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The ancient Thracians (Ancient Greek: Θράκες) were a group of Indo-European tribes who spoke the Thracian language – a scarcely attested branch of the Indo-European language family. Those peoples inhabited the Eastern, Central and Southern part of the Balkan peninsula, as well as the adjacent parts of Central-Eastern Europe.

The first historical record about the Thracians is found in the Iliad, where they are described as hailing from Thrace as allies of the Trojansmarker in the Trojan War against the Greeks. The ethnonym Thracian comes from Ancient Greek Θρᾷξ (pl. Θρᾷκες) or Θρᾴκιος (Ionic: Θρηίκιος), and the toponym Thrace comes from Θρᾴκη (Ion. Θρῄκη).

According to Romanian linguist and Thracologist Sorin Mihai Olteanu, the ethnonym Thraikios (Θρᾴκιος: Ancient Greek for Thracian) appears to have the same etymology as Graikos (Γραικός).

The name Thracians and Thrace seems to be an exonym given by the Greeks.

Mythological foundation

In Greek mythology, Thrax (by his name simply the quintessential Thracian) was regarded as one of the reputed sons of the god Ares. In the Alcestis, Euripides mentions that one of the names of Ares himself was Thrax since he was regarded as the patron of Thrace (his golden or gilded shield was kept in his temple at Bistonia in Thrace).

Origins and ethnogenesis

The origins of the Thracians remain obscure, in absence of written historical records. Evidence of proto-Thracians in the prehistoric period depends on remains of material culture. It is generally proposed that a proto-Thracian people developed from a mixture of indigenous peoples and Indo-European from the time of Proto-Indo-European expansion in the Early Bronze Age when the latter, around 1500 BC, conquered the indigenous peoples. We speak of proto-Thracians from which during the Iron Age (about 1000 BC) as Dacians and Thracians begin developing as we cannot identify Thracians during the Bronze Age.

Identity and distribution

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. Like the Illyrians, the mountainous regions were home to various warlike and ferocious Thracian tribes, while the plains peoples were apparently more peaceable, owing to more contact and influence from the Greeks.

Thracians inhabited parts of the ancient provinces: Thrace, Moesia, Macedonia, Dacia, Scythia Minor, Sarmatia, Bithynia, Mysia, Pannonia, and other regions on the Balkans and Anatoliamarker. This area extends over most of the Balkans region, and the Getae north of the Danube as far as beyond the Bugmarker.


Archaic period

Thracian tribes and heroes.
Thracian tribes and heroes.

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, Apolloniamarker and other cities, the Thracians avoided urban life.

The first Greek colonies in Thrace were founded in the 8th century BC.

Thrace south of the Danube (except for the land of the Bessi) was ruled for nearly half a century by the Persian under Darius the Great, who conducted an expedition into the region from 513 BC to 512 BC. The Persians called Thrace Skudra.

Classical period

Map of the territory of Philip II of Macedon.

By the 5th century BC, the Thracian presence was pervasive enough to have made Herodotus call them the second-most numerous people in the part of the world known by him (after the Indiansmarker), and potentially the most powerful, if not for their lack of unity. The Thracians in classical times were broken up into a large number of groups and tribes, though a number of powerful Thracian states were organized, such as the Odrysian kingdom of Thrace and the Dacian kingdom of Burebista. A type of soldier of this period called the Peltast probably originated in Thrace.

During this period, a subculture of celibate ascetics called the Ctistae lived in Thrace, where they served as philosophers, priests and prophets.

In that period, contacts between the Thracians and Classical Greece intensified which led to strengthening Greek influences in Thracian society, culture, and handcrafts and vice versa. Because their language had no written tradition, in some regions the Thracian aristocracy and administration used classical Greek and Thracian merchants utilized it as a 'lingua franca' in their contacts with other non-Thracian tribes. As a result, a level of Hellenization was observed in the following centuries which was more deeply imposed by the Macedonian conquests over the Thracian territory in the 3rd century BC.

Before the expansion of the kingdom of Macedon, Thrace was divided into three camps (East, Central, and West) after the withdrawal of the Persians. A notable ruler of the East Thracians was Cersobleptes, who attempted to expand his authority over many of the Thracian tribes. He was eventually defeated by the Macedonians.

