|Bulgaria's Thracian Heritage|
the golden age of thracian kingdoms and thracian culture
The term Thracians is a common name of the tribes once settled in the eastern parts of South-Eastern Europe. It was first mentioned by Homer in the second song of the Iliad known as the Catalogue of Ships when referring to the inhabitants of Thracian Chersonese and further in the tenth song when describing the warriors led by Rhezos in front of Troy's walls. This ethnic designation was most probably an Hellenized form of a Thracian name whose meaning is not clear yet. According to some hypotheses it meant 'brave, courageous' which in Greek obtained the implication of 'wild, ungovernable'.
The ethnogenic process that started developing during the middle of the 2nd millennium BC resulted in a relatively consolidated Thracian nationality. It roughly covered a territory bordering on the Carpathian Mountains to the north, the Prut river to the north-east, the Vardar river to the west, the island line Tassos - Samothrace to the south, and north-western Asia Minor and the Hellespontic coast to the south-east.
The Thracian language was Indo-European.
Some of the more popular Thracian tribes were: the Odrysians, the Gatae, the Bessae, the Kikones, the Mysians, the Paniones, the Bithynians.
The 2nd millennium BC saw the Thracians' transition from tribal to territorial communities, and later to early class state unions. The Thracians were familiar with centralized political and priest power, and military class organization; they also had a traceable dynastic line with its own treasury. Some of their rulers were outstanding political figures in the epoch prior to, in the course of and following the Troy War in the 13th century BC.
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The fifth and the fourth centuries BC marked the peak of Thracian culture and saw a period of major changes in the historical fate of Thracians, too. Driven by both domestic and foreign political factors, the existent state-forming processes became ever more powerful. The presence in Thrace of Persian troops and the struggles they waged with the local population and with the Hellenes played a positive role, as they contributed to a more active political life at a time when all prerequisites in the sociopolitical development of the Thracian tribes were already present. The victory of Hellas over Persia caused a political vacuum in the region, and right at that point the Odrysian kingdom appeared - the first Thracian kingdom during recorded history. It was founded in South-Eastern Thracia as a result of the efforts of Teres who united several tribes under his rule and thus became a significant political figure. According to Thucydides, Teres (490-464) was not the first Thracian ruler, but the first powerful king of the Odrysae. After his death, he was succeeded first by his son Sparadokos, then by his son Sitalkes (464-424), and later by his nephew Seuthes whose main political goal was to conquer Thracian Chersonese. After Medokos and Hebrizelmes, it was Cotys I (383-359 BC) who ascended the throne and the kingdom reached its apogee. Although unstable at certain points, the Odrysian state was the most powerful military and political formation of a non-democratic type on the Balkans till the rise of Macedonia. Also known are some other important state unions - the Triballian kingdom which flourished in the lands of the Morava river valley and in today's northwestern Bulgaria. Among its major endeavours were the expeditions against Abdera in 376/375 BC led by Haes, and against the Scythians of Athei. In 339 BC they defeated the army of Phillip II of Macedon. Familiar is a passage of arms between the Triballian ruler Sirm and the troops of Alexander the Great. There were centres of political life in the lands of the Getae in the northeastern parts too.
The stronger central power led to changes in the structure and functions of art, although during that period it preserved its court characteristics. The artifacts of the Thracian toreutics preserved their symbolism of royal and aristocratic power: horse-trappings, chain mails, helmets, breast plates, rings, and shield ornaments. Various new types of utensils were introduced and employed to decorate the tables of the Thracian nobility: phialae, jugs, cups, rhyta, etc. The changes commonly affected the material these items were made of. Although bronze was still used, it lost its priority position as compared to precious metals. The quantity of gold and silver contained in the ornaments worn by a Thracian aristocrat or fit on his horse, the vessels put on his table or the burial items placed in his grave was determined by his position in society. A significant number of the monuments of Thracian toreutics have been found at burial sites. The burial rites of the Thracians are an expression of their beliefs: the Solar cult, the cult of the Great Mother-Goddess, and the belief in immortality. Their ritual practices: cremation and body laying, were rooted in their faith. In the first case, the deceased were purged from imperfection and misfortune through the strength of fire and became immortal. In the second case, the deceased got the divine power of the Mother-Goddess. Some of the most remarkable finds from Thracian time necropolises, the burial mounds near the village of Duvanlii, Plovdiv region (the earliest of which date from the end of 6th - the beginning of the 4th centuries BC) belonged to the Bessae who inhabited the Rhodope Mountains. Of extraordinary splendor are the offerings found in the Mogilanska burial mound at Vratsa, where the Triballian ruler Hales had probably been laid to rest.
