1902 Encyclopedia > Thrace


THRACE is a name which was applied at various periods to areas of different extent, but for the purposes of this article it will be taken in its most restricted sense, as signifying the Roman province which was so called (Thracia, see Plate of the Roman empire in vol. xx.) after the district that intervened between the river Ister (Danube) and the Haemus Mountains (Balkan) had been formed into the separate province of Mcesia, and the region between the rivers Strymon and Nestus, which included Philippi, had been added to Macedonia. The boundaries of this were—towards the N. the Haemus, on the E. the Euxine Sea, on the S. the Propontis, the Helles-pont, and the ^Egean, and towards the W. the Nestus. The most distinguishing features of the country were the chain of Rhodope (Despoto-dagh) and the river Hebrus (Maritza). The former separates at its northernmost point from the Haemus, at right angles, and runs southward at first, nearly parallel to the Nestus, until it approaches the sea, when it takes an easterly direction : this bend is referred to by Virgil in the line (Georg., iii. 351)— Quaque redit medium Rhodope porrecta sub axem. The summits of this chain are higher than those of Haemus, and not a few of them range from 5000 to 8000 feet; the highest point, so far as is at present known (for these mountains have been imperfectly explored), rises towards the north-west, near the point where now stands the famous Bulgarian monastery of Bilo. The Hebrus, together with its tributaries which flow into it from the north, east, and west, drains nearly the whole of Thrace. It starts from near the point of junction of Haemus and Rhodope, and at first takes an easterly direction, the chief town which lies on its banks in the earlier part of its course being Philippopolis ; but, when it reaches the still more important city of Hadrianopolis, it makes a sharp bend towards the south, and enters the sea nearly opposite the island of Samothrace. The greater part of the country is hilly and irregular, though there are considerable plains ; but, besides Rhodope two other tolerably definite chains intersect it, one of which descends from Haemus to Adrian-ople, while the other follows the coast of the Euxine at no great distance inland. One district in the extreme north-west of Thrace lay beyond the watershed that separates the streams that flow into the iEgean from those that reach the Danube : this was the territory of Sardica, the modern Sophia. In the later Roman period two main lines of road passed through the country. One of these skirted the southern coast, being a continuation of the Via Egnatia, which ran from Dyrrhachium to Thessalonica, thus connecting the Adriatic and the zEgean ; it became of the first importance after the foundation of Constan-tinople, because it was the direct line of communication between that city and Rome. The other followed a north-westerly course through the interior, from Constantinople by Hadrianopolis and Philippopolis to the Haemus, and thence by Naissus (Nisch) through Mcesia in the direction of Pannonia, taking the same route by which the post-road now runs from Constantinople to Belgrade. The climate of Thrace was regarded by the Greeks as very severe, and that country was spoken of as the home of the north wind, Boreas. The coast in the direction of the Euxine also was greatly feared by sailors, as the harbours were few and the sea proverbially tempestuous ; but the southern shore was more attractive to navigators, and here we find the Greek colonies of Abdera and Mesambria on the ^Egean, Perinthus on the Propontis, and, the most famous of all, Byzantium, at the meeting-point of that sea and the Bosphorus. Another place which proved attractive to colonists of that race was the curious narrow strip of ground, called the Thracian Chersonese, that intervened between the Hellespont and the Bay of Melas, which pene-trates far into the land on its northern side. Among the cities that occupied it, Sestos and Callipolis (Gallipoli) are the most worthy of mention. In order to prevent the incursions of the Thracians, a wall was built across its isthmus, which was less than five miles in breadth. The north-eastern portion of the iEgean, owing to its proximity to the coast of Thrace, was known as the Thracian Sea, and in this were situated the islands of Thasos, Samo-thrace, and Imbros.
There is no sufficient evidence to determine the ethnological affinities of the Thracian race. Their language has perished, and the information respecting them which has come down to us hardly furnishes more than material for conjecture, so that the most that we can affirm on the subject is that they belonged to the Indo-European family. The most striking archaeological monuments of the prehistoric period are the sepulchral mounds, which have been compared in appearance to the tumulus on the plain of Marathon; these are found by thousands in various parts of the country, espe-cially in the neighbourhood of the ancient towns. As Roman implements and ornaments have been found in some of them, it is plain that this mode of burial continued to be practised until a late period. The deity whose worship prevailed most extensively in the country was Dionysus. The most powerful Thracian tribe was that of the Odrysie, whose king, Teres, in the middle of the 5th century B.C. extended his dominion so as to include the greater part of Thrace. During the Peloponnesian War his son Sitalees was an ally of some importance to the Athenians, because he kept in check the Macedonian monarch, who opposed the interests of the Athenians in the Chalcidic peninsula. On the death of that prince his kingdom was divided, and the power of the Thracians was consequently diminished; but in the time of Philip of ilacedon we find Cersobleptes, who ruled the south-eastern portion of the country, exercising an important influence on the policy of Athens. During the early period of the Roman empire the Thracian kings were allowed to maintain an independent sovereignty, while acknowledging the suzerainty of Borne, and it was not until the reign of Vespasian that the country was reduced to the form of a province. From its outlying position in the northern part of the Balkan peninsula, it was much exposed to the inroads of barbarian invaders, so that it was overrun by the Goths on several occasions, and subsequently by the Huns ; but its proximity to Constantinople caused its fortunes to be closely connected with those of that city, from the time when it became the capital of the Eastern empire. In the course of time its inhabitants seem to have been thoroughly Romanized, and to have adopted the Latin language, and there is much probability in the view that tbey were the progenitors of the
A'lachs, or Roumanians south of the Danube, whose language is of
Latin origin, and who at various periods formed an important
factor in the countries to the northward of Greece. The first
evidence of the development of this nationality is found in a
curious story told by Theophanes at the end of the 6th century.
At that time a khan of the Avars had overrun the Eastern empire
and appeared before the walls of Constantinople; but two generals
of the imperial forces, who had concealed themselves in the Balkan,
succeeded in mustering a considerable body of troops, and were on
their way to surprise the rear of the Avars when their project was
brought to an end by the following occurrence. One of the beasts
of burden happened to fall down in the line of march, on which
some one close by called out to its driver, in the language of the
country, " Torna, torna, fratre," that is, " Turn him round, brother."
The driver did not hear this, but the other soldiers did; and,
thinking the enemy were upon them, and that this was the sign
for retreat, they took up the cry " Torna, torna," and the whole
force fled precipitately. It seems probable that the men who used
these words were Roumanian inhabitants of the Balkan. In the
course of the Middle Ages the northern parts of Thrace and some
other districts of that country were occupied by a Bulgarian popu-
lation ; and in 1361 the Ottomans, who had previously established
themselves in Europe, made themselves masters of Adrianople,
which for a time became the Turkish capital. When Constanti-
nople fell in 1453, the whole country passed into the hands of the
Turks, and in their possession it remained until 1878, when, in
accordance with the provisions of the treaty of Berlin, the northern
portion of it was placed under a separate administration, with the
title of Eastern lioumelia; this province has now become, to all
intents and purposes, a part of the principality of Bulgaria. The
population of Thrace at the present day is composed of Turks,
Greeks, and Bulgarians. (H. F. T.)

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