Thracian civilisation was not urban and the largest Thracian cities were in fact large villages. The only attempt made by Thracians to build a polis was Seuthopolismarker. Ultimately, the Thracians were typically not city-builders.

Hellenistic period

Kingdom of Lysimachus and the Diadochi.

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. Lysimachus of the Diadochi and other Hellenistic rulers ruled part or parts of Thrace till its fall to the Romans. Thracian kings were the first to be Hellenized. Greek clothing replaced the old Thracian garbs until the Thracians looked like Greeks. After some time, most but not all Thracians became Hellenised. Their language and material culture became Hellenic.

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 Thracemarker until the end of the century. From Thrace, three Celtic tribes advanced into Anatoliamarker and formed a new kingdom called Galatia.

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 Pydnamarker 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 Romemarker, such as the Deneletae and the Bessi.

Following the Third Macedonian War, Thracia came to acknowledge Roman authority. The client state of Thracia comprised several different tribes.

Roman rule

Map of the Diocese of Thrace (Dioecesis Thraciae) ca. 400 AD.

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.

After Rhoemetalces III of the Thracian Kingdom of Sapesmarker was murdered in 46 by his wife, Thracia was incorporated as an official Roman province to be governed by Procurator, and later Praetorian Prefects. The central governing authority of Rome was based in Perinthusmarker, 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.

Thracians in Moesia and Dacia were Romanized while those within the Byzantine empire were their Hellenized descendants that had mingled with the Greeks.

The Byzantines used the rhomphaia an exclusively Thracian weapon, although it most likely was used by a few units of foot soldiers dating somewhere between Byzantium's golden age of 900-1071 and maybe even earlier. However, it was not mentioned as a weapon like the falx. It was nevertheless a falx-like weapon. Michael Psellus writes that all Varangians without exception used the weapon.


Thracian peltast, 5th-4th century BC.

The history of Thracian warfare spans from ca. 10th century BC up to the 1st century AD in the region defined by Ancient Greek and Latin historians as Thrace. It concerns the armed conflicts of the Thracian tribes and their kingdoms in the Balkans. Apart from conflicts between Thracians and neighboring nations and tribes, numerous wars were recorded among Thracian tribes too.


Thracians were regarded as warlike, ferocious, and bloodthirsty.

Thracians were seen as "barbarians" by other peoples, namely the ancient Greeks and Romans. Plato in his Republic considers them, along with the Scythians, extravagant and high spirited and his Laws considers them war-like nations grouping them with Celts, Persians, Scythians, Iberians and Carthagianians. Polybius wrote of Cotys's sober and gentle character being unlike that of most Thracians. Tacitus in his Annals writes of them being wild, savage and impatient disobedient even to their own kings. Polyaenus and Strabo write who the Thracians broke their pacts of truce with trickery. The Thracians used their weapons on each other before battle. Diegylis was considered one of the most bloodthirsty chieftains by Diodorus Siculus. An Athenianmarker club for lawless youths was named after the Triballi. The Dii were responsible for the worst atrocities of the Peloponnesian War killing every living thing, including children and the dogs in Tanagramarker and Mycalessosmarker. Thracians would impale Roman heads on their spears and rhomphaias such as in the Kallinikos skirmish at 171 BC. Herodotus writes that "they sell their children and let their wives commerce with whatever men they please".


One notable cult that is attested from Thrace to Moesia and Scythia Minor is that of the "Thracian horseman", also known as the "Thracian Heros", at Odessosmarker (Varna) attested by a Thracian name as Heros Karabazmos, a god of the underworld usually depicted on funeral statues as a horseman slaying a beast with a spear.

Many mythical figures, such as the god Dionysus which the Greek refounded from the Thracian god Sabazios.

Extinction of ethnicity and language

See also Dacian language, Thracian language.

The ancient languages of these people had already gone extinct and their cultural influence was highly reduced due to the repeated barbaric invasions of the Balkans by Celts, Huns, Goths, and Sarmatians, accompanied by persistent Hellenization, Romanisation and later Slavicisation.

