22 January 2013

Thrace & Thracians (Θρακι)

Published, formatted, annotated (in red) & images added by Kenneth S. Doig
The prehistoric remains in Thrace is not of great number, in comparison to Anatolia. But there is enough to have the oldest inhabited cave at Yarimburgaz in Turkey, which dates back to about 400,000 years ago. 

The mound at Hocacesme near the ancient town of Ainos has
provided some rich findings from Neolithic and Chalcolithic ages. It is well worth to mention number of megaliths (dolmens ) found in Istranca mountains and in the vicinity of the county Lalapasa. 

Thrace saw a wave of immigration at the end of the 2nd millennium BC and the beginning of the 1st millennium BC. Some of these immigrant peoples moved down to Anatolia and settled there, some settled in Thrace. 
From the archaeological evidence, it is known that this immigration wave was not of great volume and did not cause much changes in the ethnic-structure of Thrace. Thracians of numerous tribes lived side by side and were in constant warfare with each other. Herodotus tells about the war between Apshyntians and Dolonks that was in the 6th c. BC. 

Towards the first half of the 7th C. BC, Gallipoli peninsula and the northern shores of the Propontis sea was the scene of immigration by Aeolians, Ionians and Megarians. Although they received some resistance from local peoples, they have been able to hold on and build cities such as, Abdera, Byzantium, Sestos, Ainos, Maroenia etc. 

The southern part of the region formed by Chersoneses (Kallipolis=Gallipoli peninsula) came under control of the Athenians in 555 BC, and later was invaded and controlled by the Persian King Darius the Great in 513 BC. 

In the 6th C BC, Odrysians under their King Teres and his son Sitalkes have been able to establish a kingdom that stretched from the town Abdera on the Aegean coast in the south to the Istros' rivermouth (Danube=Tuna) on the Black Sea coast. Following the death of the king Kotys in 360 BC., the region got into a turmoil that resulted with the collapse of the Odrysian kingdom. 

Philip II (359-336 BC), the king of Macedonia pushed hard to establish his hegemony over Thrace and succeeded to control the interior regions. Philip, beginning from 342 BC., he started to build colonies in order to keep his control in this area. 

The well known city of Philipopolis (Puldudeva=Plovdiv=Filibe) was built in his time. After Philip's death, his son Alexander the Great continued his father's policies, and built the city of Alexandropolis after his name, whose location is unknown.

When Alexander began his well known campaign against the Persian Empire in 334 BC., he trusted the control of Thrace to one of his generals Antipater. While Alexander was in Persia, the Odrysians rebelled under the leadership of their king Seuthes. Seuthes like Alexander and Alexander's successors built a city on his own and named it Seuthopolis. 

Following the death of Alexander the Great, Thrace changed hands between the Diadochi (Former Generals and Successors to Alexander), and following a series of wars between the generals, Lysimachus was able to secure Thrace for himself. 

Lysimachus had to make many wars against his rivals for the control of Thrace, and during this time, burned down the city Seuthopolis in 301 BC. Thrace, in 279 BC., was invaded by the Galatians who were warrior and plunderer group of people from eastern Europe. Only the wealthy coastal cities withstood their attacks and avoided being invaded by Galatians. 

Following this chaos, Thrace was shared between many tribes. Philip V (221-179 BC), the Macedonian king, tried to take advantage of this chaotic status and started a campaign to include this area under his hegemony, but his achievement lived very short and Thrace was able to get rid of the Macedonian hegemony. 

With the peace treaty of Apameia signed between Antiochus III and the Romans in 188 BC., Chersoneses (Gallipoli) was left to the Pergamum kingdom whose star began to flare in Western Anatolia. Romans became the only power in the area when the Macedonian kingdom came to the end of its political existence in 168 BC. 

Attalus III (138-133 BC), the last king of Pergamum bequeathed his kingdom to the Romans before his death, and Thracian Chersoneses along with the rest of Pergamum kingdom was taken over by the Romans. Romans showed great interest in this area through which the main route from Europe to Asia passed. 

During the reign of Augustus, Thrace was formed into a local kingdom under the Sapaei dynasty, and Romans kept this royal dynasty under their control. The first member of the Sapaei kingdom was Kotys, who at the same time ruled the neighbor Korpili tribe. 

As Rhascuporis his son was not a free man, Kotys was not allowed to use the title of King
But his son Kotys used this title and agreed with the Astians to unite Thrace under his leadership. The Bessian tribe was incorporated in 57 BC. 

During the reign of Rhoemetalces, the unification of Thrace was completed. The roman historian, Tacitus reports that when Rhoemetalces died, all of Thrace was ruled by himself. 

