The history of Thracian warfare spans from c. 10th century BC up to the 1st century AD in the region defined by Ancient Greek and Latin historians as Thrace. It concerns the armed conflicts of the Thracian tribes and their kingdoms in the Balkans. Apart from conflicts between Thracians and neighboring nations and tribes, numerous wars were recorded among Thracian tribes.
Instances of Thracian people engaging in armed conflict occur in the Iliad of Homer and in Greek mythology. The Greek Temenids ousted the Thracians from Pieria (later central Macedonia). The Thracians, prominent warriors who became allies of Troy, came from the Aegean coast. In the Odyssey there is only one instance of Thracians, that of Cicones again on the coast, but they are weak.
The Thracians were a particularly fierce culture in terms of violence and conflict and so they appeared in Greek Mythology as mostly associated with its stories of strife. The god of war Ares was said to have been born in Thrace and was also heavily worshiped there; in contrast to the revulsion of his worship by many other Balkan city states. Homer recounts in the book of Odyssey that an embarrassed Ares retreated among his Thracian followers when his love affair with the goddess Aphrodite was caught and the two were promptly ensnared by Hephaestus.
The Odrysian kingdom (Ancient Greek, "Βασιλεία Όδρυσων") was a union of Thracian tribes that endured between the 5th century BC and the 3rd century BC. The Odrysian state was the first Thracian kingdom that acquired power in the region, by the unification of many Thracian tribes under a single ruler, King Teres 5th century BC. It became involved in wars and military conflicts against the Romans, Greek colonies, the kingdom of Macedon and the Diadochi, the Persian Empire, Paeonians, Dacians, Celts, Scythians and Thracian tribes. Sometimes it was allied with various Ancient Greek tribes or Greek city states. During the Peloponnesian war, Thracians were the allies of Athens. The Thracians fought alongside Athenians and Macedonians against the forces of the Spartans. Greek generals like Iphicrates and Charidemos fought for the Odrysae as well. The Thracians served under Scythian kings in 310 BC. Odrysian military strength was based on intra-tribal elite making the kingdom prone to fragmentation. Althouth the kingdom was wealthy, a large proportion of its income was in kind and suitable portions had to be paid to the tribal chiefs. The army was mostly fed and paid by plunder. Sitalces was able to raise an army supposedly 150,000 strong for his invasion of Macedonia in 429 BC but these economic and political factors (plus the onset of winter) meant that this army only held together for about six weeks and any Thracian conquests were ephemeral.
The Sapaeans ruled Thrace after the Odrysians until its incorporation to the Roman Empire as a province.
Thrace became a Client state of Rome at 11 BC and was annexed at 46 AD.
Thrace had the potential to muster a huge number of troops though this rarely occurred. By tradition, Thracians honored warriors and, according to Herodotus, despised all other occupations.
The Thracians fought as peltasts using javelins and crescent or round wicker shields called peltes. Missile weapons were favored but close combat weaponry was carried by the Thracians as well. These close combat weapons varied from the dreaded Rhomphaia to clubs (used to knock the heads of the spears in Xenophon's Anabasis by Thynians), one- and two-sided axes, bows, knives, spears, akinakes and long swords. Thracians shunned armor and greaves and fought as light as possible, favoring mobility above all other traits and had excellent horsemen. The sica was considered their national weapon.
The Bithynian Thracians had contributed a number of 6,000 men (60,000 according to Herodotus) in Xerxes I of Persia campaign of 480 BC but in general resisted Persian occupation and turned against Mardonius's army as he retreated. The Triballi frequently used Scythian and Celtic equipment. Thracians decorated their bodies with tattoos like the Illyrians and the Dacians.
Thucidides writes of their infantry tactics when attacked by Theban cavalry:
"dashing out and closing their ranks according to the tactics of their country"
A Thracian javelinman would wield a crescent wicker shield and a couple of javelins. This troop type would persist into the classic and Hellenistic era. Organized groups of spearmen or javelin throwers were not used.
In the 4th century BC, both infantry and cavalry troops started wearing helmets (some of leather) and some peltasts are seen with greaves.
Principal weapons in the 4th century BC (as well as earlier) were the spear and short knife.
Armor, when it was available (for the nobility), was at first leather or bronze but iron armour started appearing in the 4th century BC.
Thracian cavalry would wear leather armor or no armor and would be armed with javelins, a bow, or a spear. Only royal cavalry would wear armor. Oval shields and peltes (even by heavy cavalry) were later used. Thracian cavalry was numerous.