After they were subjugated by the Macedonian king Alexander the Great and consecutively by the Roman Empire, most of the Thracians eventually became Hellenised (in the province of Thrace) or Romanised (in Moesia, Dacia, etc.). The Romanised tribes of the this region later became the ethnic substratum of the Vlach people (that first appeared in historical documents in the 10th century) who evolved into modern Romanians. In the 6th century, some Thraco-Romans and Byzantine Greeks, i.e. Hellenised Thracians, south of the Danube river made contacts with the invading Slavs and were eventually later Slavicised.

Physical characteristics

Xenophanes described Thracians as having blue eyes and red hair. Nevertheless academic studies have concluded that Thracians had physical characteristics typical of European Mediterraneans. According to Dr. Beth Cohen, Thracians had "the same dark hair and the same facial features as the Ancient Greeks." Recent genetic analysis comparing DNA samples of ancient Thracian fossil material from southeastern Romania with individuals from modern ethnicities point to genetic kinship with modern Italian, Albanian and Greek populations, followed by Romanians and Bulgarians.

Famous individuals

This is a list of several important Thracian individuals or those of partly Thracian origin.


The branch of science that studies the ancient Thracians and Thrace is called Thracology.The archaeological research of the Thracian culture started in the 20th century and especially after World War II, mainly on the territory of Southern Bulgariamarker. As a result of intensive excavation works in the 1960s and 1970s a number of Thracian tombs and sanctuaries were discovered. More significant among them are: the Tomb of Sveshtarimarker, the Tomb of Kazanlakmarker, Tatul, Seuthopolismarker, Perperikonmarker, the Tomb of Aleksandrovomarker, Sarmizegetusa in Romania, etc.

Also a large number of elaborately crafted gold and silver treasure sets from the 5th and 4th century BC were unearthed. In the following decades those were exposed in museums around the world, thus gaining popularity and becoming an emblem of the ancient Thracian culture. Since the year 2000, Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov has made discoveries in Central Bulgaria which were summarized as "The Valley of the Thracian Kings".

