You are here

Thracians and Their Neighbours: Their Destiny, Art and Heritage

Thracians and Their Neighbours: Their Destiny, Art and Heritage

By Jan Bouzek (Studia Hercynia 9). Pp. 275, figs. 109, b&w pls. 39, color pls. 4. Nakladatelství AMU, Prague 2004. Price not available. ISSN 1212-5865-9 (paper).

Reviewed by

Ancient Thrace was located on the northern fringes of the Greek world, and although certain Thracian regions became Hellenized during the early periods of the Greek colonization and particularly during the Hellenistic period, Thrace remained on the periphery of classical civilization until it was annexed by the Roman empire in the first century C.E. Several modern countries in southeastern Europe share the Thracian heritage, but the main part of Thrace lies in Bulgaria and Romania. During the Cold War (at least until the 1970s), scholarship in Romania and especially Bulgaria was heavily isolated, and archaeology and ancient history were used actively as ideological tools related to communist state policy and propaganda. Accordingly, few western scholars developed an enduring research interest in the region. Even today, few outside Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Greece, Turkey, and Serbia study ancient Thrace. From that point of view, the present book, which is by an expert on the subject, is a welcome publication that may help develop a more active international research interest in Thrace.

While the preface and introduction include a general overview of Thracian studies and summarize the topics to be discussed, the main body consists of 16 chapters that clearly indicate the author’s ambition for a holistic study of the region. The first chapter briefly deals with outlining the ancient Thracian territory and its partition and provides some information on paleoclimate. The second and third chapters present the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods in the region and provide some useful general information. However, these particular prehistoric periods cannot be related to ancient Thrace, which was formed in much later historical periods. Some Thracian names may appear in Linear B texts at the earliest; archaeologically, it can be argued that the Thracians become recognizable only during the second half of the second millennium B.C.E.

Chapter 4 deals with the Bronze Age. The author provides a good overview of the northern Balkans and briefly discusses one of the most impressive hoards of the Late Bronze Age: the Valchitran Treasure, consisting of 13 golden objects illustrating the high social status and economic development of the local tribal elite. Chapter 5 presents the earlier period of the Early Iron Age (11th–sixth centuries B.C.E.). Using archaeological material and written sources, the author gives special attention to the introduction of iron metallurgy. Migrations, attested historically and archaeologically, are also discussed, such as the well-known movement of the Phrygians from the northern Balkans to Asia Minor. Separately, the author presents some Thracian archaeological sites and material: graves and sanctuaries, pottery, jewelry, weapons, and tools. Chapter 6 concerns the later period of the Early Iron Age. The Cimmerian expansion is discussed from historical and archaeological perspectives, alongside a brief presentation of relations among ancient Thrace, Greece, and Asia Minor. Some features of cult bronzes, the Thracian Animal Style, the horse harness, and pottery also appear.

Chapter 7 provides a brief introduction to the Thracian language and general information on different mythological personages linked to Thrace. While now it is clear that Dionysos is not a deity of Thracian origin, other mythological figures such as Orpheus, Zalmoxis, Bendis, the Great Goddess, and the Thracian Hero display different aspects of Thracian religion and cult. In addition, the cult of the Great Gods in Samothrace and the features of some other Thracian cult places are treated generally. Chapter 8 deals with the historical geography of the Thracian tribes. Up to 80 different Thracian tribes are attested in the ancient records, and some of them (e.g., Edonoi, Odrysians, Getae, Triballoi, Dacians) formed strong tribal kingdoms and gained regional political power from the late sixth century B.C.E. to the Roman conquest.

Chapter 9 presents an overview of Greek colonization on the northern Aegean and western Black Sea littorals. The process began during the late eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E., fostering bilateral interaction between Greeks and Thracians and leading to gradual Hellenization of the Thracian tribes who inhabited coastal areas. Chapter 10 reviews Thracian political history from the late sixth to early fourth centuries B.C.E., including the Achaemenid presence, the Graeco-Persian wars, and the early Odrysian kingdom and its relations with Athens, Macedonia, and Scythia. In addition, the author discusses Thracian settlement patterns and rich aristocratic burials, with an emphasis on the tumular cemetery at Duvanli. Some aspects of Thracian art are also considered.

