Who are the Thracians – Historical Perspective

The Thracians are one of the most ancient Indo-European people. They have created a civilization and have lived for thousands of years between both rivers Dnepr – Dniester, the southern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains, the Vardar river (Axios), the northern Aegean coast with the neighboring islands and northwestern Asia Minor. This numerous population possesses common economic, social-behavioral and cultural patterns, naturally formed by the historical and geographic conditions of the region. The Thracians, as well as the other ancient European ethnic groups, do not have self-consciousness in the sense of a unified nation. It is no coincidence that yet in the 5th century B.C. the father of history Herodotus mentioned that they had been the most numerous people in the world after the Indians and, if united, they would have been invincible.

The formation of the Thracian ethnic group is a thousand-years process of interaction between the local autochthon population and the newcomers from the North. The archeological evidence from the end of the Chalcolithic (5 – 4th century B.C.) and the beginning of the Bronze Age (beginning of the 3rd century B.C.) shows that in the territories between the Carpathian Mountains, the northern Black Sea steppes (southern Russia and Ukraine) and the Aegeanand the Black Sea world there are movements of people which could be observed. They cannot be defined as replacements of population, but as integration and active cultural interactions of the newcomers within the autochthon population. During the lasting at least a millennium process of the Thracian ethnic formation, no drastic changes of population and confrontations have been observed, but preservation of traditions and new technological achievements, until the structuring of the society in such a way as to preserve knowledge and skills. During that period the special attitude towards the Cosmos and the Nature has been developed, personified by the Great Mother Goddess and the Sun-god. During all centuries of their existence, the Thracians maintained contacts with the Minoan and Anatolian cultures and took part in the creation of the Mycenaean civilization.

In the middle of the second millennium B.C. there were changes which took place in the Mediterranean world and which marked for good the history of Europe. The Minoan civilization died out under the pressure of the Achaeans, led by kings-priests. The newly created civilization has been conditionally named Mycenaean – after the name of Mycenae – one of the most famous cities during that epoch. The dynastical families rule their not too large territories based in strongly fortified cities, within the limits of which the internal castle-palace is situated. The Achaeans are wonderful warriors, builders, metal-workers, stock-breeders, seafarers and even farmers. Those years were troubled, piracy and plunder were a common thing. At the same time, the Thracians were already a sustainably distinct Indo-European nation. They were also ruled by kings-priests. Their culture and civilization are typologically similar to the Achaean. The Thracians were active participants in the economic, political and cultural life of Southeast Europe and Western Asia Minor during the second half of the 2nd millennium B.C. The glittering treasures, scepters, sanctuaries and fortified residences show that they have been no inferior in terms of power and might to the Achaean kings. By and after the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C. the royal dynasties in Thrace were still anonymous.

The end of the 2nd millennium B.C. was marked by the Trojan War – the first known war for the control over the commercial routes through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, for redistribution of bases of raw materials and markets, poetically described in the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey”. In the epics the Thracians come out of anonymity; they have been described as allies to the Trojans, as equal in bravery, valor and wealth to the Achaeans; the legendary Thracian kings-priests Rhesos, Maron, Peiroos, Akamas and others appeared on the stage.

The period after the Trojan war and the beginning of the first millennium B.C. is a time of serious social-economic and political changes in Hellas, which led to the decay of the Mycenaean civilization and the appearance of the city-states. In Thrace, however, the society continued to live in kingdoms of Mycenaean type and the economy was organized in the same way. The kingdoms were governed by royal families led by kings-priests, who used to impose their power upon vast territories with the aid of their companies of equestrian noblemen. The peasants were free and organized in rural territorial communities. Ore mining, metallurgy and metal objects manufacturing were royal monopolies. The treasury, as well as the workshops for articles, made of precious metals, used to be at the court.

The Thracian rulers did not have only one capital. Its location used to be at the place where the ruler resided. On the territory of ancient Thrace a number of political and religious centers and fortified residences have been documented, wherefrom the political and religious power was exercised. The Odrysian kingdom, for example, during a certain period was ruled also by para-dynasts – members of the king’s family, who exercised power over large territories on behalf of the king. Very often they attempted to become independent or to conquer the throne. The most famous para-dynast is Seuthes II, with whom the ancient Greek commander and historian Xenophon stayed with his troops and left us a description of the ruler’s residence and the life there.