See also


  1. Navicula Bacchi - Θρηικίη (Accessed: October 13, 2008).
  2. Sorin Mihai Olteanu - The Thracian Palatal (Accessed: June 18, 2008).
  3. John Boardman, I.E.S. Edwards, E. Sollberger, and N.G.L. Hammond. The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume 3, Part 2: The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and Other States of the Near East, from the Eighth to the Sixth Centuries BC. Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 597. "We have no way of knowing what the Thracians called themselves and if indeed they had a common name...Thus the name of Thracians and that of their country were given by the Greeks to a group of tribes occupying the territory..."
  4. Lemprière and Wright, p. 358. "Mars was father of Cupid, Anteros, and Harmonia, by the goddess Venus. He had Ascalaphus and Ialmenus by Astyoche; Alcippe by Agraulos; Molus, Pylus, Euenus, and Thestius, by Demonice the daughter of Agenor. Besides these, he was the reputed father of Romulus, Oenomaus, Bythis, Thrax, Diomedes of Thrace, &c."
  5. Euripides, p. 95. "[Line] 58. 'Thrace's golden shield' - One of the names of Ares was Thrax, he being the Patron of Thrace. His golden or gilded shield was kept in his temple at Bistonia there. Like the other Thracian bucklers, it was of the shape of a half-moon ('Pelta'). His 'festival of Mars Gradivus' was kept annually by the Latins in the month of March, when this sort of shield was displayed."
  6. Hoddinott, p. 27.
  7. Casson, p. 3.
  8. John Boardman, I.E.S. Edwards, E. Sollberger, and N.G.L. Hammond. The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume 3, Part 1: The Prehistory of the Balkans, the Middle East and the Aegean World, Tenth to Eighth Centuries BC. Cambridge University Press, 1982, p. 53. "Yet we cannot identify the Thracians at that remote period, because we do not know for certain whether the Thracian and Illyrian tribes had separated by then. It is safer to speak of Proto-Thracians from whom there developed in the Iron Age..."
  9. The catalogue of Kimbell Art Museum's 1998 exhibition Ancient Gold: The Wealth of the Thracians indicates a historical extent of Thracian settlement including most of the Ukraine, all of Hungary and parts of Slovakia. ( Kimbell Art - Exhibitions)
  10. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 1515. "From the 8th century BC the coast Thrace was colonised by Greeks."
  11. Susan Wise Bauer. The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome. W.W. Norton & Company, 2007, p. 517. "Megabazus turned Thrace into a new Persian satrapy, Skudra."
  12. Herodotus. Histories, Book V.
  13. Mogens Herman Hansen. An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis: An Investigation Conducted by The Copenhagen Polis Centre for the Danish National Research Foundation. Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 888. "It was meant to be a polis but this was no reason to think that it was anything other than a native settlement."
  14. Christopher Webber and Angus McBride. The Thracians 700 BC-AD 46 (Men-at-Arms). Osprey Publishing, 2001, p. 1. "They lived almost entirely in villages; the city of Seuthopolis seems to be the only significant town in Thrace not built by the Greeks (although the Thracians did build fortified refuges)."
  15. John Boardman, I.E.S. Edwards, E. Sollberger, and N.G.L. Hammond. The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume 3, Part 2: The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and Other States of the Near East, from the Eighth to the Sixth Centuries BC. Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 612. "Thrace possessed only fortified areas and cities such as Cabassus would have been no more than large villages. In general the population lived in villages and hamlets."
  16. John Boardman, I.E.S. Edwards, E. Sollberger, and N.G.L. Hammond. The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume 3, Part 2: The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and Other States of the Near East, from the Eighth to the Sixth Centuries BC. Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 612. "According to Strabo ( the Thracian -bria word meant polis but it is an inaccurate translation."
  17. John Francis Lazenby. The Peloponnesian War: A Military Study (Warfare and History). Routledge, 2004, p. 224. "Probably he had a number of strongholds, and he made himself useful fighting 'the Thracians without a king' on behalf of the more Hellenized Thracian kings and their Greek neighbours..."
  18. Christopher Webber and Angus McBride. The Thracians 700 BC-AD 46 (Men-at-Arms). Osprey Publishing, 2001, p. 19.
  19. Quiles, Carlos. A Grammar of Modern Indo-European. Carlos Quiles Casas, 2007, ISBN 8461176391, p. 76. "Most of the Thracians were eventually Hellenised - in the province of Thrace - or Romanized - Moesia, Dacia, etc. -, with the last remnants surviving in remote areas until the 5th century.
  20. Ian Heath and Angus McBride. Byzantine Armies 886-1118. Osprey Publishing, 1979, p. 10. "One final weapon which needs to be mentioned is the rhomphaia, with which many Byzantine guardsmen were apparently armed."
