Ancient Thrace: Definition, History & Mythology

Instructor: Margaret Moran
Ancient Thrace, a region to the east of Greece, is between present-day Bulgaria and Turkey. In this lesson, we will learn about some of the history and mythology of this ancient region.


The region known as Thrace is an area in southeast Europe that sits between modern-day Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. It has three natural boundaries, the majestic Balkan Mountains in the north, the Aegean Sea to the south, and the Black Sea to the east. The inhabitants of this region did not even refer to themselves as Thracian. This was a label that was given to the collective tribes of the area by the Greeks.

Range of influence for the Thracian tribes.


Thrace before the Name

Did you know that Thrace didn't always hold that title? Due to their lack of a stable political system and their wide-open settlements, the people of this region were thought to be primitive. But in reality, the Thracians were some of the most skilled warriors of the region, due to a strong warrior tradition. Before they were Thrace, they were about 90 individual tribes who worked together.

These individual tribes were divided and had their own identities but shared similar values. The warriors often served as Greek mercenaries. They were also invaded by the Persian Empire a couple of times (513BCE and 490 to 479 BCE). With their strong warrior skills, the plains of their home region were relatively peaceful in comparison to other regions. Their lack of political structure ended around the 470's BCE, with the defeat of the Persians in Greece and the rise of Kingdom of the Odrysae which united multiple tribes in Thrace.

During this period a subculture called Ctistae arose. They also lived in the Thrace region. They were mainly philosophers, priests, and the occasional prophet.

Roman Tributary

In 168 BCE, after the Third Macedonian war, the region known as Thrace became a tributary of Rome, meaning they paid tribute to Rome. They were also under the subjugation of Macedonia. Thrace would remain a tributary of Rome until 46 CE when the Roman government officially named Thrace as a providence of Rome, which was an area under Roman rule outside of Italy.

A Time of Turmoil

As the Middle Ages began, the Roman Empire split in two; East and West. This would signify upcoming troubles for the region. By the mid 5th-century CE, as the Western Roman Empire began to fall to the Germanic tribes, Thrace would fall away from Rome's borders and become influenced by the Germanic tribes. Thrace would become a battlefield for the next one thousand years or so.

The Eastern Roman Empire would later become known as the Byzantine Empire and would maintain some rule over Thrace until the 8th century. At this point, the area was swallowed into the First Bulgarian Empire. Later, in the 10th-century CE, it would return to Roman rule. The geographical region would switch hands between the First Bulgarian Empire and Roman rule a few times, until the Ottoman Turks subdued it in 1352 CE, and held power there for nearly five centuries.

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