1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Thrace

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THRACE, a name which was applied at various periods to areas of different extent. For the purposes of this article it will be taken in its most restricted sense, as signifying the Roman province which was so called after the district that intervened between the river Ister (Danube) and the Haemus Mountains (Balkan) had been formed into the separate provinces of Moesia, and the region between the rivers Strymon and Nestus, which included Philippi, had been added to Macedonia. The boundaries of this were—towards the N. the Haemus, on the E. the Euxine Sea, on the S. the Propontis, the Hellespont and the Aegean, and towards the W. the Nestus. The most distinguishing features of the country were the chain of Rhodope (Despoto-dagh) and the river Hebrus (Maritza). The former separates at its northernmost point from the Haemus, at right angles, and runs southward at first, nearly parallel to the Nestus, until it approaches the sea, when it takes an easterly direction (See Virg. Georg. iii. 351). Several of the summits of this chain are over 7000 ft. in height. The Hebrus, together with its tributaries which flow into it from the north, east and west, drains almost the whole of Thrace. It starts from near the point of junction of Haemus and Rhodope, and at first takes an easterly direction, the chief town which lies on its banks in the earlier part of its course being Philippopolis; but when it reaches the still more important city of Hadrianopolis it makes a sharp bend towards the south, and enters the sea nearly opposite the island of Samothrace. The greater part of the country is hilly and irregular, though there are considerable plains; but besides Rhodope two other tolerably definite chains intersect it, one of which descends from Haemus to Adrianople, while the other follows the coast of the Euxine at no great distance inland. One district in the extreme north-west of Thrace lay beyond the watershed separating the streams that flow into the Aegean from those that reach the Danube: this was the territory of Sardica, the modern Sophia. In the later Roman period two main lines of road passed through the country. One of these skirted the southern coast, being a continuation of the Via Egnatia, which ran from Dyrrhachium to Thessalonica, thus connecting the Adriatic and the Aegean; it became of the first importance after the foundation of Constantinople, because it was the direct line of communication between that city and Rome. The other followed a north-westerly course through the interior, from Constantinople by Hadrianopolis and Philippopolis to the Haemus, and thence by Naissus (Nish) through Moesia in the direction of Pannonia, taking the same route by which the railway now runs from Constantinople to Belgrade. The climate of Thrace was regarded by the Greeks as very severe, and that country was spoken of as the home of the north wind, Boreas. The coast in the direction of the Euxine also was greatly feared by sailors, as the harbours were few and the sea proverbially tempestuous; but the southern shore was more attractive to navigators, and here we find the Greek colonies of Abdera and Mesambria on the Aegean, Perinthus on the Propontis, and, the most famous of all, Byzantium, at the meeting-point of that sea and the Bosporus. Another place which proved attractive to colonists of that race was the curious narrow strip of ground, called the Thracian Chersonese, that intervened between the Hellespont and the Bay of Melas, which penetrates far into the land on its northern side. Among the cities that occupied it the most important were Sestos and Callipolis (Gallipoli). In order to prevent the incursions of the Thracians, a wall was built across its isthmus, which was less than 5 m. in breadth. The north-eastern portion of the Aegean, owing to its proximity to the coast of Thrace, was known as the Thracian Sea, and in this were situated the islands of Thasos, Samothrace and Imbros.

History.—The most striking archaeological monuments of the prehistoric period are the sepulchral mounds, which are found by thousands in various parts of the country, especially in the neighbourhood of the ancient towns. As Roman implements and ornaments have been found in some of them, it is plain that this mode of burial continued to be practised until a late period. The country was overrun several times by Darius and his generals, and the Thracian Greeks contributed 120 ships to the armament of Xerxes (Herod, vii. 185). The most powerful Thracian tribe was that of the Odrysae, whose king, Teres, .in the middle of the 5th century B.C. extended his dominion so as to include the greater part of Thrace. During the Peloponnesian War his son Sitalces was an ally of some importance to the Athenians, because he kept in check the Macedonian monarch, who opposed the interests of the Athenians in the Chalcidic peninsula. Again, in the time of Philip of Macedon we find Cersobleptes, who ruled the south-eastern portion of the country, exercising an important influence on the policy of Athens. During the early period of the Roman Empire the Thracian kings were allowed to maintain an independent sovereignty, while acknowledging the suzerainty of Rome, and it was not until the reign of Vespasian that the country was reduced to the form of a province (Kalopathakas, De Thracia, provincia romana, 1894; Mommsen, Roman Provinces, Eng. trans., 1886). From its outlying position in the northern part of the Balkan peninsula it was much exposed to the inroads of barbarian invaders. It was overrun by the Goths on several occasions, and subsequently by the Huns; but its proximity to Constantinople caused its fortunes to be closely connected with those of that city, from the time when it became the capital of the Eastern Empire. In the course of the middle ages the northern parts of Thrace and some other districts of that country were occupied by a Bulgarian population; and in 1361 the Turks made themselves masters of Adrianople, which for a time became the Turkish capital. When Constantinople fell in 1453 the whole country passed into the hands of the Turks, and in their possession it remained until 1878, when, in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty of Berlin, the northern portion of it was placed under a separate administration, with the title of Eastern Rumelia; this province has now become, to all intents and purposes, a part of the principality of Bulgaria. The population is composed of Turks, Greeks and Bulgarians.  (H. F. T.) 

