Thracian’s, who were they? It’s not a question often asked, but if you were to ask any person whether they no about Thracian’s or Thrace most people would likely say something about Spartacus. Spartacus was a Thracian gladiator who led a rebellion with some success against the Romans, a character of legend to say the least, though if asked about Thrace or who Thracian’s were, most people would not know anything about them. The fact that Thrace is not well known is understandable, as they have had little impact on the course of history, unless, of course you look into the history of Thrace and the Thracian’s and there you will find that they have had quite a large but shadowed impact on the course of history.
Much like the Mongols, the Thracian’s were a tribal peoples, but unlike the Mongols, they would often fight between themselves and were far from a united people. Though they would normally battle between themselves there were times when they would be united against the enemies at their borders, these enemies included the Romans, Greeks, Macedonians and Athenians. The land mass of Thrace was extremely large as Herodotus who writes ‘The population of Thrace is greater than that of any country in the world except for India’ (Herodotus, ‘The Histories’, Penguin Classic Translation). The fact that their enemies were so many is evidence of this. The constant warring between tribes and other enemies made the Thracian’s great warriors and many were employed as mercenaries in the employ of their enemies (i.e. Greeks, Romans, Macedon’s). The size of Thrace made it a prime recruiting ground for soldiers for any of the large empires, the love for loot and money also made it easy for the Empires to recruit the skilled warriors of Thrace. The greatest recruiters of the Thracian’s were the Greeks, this is evident in the Peloponnese War in which they had hired 1000 Thracian’s to fight alongside the Greeks 1000 Hoplites and 600 archers. It is recorded that there was also 1500 Thracian’s employed by the Spartans in their battle of Amphipolis.
The Thracian’s were immensely useful allies, who excelled in archery and guerrilla tactics, this and their fighting prowess made them a force to be reckoned with. The Thracian mercenaries were usually lightly armed and armoured which made them extremely mobile and suited for reckon as well as feint tactics, the arms of the Thracian’s was usually slings, bows, javelins as their primary weapon and a short sword or dagger as their side arm. Thracian cavalry was also lightly armed and again was javelins, spears and sometimes bows. The skill with long range weapons was almost unparalleled and in one battle the skill and speed of the horseback archers was recorded and sent to have wreaked havoc in the enemy lines. Thracian army was usually just armed with a helmet, usually looted from fallen enemies, except the nobility of the Thracian army which was usually armed with maybe some leather greaves and sometimes looted lemellar armour and helmets. The use of Thracian mercenaries was a boon for any empire that chose to use them but, using the Thracian’s was a double edged blade. The Thracian’s love for valuables and loot was so great that they would go to any lengths to attain it, one of the victims of their greed were the Romans in a battle against Numidia. The Romans were using the Thracian’s as a cavalry unit, Jugurtha had paid the Thracian’s to desert in the middle of the battle which led to an opening in the Roman line, which Jugurtha advanced upon immediately causing the Romans to retreat and loose the battle. The greed of Thracian’s were not the only drawback as the Thracian’s had a reputation in brutality and barbarism in one instance the Thracian’s were asked to raze villages along the coast to prevent any enemy reinforcements. The Thracian’s did as they were ordered but at the same time killed all the villagers, including women and children and pillaged the remains, this sort of brutality was a major fear for their employers, especially when it was protection or siege missions. These two factors were major when it came to employing the Thracian’s but another was their disinterest to fight close range melee skirmishes as it was noted that once the enemy had gotten close to the Thracian’s they would retreat to the closest forest in which they would have the advantage. This is not to say they did not fight melee battles, as they were observed to fight with great ferocity.
Thracian society was very pagan, Thracian society had peasantry (usually farmers) nobles (usually a warrior class) and a King in each tribe, they also had multiple gods. The difference between Thracian’s and many other pagan societies is that the Thracian gods that were worshipped was very much a class based one and the nobility were the only class to be tattooed or decorated in jewellery. The Thracian’s nobility was unique, in that were the only ones to be tattooed as this was the practice at the time. It was seen that anybody without a tattoo was of low birth. It was also common for the the nobility and, particularly, kings, practised the same faith but worshipped differently with kings being the only ones to worship the fourth deity. The names of the Gods are not to be confused with the Greek Gods but thought of as their equivalent. Worship of different deities from different levels of society was a common thing in Thracian society, the King for example would almost solely worship Hermes whereas the peasantry would devoutly worship Dionysos. On religion it is also believed that Orpheus the Greek Oracle is argued to have originally came from Thrace.
In this the Thracian’s did affect history in a major way but they were never really central to the study of it. Thracian’s were unique in that they impacted the major battles but at the same time remained outside the spotlight, with the exception of Spartacus. It was also thanks to Spartacus’ role in the uprising that had peaked the interest and a level of respect from the Romans that would have Rome integrate Thrace into its vast empire. Culturally there is still limited knowledge on the Thracian’s but there is just enough to make the study of Thracology constantly engaging and fresh.