After the end of the 6th century B.C. the Thracian state organizations became more visible and the information thereof is not based mainly on myths and legends. Among all states localized within the vast Thracian lands, there are a few ones, whose royal dynasties gained a well-deserved place in the spoken and written European history of the pre-Roman epoch.

On both sides of the lower reaches of the Danube, both the ancient authors and the archaeological data evidence the Getae. To the west of the reaches of Oskios River (present-day Iskar), in the lands of present-day Northwest Bulgaria and Northeast Serbia, the Thrace of the Triballoi stretches out. In the Rhodope Mountains and on the northern foothills live the Bessi. The Edones, famous yet from the Homer’s “Iliad” by their king Rhesos, possess southwestern Thrace along the lower reaches of the Struma River having their center in the Pangaion Mountain, rich in gold and silver deposits.

On the Thracian Chersonese (present-day Gallipoli Peninsula) used to live the Dolonkoi and their northern neighbors the Apsinthioi, whose territory spread to the lower reaches of the Hebros River (the present-day Maritsa) and to its tributary Argianes River (present-day Ergene). The Dolonkoi sent a delegation to Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, to learn how to deal with the Apsinthioi. Following the prophecy they contacted Miltiades the Elder from the ancient Athenian family of the Philaids, concluded an alliance with him, granted him king’s virtue and in that way founded the Thracian-Athenian state in the years 561/560 – 556 B.C.

Thucydides (5th century B.C.), the Athenian historian, mentions that the Odrysian kingdom is the biggest in Europe between the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea. The ethnonym Odrysae refers to all Thracians from the upper reaches of the Tonzos River (present-day Tundzha) to the mouth of the Hebros River (present-day Maritsa) with the neighboring lands and shares of the Rhodope Mountain, the Sakar and the Strandja Mountain, as well as those from the hinterland of the ancient Greek colonies on the Aegean, the Marmara and the Black Seas.

The Odrysian kingdom was noticed by the Hellenic writers at first due to the activities of its ruler Teres (± 540 - ± 464 B.C.). He cleverly took advantage of the campaign of the Persian king Darius I across Eastern Thrace, the Balkan Mountains and the Danube against the Scythians. The Persian Empire of the Achaemenid dynasty started its expansion in 519/514/512 (?) B.C. in order to incorporate the whole Black Sea basin in its borders. When, after his failed campaign, “the King of the kings” withdrew from the North to the South to his starting point in the region of the Marmara Sea and the Straights, Teres took advantage of the political vacuum formed to the northeast of the Haemus Mountain, annexed the Getae, who suffered the Persian attack, and in the years 80-ies of the 5th century B.C. reached the lower stream of the Danube proclaiming the river as the northern border of his kingdom. He penetrated deep to the South in Byzantium (present-day Istanbul). This happened after the Persians withdraw from the Propontis (the Marmara Sea) and the Aegean Sea coastlines and from the outflows of the rivers, i.e. after the defeats which they suffered at Plataia (479 B.C.) and their driving out from Sestos in 478 B.C. Teres rushed to the so-called Thracian Delta – the territory between Salmydessos (present-day Kiyikoy in European Turkey) and Byzantium. His invasion in the lands of the Thynoi – the most belligerent Thracians, famous as masters of the night battles, resulted in heavy casualties. Despite the numerous army he led, many of his soldiers were killed in the battle and all means of transport were captured by the enemy.

Probably not only the memories of the difficulties Teres I had in imposing his power over the Thynoi, but also the sustained hostility of the Strandja inhabitants, were later the reasons for Seuthes II to take special safety measures during the night. Xenophon provides evidence that while approaching his camp he came across some burning fires with nobody around them. In that way the guards sitting back in the dark had the opportunity to see who was approaching while staying invisible. The tower of the king was guarded by horses arranged in a circle around it. In the daytime they were grazing free and during the night, ready for ride, they were keeping guard of the place.

