Casting Through Ancient Greece

41: The Greek Periphery, Thrace

November 19, 2021 Mark Selleck Season 1 Episode 41
Casting Through Ancient Greece
41: The Greek Periphery, Thrace
Show Notes Transcript

North East of Greece would be a land seen as wild and untamed stretching from the modern-day nation of Hungary to the Ukraine, and then to the Black Sea and Aegean. The Greeks would view the people that inhabited these lands as barbarians, much the same way they did to other cultures that differed from theirs. Though these people that they would call the Thracians, seemed that much more uncivilised compared to the other barbarians they had encountered.

Although the Greeks would call them Thracian, a united people they were not. these people would be a lose collection of tribes with a shared common culture. Herodotus would say of the Thracians; “If they could all be united under one ruler and think the same way, they would, in my opinion, be the most invincible and strongest of all nations. But that is impossible; it will never happen, since their weakness I that they are incapable of uniting and agreeing.”

The Thracians would be a result of earlier Neolithic cultures that had formed in the Balkans thousands of years earlier. The Thracian identity that would come to describe their shared culture would be a result of these indigenous Balkan cultures interacting with the numerous Indo-European migrations that would take place as the Bronze Age developed.

Thrace would enter into the Greeks memory as far back as the Trojan War through Homers epic poem the Iliad. Though it wouldn’t be until the 7th and 6th centuries where Thrace would truly enter the Greek periphery. Greek colonies would begin to dot the Thracian coast lines, where trade of goods and ideas would take place in both times of peace and times of tension. 

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Episode 41

The Greek Periphery: Thrace

“The Thracians are the largest nation in all of the world, at least after the Indians. If they could all be united under one ruler and think the same way, they would, in my opinion, be the most invincible and strongest of all nations. But that is impossible; it will never happen, since their weakness I that they are incapable of uniting and argreeing. They have many names corosponding to their specific locations, but the customs they follow are quite similar in all respects…”[1]

Hello, I’m Mark Selleck, and welcome back to Casting Through Ancient Greece, Episode 41, The Greek Periphery, Thrace.


We have now finished our look at one of the areas that would enter into the Greek periphery to the west of Greece. We were able to look back into deep prehistory to see what was likely taking place with the human habitation of the island of Sicily. We were then able to move forward through time and attempt to understand the indigenous cultures that would be present on the island as the Bronze Age moved into the Iron Age. A major part of our understanding here comes from what the Greeks wrote about the cultures once they had encountered Sicily. It has been seen that the Greeks had been present on Sicily and had interactions with the local populations from at least the Bronze Age in a trading capacity. Though as the Archaic age dawned some Greeks cities were grappling with the problem of overpopulation, this seeing the first wave of migrations and establishments of colonies. Sicily would feature as a location in this first wave, where we then looked at the growth and expansions of the Greeks now calling Sicily home. As we saw, this would eventually lead to conflicts arising with the other populations present on the island, the Phoenicians and the indigenous tribes. This eventually brought us to a point in time where the Greeks were facing their own problems with the Greco-Persian wars breaking out. On Sicily, Gelon the most powerful tyrant to date would come to power and bring a number of other Greek cities under his control, with Syracuse being his seat of power. The Greeks of Sicily would face their own invasion, coming from Carthage, originally a Phoenician settlement. This conflict would be known as the first Sicilian War, thought it would be relatively short with a decisive Greek victory. This then saw us bring the region of Sicily up to the period in time where we had left the Greek victory over the Persians in the Aegean. Now we will move on to another region on the Greek periphery, though this time just north east of central Greek. These lands had no hard and fast boarders but were made up of various tribes who the Greeks would refer to collectively as the Thracians. 

