- "Thracians" may also refer to modern inhabitants of Thrace regardless of ethnicity; see Thrace.
Thracians ethnically refers to various ancient Indo-European peoples who spoke a Thracian (or Dacian) language - a scarcely attested branch of the Indo-European language family. Those peoples inhabited the Eastern, Central and Southern part of the Balkan peninsula, as well as the adjacent parts of Eastern Europe.
Thracians inhabited the ancient provinces of: Thrace, Moesia, Dacia, Scythia Minor, Bithynia (in northwest Asia Minor), Mysia, Macedonia, Pannonia, and others. This area extends over most of the Balkans region, and the Getae north of the Danube as far as beyond the Bug..
The Thracian nationality and language is now extinct. The branch of science that studies the ancient Thracians and Thrace is called Thracology.
The prehistoric origins of the Thracians remain obscure, in absence of written historical records. Evidence of Proto-Thracians in the prehistoric period depends on remains of material culture. It is generally proposed that a Proto-Thracian people developed from a mixture of invading Indo-European and indigenous peoples in the Balkans over the centuries, starting from the Neoeneolthic and Early Bronze Age. However, this remains uncertain.
Modern historiography linguistically classifies Thracians as an Indo-European people of the Eastern (satem) subgroup, which links them to Iranians, Slavs and Balts. Similarities with the ancient Iranic peoples (Scythians, Cimmerians, Sarmatians) are further confirmed by historical and acraheological evidence of early Thracian material culture, way of life, crafts, works of art and burial practices. On the other hand a notable comment by the Greek philosopher Xenophanes describes Thracians as fair-complexioned people, thus racially relating them to the Slavic and Baltic peoples.
Bulgarian scholars (Alexander Fol, Ivan Marazov, Elka Penkova) have theorised that Thracians were part of a wider Thraco-Pelasgian group of peoples, due to the observed parallels between the Thracian culture and the ancient Minoan, Mycenaean and Phrygian cultures.
By the 5th century BC, the Thracian presence was pervasive enough to have made Herodotus (book 5) call them the second-most numerous people in the part of the world known by him (after the Indians), and potentially the most powerful, if not for their disunity. The Thracians in classical times were broken up into a large number of groups and tribes, though a number of powerful Thracian states were organized, such as the Odrysian kingdom of Thrace and the Dacia of Burebista. A type of soldier of this period called the Peltast probably originated in Thrace.
In that period contacts between the Thracians and Classical Greece intensified which led to strengthening Greek influences in Thracian society, culture and handcrafts. Because their language had no written tradition, in some regions the Thracian aristocracy and administration adopted Classical Greek for an official language and Thracian merchants utilised it as a 'lingua franca' in their contacts with other tribes and peoples.
Extinction of the ethnicity and language
After they were subjugated by the Macedonian king Alexander the Great and consecutively by the Roman empire, most of the Thracians eventually became Hellenised (in the province of Thrace) or Romanised (in Moesia, Dacia, etc.).
In the 6th century some Thracian tribes south of the Danube river have got into contacts with the invading Slavs and were later Slavicised. Thus they became one of the main ethnic ellements in the consolidation of the Bulgarian nation in 8-9th century. Linguistic evidence about this is the presence of Thracian and direct Latin loanwords in Old Bulgarian and modern Bulgarian language.
Some scholars have proposed that present-day Albanians may be descendants of Thracian tribes who maintained their language. However this is highly controversial as the official Albanian historiography relates modern Albanians with the ancient Illyrian people.
Main article: Thracian culture
As a result of intensive excavation works in the 1960's and 1970's a number of Thracian tombs and sanctuaries were discovered. More signifficant among them are: the Tomb of Sveshtari, the Tomb of Kazanlak, Tatul, Seuthopolis, Perperikon, the Tomb of Aleksandrovo, Sarmizegetusa, etc.
Also a large number of elaborately crafted gold and silver treasure sets from the 5th and 4th century BC were unearthed. In the following decades those were exposed in museums around the world, thus gaining popularity and becoming an emblem of the ancient Thracian culture.
