Wonderful golden and silver treasures, which travel across the globe, tombs with remarkable sculptures and wall-paintings, excavations that reveal each year new and interesting artifacts – this is how the rich Thracian heritage across our lands looks at a first glance. At the same time, as Thracians did not have their own writing, their past is hidden in great mystery.
40 years ago, at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, a special unit was created. Its main task was to study the history and the culture of the Thracians. It was founded by the great Bulgarian scientist Professor Alexander Fol. Right after his death in 2006, the Thracian center was named after him. On its 40th anniversary we talk to his widow, Professor Valeria Fol from the Thracian center.
How old is the first evidence of the Thracians?
A ceramic rhyton in the form of a ram, unearthed at Kitova Mogila near Sliven
“The first written evidence of Thracians is found in Illiad by Homer. The name Thracians was used for one of the allies of the Trojans in their 10 year-fight against the people of Achaia during the Trojan War. This took place in the 13 century BC. This war is known in the European history as the first clash for redistribution of raw material bases and markets, and a struggle for control over the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. At that time Thracians were people who inhabited lands around the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. Homer was not aware of the Thracian territory further inside the continent. Later on evidence of Thracians in lyric poetry, historic books and epic constantly multiplied. This is so, because old Greeks began to build colonies along the coasts of the Aegean, the Sea of Marmora and the Black Sea. Then they started to come in a better contact with the Thracians and respectively their knowledge about this people became broader.”
Which lands were inhabited by the Thracians?
Golden rings and jems from Kitova Mogila again
“ The ethno-cultural area of Thracians is quite broad. The most common question asked is where the Thracians came from and how they settled in the South-Eastern part of Europe. The process of formation of this ethnic group is quite long and it is believed that it took thousands of years. At the beginning of the 3rd century short-numbered group came from the North, only to settle in the Balkans later on. This population, which was mainly engaged in animal-husbandry found a rich culture on these lands. The newcomers mixed with the locals and formed later on the Thracian ethnic group. This group covered a wide distance - from the river valleys of Dnepr and Dusters and the Carpathian Mountains to the north Aegean coast down-south, all the way to northwest Malaysia. The river of Vardar was the western border of this area. Some of the Thracians that lived on the islands or in the continental part of Hellas became Hellene citizens at an early stage. Others developed their own state structures during the 2nd century BC.A proof of that is the Valchitran golden set, excavated near the town of Pleven, dating back from the second half of the 2nd century BC. We will never find out the name of its owner, who officiated with this ritual set. However, this treasure proves that creation of countries of Mycenaean type happened the same way as in Hellas.
What are the spheres of Thracian heritage along our lands?
“Most popular of all are of course the Thracian treasures, which were hidden before rituals or given as gifts to the departed Thracian rulers and noblemen. Those treasures are most popular of all, because they travel around the Globe in the so-called Thracian exhibition. But why so many Thracian treasures have been found so far? On one hand they are a sign of wealth and power and on the other hand a sign of a sacral purity of those who officiated with them. Gold and silver are such metals, which help people maintain sacral purity. Thracians have left tombs, among which most popular are the one named “Kazanlashka Grobnitsa” and the tomb called “Shvestarska Grobnitsa”- monuments of world cultural heritage in UNESCO. The museums in Bulgaria as well as those abroad are full of relic of this ethnic group. When we walk across the mountains or travel along the valleys we often come across constructions of castles, tombs and sanctuaries. The Thracians have left a strong imprint in the Bulgarian folklore heritage as well as in the heritage of other Balkan nations. That’s why fire-dancing, which is a ritual dance over live-coals has been listed on the world cultural heritage list. Nowadays it glorifies saint Constantine and Helena by rituals, the culmination being the dance over live coal. However, we must acknowledge that this custom is indeed a slightly Christianized type of the tribute, paid by the Thracians to the great Mother Goddess and its child-the Sun God. The fire set by those dancers is the earth projection of the Sun and they go into the fire to honor both gods.”
Silver rython from the Big Mound near the villages of Malomirovo and Zlatitsa, Yambol District
What kinds of mysteries did the Thracians leave us?
“In fact they left us many mysteries, not only the scripts, written with Greek letters. These writings are limited in number and we will look for ways of revealing what is their meaning. We know that in northern Greece bilingual writings have been found - both in ancient Greek and Thracian language, where the Thracian one was written in the Greek alphabet. When these writings are published we will be able to learn more about the Thracians. Such writings were found in the area of the Northern-Aegean coast. Another mystery is the ability of the Thracians to find natural recourses and to use them, without affecting the nature. These people were very skilful miners and metal-workers. We expect surprises when we reveal those skills. Many of my colleagues specialized in Chemistry and Metal research are currently working on this issue. Now excavations of Thracian mines are held and we can expect many interesting results.”
Translated by : Kostadin Atanasov