The Thracians would become to be known for their warrior societies where they would come to serve as mercenaries in many of the great Mediterranean civilisations throughout history. Their lands were seen to sit at a cultural crossroads where many aspects of their societies would impact or influence those around them, especially in the field of warfare. They too would be influenced by Greek culture and later the Romans, but they would still hold onto their unique cultural identity. For this episode though, we are going to cast our way back to try and understand who the Thracians were. We will look at the lands they would occupy, their origins, both mythic and what can be drawn out of the historical record. We will then follow them through the Bronze Age and then their interaction in the Greek world, where Greek colonies would begin to dot their coast lines. Then in part 2 of our look on the Thracians, yes there will be a part 2 as I have yet again underestimated how much I would write on them, we will turn to a general view of the Thracians at war and then events taking place in Thracian lands leading up to and during the Greek and Persian Wars. So, lets first turn to the lands that the Thracians were seen to inhabit.


Thracian boarders were pretty ill defined, Trace much like the Greece was not a united country, kingdom or empire, it would be made up of many independent political entities. Though, a kingdom would be formed briefly in 431BC only lasting 7 years. These separate entities would share a common culture that would seem them viewed as Thracian. To the many Thracian tribes, they would have recognised these elements they had in common, though the different tribes would have also seen the differences between neighbouring groups. The Thracian identity in their early history would be a somewhat artificial designation to the Thracians themselves, but one that helped the Greeks categorised as a people, and who had prescribed this name to include the many peoples and tribes that occupied the lands to their north. The Greeks had recognised that they had occupied a large area and were made up by a large group of peoples from various tribes. This coupled with the reputation they would develop over their history as being excellent warriors would see Herodotus write;

“If they were under one ruler, or united, they would, in my judgement, be invincible and the strongest nation on earth”.[2]

Over time, the lands the Thracians were seen to occupy has changed depending on the point of history that is spoken of or even who was describing them. We will find the geography even overlaps with Macedonia, with the Thracians having inhabited central Macedonian lands before the founding of the kingdom of Macedonia in the 6th century BC. Macedonia will also be our next destination in these episodes on the Greek periphery. In the times of prehistory, the Thracian home lands have been seen to stretch from the modern-day nation of Hungary to the Ukraine, and then to the Black Sea and Aegean. We even find writers, once the historical period takes over, including Macedonian lands to their west and Scythian lands to their north to describe where the Thracian tribes occupied, as the boarders over the centuries would be quite fluid. For the most part though, their boarders would be seen to align with the natural boundaries of the Balkan Mountains in the north west, the Black Sea to the north east. Then down to the south west were are the Rhodope Mountains and the Pro-Pontus to the south west. These natural obstacles as well as the rough nature of the terrain within the region would see these lands well suited to tribal societies, with it very difficult for larger established civilisations, kingdoms or empires to penetrate any sort of depth within the lands beyond the coastal regions. If they did manage to gain some sort of influence of control it would usually only be through a narrow stretch of land centred on a road or trade route, and even then its control would only be short lived.       

Origins in Myth

Now, I want to turn to the origins of the Thracians, or at least what has been told of them. Like I have done with the other city states and regions I have devoted episodes to, I want to begin by quickly looking at what the Mythic past tells us of these origins of theirs. We need to be mindful here that it appears the early Thracians had a pantheon of gods in a similar vein as the Greeks, but since the Thracians left none of their own histories, we are looking at how the Greeks explained their origins in Myth. As for the name Thrace, this seems to originate with the sorceress in Greek mythology of the same name or also known as Thraike. She was the daughter of the Titan Oceanus, the great world encircling river, who was in turn the son of the primordial gods Uranus and Gia. The mother of Thrace is seen as being either Parthenope, who was also the mother of Europa, or Tethys, also of the same parentage as Oceanus. Though she doesn’t seem to play much of an active role in Greek mythology other than being cited as the mother of the Oceanids, the 3000 nymphs often associated with the many rivers of the world.[3] 

There is also another origin story found in Greek myth which connects the god of war Ares to the region of Thrace. This connection seems to make a lot of scenes since the Thracians would be well known for their art of war and recognised as excellent warriors. Supposedly Ares, the god of war would have as one of his offspring, a son named Thrax, which would mean something along the lines of meaning the most perfect Thracian. Though, the name Thrax is presented by Euripides, a playwright, in his tragedy Alcestis as being another name used to refer to Ares himself. Ares being regarded as the patron god of Thrace.[4]  

Earliest known Origins

Now when it comes to trying to find the origins of the Thracians when looking at tangible evidence, they can be seen as stretching much further back than the Thracian name ascribed to them by the Greeks. For that matter their ancestors can be seen much further back in time than the ancient Greeks can be recognised as their own distinct culture. 