The territories conquered by Teres I between Propontis and the Burgas Bay have become later the paradynastic district and strategy of Astika. Prior to conquering the Thracian Delta he laid his hands on the lands downstream the Argianes River (present-day Ergene in European Turkey). After the Athenians managed to drive away in 465/464 B.C. the Persians from Doriskos – at the mouth of the Hebros River (present-day Maritsa), the territory along its lower reaches became his dominion.

By and after the middle of the 5th century B.C. there is also information which appears about the sons of Teres – Sparadokos (± 464 – ± 444 B.C.) and Sitalkes(± 444 – 424 B.C.). During their time, the Odrysian Kingdom represented a triangle whose basis was formed by the line from the mouth of the Mesta River into the Aegean Sea to the outflow of the Danube River into the Black Sea. An explicit evidence of the power of the Odrysian dynasty is to be found in the numbers of the Odrysian royal treasury, its highest value amounting to 1000 talents, i.e. 260 000 kg of precious metal articles and coins.

Sitalkes took advantage of the Peloponnese War between Athens and Sparta (431-404 B.C.) and attempted with his army of 150 000 people to conquer East Macedonia and the Khalkidhiki Peninsula, but he could not manage to keep his presence in those territories. After his death in the battle against the Triballoi for the northwestern part of the Odrysian Kingdom, his successor Seuthes I (424 - 407/405 B.C.) started an expansion towards the Thracian Chersonese (present-day Gallipoli Peninsula) in order to conquer it and to establish control over the crucial for Athens sea routes to and from the Black Sea, along which the city-state was supplied with Thracian and Scythian wheat.

Kotys I (383-359 B.C.), an inexhaustible military commander, a double-faced diplomat and a harsh ruler, was assassinated during a feast by Athenian mercenaries in one of his seaside residences just in the year in which Philip II was crowned as the king of Macedonia. His murder put an end to the heavy war between Athens, which defended its possessions in the Thracian Chersonese in order to keep the sea routes, and this Thracian king with his plans being rather ambitious, than real.

Philip II of Macedonia commenced his expansion east of the Struma River with the best army of that time. Kotys is dead; Odrysian Thrace is divided into three parts. After the successful conquests southwards, Philip eliminated two of the Thracian kings and in the 40-ies of the 4th century B.C. conquered the heart of the Odrysian State ruled by Kersebleptes (359-341 B.C.), son of Kotys I. The Macedonian army penetrated along the valleys of the Hebros River (present-day Maritsa) and Tonzos River (present-day Tundzha) to the Odrysian city of Kabile (present-day Yambol in South Bulgaria) and to Pulpudeva (Philipopolis, present-day Plovdiv) – the city of the seven hills.

The Macedonian domination in Thrace, however, was consisted only of the presence of a few garrisons. Seuthes, called the 3rd (± 330 - 302/301 or 297 B.C.) retained in full his independence against the Macedonian deputies in Thrace the official rulers both while Alexander was alive, as well as after his death in 323 B.C. Following the death of Alexander in 323 B.C., Lysimachos (360-281 B.C.) inherited Thrace and its neighboring peoples around the Pontos. He managed to partially impose military-political control only of the Propontis coastline, the Thracian Chersonese and the northern coast of the Aegean Sea. To the East, along the western coast of the Pontos, the diadochi controlled only a part of the Strandja coastline to Salmydessos. His conflict with the Odrysian ruler Seuthes III also remained unsettled. The territory reigned by Seuthes III and Sparatokos stretched along the course of the Tundzha River as far as its lower reaches, including also the Sakar Mountain.

The Odrysian state withstood the Celtic invasion in 280-279 B.C., which had originated in Central Europe and strongly expanded to the Southeast in the 3rd century B.C. Celtic groups organized in Thrace their own kingdom, which survived until the years 20-ies of the 3rd century B.C., when it was destroyed by the Thracians.