But, in 46 BC, Thracian kingdom came to an abrupt end, all of the region came under the Roman rule as the Province of Thrace. Romans divided Thrace into local administrative units called "Strategia" whose number totaled to 33. 

Plinius reports the number of Strategia as 50. Most of these Strategia were named after the name of the old Thracian tribes. Only few cities were excluded from the Strategia system and accepted as free cities, those were Abdera, Ainois and Byzantium.

Thracian Chersoneses (Dardanelles) in the south enjoyed freedom and exclusion from the Strategia. In the following years, Agrippa gained the control of Thrace, but after his death, the whole region became the imperial property of the Romans under Augustus. 

The administrative-system in Thrace was maintained as organized by Augustus down to the time of Trajan (Traianus) and Hadrian. These two emperors raised the status of the province of Thrace to a higher level and tried to erase the old fashion system of tribal organization. 

After one and a half century, Diocletian, the emperor (284-305 AD), made changed in the administration of the region and broke the Thracian province into smaller and many units. 

When Constantine the Great, the emperor of the Eastern-Roman Empire known as the Byzantine Empire, moved the capital city from Rome to Byzantium which was renamed to Constantinople after the emperor's name, Thrace continued to develop and flourish as as it was on the main route between east and west. 

Peoples of Thrace
The region's name comes from the Thracian people who were of Indo-European stock. According to ancient sources, the Thracian peoples who settled and lived in the area of Haimos and Rhodope mountains were of warrior- and primitive-character. 

Whereas, another portion of the Thracian peoples that settled along the Aegean and Marmara coasts, in comparison to the former, were more peaceful and civilized. The most important of the Thracian tribes who settled along the both sides of the Danube river were 

The Getai (Getae) who were considered as the bravest and the most honest, Moseis who were considered as the ancestors of the Mysians and occupied the area on the left-bank of the Danube to the west of Getais. 

Triballis dwelt in the southern areas. Maedis centered in the Strymon valley, whose former name was Maedobithyni and some of them moved to Anatolia earlier. 

Maedi tribe rebelled against Macedonia and was defeated by an army commanded by Alexander the Great himself. Drois, Dersais, Saeis, Edons and Bistons lived close to the Aegean coast. Kikons that were described by Homer as "Spear Bearers" occupied the area in the east as far as the Hebros river. 

Sapais who later took Kikons under their hegemony settled in the same area. Korpils were in the neighborhood of the town Ainos. To the east of Kikons and on the right bank of the Maritsa river lived the Paitis. 

On the left bank of the Maritsa river was Apsinthians. On the Gallipoli peninsula was the Dolonks who were relatives of the Bithynians.

Further east from Gallipoli peninsula and along the northern Propontis coast was Kaenis. In the area to the north of and surrounding Selymbria and Perinthus was the warrior Thynians who were close relatives of the Bithynians and the Astians later moved in to the same area. 

Odrysians settled along the Ardeskos river, to the west of Odrysians were Satrais, Diis and Diobessis (Bessis). In the middle Hebros valley lived the Ben(n)s. Homer in his Iliad, describes the Thracians as horsebreeders raising beautiful and fast running equines. 

Thucydides in his account says, that the people of the area between the Ionian Sea and Pontus Euxinus are the richest in income and all kinds of goods. 

Strabo describes the Thracians 22 in number of tribes living in the villages and in a close distance to each other. That must be true, because we do not know any big town or city in Thrace before Alexander the Great and his successors. 

Herodotus in his History, about the Thracians ; "The most populated area after India, is Thrace. If they were under one rule and of one mind, they would have been the mightiest people on earth. 

But the unity of these peoples have never been achieved, that's the weakest point of the Thracians. They take different names by the area they live around, but they all have common-customs and traditions". 

Pausanias makes a similar description of the Thracians. "If compared to other nations of the earth, Thracians altogether are the most crowded people after the Celts. 

For this reason, no other nation before the Romans has been able to cover the Thracians under their hegemony. Only Romans was the first to rule Thracians.

Although I am going to discuss here about Thrace within Turkey, I also would like to give a description of the proper Thrace as described by the ancient authors. 

Because ancient Thrace covers much larger area including territories covered by today's Balkan and Mediterranean countries, such as Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. 

Borders of Thrace
Thrace, in broad sense, roughly covers the area from Black-Sea in the east to the river Vardar in the west and from the river Danube in the north to the Aegean-Sea in the south. Thrace is bound by Pontus Euxinus (Black-Sea), Bosporos Thrakios (Bosphorus-Strait). 