The Neolithic period dating around 6800 BC to 3200 BC in the region, would see a time where none of the ancient civilisations we are familiar with today would be in existence, though many would trace their origins to cultures this far back. The Thracians would be no exception, with them seeming to draw a connection to an ancestor culture in the Balkan region. The Balkans would be home to a number of distinct cultural groups during this time, with them know as the, Vinca, Varna, Karanovo and Hamangin cultures. The Thracians themselves would see a connection to the Vinca, with the evidence of this link becoming stronger as the Neolithic period progressed, though it is quite possible overlap with other cultures was taking place since a defining Thracian identity did not exist this far back and the evidence of these cultures only gives us a very broad and generalised understanding of them.  


As we can see an early ancestor of the Thracians people can be found in the archaeological record perhaps as far back as 7000 BC. Though, this would not be the only factor that would see the development of the Thracians as a people and a culture. A number of times through the series now we have seen how the Indo-Europeans have been connected to a lot of earlier cultures’ developments, and the Thracians would appear to be no exception, with them born out of a mixing of Indo-Europeans with the indigenous Neolithic cultures of the Balkans. 

It is thought that this stage of seeing a Thracian culture develop would have come about around the 3rd millennium BC when Indo-European migrations can be seen as entering into the indigenous Balkan cultures. This Migration has been seen to come from what is called the Yamnaya migration during a time of many changes in populations throughout south eastern Europe. This Migration seems to reveal itself culturally in the archaeological record as moving from north of the Black Sea, heading down the west coast, before then extending along the Danube River.[5] This path would see the Indo-European roots of the Thracians now enter into many of the lands of the indigenous Balkan cultures, and directly into the heart land of what has been identified as the Vinca culture. This is where the melding of language and other cultural elements would take place and what has allowed linguists to see a connection to the Indo-European language family. Though, not much survives of any Thracian writing except for a few inscriptions, and these appear to be mostly names. It is thought that Ancient Greek may also have its origins in the languages that were spoken in south eastern Europe at this stage, though it appears Greek would end up breaking away evolving over the centuries into the Hellenic line.[6] 

It has also been discovered that in the Balkan region amongst these cultural groups some of the earliest examples of metal working can be seen in Europe. The working of copper can be seen as beginning around the 5th millennium BC, well before what can be seen in the Aegean. The region would also produce some of the earliest examples of gold being worked, with one of the oldest examples found near Varna, the modern capitol of Bulgaria.

It would be around 3000 BC, roughly the onset of the Bronze Age, that a Proto-Thracian culture can be seen to emerge from the generations of interactions between the indigenous culture of the Vinca and the Indo-European migrations. Though the picture is far from this simple, the early to mid-Bronze Age has been shown to have been a very turbulent time in the Balkan region. And although we have seen Indo-European migrations enter into the Balkan region, more migrations of Indo-Europeans would continue to take place, further defining who the Thracians would become.   

Bronze Age to Iron Age

The Bronze Age in the Balkans would go through a number of periods seeing invaders and a general upheaval of the established societies. These various events that would take place over the centuries are what makes tracing a clear distinctive path through history a difficult one when trying to clearly define who the Thracians were. This aspect probably also goes someway into explaining why the Thracians saw themselves as a collection of various tribes rather than a united people.

The early Bronze Age would see one of these disturbances where in the archaeological record a clear, dramatic change in the pottery in the region can be seen. Instead of decorative forms of pottery, a new style of plain and utilitarian waves would dominate the region. Then towards the middle Bronze Age more invaders into Balkan lands are detected, with it also theorised these invaders led to the forming of the Mycenaean culture that would emerge in central and southern Greece around 1700 BC as they filtered southward. Then by the late Bronze Age more invaders would enter the Balkans, once again from an Indo-European culture. This more recent development would see the Thracians develop as the hard-hitting warriors that would be described in Homers Iliad.