ZONE OF INTERCULTURAL CONTACTS BETWEEN THRACE, ASIA MINOR AND THE MEDITERRANEAN WORLD

 

The territory, which is stretching from the Bulgarian southern Black Sea coastline to the West and to the South, and encompassing the mountains Strandja, Sakar and the eastern Rhodope to the Marmara Sea and northern Aegean Sea coastline, is the most active zone of interaction with the Mediterranean and Asia Minor cultures during the whole period of the Thracian history. It is the place where of the initial kilometers of the main road artery from Asia Minor through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles to Edirne, Plovdiv, Sofia, Nish and from there to the Middle Europe. When you head from the Straits along the Marmora Sea and the North Aegean Sea coastline, you can reach the rivers of Mesta, Struma and Vardar, and, if you head upstream, the roads lead to the Rila Mountain, the Sofia plain and from there – to Nish and to the Tetovo plain. The waterway from the mouth of Maritsa River upstream led all the way to Pazardjik. From Edirne upstream the Tundja River the ships used to reach the Thracian city of Cabyle and upstream the Arda River – to the Eastern Rhodopes. The ancient written evidence and the archaeological monuments speak of intensive economic and cultural relationships, as well as of military conflicts between Thracians, Hellenes and other Mediterranean nations along these routes and along the Black Sea coast. Numerous megalithic monuments, cut in the rock sanctuaries, necropolises, settlements, city centers and ancient mines have been discovered within the outlined territory.

In all historical periods from the prehistory until the Late Antiquity the Tundzha River valley and especially the Cabyle region have been key points along the roads from Ainos (present day Enez) on the Maritza River mouth to the Balkan Mountain and the lower stream of the Danube along the aforementioned diagonal road and the road to the Black Sea coast and more specifically towards the cities of Messambria (Nessebar) and Apollonia (Sozopol).

 

Strandja Mountain and its Black Sea coast

 

One of the most attractive objects on the territory of Southeast Thrace, which is near to the Black Sea coast, is Beglik tash. The rock-megalithic sanctuary is situated on the Maslen Nos peninsular at about 3 km from the town of Primorsko within the area of the Ropotamo River natural reserve. The sanctuary has functioned from the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C. till the 4th century B.C. It has probably originated as a station for the seafarers disembarking on the shore to spend the night, to provide water and food, and to pay tribute to the gods. The bay and the spring in the foot of the rocks, where the sanctuary was shaped, have been related during the Christian period with the worship of Saint Paraskeva. The wonderful natural beauties – a bay, fresh water and enormous cliffs above them have attracted the attention of the ancient people. Altars have been shaped in the cliffs to worship the gods and for observation of the sun and the night sky in order to measure the time. The astral cults are inextricably bound with the movements of the people in space and the means of livelihood.

Photos of Beglik Tash

In the vicinity of the rock-megalithic sanctuary we can see one of the preserved till our days two-chamber dolmens. The functioning of this funeral facility for multiple use has not been dated exactly, but it is supposed, as for many other dolmens in Thrace, that it was during the 9th – 6th century B.C., i.e. during the time the sanctuary had been active.


 

There are numerous monuments from the Thracian antiquity spread throughout the Maslen Nos peninsula, which have not been studied yet. The aforementioned dolmen is one of the four documented dolmens in the region, but the other three are strongly destroyed. In the most protruding to the sea end of the Maslen Nos cape one can see traces of a fortified wall built of crashed stone without bondage (“Maslen Nos” fortress), which is barring the access to the peninsula from the inland side.

Quite more impressive and well preserved is the “Valchanovo kale” fortress, referred to also as “the lion’s head”. The fortress is located on a high rocky peak on the right side above the Ropotamo River mouth. On the terrain, especially in the northern and the eastern end of the enclosed area, one can see well preserved parts of the fortress walls built of large stones. Although unstudied by means of archeology, the archeological materials found on the surface suggest that the impressive fortified facility has functioned from the beginning of the 1st millennium B.C. during the Antiquity and in the Middle Ages. The long life of the fortress is a result of the strategic location it had been built on. The river secures the link of the inner Strandja Mountain with the sea. Along the river from the Strandja mines to the ancient port at the river mouth people used to supply copper ingots, oak for the wooden ships from the forests, as well as furs, cheese, bee honey, wax and other goods. A hypothesis has been formulated that the “Valchanovo kale” fortress is actually the Middle Age fortress of Romuli, mentioned in the inscription of Hambarlii, where it mentions the victory of Khan Krum in 812 over the Byzantine army.

