Saturday, February 23, 2008

Valley of the Thracian Kings

Who were the Thracians? Among the peoples of the Mediterranean, they have usually been numbered among fringe cultures, shadowy folk on the periphery of the bright world of Greeks and Romans. Emerging as a distinctive culture during the third millennium B.C., they lived in tribal groups in an area bordered on the south by the Aegean, on the east and west by the Black Sea and the Vardar River, and on the north by the Carpathians. Although loosely linked by culture and, apparently, by language, they never achieved political unity, living in small towns and villages. Cities did not appear until late in their history, and their most monumental buildings were tombs. The Thracians left no written account of their customs and history, and their language is known only from place names and a small number of inscriptions written in Greek characters. The Greeks, however, were well aware of their northern neighbors, with whom they came into contact, and conflict, in the course of colonizing the northern Aegean shore. To the Greeks, Thrace was a wild and woolly place: the birthplace of the violent war god, Ares, the home of the man-eating mares of Diomedes, and the land where demented women tore the singer Orpheus limb from limb. Homer's Iliad provides a striking portrait of the Thracian hero Rhesos, an ally of the Trojans and a fearsome warrior, remarkable for his large and beautiful horses, his ornate chariot, and his golden armor. The historian Herodotus describes the Thracians in some detail, commenting on their large numbers, their lack of political unity, and various customs such as polygamy and branding of slaves that, from a Greek perspective, struck him as very odd (Histories, 5.3-8). Greeks settled in Thrace and Thracians lived in Greek cities, and there was significant interaction between the two cultures, but any portrait that emerges from surviving written sources is fundamentally biased--the Greeks regarded the Thracians as barbarians. It is only by turning to archaeology that we can gain a better understanding of these people.

The largest Thracian treasure found so far, dated to the pre-Hellenistic Age, was discovered at the village of Rogozen, Vratsa District. This treasure was rightly called the find of the century, because it is a huge collection of 165 beautifully worked silver vessels.

Once upon a time the Thracians inhabited Bulgarian lands. Thracian rulers and members of the nobility were buried in monumental stone tombs, which also served as places for ritual ceremonies to honor the deceased ruler, with offerings of rich funeral gifts. In the summer of 2004 , archeologists have discovered a 2,500-year-old golden mask that was likely made for a Thracian monarch's funeral. The mask depicts a full face with moustache and beard. The rare artifact is made of 600 grams of solid gold and "is without paragon in archeology," according to Georgi Kitov and his team that unearthed the find near the village of Shipka, in the so-called Valley of Thracian Kings.