This brings us to some of the first references in writing of the Thracians as a people. Here I think we will quickly look at the sources that we have to work with when trying understand who the Thracians were, before we then look at how they are presented in the Homeric epics, written in the Greek dark to Archaic period, though looking back to the late Bronze Age them self.


Firstly, we need to understand that we are for now interested in looking at Thrace from its earliest times up to then end of the Greeks victory over the Persians in 479BC. Also, when attempting to understand who the Thracians were, we need to consider that they themselves produced no written records, or none that have survived. So, here we are relying on other cultures and peoples looking in on them, giving us an outsiders view to them. This is much like what we have encountered with the Spartans; we were dealing with accounts of outsiders looking in.  

Like I just said our earliest source comes from the epic poet Homer where he briefly describes them. We need to keep in mind the Iliad was not a work of history, but epic poetry. Though, we can perhaps get some ideas of the character of the Thracians as how they are presented appears to match what archaeological evidence has shown. We will look more at what Homer says about them when we turn to the Iliad in a moment. For our first historical writer we need to look to the father of history, Herodotus. The Thracians would enter Herodotus’ account in the context of other activities associated with Greece, especially those around the Greek and Persian Wars. This is where we get much of our understanding of the Thracian up to the Classical period. Other writers would also talk of Thrace in their accounts, though these would for the most part focus on the Classical, Hellenistic and the Roman period. These would include such writer as Thucydides, Xenophon, Diodorus Sicilus, Arrian, Polybius and Plutarch to name but a few.     

With the sources just outlined we also need to keep in mind that none give a definitive history of the Thracians, but rather see them enter the record when they become relevant for the main topic the writer is presenting. So, with this we are only receiving snap shots in time or fragments relating to them. We are then left to try and piece together some sort of coherent history of the Thracians. Also, the Greeks and Romans had seen the Thracians as barbarians and would present their culture in a similar way to how other foreign civilisations are treated in their accounts. 

               Iliad – 

So, with that lets now turn to our earliest literary work that talks of the Thracians, The Iliad. Firstly, though let’s get some context. The Thracians in the Iliad would enter the war on the Trojans side, which isn’t all that surprising when we consider the geopolitics. Thracian lands would extend along the Chersonese which is the strip of land across the Hellespont from Troy, which sat in Hittite controlled lands. Eric Cline in his book 1177 BC collapse of Civilisation, has pointed out how evidence suggests that the Mycenaeans were often involved in conflicts in one way or another around Troy.[7] The Hittites were constantly dealing with this activity since Mycenaean and Hittite interest and influence would often boarder around this area. So, if the Hittites were looking to protect their interests, one would think the Thracians, of this region would also be doing the same since they effectively controlled the lands on the other side of this all-important trade route. The Thracians in the Iliad we are told were recent arrivals and would see them appearing in the last year of the war, though it is possible that this was the latest force of the Thracians to arrive, since the Iliad only deals with events over 10 days in the last year of the war. One last thing we need to keep in mind, the account here is in book 10 of the Iliad and often thought to be a later edition, so it is quite possible that this account of the Thracians isn’t as old as we think.

Homer would have the Thracians just arrived to reinforce the Trojan army and were camped on the very end of the Trojan line. They were commanded by a man named Rhesus who is famous for having some of the largest and fastest horses, a connection in line with the latest Indo-European invaders into Thracian lands, also pointed out as being excellent warriors on horseback.[8] Homer, also whenever referring to a Thracian, tends to follow the descriptor, horsemen. The episode in the Iliad has the Greeks launching an ambush on the Thracian camp, where the men were all asleep, apparently tired after their journey to Troy. Many of the Thracians were killed and Odysseys and Diomedes make off with a number of the highly prized horses.[9] 

As we can see this wasn’t a good representation of the Thracians in battle, as they were caught off guard in Homers account of them. Perhaps this was the preferred way to encounter them, since they were renowned warriors. Though another aspect of the Iliad that is important is that it seems how the warriors are depicted and what was important to them, on all sides that fought, is how the Thracians were seen in archaic and classical times. This Homeric way of war and the warrior would appear to stay with the Thracians even after the collapse of the Bronze Age world.