Chapter 11 presents a period of advanced political and cultural developments from the early fourth to early third centuries B.C.E. Topics include the Odrysian king Kotys I and his heirs; the social structure of the Thracians; the Macedonian conquest of Thrace; Lysimachus’ reign; cities and settlements; Thracian beehive, barrel-vaulted, and other monumental tombs (with an emphasis on the Kazanlak and Sveshtari tombs); and toreutics, including the remarkable Panagyurishte (nine golden vessels) and the Rogozen (165 silver vessels) treasures. Chapter 12 deals with Hellenistic Thrace. The Celtic invasion and settlement in Thrace; interrelations with the Seleucids, Ptolemies, and Macedonians; and Greek towns in Thrace all merit consideration. In addition, the author presents toreutics and coinage and an overview of the Roman conquest, which resulted in the establishment of the provinces of Moesia and Thracia.

Chapter 13 is about Thracians living in Anatolia, starting with the arrival and settlement of Thracian tribes at the end of the Late Bronze Age and the beginning of the Early Iron Age; this topic has previously received insufficient treatment. Special attention is paid to the Bithynians and the political history of the Bithynian kingdom until the incorporation of the Roman province of Bithynia. Chapter 14 briefly discusses Thracians who lived farther afield, from Thracian mercenaries and slaves throughout the classical and Hellenistic world to Thracian gladiators and soldiers within the Roman empire.

Chapter 15 deals with the Thracian tribes living north of the Danube (i.e., the Dacians). The author presents the political history of the Dacians during the Late Hellenistic period and the wars with the Roman empire, which ended with their conquest and the establishment of a province in the early second century C.E. Dacian fortifications, settlements, sanctuaries, mining, agriculture, coinage, and pottery all earn attention, as do trade, art, religion, and mortuary practices. Chapter 16 presents Thrace during the Roman period, including the provinces of Moesia, Thracia, and Dacia; towns; burials; votive reliefs of Thracian horseman; pottery; and art bronzes. In addition, the political history of the region during the Late Roman period, including the Gothic invasions, appears. As the book deals predominantly with pre-Roman Thrace, this chapter is modest and quite general. Finally, an appendix gives concise information on sites and museums with Thracian material, and a report of the 2004 Czech excavations at Pistiros contains useful data.

While this book provides a good holistic view of ancient Thrace from the Late Bronze Age to the Late Roman period, profound analysis and critical discussion of the archaeological material and historical records are generally lacking. In addition, the author rarely mentions or discusses different scholarly interpretations and often takes his own views for granted. However, each chapter provides a complete bibliography, which enables the reader to explore each subject in more detail.

It is understandable that for a general overview of an extensive region during a long chronological period, the author is unable to get into detailed discussions of the complexities of Thracian studies. Nevertheless, for the expert with a research interest in ancient Thrace, a more analytical study, with critical discussion, would have been welcome.

The author does have an encyclopedic knowledge of the region, and he is one of a few scholars who can provide such a general and holistic study and one of the very few who could write it in English. For many decades, the author has been working in southeastern Europe, knows the local languages, and is one of the directors of the international excavations at the Greek emporion of Pistiros, located in southern Bulgaria. The advantage of being able to study the region directly and carry out archaeological excavations in Thrace is clearly demonstrated in some chapters of the book. Of particular interest are the author’s innovative concepts about certain features of material culture during the Early Iron Age, as well as settlement patterns in Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Thrace.

In conclusion, this book is an excellent general introduction for all students interested in Thracian studies. The book is also strongly recommended for international scholars eager to learn more about this poorly known northern Balkan region.

Nikola Theodossiev
American Research Center in Sofia
75 Vasil Petleshkov Street
1510 Sofia

Book Review of Thracians and Their Neighbours: Their Destiny, Art and Heritage, by Jan Bouzek

Reviewed by Nikola Theodossiev

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 114, No. 2 (April 2010)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1142.Theodossiev

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.