The Thracians, best known for their mythical hero Orpheus, were the enigmatic culture of cattle herders, farmers, and warriors that inhabited the Balkan Peninsula for over 2,000 years.
Most of what we know about the Thracians today comes from the writings of their southern neighbors, the ancient Greeks.
The Thracians neatly fit the Greek stereotype of barbarians, and the Greek writers took a certain pleasure in describing the strange and uncivilized habits of the Thracians. Those included drinking undiluted wine, a propensity to celebrate almost anything, and an apparent love for gold jewelry and extravagant garments.
The ancient Greek historian Herodotus called the Thracian race “the most numerous” after the Indians. It is true that the famous historian made similar claims about the Celts and the Scythians, but the Thracians nevertheless must have been significant in numbers. Some modern day historians put their numbers around one million.
POLITICAL ORGANIZATION OF THE THRACIANS
The Thracians lived in highly centralized tribal states ruled by warrior aristocracy. The king was the owner of all the land and its plentiful metal and gold deposits. The king also had a total control over his subjects, mainly craftsmen and farmers.
With the exception of the relatively short-lived Odrysian Kingdom (5th – 3rd century BCE), the Thracians never achieved full political unity, despite shared culture, language, and religion.
(5th – 3rd century BCE)
King Teres founded the most successful political unification of Thracian tribes in the 5th century. It quickly grew in power and received significant tax revenue from the conquered Thracian and Hellenic cities.
The kingdom split in three just 100 years later, never to unite again. The three successor states were soon conquered by Philip of Macedon and later by his son, Alexander the Great.
A brief Odrysian revival followed after the death of Alexander. The Odrysian king Seuthes III (ca. 330 BCE) overthrew the Macedon hegemony and moved his court to the newly built capital city of Seuthopolis.
In the 1940s, work on a new dam uncovered the ancient city, but the dam construction pressed on, leaving Seuthopolis at its bottom.
In 2004, archeologists discovered the supposed tomb of King Seuthes III near the city of Kazanlak. The tomb was still intact.
THRACIANS AT WAR
The Thracians were first mentioned in Book II of Homer’s Iliad.
They fought on the losing side (that of Troy), but both sides admired The Thracians’ brave soldiers and horses.
The Thracians’ military reputation only grew from there. Their infamous battle cries and heavy cavalry spread fear among the enemy. It is no coincidence that later Thrace became a major recruiting ground for the Roman army.
THRACIAN BURIAL MOUNDS
Thracian aristocracy buried their dead in lavish tombs with the deceased’s personal belongings, horse, cutlery, and riches that were to serve after death.
Hundreds of burial mounds can still be seen scattered around the Bulgarian landscape. Most have been plundered long ago, but many remain to be excavated and studied.