Among other artifacts, discovered during archaeological excavations were numerous Thracian treasures. Some of them had been simply put in the ground, without any sign of a nearby necropolis, settlement, or sanctuary. It is slightly plausible that only battles or sudden raids had been the reason for valuable objects to be hidden. It is more likely for these artifacts to have been linked with certain king's rituals marking renewal of power or legalization of newly conquered territories. The biggest and richest treasure from this period found so far, the Rogozen treasure, had been a possession of the Triballian dynasty court. The Rogozen find consists of 165 vessels collected by several generations between the middle of the 5th and the middle of the 4th centuries BC. Some of the items, however, are royal gifts from Odrysian rulers seeking contacts and allies in the neighbouring Thracian kingdoms. Such a "political" gift from the powerful Odrysian king Cotys to an anonymous ruler of the Getae was the silver treasure discovered near the village of Borovo, Russe region.
The treasures found provide extremely valuable information on the religious and political life of the Thracians. Along with the other objects produced by the Thracian toreutics, these collections are the only authentic monuments of the culture of this people believed until recently to have had no writing system, but whose heritage may prove to be of much greater weight than assumed to date.
Source: Elka Penkova. In: National Museum of History, Sofia
The 2002 Encyclopaedia Britannica CD Deluxe edition gives the following brief description of the Thracian people, history and society :
Evidence of human habitation in the Bulgarian lands dates from the Middle Paleolithic Period (100,000 to 40,000 BC). Agricultural communities appeared in the Neolithic Period, and in the Bronze Age the lands were inhabited by Thracian tribes. The Thracians were eventually expelled or absorbed by Greek, Persian, and Roman colonies, but traces of their culture remain in their monuments devoted to horse worship and in the mummer (Bulgarian: kuker) tradition that still survives in southwestern Bulgaria.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the Balkans were populated well before the Neolithic Period (about 10,000 years ago). At the dawn of recorded history, two Indo-European peoples dominated the area: the Illyrians to the west and the Thracians to the east of the great historical divide defined by the Morava and Vardar river valleys. The Thracians were advanced in metalworking and in horsemanship. They intermingled with the Greeks and gave them the Dionysian and Orphean cults, which later became so important in classical Greek literature.
Thracian society was tribal in structure, with little inclination toward political cohesion. In what was to become a persistent phenomenon in Balkan history, unity was brought about mostly by external pressure. The Persian invasions of the 6th and 5th centuries BC brought the Thracian tribes together in the Odrysian kingdom, and that kingdom fell under Macedonian influence in the 4th century BC.
Greek and Roman historians agreed that the Thracians, who were of Indo-European stock and language, were superior fighters; only their constant political fragmentation prevented their overrunning the lands around the northeastern Mediterranean. Although these historians characterized the Thracian tribes 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.
The Greeks founded several colonies on the Thracian coasts, the most notable being Byzantium. Others were on the Bosporus, Propontis, and Thracian Chersonese peninsula. On the Aegean were Abdera near the Nestos delta and Aenus near Alexandroupolis. Farther north on the Black Sea's Gulf of Burgas, the Milesians founded Apollonia (7th century BC), and the Chalcedonians, Mesembria (end of the 6th century BC). Most Thracians became subject to Persia in about 516–510 BC. Members of the Odrysae tribe briefly unified their fellow Thracians into an empire that in 360 BC split three ways and was quite easily assimilated (356–342) by Philip II of Macedon. The Thracians provided Philip's son, Alexander the Great, with valuable light-armed troops during his conquests. In 197, Rome assigned much of Thrace to the kingdom of Pergamum, though the coastal area west of the Maritsa was annexed to the Roman province of Macedonia. In the 1st century BC, Rome became more directly involved in the affairs of the whole region, and dynastic quarrels among the local Thracian rulers, who had by then become client kings of Rome, prompted the emperor Claudius I to annex the entire Thracian kingdom in AD 46. Thrace was subsequently made into a Roman province. The emperor Trajan and his successor, Hadrian, founded cities in Thrace, notably Sardica (modern Sofia) and Hadrianopolis (modern Edirne). In about AD 300, Diocletian reorganized the area between the Lower Danube and the Aegean into the diocese of Thrace. From the 3rd to the 7th century the population of Thrace was altered greatly by repeated Gothic, Visigothic, and Slavic invasions and immigrations. In the 7th century the Bulgarian state was founded, and Byzantium consequently lost all Thrace north of the Balkan Mountains to the Bulgarians.
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