Thrace

By MaceHead

By the second millennium BC, the people in the central and southern Balkans were developing a unique culture and language, and became known as the Thracians. Herodotus described the Thracians as the most numerous people of all; He said that only their chronic disunity prevented them from being the most powerful of all nations. The Thracians were broken up into a large number of groups and tribes, and this is why they never become powerful enough to keep enemy's out and conquered other nations. Greek colonies in Thrace were founded in the 6th century BC after that the Persians under Darius the Great ruled Thrace for nearly half a century. Than the region was conquered by Alexander the Great. Celts invade Thrace in 271 BC, destroying the Thracian kingdoms and founding one of their own. In 73 BC there was a slave revolt against the Romans in Italy, led by the Thracian gladiator, Spartacus. The Thracians were finally conquered by the Romans in 46 AD.

Drunken, warlike people

The Thracians were an extravagant, drunken, high spirited people who loved singing and dancing as well as war! The Thracians were light haired and grey eyed. They were large, powerfully built men, with white skin, delicate and cold. The chin -beard of the Thracian is characteristic of his race, the cheeks are shaved, apart from short side-whiskers. The women were often red haired just like the man, Tattoos were quite common, and mostly for women. Young girls were encouraged to be promiscuous with many men until the time they were married. They were sold by their families to their new husbands.

Plutarch said, that to further point out the wild, warband-like tendencies of the Thracians, it should be remembered that the Thracians were also renowned for giving themselves up to the furious pleasures of wild orgies: "The women of this country having always been extremely addicted to the enthusiastic Orphic rites, and the wild worship of Bacchus".

Pausanias said that drunken Thracian women killed Orpheus, "and hereafter the custom of their men has been to march to battle drunk".

Plato said "Are we to follow the custom of the Scythians, and Persians, and Carthaginians, and Thracians, who are all warlike nations, or that of your countrymen, for they, as you say, altogether abstain? But the Thracians, both men and women, drink unmixed wine, and this they think a happy and glorious institution. The Persians, again, are much given to other practices of luxury which you reject, but they are calmer and less violent, than the Thracians".

Livy said, that the Macedonian army had as allies "Thracians and Gauls, the most warlike of all nations".

Their skills and bravery in battle were widely noted and feared by other factions such as Mesopotamia, Greece, Macedon and Rome all of which later often hired Thracian warriors as mercenaries. Thracian mercenaries were always in demand, although a bit expensive at times, and liable to switch sides.

Fighting women

Thracian women sometimes formed a fourth line of battle, behind the men, encouraging the men to fight. Something like the screeching woman of Germania but instead of scaring the enemy they raised the moral of the man. When Alexander defeated the Thracians, most of the men got away, but the women who had followed the fighting men were all taken by Alexander's army.

Religion

The unique feature of Thracian religion was belief in the hero (the Thracian horseman). He was the son of Bendis the Mother of Gods and her lover. The hero was the hope and faith of the people. Their hero was all seeing and all hearing, he was the sun and also the ruler of the nether world, He was the protector of life and health, and kept the forces of evil at bay. The Hero is often depicted defeating a enemy, he seems well fitted to the warlike temper of his people. They also believed in some Hellenic gods, but not in the same way as the Greeks did. Thracians believe in their immortality, there was great rivalry among the wives of a man who has died. The one judged best lived by her husband is praised, slain, and buried with her husband. The rest of the wives were deeply dishonoured.

Warfare

The Thracians taught the Greeks some hard lessons in warfare, propelling them towards more balanced armies that were much more difficult to beat. Most important in this process was the Thracian peltast, a type of light infantry that was equally at home fighting hand-to-hand and at a distance (throwing javelins). Peltasts were able to defeat hoplites by outflanking them, or by throwing javelins at them until the hoplites became exhausted, demoralised and disordered. The peltasts then closed for the final struggle. To begin with, hoplites were too heavily equipped to catch the unarmoured peltasts as they darted in, threw their javelins, and then ran away. To cope with this, hoplite equipment became lighter, and anti-peltast tactics developed - for instance, the youngest hoplites would charge out after the peltasts. Thracian peltasts beat hoplites several times; "For some time, the Greeks marched and fought back at the same time, but at a place where they had to cross a watercourse, the Thracians routed them and killed the whole lot". However, when faced by the Alexander's combined arms army, they lost. The Thracian infantry were unable to hold back Macedonian heavy cavalry.

Sources:

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thrace
(Plato, Livy, Thucydides II, Herodotus, Plutarch)
The Thracians 700 BC AD 46, Christopher Webber
http://www.bulgaria.com/history/bulgaria/thrac.html

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