Saturday, 19 October 2013

Thracians, the legendary inhabitants of ancient Bulgaria

A Thracian wreath, made of pure gold, 4th century BC. The leaves were designed to move in the wind, as those of a real tree would, and the tiny buds between them were meant to make a gentle jingling sound with every twist of the head of the wearer. This, likely, was a party accessory of a female. When it was discovered as part of a Thracian treasure, the archaeologists had to painstakingly unfold every single gold foil leave with special tweezers as the wreath had been battered under the earth.   

Bulgaria is very old. Today it is known as a Slavic country but the Slavs arrived to Europe only as late as the 6th century AD. Bulgaria, meanwhile, has been inhabited for at least eight thousand years (i.e. people had already lived here for at least 6.600 years before the Slavs' arrival).


The legendary civilisation of ancient Bulgaria was that of the Thracians. The Thracians were Indo-European people who, among other things, were known to be excellent warriors and gold carvers. They dominated present day Bulgaria before it was conquered by the Roman Empire. Even within the Roman Empire the Thracians managed for a long time to retain strong identity and to remain the prevalent population in their own province.

The last of the Thracians died off and/or were assimilated in the 5th century AD. Some of their genes are now being carried by modern Bulgarians.


Bulgaria is not short of Thracian treasures and ruins. Especially so the central part of the country, around the so-called Valley of Roses near Kazanlak, a.k.a. the Valley of the Thracian Kings. There one can find plenty of tombs of important Thracian people (one of them, the Kazanlak Tomb*, is on the UNESCO World Heritage list) as well as other Thracian architectural constructions. 

Read about the underwater Thracian city of Seuthopolis here.


I have been hearing about the Thracians since my first longer-term stay in Bulgaria last year but I did not actually register the information until I got a rare chance to touch the thin leaves of golden wreath (pictured above) with my own fingers and to sip some wine from replicas of Thracian silver wine vessels (photo below); after this tactile experience the thousands years' history came to life and now I am a convert.

True to be said, although Bulgaria holds a lot of artifacts from the Thracian times, the civilisation itself remains mysterious. Only the said artifacts and written documents by their neighbouring cultures (ancient Greeks & Romans) inform us today about the Thracians as written sources by the Tracians themselves did not survive. Only very few Thracian inscriptions are known - and the ones that are known have not yet been deciphered.

Replicas of Thracian silver wine vessels (okay, not the best photo angle). The vessels were made of various metals, silver and gold being quite common among the rich.

* Once you are in Kazanlak, go up the hill where the actual tomb and its exact life size replica are side to side. Only the replica is open to visitors (unless you are on a very special mission - then they might unlock the real tomb for you).

Next time I might also tell here a bit about the golden mask of the king Teres which is now stored at Sofia's Archaeological Museum.

Text and photos (c) Agne Drumelyte, 2013.

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