As we have seen when looking at the Bronze Age and its collapse around 1200 BC, the picture in Greece was hazy enough, with it difficult for us to say for certain what happened. Well, when we look up into Thracian lands the haze gets all the thicker. What has been thought to have occurred in the Balkan region was another migration or invasion of Indo-Europeans which we spoke about. This invasion has often been linked to the Dorian invasion that was supposed to have seen the collapse of the Mycenaeans. Though, as we have pointed out in the past, this theory has not aged well with it seen that the cultural change in Greek lands was much more gradual than what would be expected from an invasion. But it does appear this disturbance up in the Balkans would define the Thracians that we hear of in the sources today being one of the final events to shape a defining Thracian culture. For now, we can probably assume that this development of Thracian culture was taking place through the dark age or the Iron Age, which ever you prefer, in the region, we get no real solid information apart from that it appears the region seems that have been an early adopter of Iron, with it slowly taking hold and being established as the period was emerging out of the dark ages.

So, what I would like to do now is fast forward to the beginning of the Archaic Age where we start to see the first Greek colonies established in Thracian territory. This would be where we start to see Thrace enter into the Greek periphery, as people from both cultures would live side by side, in both times of peace and conflict.

 Greeks Colonise 

When looking at Sicily in the last series of episodes we covered back over the reasons for expeditions being sent out to found new colonies from the Greek city states. Well, we find when it came to Greek colonies emerging along the coast of Thracian territory, we find the initial waves were now coming from the Greek city states of Ionia for the most part, along the Anatolian coast, who were in turn some of the earliest colonies to be established from the Greek mainland. The Ionians being the main initial colonisers in the region makes sense as a lot of the coastal regions of Thrace would prove to be of economic interest to the nearby Ionians, though other Greek cities wouldn’t be too far away. 

For this reason, many of the Greek colonies would be established along the Chersonese, the Pro-pontes and the Bosporus, all of these coast lines along the main grain trade route heading into the Black Sea. The Black Sea being one of the largest grain export locations for the Mediterranean world. Now, I’m not going to go into detail on all the colonies that were established, but will focus on a couple of the major sites. By far and away the most notable of all of the Greek colonies in Thrace was that of Byzantium, more commonly known to us today as Istanbul, the city of modern-day Turkey. The foundation of Byzantium comes down to us through traditional stories which we can find in part through Strabo, a Geographer who lived through both the 1st centuries BC and AD, and Herodotus. We are told that the colony would be founded by the polis of Megara, at the opening of the Corinthian isthmus just west of Athens. We hear that they had consulted the Oracle at Delphi, as which was a usual practice before setting out on such an expedition, though it would be assumed they would have had a general idea of the lands they were looking to make the target of the new colony. The Oracle had revealed that they should “make their settlement opposite the blind”, this land of the blind would become to be seen as the colony of Chalcedon, on the opposite shore of the Bosporus. Supposedly, they had established their colony some time earlier when the site of Byzantium was still free. Byzantium was seen as a far superior location for a colony, with its potential for wealth obvious. While Chalcedon was considered a poorer choice, though they were meant to have been aware of both sites when founding their colony. For this reason, the Megarian’s would see the Chalcedonians as being blind, and the site of Byzantium being the location that the oracle had spoken of.[10] We find a very similar notion in Herodotus Histories during the Persians subjugation of Byzantium and the Hellespont in 513 BC by the Persian general Megabazos.

“Once when he was in Byzantium, he learned that the Chalcedonians has settled their colony seventeen years earlier that the people of Byzantium had established theirs. Upon hearing this, he remarked that the Chalcedonians must have been blind at the time, for they would not have chosen such an inferior location when there was such a superior one available, unless they were blind”.[11]

Other sites

So, Byzantium would be the highest profile colony in Thracian territory, especially when looking back in hindsight. But let’s have a quick look at a few other settlements in the various Thracian regions.