A Thracian footman (3rd century BC - 1st century BC) could wield a knife or sword, Rhomphaia, a helmet, two javelins and a light oval wooden shield (or a heavier iron-rimmed and spined thureos). No Thracian infantry would wear greaves until the 4th century BC. Later native and Greek types started being used, the Greek type being rarer. Thracians used mixed Thracian and Greek equipment and armors from different time periods, to the point of wearing armors that ceased to be used elsewhere; this is something they did even in the classic era. Later they would adopt Roman armaments.
Thracians were highly sought as mercenaries due to their ferocity in battle, but they were infamous for their love of plunder. Thracian mercenaries played an important role in the affairs between Athenians and Spartans. The Odomantii were described as expensive mercenaries. In one instance in 413 BC, Dii mercenaries were so expensive to pay that after they missed the boat to Sicily the Athenians sent them home. They were hired occasionally by Persians.Croesus had hired many Thracian swordsmen for the Lydian army. They also served in the Republican Roman and Mithridatic armies, as well as the armies of the Diadocii. They provided up to one third of the cavalry in Macedonian armies and up to a fifth of their infantry (usually as levies or allies rather than mercenaries). They later formed one of the most important nationalities in the Roman army, contributing up to 20,000 troops at any one time to auxiliary units during the early empire.
A Thracian chieftain could have access to armor and helmets. One could be equipped with a Chalcidian type helmet, a breastplate (this sort of armor is rarely found outside Crete and only one has been found in Thrace, a bell-type cuirass) with a mitrai (a plate attached to the bottom of the cuirass to protect the adbomen) a wickerpelte, two javelins and a sword. Body armor was restricted to nobles and army commanders. Greek armor was in use in Thrace before the classical age. Nobles would sometimes wear pectorals on their chests as a sign of rank.
There was no Thracian navy but there were instances of Thracians turning to piracy. The Greek cities of the coast that paid tribute to the Thracian kings did sometimes provide the Thracian kings with ships.
Even though Thracians attempted to build only onepolis, they had forts in hills built as places of refuge. Thracian villages had basic fortifications as Xenophon witnesses in Anabasis. Tacitus in his Annals describes a Roman attack against a hill fort. There were many Thracian hill forts and some were inhabited. Other fortified Thracian towns existed at places like Hellis and Kabyle.
Scythiansakinakes, Scythian saddles and horse archer equipment to the Scythian type helmet also called Kuban type. It was an open-face bronze helmet that stopped halfway (like a skullcap) and had leather flaps with sewn bronze plates that protected the back part of the head including the nape and the sides of the face.The Scythian cavalry wedge had been adopted by the Thracian cavalry. Despite the power of the Odrysians except during the reigns of Teres and Sitalkes they were still weaker than the Scythians militarily. Scale armor was adopted as well as a composite metal cuirass. The most northern Thracian tribe, the Getai, were so similar to the Scythians that they were often confused with them. Odrysian Thracian kings made treaties and royal marriages as equals with the Scythians. The royal name Spartokos (Spartacus) is shared between some Thracian royalty and some Crimean Skythian kings.
Thracian warfare was effected by Celts in a variety of ways like the adoption of certain long swords though this must not have been universal among them. The Triballi had adopted Celtic equipment. Another weapon, the sica was called Thracian sword (Ancient Greek,"Θρακικον ξίφος") though it did not originate from there, despite its popular usage (it was considered their national weapon). The sword's utmost origin was the Hallstatt culture and the Thracians may have adopted or inherited it.
Greece affected Thracian warfare early on with the xiphos and other swords, Greek type greaves, breastplates, a variety of helmets and other equipment. During the Hellenistic period more Greek armaments were adopted. Seuthes had adopted a Greek tactic for a night march (though night marches and attacks were a favourite Thracian tactic).Thracian kings were the first to be Hellenized. After some time Thracians became fully Hellenized.
Thracians were regarded as warlike, ferocious, and savagely bloodthirsty. Thracians were seen as "Barbarians" by other peoples, namely the Greeks and the Romans. Plato in his Republic considers them, along with the Scythians, extravagant and high spirited; and in his Laws considers them a war-like nation, grouping them with Celts, Persians, Scythians, Iberians and Carthaginians. Polybius wrote of Cotys' sober and gentle character being unlike that of most Thracians. Tacitus in his Annals writes of them being wild, savage and impatient, disobedient even to their own kings.Polyaenus and Strabo write how the Thracians broke their pacts of truce with trickery. The Thracians struck their weapons against each other before battle and engaged in night attacks.Diegylis was considered one of the most bloothirsty chieftains by Diodorus Siculus. An Athenian club for lawless youths was named after the Triballi. The Dii were responsible for the worst atrocities of the Peloponnesian war killing every living thing, including children and dogs, in Tanagra and Mycalessos. Thracians would impale Roman heads on their spears and Rhomphaias such as in the Kallinikos skirmish in 171 BC. Herodotus writes that "they sell their children and let their wives commerce with whatever men they please".