By the Propontis (Marmara-Sea), in the east, and by the rivers Istros (Danube) and Axios (Vardar river) in the north and west, by the Aegeus (Aegean-Sea) and Dardanelles (Hellespont Strait). Just on the heart of this ancient region is Edirne (ancient Hadrianopolis).

Sometime, the northern border is considered to be the Haimos (Balkan mountains) and the western border as to be the river Strymon (Struma river). Strabo in his book Geography explains. 

"In the area as far as Strymon river live Macedons, Paions and some tribes of the Thracians, beyond this point as far as Haimos mountains except the coastal area live the Thracians".

Strabo also says "when the Romans extended and divided the territories in Macedonia into 4 portions, the western border of Thrace became the river Hebros (Maritsa=Meric)". Later when Thrace became a province, the western border was decided to be the river Nestos (Mesta=Karasu).

The fertile and rich area to the east of Thrace which is bound by Pontus Euxinus in the north, by Bosporos Thrakios on the east, by the Propontis-Sea on the south and by the line stretching from the town Salmydessus on the coast of the Pontus Euxinus to the town Perinthus on the coast of the Propontis sea, is called the Delta. 

This was well explained in the book of Anabasis (Return of the ten thousand) by Xenophon. On the southern tip of the Peninsula was the Chersonessos Thrakios (Chersonessos of Thrace) (Callipoli=Gelibolu Peninsula), which was surrounded by the Dardanelles and the Propontis and by the Bay of Melas (Saros) on the west. 

Physical Features

Mountains and Plains
Thrace has mountains to the north and south and large plains in between them. Principal heights of the region are the Haimos (Balkan) mountains on the north and Rhodope mountains on the south. Between these mountain chains lies the large plain of Ergene. 

The mountain-chain that runs along the Pontus Euxinus whose ancient name is unknown is called Istranca, and was known to the Romans as Mount Asticus after the Thracian tribe of Asts who settled this area. On the south, along the Propontis Sea was the Ganos mountain which was probably known to the ancients as Hieron Oros that means sacred mountain.

The interiors of Thrace had a very cold climate. Xenophon mentions with all the details, in his book Anabasis, the cold day he and his army spent under a heavy snowstorm in the plain of Thyn in the neighborhood of the town Perinthus.

"There was deep snow, and cold so intense that the water brought in for dinner and the wine within the jars froze; and many of the Hellenes had their noses and ears frost-bitten. 

Now they came to understand why the Thracians wear fox-skin caps on their heads and about their ears; and why, on the same principle, they are frocked not only about the chest and bust but so as to cover the loins and thighs as well; and why on horseback they envelop themselves in long shawls which reach down to the feet, instead of the ordinary short-rider's cloak".

Ancient writers describe Thrace as open to the northern winds, covered by a dense forest and not suitable for human-habitation.  Thrace was covered by the forest on the mountains to the north and south and by the steppes in the large flat plain.


The main-river in Thrace was Istros (Danuvios=Danube) which flew from the interiors of Europe into the Pontus Euxinus. There were many other streams flowing in the north-south direction, pouring their waters into the Istros river. 

To name these smaller rivers, from west to east, Margos (Morava), Timacos (Timoka), Almos (Lom), Ciabros (Cibrica), Augusta (Ogosta), Oskios (Oeskos=Iskar), Utus (Vit), Asamos (Osam),Athyris (Iteros=Jantra). 

Further east, Aksios (Vardar) fed by the waters of smaller streams of Astibos (Bregalnica), and Erigon (Cerna), east and northeast of Vardar are Strymon (Struma) and Nestos (Mesta) rivers. 

In the south, and middle of the region ran the Hebros (Maritsa=Meric) river to which the streams of Tonzos (Tunca), Ardeskos (Arda) and Agrianes (Ergines=Ergene) joined. Agrianes had also smaller streams joining it, Arzos (Corlu Stream), Tearos and Kontadestos. 

There were also Apsinthos (Derbent), Melas which ran into the bay of Melas whose name came from the river, Athyra (Cekmece) which flew into the Propontis Sea, and both rivers of Cydaris (Alibey) and Barbyses (Kagithane) flew into the Golden Horn in Istanbul.

In the Chersonessos (Callipolis=Galliopli) region was the Aigos Potamois stream that emptied its waters into the Dardanelles (Hellespont). Near this Aigos Potamois was the place where the decisive naval battle between the Athenians and Spartans took place in 405 BC. 

Thrace is not rich in lakes. There are some lakes but not of great size. In the eastern half are Phileitinios (Delcius=Terkos) near Istanbul, and Stentoris at the mouth of the river Hebros. In fact , Stentoris was a lagoon formed by Hebros, and Herodotus mentions of Stentoris as a lake.

(from http://www.thracian.info/thrace_peoples.htm)

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