THE THRACIANS AROUND ODESSOS DURING IST MILLENIUM BC
Thracians population settled around Odessos since Late Bronze Age (13-12 c. BC). Their origin is similar to the Trojan and it is not accidental that they are listed among Trojan allies in Homer’s Illiad. Thracians settle on the Balkan Peninsula on several human waves, the latest and the most important in population being during the Early Iron Age, dated in Thrace from the end of 12th c. to beginning of 7th c BC, i.e. immediately before the beginning of Greek colonization of the Black sea coast. During 9th - 7th c. BC local Thracians had active commercial and cultural contacts with Anatolian population (Asia Minor), Thessaly, Caucasus and the Mediterranean, which is reflected to some local productions. This is especially true for bronze fibula of the age, where imported forms co-exist with local production. There is no doubt that interactions occurred mstly by sea and the aquatory of Odessos is one of the places where the exchanges took place. Some schlars consider that during the Ist millennium BC, the region, together with the Thracians, was settled by the half-mythical Cymerians. As example of their, probably accidental, presence, is advanced the tumulus tomb with stone stele dated 8th - 7th and found near Belogradets, region of Varna.
May ancient authors mention that long before the coming of Greeks on the west seashore of Black Sea, the region around present day Varna was densely populated with Thracians. One such author, known as Pseudo-Skimnos explicitly states: “...Around the city (Odessos) lives the Thracian tribe named Crobises.” These facts are proven by many and various ceramic utensils, made by hand or on pottery wheel, many bronze ornaments for horse ammunitions and iron weaponry, all found in Thracian necropolises dated 6th – 4th c. BC in the region of Varna – near the villages of Dobrina, Kipra, Brestak and other. The Thracians in the region were ruled by kings, who entered in different periods in unions with the greater Thracian states existing between 5th and 1st c. BC – Odresses, Ghetes or Sapeyas. Between 336-280 BC these Thracian states were conquered by Alexander the Great, ruler of this part of the Balkan Peninsula. Archeological findings during the past years indicate that the population of North-East Thrace during the period was very diverse, including the vicinity of Odessos. It is found that during 6th – 4th c. BC the region was populated with Scetes, who normally inhabit the steppe region in South Russia and Ukraine and partly the area south of river Istros (Danube). Characteristic for their culture weaponry and bronze objects are found all over the region. Scytian horse ornaments are produced in stylish manner, so-called “animal style,” which is very close to the Thracian, probably a reason of frequent mixture of both populaces in North-eastern Thrace. Many bronze findings give testimony for such process – applications and front plates for horse heads, as well as moulds for such products in nearby and more distanced settlements. Since 4th c. BC the region is populated by more Ghetes – Thracian tribe populating both shores around the Danubian delta.
During their invasion of the Balkan Peninsula, after 280 BC, the region was populated by Celts. All over North-East Bulgaria and even near Odessos are found significant in numbers bronze objects with characteristic Celt ornaments and typical weapons, all quickly adopted by Thracians. One of the Celtic – Arkovna, located about 80 km from Odessos was probably the permanent, or at least temporarily, the capital of their last king Kavar (270/260-216/210 BC). Probably after the downfall of his kingdom, Celts mingled with the enormous mass of Thracians in the country. In a later period between 2nd and 1st c. BC, between Dyonissopolis (Balchik) and Odessos, in present day Dobrudja were created many small Scytian states. Their “kings” mint their coins in mint-houses located in the cities on the West Black Sea coast, including Odessos. The Thracian population in North-East Thrace seems to be backward as compared to their counterparts in South Thrace, including invaders in the territory. Thracians in the region lived in two types of settlements: non-fortified, located in fertile lands near water sources and stone built fortresses in hard to reach mountain environment, where most frequently were located the kings’ residences. Thracians were busy with agriculture, husbandry, forestry and hunting and fishing. Among their art crafts one should mention metallurgy – especially weaponry, excelling processing of bronze, making of bracelets, rings, Thracian type of fibulas, horse ornaments, top of arrows. Local goldsmiths produced from silver and gold characteristic for Thracian clothing chest plates, ceremonial ornaments for horses of kings and aristocracy, as well as used for special feasts fialas and ritons for drinking.
Despite ethnic diversity, numerous internal and external conflicts, and cultural differences, it may be noted that the populations of North-Eastern Bulgaria and the cities along the seashore have demonstrated stable tolerance for each group. However the progress of Thracians outside the seashore area was very slow. Conservatism is easily seen in ceramics production and mainly in religion. The most frequent deity of all is the so-called Thracian god-rider, who has different names in various places and different, or additional functions. Well venerated were different water-related deities – so called Three nymphs and Zalmoxis with the Getaes. After all the citizen of coastal cities completed their civilizing mission. One should note that there is always two-way communication and Thracians influenced citizen as well, especially in religious approach. During the centuries, especially by the end of Hellenistic age (2nd – 1st c. BC), Thracians adopted more and more the elaborated Hellenistic traditions, thus acting as intermediate for the continental Thracians.
Research fellow Alexander Minchev