A Thracian's Letter to His Son

If you are reading this, my son, then you have Come of Age while I lie dead or enslaved on some distant battlefield, unable to tell you of our people other than through this missive. Luckily I have the Second Sight, and saw this unfortunate event, so that the history of our people does not die with me upon that distant field.

You should be on the peak of the mountain behind our village. Look to the north. The great river you see below is the Danube. We Thracians live along that valley from the Illyrian mountains to the west to its mouth in the Euxine Sea to the east, and from the borders of the Greeks to the south to the Scythian steppes to the north.

We are numerous, we Thracians, so much so that Herodotus the Greek called us the second-most numerous peoples in the world. But what does he know? He was a Greek, and considered we Thracians to be a single people. We are not. We are many tribes, ferocious warriors all, and we fight among ourselves as viciously as we do those who come against us. We are not a single entity. Disunity is our fatal flaw, and is often exploited by those who come against us.

Our weapons are unique in the world. Most swords descend from the axe, but ours descend from the knife, through the sickle. We kill and maim with a pulling motion, while almost all others use an outward slash. This became such a terrible weapon that the Dacians soon copied it with their falx.

We have been heavily influenced by the Greeks to our south. They had trading posts and colonies on our land for the last six hundred years, and from them we learned much. But we have taught them much as well- the light troops they use to screen the flanks of their hoplite phalanxes, and those that cast the javelins before them- they are called peltasts. And peltasts were originally Thracians, fighting with javelin and pelta- our small leathern-and-wood shield. The Greeks borrowed this from us.

As much as we dislike and yet admire the Greeks, their enemies the Persians were our enemies too. They came here five hundred years ago- a mere hundred years after the Greek colonists, and conquered all Thracian tribes south of the Danube excepting the Bessi. They remained for a century, before withdrawing. That was when we attempted to unite the tribes. Our first monarch was Teres, a noble of the Odrysai tribe, our tribe, and a mighty warrior he was. Through conquest and some diplomacy, he and he alone managed to create a unified nation of Thracians- the Odrysian state.

Our unified nation did not last long past his death, though. When Teres finally ascended to the heavens, our state broke into three parts that immediately fell to fighting amongst each other. Two of the three successor states were almost imediately conquered by the Macedonians, and the last Thracian state fell to Philip II Of Macedon two hundred years later. Our prowess had impressed that magnificent lord, so he granted us a measure of autonomy. We had an overlord, but remained our own. We became what is known as a 'client kingdom.' Our fighting men went east against the Persians with his son Alexandros, and helped him become Alexander the Great and conquer our former overlords.

After helping to divide the Persian empire among Alexander's successors, our Thracian warriors returned home to find a new threat- Celtic tribes invading our valley. They were large, fair-haired men, and tough warriors, but in the end they conquered us. They made shining Tylis their capital city, and lorded it over us until finally we rose up in revolt and annihilated them. Those Celts who survived migrated off to central Anatolia where I was told they founded a state named Galatia.

Philip V of Macedon foolishly tried to fight against Rome, and lost as any Greekling was doomed to do. His phalanxes were no match for the Roman legions- whose soldiers threw javelins then charged with swords much like Thracian warriors. His defeat a nearly a century and a half ago cost him dearly- he was forced to abandon all his Greek possessions, and he had to hand over our territory to be a client-state to Rome. He would be confined to Macedon and thereafter his son lost that too. It was with great pride that I tell you that we Thracians fought alongside the Romans at Pydna, and were rewarded with lands inside our former overlord Macedon ourselves, as a reward for fighting well alongside those Romans.

The Romans liked us, and we liked them as much as we disliked the Greeks and their cousins the Macedonians. The Romans were fond of fighting, and often had men fight for the amusement of others. These paid fighters were called gladiators, and we are proud to have a type of gladiator named for us- the Thracian. He was not the little pansy with a net, nor the huge, muscled devil of the Galli. No, the Thracian was like us- half-armored, and reliant upon speed and skill to make his kill.

But not all gladiators were happy ones. One rose up in revolt. He led the rebel army in the Third Servile War, and crushed Roman armies time and again before Marcus Crassus came and ended his life and his dreams upon the field of battle. This man was Spartacus, and I am proud to say he was a Thracian like us.

It is now seven hundred fifty four years since the founding of Rome. Gaius Caesar and Lucius Aemilius Paullus are the consuls, and a wonderful fabric called silk has been introduced to the Empire by merchants traveling far and wide. Closer to home, Areius Paianeius has become the Archon of Athens.

We are now Roman, and princeps Augustus rules the known world. I serve proudly in an auxilia unit in far-off Gaul while you, my son, become a man of our tribe and may one day become the first of us to serve as a legionary.

I told you before that I have the Second Sight. I use it now to look to the future. What I see is grim. Though we will thrive under the Romans, that very success will be the death of the Thracians. A great lord will come, an Emperor, who will be called Hadrian. He shall see the vital strategic value of our lands, and develop them fully. We shall become thoroughly Romanized, and honor this Hadrian with a city built and named by him. In our honoring of him we shall also take his ways, and our own language and culture will decay and fall away, leaving us Romans.

Hadrianopolis, his city, will carry an infamous burden. Nearly four centuries from now, an Emperor by the name of Valens shall attack a Germanic encampment nearby. Valens will die there, with most of his army. It shall be an embarrassment to the Empire to have its emperor killed in this tragic defeat, but we Thracians shall survive.

More Germans will come. The Empire will divide into two along lines West and East, and we will belong to the Eastern. The Western will fall, not having any Thracians, but the East shall use our lands as a battleground and eventually repel the Germans- and the Huns.

But a half-millennium after the Germans will come another tribe from the East. These will be the Bulgars, and they shall conquer our lands from the Eastern Romans and take them to be their own.

They shall not enjoy it long, my son, for soon will come more tribes out of the East- the Mongols- who shall raid the Bulgars through our lands almost thirteen centuries from now and leave death and destruction in their wake. Ninety years after the Bulgars come and conquer our lands, another tribe- this one from the south- will come and make deep inroads into Bulgar lands, those of the Dacians, and even into the lands of the West. They shall completely conquer the Eastern Romans, and make their capital a city subservient to their own- near that of the fallen Galatians. Then they shall conquer the Bulgars and take them as well.

They shall eventually be repulsed, the Bulgars will rise and throw off the Turkish yoke as we one did the Persians and Celts. The Greeks will rise up as well, and the borders will finally settle. Our people, though no longer called Thracians, will still dwell in the valley of the Danube between the Illyrian Mountains and the Euxine Sea, but as in the old days, shall pay homage to three separate realms- that of the Turks, that of the Greeks, and that of the Bulgars in place of the Romans, the Macedonians, and the Greeks.

Even in the far future, my son, we shall not be unified. Disunity is indeed our fatal curse. The more things change, the more things stay the same. But a father's love for his son never changes. So be strong, my son, for you are now Paterfamilias. Use this scroll to know your past, find your way in the future, and ensure our blood survives this vision though our ways will not. Our ways may die, but our blood shall go on.