429 BC The imperial Odrysian army, including contingents from most Thracian tribes, defeats the Macedonians and brifely overruns Macedonia but retreats with the onset of winter after accepting Macedonian diplomatic overtures.
335 BC Alexander the Great against Triballi at Lyginus river (Rositsa or Iskar), Thracian defeat
335 BC Alexander the Great against Triballi at Peuce island on Danube, Thracian defeat (but Alexander with his ships missed taking the island to finish Triballi because of the strong flow of the river)
↑The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald, 1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 94
↑The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald, 1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 93
↑Readings in Greek History: Sources and Interpretations by D. Brendan Nagle and Stanley M. Burstein, ISBN 0-19-517825-4, 2006, page 230: "... , however, one of the Thracian tribes, the Odrysians, succeeded in unifying the Thracians and creating a powerful state ..."
↑The Oxford Classical Dictionary by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, ISBN 0-19-860641-9, page 1515, "Shortly afterwards the first King of the Odrysae, Teres attempted to carve an empire out of the territory occupied by the Thracian tribes (Thuc.2.29) and his sovereignty extended as far as the Euxine and the Hellespont)"
↑The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald, 1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 203
↑Christopher Webber, Angus McBride (2001). The Thracians, 700 BC - AD 46. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-329-2.
↑The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume 3, Part 2: The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and Other States of the Near East, from the Eighth to the Sixth Centuries BC (Hardcover)
by John Boardman (Editor), I. E. S. Edwards (Editor), E. Sollberger (Editor), N. G. L. Hammond (Editor), 1992, ISBN 0-521-22717-8, page XVI, "Very different from the Phoenicians were the Scythians and the Thracians who had no interest or skill in seafaring but excelled in raiding and horsemanship"
↑ 15.015.1Completely parsed Cicero: the first oration of Cicero against Catiline by Marcus Tullius Cicero, LeaAnn A. Osburn, Archibald A. Maclardy, ISBN 0-86516-590-4, 2004, page 122, "and was the national weapon of Thracians"
↑The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, 1998, page 203,""
↑The Illyrians (The Peoples of Europe) by John Wilkes,1996,page 198,"their armor is Celtic but they are tattooed like the rest of the Illyrians and Thracians"
↑The World of Tattoo: An Illustrated History by Maarten Hesselt van Dinter, 2007, page 25: "... in ancient times. The Danube area Dacians, Thracians and Illyrians all decorated themselves with status-enhancing tattoos, ..."
↑The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald, 1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 205
↑ 32.032.1The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald, 1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 201
↑The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald, 1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 254
↑The Thracians 700 BC-AD 46 (Men-at-Arms) by Christopher Webber and Angus McBride, 2001, ISBN 1-84176-329-2, page 16
↑The Illyrians (The Peoples of Europe) by John Wilkes, 1996, ISBN 978-0-631-19807-9, page 168, "Like Thracians to the east the Illyrians were an important source of military manpower, and often served as separate contingents under their own leaders"
↑The Thracians 700 BC-AD 46 (Men-at-Arms) by Christopher Webber and Angus McBride, 2001, ISBN 1-84176-329-2, page 33
↑The Thracians 700 BC-AD 46 (Men-at-Arms) by Christopher Webber and Angus McBride, 2001, ISBN 1-84176-329-2, page 34
↑The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald, 1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 197
↑The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald, 1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 198
↑The Thracians 700 BC-AD 46 by Christopher Webber, ISBN 1-84176-329-2, 2001, page 1,"the city of Seuthopolis seems to be the only significant town in Thrace not built by Greeks"
↑Scythians 700-300 B.C. (Men at Arms Series, 137) by E.V. Cernenko and Angus McBride, 1983, ISBN 0-85045-478-6, page 11
↑The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare: Volume 1, Greece, The Hellenistic World and the Rise of Rome by Philip Sabin, Hans van Wees, and Michael Whitby, 2007, page 221, "... The Scythian cavalry wedge, adopted by the Thracians
↑The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald, 1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4,page 201
↑The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald, 1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 255
↑The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald, ISBN 0-19-815047-4,1998,page 203,""
↑Complete Encyclopedia Of Arms & Weapons (Hardcover)by Rh Value Publishing, ISBN 0-517-48776-4, 1986
↑The Peloponnesian War: A Military Study (Warfare and History) by J. F. Lazenby, 2003, page 224,"... number of strongholds, and he made himself useful fighting `the Thracians without a king' on behalf of the more Hellenized Thracian kings and their Greek neighbours (Nepos, Alc. ...