Ancient Peoples.—The name “Thracians,” from being used both ethnically and geographically, has led to confusion. There were the true indigenous Thracians and also Celtic tribes such as the Treres in the early period, the Getae and Trausi later, and the Gallic Scordisci in Roman days. These were the “red” Thracians of Greek writers, and they differed not merely in physique and complexion, but also in their customs and religion from the native Thracians (Herod, v. 14). The native Thracians were inferior in morals, allowing their girls complete licence till marriage. The chief native deities were Dionysus, Ares and Bendis (Artemis), but many of these tribes had Celtic chiefs, who traced their descent from and worshipped a god called Hermes by the Greeks, but possibly Odin. The substantial features of the ancient Dionysiac rites, including a ritual play by “goat-men” carrying a wooden phallus, may still be seen at Bizye, the old residence of the Thracian kings (see R. M. Dawkins in Hellenic Journal, 1906, p. 191). The true Thracians were part of that dark-complexioned, long-skulled race, which had been in the Balkan peninsula from the Stone Age, closely akin to the Pelasgians (q.v.), the aborigines of Greece, to the Ligurians, the aborigines of Italy, and to the Iberians. The name “Illyrian” (see Illyria) was applied to all the tribes of this stock who dwelt west of the northern extensions of the Pindus range and in what was termed Upper Macedonia in later times, and who extended right up to the head of the Adriatic. In Homer the name Macedonia is not yet known, and the term Thracian is applied to all the tribes dwelling from Pieria to the Euxine. There is no well-defined difference between aboriginal Thracians and Illyrians. Thus there was an Illyrian tribe Brygi, a Thracian one Bryges; some of the latter had passed into Asia and settled in the land called from them Phrygia, whence some of them later passed into Armenia; some of the Mysians (regarded by Strabo as Thracians) had also crossed into what was later known as Mysia: closely connected with the Mysians were the Dardanii, of Trojan fame, who had a city Dardania or Dardanus. In Strabo's time a tribe called Dardanii, then reckoned Illyrian, living next the Thracian Bessi (in whose land was the oldest oracle of Dionysus), were probably as much Thracian as Illyrian. All the Thracian and Illyrian tribes tattooed, thus being distinguished from the Celtic tribes who had conquered many of them. The Thracians differed only dialectically from the Illyrians (Strabo), their tongue being closely allied to Greek. The Thracians of the region from Olympus to the Pangaean district, usually regarded as rude tribes, had from a very early time worked the gold and silver of that region, had begun to strike coins almost as early as the Greeks, and displayed on them much artistic skill and originality of types. The most famous were the Bisaltae, the Orrescii, Odomantcs and Edoni. Alexander I. of Macedon on his conquest of the Bisaltae adopted the native coinage, merely placing on it his own name (see, further, Numismatics: Greek, §§ Thrace and Macedonia). They were famous for their skill in music and literature. Orpheus, Linus, Thamyris and Eumolpus were theirs, and in later days the Dardanii were noted for their love of music as well as for their uncleanliness.

See Herodotus v. 3–8 ; H. Kiepert, Lehrbuch der alien Geographie (Berlin, 1878); A. Boué, La Turquie d’Europe (4 vols., Paris, 1840); G. Finlay, History of Greece, vols, i.–iv. (Oxford, 1877); W. Ridgeway, Early Age of Greece, i. 351 seq. (Cambridge, 1902); Tomaschek, Die alten Thraker (1893–1895); Hiller von Gaertringen, De Graecorum fabulis ad Thraces pertinentibus (1886).  (W. Ri.)