On 19 August 2005, some Bulgarian archaeologists announced they had found the first Thracian capital, which was situated near Karlovo in Bulgaria. A lot of polished ceramic artifacts (pieces of roof-tiles and Greek-like vases) were discovered revealing the fortune of the city. The Bulgarian Ministry of Culture declared its support to the excavations.
In Dabene, Bulgaria, a cache of more than 15,000 gold Thracian artifacts were discovered, including thousands of rings. In August 2006 a sensational archeological find was made near the village of Dubovo. A Thracian dagger made of an alloy of gold and platinum, sharp, and in perfect condition, was found in a tomb near the village of Dubovo. 
The Iliad records that the Thracians from around the Hellespont and also the Thracian Cicones fought on the side of the Trojans (Iliad, book II). The Odyssey records that Odysseus and his men raided Thrace on their way back home from war. Many mythical figures, such as the god Dionysus, princess Europa and the hero Orpheus were borrowed by the Greeks from their Thracian neighbours.
In book 7 of his Histories, Herodotus describes the equipment of the Thracians fighting under the Persians,
- The Thracians went to the war wearing the skins of foxes upon their heads, and about their bodies tunics, over which was thrown a long cloak of many colours. Their legs and feet were clad in buskins made from the skins of fawns; and they had for arms javelins, with light targes, and short dirks. This people, after crossing into Asia, took the name of Bithynians; before, they had been called Strymonians, while they dwelt upon the Strymon; whence, according to their own account, they had been driven out by the Mysians and Teucrians. The commander of these Asiatic Thracians was Bassaces the son of Artabanus.
In book 5, Herodotus describes the customs of various Thracian tribes.
- The Thracians who live above the Crestonaeans observe the following customs. Each man among them has several wives; and no sooner does a man die than a sharp contest ensues among the wives upon the question which of them all the husband loved most tenderly; the friends of each eagerly plead on her behalf, and she to whom the honour is adjudged, after receiving the praises both of men and women, is slain over the grave by the hand of her next of kin, and then buried with her husband. The others are sorely grieved, for nothing is considered such a disgrace.
- The Thracians who do not belong to these tribes have the customs which follow. They sell their children to traders. On their maidens they keep no watch, but leave them altogether free, while on the conduct of their wives they keep a most strict watch. Brides are purchased of their parents for large sums of money. Tattooing among them marks noble birth, and the want of it low birth. To be idle is accounted the most honourable thing, and to be a tiller of the ground the most dishonourable. To live by war and plunder is of all things the most glorious. These are the most remarkable of their customs.
- The gods which they worship are but three, Mars, Bacchus, and Dian. Their kings, however, unlike the rest of the citizens, worship Mercury more than any other god, always swearing by his name, and declaring that they are themselves sprung from him.
- Their wealthy ones are buried in the following fashion. The body is laid out for three days; and during this time they kill victims of all kinds, and feast upon them, after first bewailing the departed. Then they either burn the body or else bury it in the ground. Lastly, they raise a mound over the grave, and hold games of all sorts, wherein the single combat is awarded the highest prize. Such is the mode of burial among the Thracians.
- Thiras also called those whom he ruled over Thirasians; but the Greeks changed the name into Thracians. AotJ I:6.
In a well-known fragment, Xenophanes comments:
- Men make gods in their own image; those of the Ethiopians are black and snub-nosed, those of the Thracians have blue eyes and red hair.
Famous Thracians and Dacians
- Burebista was a king of Dacia between 70 BC - 44 BC who united under his rule Thracians in a large territory, from today's Moravia in the West, to the Bug river (Ukraine) in the East, and from Northern Carpathians to Southern Dionysopolis.
- Dionysus, the Thracian god of wine, represents not only the intoxicating power of wine, but also its social and beneficent influences.
- Orpheus, in Greek legend, was the chief representative of the art of song and playing the lyre, and of great importance in the religious history of Bulgaria and Greece.
- Spartacus was a Thracian enslaved by the Romans, who led a large slave uprising in what is now Italy in (73 BC - 71 BC). Before being defeated, his army of escaped gladiators and slaves defeated several Roman legions in what is known as the Third Servile War.
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