Firstly, on the Aegean were the notable sites of Abdera and Aenus, Abdera would originally begin as a Phoenician settlement around the mid-7th century, but it wasn’t long before Greek colonists arrived to establish themselves there. Greek pottery found at the site goes some way into supporting the foundation date of 654 BC. Their control over the site would be short lived though, with the Thracian tribes in the area expelling the Greek settlers within a generation of arriving. Abdera would finally become a more permeant Greek settlement in 544 BC when colonists from the Ionian city of Teos in Anatolia would arrive after fleeing subjugation from the Persian expansions in their home city’s region.[12] Aenus would be looked back to as having origins in the Mythical past, where you can probably guess its founder was Aenus, the Trojan who was able to flee the sack of Troy.[13] Though this account of its foundation is found in Virgil’s Aeneid, written in the 1st century BC. Much earlier, perhaps over 700 years earlier we find Homer making reference to the city of Aenus in the Iliad where he mentions the Thracian ally’s commander, Peirous, who came from Aenus. In the story of the Trojan War, this was at a time before Troy had fallen to the Greeks and therefore before Aenus, the Hero fled the city, making the city older.[14] When looking at historical sources both Herodotus and Thucydides agree that the colonists were Aeolians,[15] one of the 4 main Greek tribes, with it looking like that had come from the island of Lesbos, just off the northern Anatolian coast.

Over on the Thracians east coast is the Black Sea and where a number of Greek colonies would also be established. Here we find a collection of 5 main colonies that would form what’s known as a pentapolis, this being a grouping of five cities, literally what that word translates to. These sorts of groupings would be done with cities the were in close proximity to one another for mutual support in the areas of politics, trade or military reasons. The Black Sea was further away from the Greek world than a lot of other regions so it makes a lot of sense that Greek colonies would be looking for mutual support in such distant lands, even if the colonies had originated from different Greek cities. These colonies were, Apollonia, Callatis, Mesembria, Odessos, and Tomis, and were established with their Greek roots from the 7th century and into the 6th century. For the most part the settlers would come from the Greek cities of Ionian or other earlier Greek colonies in Asia Minor.

Lastly, I want to head to the Chersonese, now known as the Gallipoli Peninsular, situated north across the Hellespont from the ancient city of Troy. Rather than run through the various colonies I will go into what’s found in the historical record with the region and the Greeks, specifically the Athenians. This will also prove to be a good transition to then head into the Period in Thrace towards the end of the 6th century BC and into the Greek and Persian Wars which we will cover in the next episode. Many Greek colonies would come to be founded on the Chersonese over the 7th and 6th centuries. In 560 BC we here of an Athenian becoming involved in the region. A man named Miltiades, not the Miltiades that would become the Hero of Marathon, but his uncle, would supposedly be invited to take control of the Chersonese by a Thracian tribe known as the Dolonci who inhabited the area. They had been at war with another tribe called the Apsinthians, perhaps the war not going as well as they hoped, their kings travelled to Delphi to seek guidance on the war. Herodotus tells us they were told to make the leader of their lands the first man on their return journey who should invite them in and offer them hospitality. This would happen to be Miltiades, as the Dolonci were passing through Athens. We are told he would accept their offer, with this being the period Peisistratus was in control in Athens and his rule had greatly irritated Miltiades.[16] Though, it has been suggested that rather than this being an opportunistic chance at controlling the region with an invitation, he had been apart of a Greek colony and rose to a position where he developed a tyranny over many city states, controlling much of the Chersonese. He then invented the story about the oracle himself to show it wasn’t he who had designs on power, but he was fated to rule. Anyway, we hear from Herodotus that Miltiades would sail to the Chersonese with a number of Athenians willing to participate in the expedition. He would take command of the region where we hear one of his most notable actions in the war was to construct a wall sealing off the isthmus. We also hear he had built up some kind of reputation, as for when he was captured in an ambush by the people of Lampsacus, a city he had made war upon, the king of Lydia, Croesus demanded his release or they would be wiped out.[17] Miltiades would be released and continue his war, but around 519 he would die. Miltiades was childless and passed his tyranny down to his brother’s son, Stesagoras, though he would be assassinated by his enemies in a ruse, his killer pretending to be a deserter in the war. This is where it seems the connection to the Chersonese was more than just a random opportunity for Miltiades and makes us question if he did in fact dislike Peisistratus. As after the death of both men, it seems Peisistratus was seeking to have the leadership role in the region remain with Athenian connections, suggesting there was some mutual benefit between Athens and the Chersonese. Afterall the grain route Athens relied upon sailed right past the Chersonese as it came from the Black Sea. The replacement that was sent was another relative of Miltiades and also the brother of the slain Stesagoras. This was the Miltiades we are well aware of from our episode on the battle of Marathon. But we will continue with Miltiades the youngers time in the Chersonese next episode when we start to see Persian attempts at subjugating Thracian territory through their attempts at expanding into lands further afield, such as Scythia and later Greece.