Besides “Valchanovo kale” the ancient Thracian mines in the Strandja mountain chain of “Meden rid” have been defended also by other fortresses – “Malkoto kale” (near the village of Ravadinovo), “Lobodovo kale” (near the village of Veselinovo) and the fortress on the Atia peninsula. The Strandja rivers and specifically Veleka and Rezovo are waterways, along which the copper ore from the Strandja inland reached the ports on the seacoast. At the Rezovo River mouth the biggest find of slag from the copper ore processing in the Thracian antiquity is located, and a lead anchor stock was found dated 4th – 3rd century B.C.

Photos of Valchanovo Kale and of stone and lead anchor stocks

On a natural height at the Veleka River mouth, at about 350 m to the northwest of the village of Sinemorets and at 250 m from the seashore a royal residence was discovered, referred to also as a fortified home of a Thracian ruler. The research continues, but it is obvious yet that during the 2nd – 1st century B.C. the owners of the residence have carried out intensive commercial contacts between the inland Strandja and Black Sea, Asia Minor and Mediterranean centers.

Indisputably, the Greek colonies on the Black Sea coast are the most active and interactive zones of ancient Thrace with the rest of the world. Even today these settlements are not only tourist centers, but places for meetings and interaction between cultures. To the south of the Balkan Mountains, the most powerful of them are Apollonia Pontica and Messambria.

Sozopol (the ancient Apollonia Pontica) is the first big city to the north of Istanbul (the ancient Byzantion) founded at the end of the 7th or the first half of the 6th century B.C. by Ionian settlers from Miletus. The main god of the city was Apollo the Healer or Apollo the Archer (a local variant of the Ionian deity), worshiped along with Cybele (Cybela) – the Great Mother-goddess, - and with Dionysus. Therefore, nowadays the researchers are also looking for the temples and the location of the Apollonian Colossus – a work of the ancient sculptor Calamis. Since the beginning of the 5th century B.C. until 72 B.C. the bronze statue of Apollo towered above the city patronized by the deity. Apollonia retained its significance as a powerful center of the Hellenic culture and a center of the Thracian-Hellenic contacts in Late Antiquity too.

 

Nessebar (ancient Messambria) was founded in the 4th century B.C. by the Doric Greeks, who settled in the Thracian kings residential center of the peninsula. The city bears the name of the ruler Melsa in combination with the Thracian word for “town” – bria. Messamabria is a prospering polis with considerable coin minting and plays just like Apollonia the same active role in its contacts with the neighboring Thracian rulers. The Messambrians – Hellenes and Thracians – used to worship the gods Apollo and Dionysus and along with them also Hellenic and Egyptian deities. The city was included in the medieval Bulgarian state, just like most of the Black Sea port centers, not until the 9th century and after that.

The inner Strandja is the territory brimming with monuments from the Thracian antiquity. The most impressive ones are in the region of the town of Malko Tarnovo. The Malko Tarnovo region was inhabited from the prehistoric times. During the Thracian antiquity the name of the city has probably been Tsoides. It was preserved also during the Roman epoch, when the entire Strandja enjoyed economic and cultural progress. The region is one of the main mining and metallurgic centers in Thrace. Over 51 ancient mines for extraction of copper and iron ore, used also during the Roman age, have been researched. The most famous monument of the ancient Thracian culture in the region is the cultic complex in the “Mishkova Niva” locality, so that in the scientific literature it bears its name.

“Mishkova Niva” is situated at about 3 – 3.5 km to the southwest of Malko Tarnovo on the left bank of Deliyska River in the closest vicinity of the state border with the Republic of Turkey. It comprises a fortress on the Golyamo Gradishte peak, mines at the foots of the peak, a mound necropolis, a fortified suburban villa from the Roman period, as well as the so called Big Mound. The complex was known since the beginning of the 20th century and initially it was announced as Apollo’s sanctuary because of the inscriptions carried from this place to the town.