  21. Ian Heath and Angus McBride. Byzantine Armies 886-1118. Osprey Publishing, 1979, p. 10. "The most convincing theory however and the ones that seems to fit the little written and archeological evidence that is available is that it was a falx like weapon with a slightly curved blade of about the same length as its handle."
  22. Ian Heath and Angus McBride. Byzantine Armies 886-1118. Osprey Publishing, 1979, p. 38. "Psellus, however, claims that every Varangian 'without exception' was armed with shield and rhomphaia, 'a one-edged sword of heavy iron which they carry suspended from the right shoulder' (perhaps meaning it was sloped across the right shoulder when not in use)."
  23. Christopher Webber and Angus McBride. The Thracians 700 BC-AD 46 (Men-at-Arms). Osprey Publishing, 2001, p. 1. "Perhaps the prospect of getting to the spoils explains Thucydides VII, 29: `For the Thracian race, like all the most bloodthirsty barbarians, are always particularly bloodthirsty when everything is going their own way.'
  24. Duncan Head and Ian Heath. Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars 359 BC to 146 BC: Organisation, Tactics, Dress and Weapons. Wargames Research Group, 1982, p. 51.
  25. Plato. The Republic: "Take the quality of passion or spirit;--it would be ridiculous to imagine that this quality, when found in States, is not derived from the individuals who are supposed to possess it, e.g. the Thracians, Scythians, and in general the northern nations;"
  26. Plato. Laws: "Are we to follow the custom of the Scythians, and Persians, and Carthaginians, and Celts, and Iberians, and Thracians, who are all warlike nations, or that of your countrymen, for they, as you say, altogether abstain?"
  27. Polybius. Histories, 27.12.
  28. Tacitus. The Annals: "In the Consulship of Lentulus Getulicus and Caius Calvisius, the triumphal ensigns were decreed to Poppeus Sabinus for having routed some clans of Thracians, who living wildly on the high mountains, acted thence with the more outrage and contumacy. The ground of their late commotion, not to mention the savage genius of the people, was their scorn and impatience, to have recruits raised amongst them, and all their stoutest men enlisted in our armies; accustomed as they were not even to obey their native kings further than their own humour, nor to aid them with forces but under captains of their own choosing, nor to fight against any enemy but their own borderers."
  29. Polyaenus. Strategems. Book 7, The Thracians.
  30. Strabo. History, 9.401 (9.2.4).
  31. Polyaenus. Strategems. Book 7, Clearchus.
  32. Christopher Webber and Angus McBride. The Thracians 700 BC-AD 46 (Men-at-Arms). Osprey Publishing, 2001, p. 6.
  33. Zofia Archibald. The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology). Clarendon Press, 1998, p. 100.
  34. Christopher Webber and Angus McBride. The Thracians 700 BC-AD 46 (Men-at-Arms). Osprey Publishing, 2001, p. 7.
  35. Christopher Webber and Angus McBride. The Thracians 700 BC-AD 46 (Men-at-Arms). Osprey Publishing, 2001, p. 34.
  36. Herodotus (trans. G.C. Macaulay). The History of Herodotus (Volume II). "Of the other Thracians the custom is to sell their children to be carried away out of the country; and over their maidens they do not keep watch, but allow them to have commerce with whatever men they please, but over their wives they keep very great watch."
  37. Patricia Turner and Charles Russell Coulter. Dictionary of Ancient Deities. Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 152.
  38. Quiles, p. 76. "Most of the Thracians were eventually Hellenised (in the province of Thrace)."
  39. J. H. Lesher. Xenophanes of Colophon: Fragments. University of Toronto Press, 2001, p. 90. "Men make gods in their own image; those of the Ethiopians are black and snub-nosed, those of the Thracians have blue eyes and red hair."
  40. Beth Cohen (ed.) Not the Classical Ideal: Athens and the Construction of the Other in Greek Art. Leiden, 2000.
  41. Cardos, G., Stoian V., Miritoiu N., Comsa A., Kroll A., Voss S., Rodewald A., p. 246. " Computing the frequency of common point mutations of the present-day European population with the Thracian population has resulted that the Italian (7.9 %), the Alban (6.3 %) and the Greek (5.8 %) have shown a bias of closer genetic kinship with the Thracian individuals than the Romanian and Bulgarian individuals (only 4.2%)."


  • Best, Jan and De Vries, Nanny. Thracians and Mycenaeans. Boston, MA: E.J. Brill Academic Publishers, 1989. ISBN 90-04-08864-4.
  • Cardos, G., Stoian V., Miritoiu N., Comsa A., Kroll A., Voss S., Rodewald A. "Paleo-mtDNA analysis and population genetic aspects of old Thracian populations from South-East of Romania". Romanian Journal of Legal Medicine 12(4), pp. 239–246, 2004. ( Article)
  • Casson, Lionel. "The Thracians". The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol. 35, No. 1, (Summer, 1977), pp. 2-6.
  • Hoddinott, Ralph F. The Thracians. Thames & Hudson, 1981. ISBN 0-500-02099-X.
  • Irwin, E. Colour Terms in Greek Poetry. Hakkert, Toronto, 1974.
  • Poulianos, Aris. The Origin of the Greeks, Ph.D thesis, University of Moscow, 1961 (supervised by F.G. Debets).
  • Quiles, Carlos. A Grammar of Modern Indo-European. Carlos Quiles Casas, 2007. ISBN 8461176391

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