Thrace is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. Today the name Thrace designates a region spread over southern Bulgaria (Northern Thrace), northeastern Greece (Western Thrace), and European Turkey (Eastern Thrace). Thrace borders on three seas: the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara. In Turkey, it is also called Rumeli.
The historical boundaries of Thrace have varied. Ancient Thrace (i.e. the territory where ethnic Thracians lived) included present day Bulgaria, European Turkey, north-eastern Greece and parts of eastern Serbia and eastern Republic of Macedonia. Its boundaries were between the Danube River to the north and the Aegean Sea to the south, to the east - the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara and on the west to the Vardar and Great Morava rivers. The Roman province of Thrace was somewhat smaller, having the same eastern maritime limits and being bounded on the north by the Balkan Mountains; the Roman province extended west only to the Mesta River.
The indigenous population of Thrace was a people called the Thracians, divided into numerous tribal groups. Thracian troops were known to accompany neighboring ruler Alexander the Great when he crossed the Hellespont which abuts Thrace, and took on the Persian Empire of the day.
In Greek mythology
Ancient Greek mythology provides them with a mythical ancestor, named Thrax, son of the war-god Ares, who was said to reside in Thrace. The Thracians appear in Homer's Iliad as Trojan allies, led by Acamas and Peiros. Later in the Iliad, another Thracian king makes an appearance, named Rhesus. Cisseus, father-in-law to the Trojan elder Antenor, is also given as a Thracian king. Homeric Thrace was vaguely defined, and stretched from the River Axios in the west to the Hellespont and Black Sea in the east. The Catalogue of Ships mentions three separate contingents from Thrace: Thracians led by Acamas and Peiros, from Aenus; Cicones led by Euphemus, from southern Thrace, near Ismaros; and from the city of Sestus, on the Thracian (northern) side of the Hellespont, which formed part of the contingent led by Asius. Greek mythology is replete with Thracian kings, including Diomedes, Tereus, Lycurgus, Phineus, Tegyrius, Eumolpus, Polymnestor, Poltys, and Oeagrus (father of Orpheus). In addition to the tribe that Homer calls Thracians, ancient Thrace was home to numerous other tribes, such as the Edones, Bisaltae, Cicones, and Bistones.''
In history and archaeology
Divided into separate tribes, the Thracians did not manage to form a lasting political organization until the Odrysian state was founded in the 4th century BC. According to the ancient sources, which are limited, the mountainous regions were home to various warlike and ferocious tribes, while the plains peoples were apparently more peaceable, owing to contacts and influences from the Greeks.
These Indo-European peoples, while considered barbarian and rural by their refined and urbanized Greek neighbors, had developed advanced forms of music, poetry, industry, and artistic crafts. Aligning themselves in petty kingdoms and tribes, they never achieved any form of national unity beyond short, dynastic rules at the height of the Greek classical period. Similar to the Gauls and other Celtic tribes, most people are thought to have lived simply in small fortified villages, usually on hilltops. Although the concept of an urban center wasn't developed until the Roman period, various larger fortifications which also served as regional market centers were numerous. Yet, in general, despite Greek colonization in such areas as Byzantium, Apollonia or Tomi, the Thracians avoided urban life.
The Thracians fell early under the cultural influence of the ancient Greeks, preserving until a much later time, however, their language and culture. It also appears from mythological accounts that the Thracians influenced Greek culture from a very early period, with some Thracians, such as Orpheus, even appearing as culture-bearers in some myths. But as non-Greek speakers, they were viewed by the Greeks as barbarians. The first Greek colonies in Thrace were founded in the 6th century BC.
Throughout the 6th century BC, Thracian infantry was heavily recruited by Greek states and large deposits of gold and silver were mined.
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 BC to 512 BC.
Before the expansion of the kingdom of Macedon, Thrace was divided into three camps after the withdrawal of the Persians. A notable ruler of the East Thracians was the overking Cersobleptes, who attempted to expand his power over many of the Thracian tribes. He was eventually defeated by the Macedonians.
The region was conquered by Philip II of Macedon in the 4th century BC and was ruled by the kingdom of Macedon for a century and a half. During the Macedonian Wars, conflict between Rome and Thracia was inevitable. The destruction of the ruling parties in Macedonia destabilized their authority over Thrace, and its tribal authorities began to act once more on their own accord. After the battle of Pydna in 168 BC, Roman authority over Macedonia seemed inevitable, and the governing of Thracia passed to Rome. Neither the Thracians nor the Macedonians had yet resolved themselves to Roman dominion, and several revolts took place during this period of transition. The revolt of Andriscus in 149 BC, as an example, drew the bulk of its support from Thracia. Several incursions by local tribes into Macedonia continued for many years, though there were tribes who willingly allied themselves to Rome, such as the Deneletae and the Bessi.
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 familiar heirs of Rhascuporis were then as deeply tied into 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 stop with one final assassination.
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 century. From Thrace, three Celtic tribes advanced into Anatolia and formed a new kingdom called Galatia.
Following the Third Macedonian War, Thracia came to acknowledge Roman authority. The client state of Thracia comprised several different tribes. [*]
After Roimitalkes III of the Thracian Kingdom of Sapes was murdered in 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 based in Perinthus, but regions within the province were uniquely 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. It is considered that most of the Thracians were Hellenized in these times.
Roman authority of Thracia rested mainly with the legions stationed in Moesia. The rural nature of Thracia's populations, and distance from Roman authority, certainly inspired the presence of 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.