The mound necropolis in the “Mishkova Niva” locality is crowned by the so-called Big Mound. In its southern end, a monumental construction with an external diameter of 25 m is rising. The external circle is built of 3 rows of white local marble blocks with interior and exterior face, the blocks that had shaped the last upper third row of the enclosing have arched upper surface, which is precisely cut. The height of this fence is 1.80 m. In the southern part of the circle is the entrance to the mound tomb, consisting of covered dromos (corridor) and a round chamber, the upper part of which ended with a dome. The entrance was crowned with a pediment decorated with a shield, a spear and two open palms. The construction is made of well-cut marble blocks fixed by braces. The floors of the dromos and the chamber are covered with rock pavement. According to the created reconstruction of the chamber, it had been built of seven rows of blocks. The first four rows are arranged vertically and form a cylinder. The next three rows are inclined inwards and the seventh consists of trapezoid blocks. The dome built this way was closed on top by a key stone. The reconstruction of the tomb shows that the key stone on top represented a decahedral pyramid and its taking out has resulted in the collapse of the dome. The tomb in the Pyramidata locality, to the west of Malko Tarnovo, was built also using the same technique.

At the western wall of the dromos a rectangular room was built of crashed stones. The building technique is different from that of the tomb. From the interior the walls are plastered with mortar. The designation of this room has not been cleared yet. The study of the side wall of the dromos shows that there have been two blocks, which probably have been taken out in order to enter the room, and then placed back again. It seems that it is from an older building, because it was built of the same material as the inner circle – crashed granite stones. This inner circle encompasses large granite slabs – remains from a heavily destroyed dolmen – and it closes at the northeast external corner of the dromos of the domed building constructed later.

In front of the well preserved entrance to the external marble circle, a platform of marble blocks with big marble troughs has been discovered. At a few meters to the west of them a small unstudied stone pile is located, in which remains from water pipeline leading to Golyamo Gradishte have been discovered. From the platform to the south and the southeast direction down the horizontal of the slope one can distinguish the ancient road to the sanctuary.

From this complex site, in which only very few archeological materials from 2nd – 3rd century have been found, originate the marble sacrificial altars with inscriptions of Apollo Aularios, an inscription dedicated to Hercules and votive plates with images of the Thracian horseman. One of the inscriptions provides evidence that the sanctuary is connected with the mine-metallurgical center and with the fortified Roman suburban villa (mansion), as it has a text – dedication from the supervisor of the iron mines.

The cult facility in Mishkova Niva is a millennium-old topos of faith, which evolves from a megalithic monument (dolmen) with enclosure (krepis) to a sacred space (temenos). This transformation probably occurred at the beginning of the intensive exploitation of the mines. Until that day the dolmen was seemingly used as a place to pay homage to a mythical forefather. This is to be suggested by the rectangular chamber adhered to the Western side of the dromos. During a later age the remains of the dolmen – transformed into a heroon and its krepis – were inscribed in a sacred enclosed space (temenos), where the god Apollo was worshiped. Most probably the territory between the remains of the dolmen with a mound over it and with its enclosure and marble circle, was a sacred lot where the votive gifts and inscriptions were placed, and the rectangular chamber served for keeping the treasures of the hero-ancestor. During the time when the region lived through an economical bloom a magnificent domed marble construction was added to the entrance of the temenos, which could be a real tomb of a local aristocrat, but also a new heroon of the hero-ancestor. It is not clear when the entrance was decorated with the pediment – before or after the building of the domed construction. A prohibition was probably issued at this moment to forbid the entrance in the space between the two stone krepises, and the gifts began to be left in the newly built chambers and in the old, rectangular one. This proves the ideological and religious connection between the two structures.

This type of sacred places – of real or mythical forefathers honored as heroes – were organized around old burial facilities and a necropolis formed around them. Usually these heroes-forefathers were honored together with, or in the sacred territory of a sanctuary of a deity.

The life of the cultic complex could be estimated between the 2nd millennium B.C. and the period of the Late Antiquity (4th century A.D.). Among all of its reorganizations – architectural and functional – the complex remains an evidence of the Thracian orphic faith in the immortality of the energy, as well as one of the most popular monuments of the ancient spirituality in Southeast Europe.

