Thracians


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Related to Thracians: Spartacus, Illyrians, Dacians

Thracians

 

the common name for a group of Indo-European tribes that in antiquity inhabited the northeastern Balkan Peninsula and northwestern Asia Minor. The group included the Getae, Bessi, Odrysae, Dacians, and Triballi.

Although the Thracians originally occupied territory as far west as the Adriatic Sea, they were driven eastward by the Illyrians in approximately the 13th century B.C. The Thracians cultivated land and raised livestock, especially horses. They also engaged in mining and metalworking and made pottery. By the early Iron Age, that is, the first half of the first millennium B.C., the dissolution of the primitive communal system had begun, and slavery had been introduced. The process of class formation proceeded with particular intensity among the southeastern group called the Odrysae.

In the mid-fourth century B.C., Philip II of Macedonia threatened the independence of the Thracians and other peoples in the Balkan Peninsula. The Thracians and the Paeonians formed a mutual defense alliance with the Illyrians; nevertheless, the tribes of southern Thrace were subjugated by Philip in 342. In 323 these tribes fell under the control of Lysimachus, and they did not regain their independence until his death in 281. At the end of the third century, the Thracian coast of the Aegean was captured by the Ptolemies, who later lost it to the Macedonian king Philip V. After the Third Macedonian War of 171–168 the Thracians became independent of Macedonia.

At the beginning of the first century B.C., the Thracians formed an alliance with Mithridates VI Eupator. After his defeat in the Third Mithridatic War of 74–63, they fell under Roman control. They waged a stubborn struggle against the Romans, and between 60 and 45 B.C. the Dacian ruler Burebistas united the North Thracian tribes under his command. In the first century A.D. the North Thracian tribes united once again under Dacian leadership. Before the century was out, however, most of Thrace had been transformed into a Roman province under the Julio-Claudian emperors.

In 106 under Trajan, the Romans conquered Dacia and made it a province, but they lost it during the reign of the emperor Aurelian. During the Great Migration of Peoples, the Thracians intermixed with other tribes; the Thracians are among the ancestors of the Bulgarians, the Rumanians, and a number of other modern peoples.

The most ancient remains of Thracian art date from the late second and early first millennia B.C. and include dolmens as well as pottery of many shapes. Some of the earliest Thracian vessels are of the type characteristic of the Villanovan culture. The Thracians embellished their pottery with such ornamentation as fluting and pine cone designs. Thracian art has also survived in the form of a unique collection of gold objects. This trove was discovered at Vulchitrum in northern Bulgaria and consists of vessels and vessel covers decorated with silver inlay and elegant spiroform ornamentation.

The Basarabi culture in Rumania, which existed in the first half of the first millennium B.C., was characteristic of the Thracians. Its distinguishing features are polished black ware, including cups, bowls, and goblets, and settlements—both fortified and unfortified—of ground-level wooden buildings plastered with clay. The pottery, which reveals contact with the culture of local Bronze Age tribes, is decorated with fluting, with stamped and engraved geometric designs, and with white inlays.

During the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., Thracian art was influenced somewhat by Scythian culture. The Thracian animal style, which flourished from the sixth to third centuries, has characteristics that distinguish it from other animal styles. For example, the Thracians ornamented plaques and helmets of gold, silver, and bronze with naive and expressive generalized representations of birds, animals, and horsemen and depictions of fighting animals. They usually covered these designs with patterns of circles, dots, or short lines.

Beginning in the fifth century, the Thracians came increasingly under the influence of Greek civilization. The fourth and third centuries saw the establishment of the Thracian city of Seuthopolis and the creation of many Greco-Thracian works that are masterpieces of classical art, including the Kazanluk Tomb and the collection of gold vessels found at Panagyurishte in Bulgaria. In the first century B.C. and the first century A.D., Dacian tribes built in the mountains of Transylvania a network of fortresses, which included Grädiştia-Muncelului, Piatra Roşie, and Blidarul.

Remains from the period of the Roman conquest include silver, bronze, and iron funerary helmet masks, which display an excellent command of technique and are distinguished by expressiveness of facial features. Other Roman remains include statues, statuettes, tomb portraits, vessels of gold, bronze, and glass, and stelae with relief carvings of the Thracian horseman. In the early first millennium A.D., Thracian art gradually declined and acquired a provincial Roman character.

REFERENCES

Danov, Kh. M. Drevna Trakiia. Sofia [1968].
Zlatkovskaia, T. D. Vozniknovenie gosudarstva u frakiitsev (VII–V vv. do n. e.). Moscow, 1971.
Frakiiskoe iskusstvo i kul’tura bolgarskikh zemel’: Katalog vystavki. Moscow, 1974.
Tsoncheva, M. Khudozhestvenoto nasledstvo na Trakiiskite zemi. Sofia, 1971.
Detschew, D. Die Thrakischen Sprachreste. Vienna, 1957.
Wiesner, J. Die Thraker. Stuttgart [1963].
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