Owing to their martial reputation, the Thracian tribesmen were much used as mercenaries by the Greek kings of Syria, Pergamum, Bithynia, and other regions. Thracian mercenaries were always in demand, as they were fierce fighters, especially in rocky or hilly regions similar to their homeland. They were however considered a bit expensive at times, and liable to switch sides. The principal Thracian weapons in the fifth and fourth centuries were the spear and the knife. Much earlier Thracian infantry had been armed with axes, while their leaders rode chariots. Thracian light infantry could be armed with javelins, slings, or bows, with javelins predominating. Thracian warriors, particularly the hillmen, were especially famous for an unusual weapon which combined elements of sword, sickle and polearm, which was called the Rhomphaia, and was carried increasingly by Thracian infantry in the centuries following Alexander the Great's death until it became a trademark of the mercenary Thracian peltast. Even the Romans dreaded this fearsome weapon. Cavalry armament for all Thracians except the Getae consisted of 2 cornel wood javelins that could be thrust with or thrown. They also carried the typical Kopis. The Getae often used bows instead of javelins, and the akinakes instead of the kopis. Thracian tribes also used more exotic weapons such as spiked axles, or carts rolled down steep hills. Thracians were known for their hit and run tactics consisting of random melee attacks followed by quick retreats. The backbone of the Thracian military were the Thracian Peltast, a type of light infantry that was equally at home fighting hand-to-hand and at a distance (throwing javelins). Peltasts were unarmored except for their curved shields. They carried some form of short sword or melee weapon and an assortment of javelins. The wealthy nobility wore helmets with pointed tops in order to accommodate their top-knot hairstyles.
The Thracian calendar was similar to that of the Egyptians. Each year had twelve months, totaling 360 days, and 5 days were added to the last month; there were three seasons. The Thracians celebrated 60 main holidays. [*]
By the mid 5th century, as the Roman Empire began to crumble, Thracia fell from the authority of Rome and into the hands of Germanic tribal rulers. With the fall of Rome, Thracia turned into a battleground territory for the better part of the next 1,000 years. The eastern successor of the Roman Empire in the Balkans, the Byzantine Empire, retained control over Thrace until the beginning of the 9th century when most of the region was incorporated into Bulgaria. Byzantium regained Thrace in 972 only to lose it again to the Bulgarians at the end of the 12th century. Throughout the 13th century and the first half of the 14th century, the region oscillated between Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire. In 1265 the area suffered a Mongol raid from Golden Horde, led by Nogai Khan. In 1352, the Ottoman Turks conducted their first incursion into the region subduing it completely within a matter of two decades and ruling over it for five centuries.
In 1878, Northern Thrace was incorporated into the semi-autonomous Ottoman province of Eastern Rumelia, which united with Bulgaria in 1885. The rest of Thrace was divided between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century, following the Balkan Wars, World War I and the Greco-Turkish War. Today Thracian is a strong regional identity in Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey.
Cities of Thrace
Asenovgrad (Greek Stenimaxos)
Haskovo (Turkish Haskoy)
Kardzhali (Turkish Kircaali)
Kazanlak (Turkish Kazanlik)
Pazardzhik (Turkish Pazarcik)
Pomorie (Greek Aggxialos)
Sofia (ancient Serdica)
Stara Zagora (Turkish Eski Zagra)
Tsarevo (Greek Bassiliko)
Samothrace (Turkish Semadirek or Semendirek)
Demirkoy (Bulgarian MALK SAMOKOV/Malak Samokov)
Edirne refounded by Hadrian
Uzunkopru (Bulgarian UZUNKOPRYU/Uzunkyopryu)
Kirklareli (Bulgarian LOZENGRAD/Lozengrad, Greek Saranta Ekklisies, Saranta Ekklisyes(=Forty churches))
Istanbul (European side)
Famous Thracians and people from Thrace
In Greek legend, Orpheus was the chief representative of the art of song and playing the lyre, and of great importance in the religious history of Greece.
Democritus was a Greek philosopher and mathematician from Abdera, Thrace (c. 460370 BC.) His main contribution is the atomic theory, the belief that all matter is made up of various imperishable indivisible elements which he called atoms.
Herodicus was a Greek physician of the fifth century BC who is considered the founder of sports medicine. He is believed to have been one of Hippocrates' tutors.
Protagoras was a Greek philosopher from Abdera, Thrace (c. 490-420 BC.) An expert in rhetorics and subjects connected to virtue and political life, often regarded as the first sophist. He is known primarily for three claims (1) that man is the measure of all things, often interpreted as a sort of moral relativism, (2) that he could make the "worse (or weaker) argument appear the better (or stronger)" (see Sophism) and (3) that one could not tell if the gods existed or not (see Agnosticism).
Spartacus was a Thracian enslaved by the Romans who led a large slave uprising in what is now Italy in 7371 BC. His army of escaped gladiators and slaves defeated several Roman legions in what is known as the Third Servile War.
Maximinus Thrax, Roman emperor (AD 235238), was born in Thrace or Moesia to a Gothic father and an Alanic mother.
Music of Thrace
Geography of Turkey
List of ancient Thracian cities
List of traditional Greek place names
The Destruction of Thracian Bulgarians in 1913
Hoddinott, R.F., The Thracians, 1981.
Ilieva, Sonya, Thracology, 2001
Ethnological Museum of Thrace, comprehensive website on Thracian history and culture.