian, Eastern Roman Emperor from 457 to 474
- Bouzes or Buzes, Eastern Roman general active during the reign of Justinian the Great (r. 527–565)
- Coutzes or Cutzes, general of the Byzantine Empire during the reign of Emperor Justinian I
The branch of science that studies the ancient Thracians and Thrace is called Thracology. Archaeological research on the Thracian culture started in the 20th century, especially after World War II, mainly in southern Bulgaria. As a result of intensive excavations in the 1960s and 1970s a number of Thracian tombs and sanctuaries were discovered. Most significant among them are: the Tomb of Sveshtari, the Tomb of Kazanlak, Tatul, Seuthopolis, Perperikon the Tomb of Aleksandrovo in Bulgaria and Sarmizegetusa in Romania and others.
Also a large number of elaborately crafted gold and silver treasure sets from the 5th and 4th century BC were unearthed. In the following decades, those were exhibited in museums around the world, thus calling attention to ancient Thracian culture. Since the year 2000, Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov has made discoveries in Central Bulgaria, in an area now known as "The Valley of the Thracian Kings". The residence of the Odrysian kings was found in Starosel in the Sredna Gora mountains. A 1922 Bulgarian study claimed that there were at least 6,269 necropolises[clarification needed] in Bulgaria.[page needed]
A genetic study published in Scientific Reports in April 2019 examined the mtDNA of 25 Thracian remains in Bulgaria from the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. They were found to harbor a mixture of ancestry from Western Steppe Herders (WSHs) and Early European Farmers (EEFs).
Thracian tribes and heroes.
Map of the territory of Philip II of Macedon.
Kingdom of Lysimachus and the Diadochi.
Golden Dacian helmet of Cotofenesti, in Romania.
Gold coins that have been minted by the Dacians, with the legend ΚΟΣΩΝ.
Map of the Diocese of Thrace (Dioecesis Thraciae) c. 400 AD.
Thracian tomb Shushmanets build in 4th century BC
The interior of the Sveshtari tomb
Bronze head of Seuthes III from his tomb
Interior of Tomb of Seuthes III
- Dacia and Dacians
- Illyria and Illyrians
- List of rulers of Thrace and Dacia
- List of Thracian tribes
- List of ancient Daco-Thracian peoples and tribes
- Odrysian kingdom
- Orphism (religion)
- Paeonia (kingdom)
- Thracian warfare
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