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History of Ancient Thrace

Thrace is a historical area that starched from the Balkan Mountains to the north, the Aegean Sea to the south and the Black Sea to the east. The name Thrace, comes from the Thracians, ancient people with Indo-European origins. The earliest traces of man in Thrace go back to the Paleolithic time, forty thousand years ago. In around 6000 BC Thrace was settled by an agricultural population. Two thousand years latter they discovered minerals and turned to mining and metal work. In todays central Bulgaria, archeologists have excavated numerous copper tools, weapons, and ornaments, all dating from this remote period. By 3000 B.C. Thrace’s smiths were working in gold, probably panned from rivers, and were crafting rings, bracelets, plaques, and other adornments that were among the earliest gold objects to come out of Europe. The actual first mention of the Thracians is in Homers Iliad, as allies of Troy. In around 700 BC, Greek’s started colonizing Thrace, and in 600 BC as line of cities have been established, which had led to active trade between the Greeks and the “barbarians” as Greeks called everyone that was not part of their culture. They lived in a tribal organizations, usually as farmers, hunters or fisherman.

Descriptions of Thrace in the ancient Greek Historiography

Around 450 BC Herodotus visited Thrace and wrote about the customs and looks of the people there. He wrote that the Thracians believed in immortality and their curious sexual and marital customs. The man had several wives, and upon the death of their husband they competed as to who had been his favorite. The winner gained the privilege of being killed and placed at the side of the corpse in the grave, which was in a tomb covered by a prominent mound. Archeological excavations have confirmed this, a burial mounds (tumuli) have been found all over Thrace containing chambers that were carefully build, decorated and field with precious objects to serve the deceased in the afterlife. In some cases, two wives have been buried with their husband, which is found in some of the burial mounds. According to Herodotus, Thracians had a fox-skin caps, tunics, long cloaks over the tunics and skin boots. They carried javelins, light shields and short dagger. The shield was crescent-shaped and made of wicker covered with hide it was called a pelta, and the men who carried it were peltasts. Their troops were very mobile and excellent for guerrillas combat. The Greek slow moving hoplites were weak against this hit-and-run peltasts. The Greeks played this smart, so hired peltasts as mercenaries under their command.

Herodotus mentions that the Thracians had a habit of selling their children into slavery. Any males taken as prisoners in war generally ended up sold as slaves. As a result of this a lot of Thracians could be seen in the service of Greek households. The plays of Aristophanes and Menander and other writers of Greek comedy often have slaves named Thratta or Geta in the cast of characters, which means Thracian girl, or Geta as one of the most important Thracian tribe.

Around 430 BC a king named Sitalkes managed to conquer land from the Danube River to the north to the Abdera to the south and from the Black Sea to the east to the River Strimon (Struma) to the west, except the Greek cities. This put him in a position to play an important role in international politics. In the time of Sitalk’s successor Athens even payed a gift of 800 talents, and Thracians started hiring Greek mercenaries. One of those mercenaries was Xenophon, who in 400 BC arrived in Thrace with 10 000 soldiers that (according to him but not very likely) he led to safety across Asia’s hostile tribes. Thracian king named Seuthes hired all of them.

At this time, Thrace was highly influenced by Greece culture. The archeological excavations of Thracian tombs show that from the 5th century BC there were a lot of object buried with the dead that were either imported from Greece or made by resident Greek craftsman. Xenophon writes that many Thracians spoke Greek. At court banquets at least one of the wine servers was able to talk directly to the Greek guests. But the Greek culture didn’t have that big of an impact to change the Thracians. They were still “barbaric” to the Greeks. At the court banquets Seuthes served his guests by throwing chunks of bread and meat, wine was drank from horns.

Macedonian and Roman rule

In the 4th century BC Thrace was conquered by Philip II, king of Macedonia. After his death Thrace was part of the great kingdom of Alexander the Great. After his death in 323 BC Thrace was part of his successors mostly on the coasts but there were some internal tribes that were independent and fought with each other. In 279 BC Celts advanced in to Macedonia, southern Greece and Thrace. The were soon forced out of Macedonia and Greece but they stayed in Thrace. During the Macedonian wars, Rome came in contact with Thrace. After the battle of Pydna in 168 the governing of Thrace passed to Rome, and Thrace became a client state, until 46 AD when it officially became a Roman province.

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