One other thing we need to keep in mind when it comes to these Greek colonies being established, is that they were often not seen as peaceful incursions into their lands. We hear in the source on a number of occasions where settlements were abandoned due to Thracian attacks. When looking at the colony of Abdera we saw the initial colony had been expelled before a new wave of colonists would come to inhabit the site. Also, as we will see next episode Aristagoras, leader of the Ionian revolt would meet his end in Thrace while attempted to found a colony there. 


So, as we can see with our opening look at the Thracian lands it is difficult to give a clear picture of who they were. They left no writing of their own, with us left to interpret what Greek and Roman writers have written of them. This as you can imagine has led to cultural biases enter into their accounts. The Greeks, well known for their xenophobia or more accurately seeing those with different practices and languages as barbarians. Though, in our time we also have the benefit of archaeology which has in recent times allowed a number of cultural groups to be identified throughout the Balkans in the Neolithic area giving us possible ancestors of who we now recognise as the Thracians. Though, with the development of many cultures over time, their development is far more complex than what we can find in the record today. Many generations of cultural sharing between neighbouring groups would have taken place, plus the added layer of various migrations of the centuries altering the picture. But we are left with a generalised picture of how they may have developed from the information available today. 

We can also see from accounts in the Iliad that it appears a culture identified as Thracian may have been present during the Bronze Age and Mycenaean times, or at the very least as far back as the time Homer was writing. Though for them to have entered the story it seems likely they would have been part of the oral tradition even before this. After the collapse of the Bronze Age and recovery from the Dark Ages we then see Thrace really start to enter the Greek periphery during the explosion of colonisation that the Greeks would take part in. This would see Thracian regions, especially those on the coast become part of the wider Greek world. This would see a mixture of conflict and cooperation take place over the centuries depending on the circumstances in the various regions.

Next episode we will turn to the events of the Persian expansion into Thracian lands and their attempts at subjugating them. This would see a series of conquests take place over a number of decades, often coupled with larger campaigns the Persians had in mind. Thrace would become the path toward many of the larger areas Persia was looking to expand their influence into. This will then see us move into the Greek and Persian wars and what was taking place in Thrace, since this would be the main line of advance, and after the wars, the line of retreat. Before looking at these events though, we will try and get a general understanding of how the Thracians fought, as it would be somewhat different to how we have seen the Greeks fight. We don’t get any detailed accounts of the Thracians at war during the 6th and early 5th century, but we can still pull out an overall view from what has been recorded of them through their history.


[1] Herodotus 5.3
[2] Herodotus 5.3
[3] Hesiod, Theogony, 337
[4] Euripides, Alcestis
[5] The Horse, the Wheel and Language, David Anthony, p365
[6] The Horse, the Wheel and Language, David Anthony, p368-369

[7] 1177 BC The Year Civilzation Collapsed, Eric H Cline
[8] Homer, Iliad, 2.100
[9] The Iliad, Homer, 10.436
[10] Strabo, Geography 7.6
[11] Herodotus, 4.144
[12] Herodotus 1.168
[13] Virgil, Aeneid, 3.18
[14] Homer, The Iliad, 4.520
[15] Herodotus, 7.58 / Thucydides 7.57
[16] Herodotus, 6.34 - 35
[17] Herodotus 6.37