The fortress forming a part of the complex is known as “Golyamo Gradishte” and it was built on the highest mountain top in Bulgarian Strandja – 710 meters above sea level. The fortress on the top served as a shelter, observatory and protection of the region until and after the Roman era. The wall of the fortress is built from broken stones of different sizes, closely fitted without any binding. The thickness of the wall is between 1.20 and 1.30 m. One can occasionally observe parts of bricks and metallurgical slag. The space surrounded by the fortress' wall has a diameter of around 100 m. One can discover faint remains of chambers inside. Around 30 m southwest from the highest point of the top, there are rocky incisions preserved in the living rock. The traces from rocky incisions on the top are in the form of pits. They suggest that during a very early period – probably the 2nd – the beginning of 1st millennium B.C. – there was an active rock sanctuary, which probably began functioning as a fortress in later times. Having survived for millennia, “Golyamo Gradishte” was partly destroyed by the treasure hunters’ blasts at the end of the 20th c. The site has never been archaeologically researched.

Photos of Mishkova Niva and Golyamo Gradishte

 

Mound necropolis and tomb in the “Propada” locality

The “Propada” locality is situated at about 2.5 km south of Malko Tarnovo. Along a not very high hill a necropolis is situated comprising about 40 mounds of 5 m diameter and 5 mounds with diameter between 10 and 20 meters, with a height up to 1.5 m. The necropolis is crowned on top by a domed tomb. According to the discovered archeological evidence the tomb is dated in the 2nd c. B.C., but according to the religious idea implemented therein, it corresponds to the sub-mound cult buildings of 5th – 3rd century B.C. in Thrace and it had probably been used multiple times. The tomb’s architecture is identical to that in “Mishkova Niva”. Cist graves and tombs built of marble have been studied, which show a transition from the technique of building dolmens and rock-cut tombs to facilities built of stone. The discovered archeological materials evidence that the necropolis has functioned during the Hellenic and the Roman epochs. The long time of use of this sacred topos, the funeral facilities’ architecture and the stone carving technique are evidence of a stable sedentary population, which is passing from generation to generation skills and technologies.

Photo of the domed tomb and the tomb with pediment

The “Kamuka” locality is situated at 10 km to the right side of the road from Malko Tarnovo to Tsarevo. The location has been proclaimed as natural landmark. The exceptional panorama and the rocks had impressed also the ancient inhabitants of Strandja, because in the conglomerate rocks facing east and south sun-discs and concave altars with grooves have been carved. The archaeo-astronomical researches performed on site show that as of the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C., the rise of the Sun God was observed from the holy place with the sun-discs during the summer solstice. One of the rocks has the shape of a mushroom with an opening at its basis. The memory of the sacred place is kept even today in the cultural memory. The people from the region visit the sanctuary-observatory and believe that squeezing through the opening in the rock gives protection against illnesses and misfortunes.

Photo of a sun-disc at the “Kamuka” locality

Megalithic tombs, known in the literature under the name dolmens, are spread on the territory of Strandja, Sakar and the Eastern Rhodopes. Mentions of dolmens are met also for Sredna Gora and the Eastern Balkan, but most likely they have been long ago destroyed. The archeological research gives evidence that they have been used multiple times from the beginning until the middle of the 1st millennium B.C.; some of them even during the Roman period, as can be seen from the dolmen findings near the village of Evrenozovo.

In the Strandja Mountain dolmens have been registered on the territories of the towns of Primorsko (the aforementioned dolmens on the Maslen Nos cape), Malko Tarnovo, and the villages of Bliznak, Evrenozovo, Zabernovo, Zvezdets, Kalovo, Mladezhko, Slivarovo, Indzhe Voyvoda, Rosen, Belevren, Varovnik, Golyamo Bukovo, Gorno Yabalkovo, Dolno Yabalkovo, Granichar, Kirovo.