↑Thracian Kings, University of Michigan,"On the death of the last Astaean king in 11 BC, the emperor Augustus conferred all Thrace to his Sapaean uncle Roimētalkēs I. In 46, on the murder of Roimētalkēs III by his wife, the kingdom of Thrace was annexed to the Roman Empire by the emperor Claudius I."
↑The Thracians 700 BC-AD 46 (Men-at-Arms) by Christopher Webber and Angus McBride, 2001, ISBN 1-84176-329-2, page 1,"... getting to the spoils explains Thucydides VII, 29: `For the Thracian race, like all the most bloodthirsty barbarians, are always particularly bloodthirsty when everything is going their ...
↑Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars 359 BC to 146 BC: organisation, tactics, dress and weapons by Duncan Head, Ian Heath, 1982, page 51
↑Plato. The Republic, "Take the quality of passion or spirit;--it would be ridiculous to imagine that this quality, when found in States, is not derived from the individuals who are supposed to possess it, e.g. the Thracians, Scythians, and in general the northern nations;"
↑Plato. Laws, "Are we to follow the custom of the Scythians, and Persians, and Carthaginians, and Celts, and Iberians, and Thracians, who are all warlike nations, or that of your countrymen, for they, as you say, altogether abstain?"
↑Polybius, Histories, 27.12,"Cotys was a man of distinguished appearance and of Character of Cotys, king of the Odrysae, an ally of Perseus. great ability in military affairs, and besides, quite unlike a Thracian in character. For he was of sober habits, and gave evidence of a gentleness of temper and a steadiness of disposition worthy of a man of gentle birth".
↑Tacitus.The Annals,"In the Consulship of Lentulus Getulicus and Caius Calvisius, the triumphal ensigns were decreed to Poppeus Sabinus for having routed some clans of
Thracians, who living wildly on the high mountains, acted thence with the more outrage and contumacy. The ground of their late commotion, not to mention the savage genius of the people, was their scorn and impatience, to have recruits raised amongst them, and all their stoutest men enlisted in our armies; accustomed as they were not even to obey their native kings further than their own humour, nor to aid them with forces but under captains of their own choosing, nor to fight against any enemy but their own borderers. Their discontents too were inflamed by a rumour which then ran current amongst them; that they were to be dispersed into different regions; and exterminated from their own, to be mixed with other nations. But before they took arms and began hostilities, they sent ambassadors to Sabinus, to represent "their past friendship and submission, and that the same should continue, if they were provoked by no fresh impositions: but, if like a people subdued by war, they were doomed to bondage; they had able men and steel, and souls determined upon liberty or death." The ambassadors at the same time pointed to their strongholds founded upon precipices; and boasted that they had thither conveyed their wives and parents; and threatened a war intricate, hazardous and bloody."
↑Thracians The Thracians."The Thracians fought against the Boeotians by lake Copais, and were defeated; then they retreated to Helicon, and made a truce with the Boeotians for a certain number of days, to give time for agreeing the terms of peace. The Boeotians, who were confident because of their recent victory and the truce that followed it, celebrated a sacrifice in honour of Athene Itonia. But at night while they still were intent on the ceremony, and engaged in festivities, the Thracians armed, and attacked them; they cut many of them to pieces, and took a great number prisoners. When the Boeotians afterwards charged them with a breach of the truce, the Thracians replied that the terms of the truce expressed a certain number of days, but said nothing concerning the nights. [see also: Strabo, 9.401 (9.2.4)]"
↑Polyaenus,Clearchus,"who brandished and struck their weapons against each other in the Thracian manner."
↑Polyaenus,Clearchus,"In order to test their readiness to meet a sudden attack, he chose a very dark night and in the middle of it, he appeared before his own camp at the head of a small detachment, who brandished and struck their weapons against each other in the Thracian manner. His troops, assuming that they were the enemy, immediately formed up to resist them. Meanwhile the Thracians really did advance in the hope of surprising them while they were asleep; but the Greeks, being already dressed and armed, confronted the assailants. The Thracians were unprepared for such a ready and vigorous resistance, and were defeated with great slaughter."
↑ 63.063.1The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald, 1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 100
↑The Thracians 700 BC-AD 46 (Men-at-Arms) by Christopher Webber and Angus McBride, 2001, ISBN 1-84176-329-2
THE HISTORY OF HERODOTUS, Translated into English by G. C. Macaulay, IN TWO VOLUMES, VOL. II, "Of the other Thracians the custom is to sell their children to be carried away out of the country; and over their maidens they do not keep watch, but allow them to have commerce with whatever men they please, but over their wives they keep very great watch"