Photo of a dolmen near Evrenozovo

 

Down the Tundzha River

Down the Tundzha River one can find the most impressive archaeological objects and findings yet since the Neolithic period – over 300 residential mounds, many settlements, sanctuaries, megaliths, mound necropolises and residential centers of the Thracian aristocracy. Concentration of dolmens in the Strandja Mountain is documented on the territories of the villages of Gorno Yabalkovo, Dolno Yabalkovo, Kirovo, Belevren and Evrenozovo.

The dolmens in the Dervent Heights and especially those on the territory of the village of Golyam Dervent are the largest and best preserved. The archaeological materials found therein provide evidence that they have been used during the first half of the 1st millennium B.C. One of them, situated at 2 km to the south of Golyam Dervent in the “Peshterite” locality and at 1 km to the steep slope of the Golemya Begal hill, surprised pleasantly the researchers. The entrance slab has engraved decoration representing a sun-disc with a cut-in image of labrys. The dolmen is three-sectional, situated in the center of a rock mound of a diameter reaching 15 m at some spots. The megalith is well preserved. It comprises two chambers, a dromos (corridor) and unmoved covering slabs. It was built of solid granite slabs and the floor is paved with river stones plates. The entrance is orientated towards the South with a slight 10 degrees deviation. The exterior face of the entrance slab of the dromos is decorated with a frieze with geometric decorative relief. Also two of the walls of a column fragment, found at the back wall of the dromos, are covered with relief decoration. Fragments of the frieze, among which also a relief with the image of a labrys engraved in the circle (sun-disc) have been found during the research of the mound in front of the dromos of the dolmen. The science accepts that the Dervent Heights during the first half of the 1st millennium BC were a territory of the Odrysians, so that the decorated dolmen belongs more likely to an Odrysian noble family, part of the royal dynasty, because the labrys on a later stage had been its king’s symbol.

Photos of dolmens from the village of Golyam Dervent and of the fragment with the labrys

On the highest peak of the Manastirskite Heights, at 1 km to the northwest of the village of Golyam Manastir in the “Gradishteto” locality, the ancient fortress of Dodopara is situated. The fortified wall is arch-shaped, with a northwest-southeast orientation and encompassing an area of 42 decares. From this fortified settlement on a peak, referred to also as fortress, three inscriptions with dedication to Apollo originated. One of them mentions also the name of the settlement-fortress – Dodopara. In the ancient Thracian city of Cabyle another inscription was found, announcing the same name. The name is a Thracian one, the dedications to god Apollo and the names of the devotees are grounds for the expressed presumptions that during the Roman period in Dodopara there was a big and well-known all over Thrace sanctuary of the deity. Finds have been discovered on the territory of Dodopara, which give reasons to accept that the settlement was founded during the 5th – 4th century BC and had developed as a big political and religious center.

Photo of the peak, photo of an inscription

 

On a small hill called “Sabev Bayr”, southeast from the village of Drazhevo (Yambol district), a family tomb from the early Bronze Age (middle of the 3rd millennium B.C.) was discovered. The tomb represents a circle of 11 m diameter and was built by several rows of red slab-stones, which have been taken from a locality near Yambol situated at about 10 km from the burial facility. The circle is about 0.80 m high. The entrance of the encompassed space is from the eastern side, which in later times has been closed by six slabs vertically hammered in the soil. Six funerals have been discovered in the circle, one of which is a corpse burial and is collective – of a man, a woman and a child, two of them are a “hocker”- type corpse burial, and three are corpse cremation. The funerals were performed in rectangular pits with East – West orientation. Probably, the graves have been marked because they do not overlap. In this tomb for a first time on the territory of Thrace during the early Bronze Age within one burial complex two types of funerals have been documented – with corpse burying and with corpse cremation. This is the earliest Cromlech type facility documented on the territory of Thrace. The rich funeral gifts indicate relationships with Northern Caucasus and the Transcaucasian area.

Photo of the circle

 

One of the most interesting sites in the Tundzha River valley is the “Paleokastro” solar sanctuary. The sanctuary is situated on the northern slopes of the Sakar Mountain between Topolovgrad and the village of Hlyabovo, at about 3 km to the west of the town. Over 150 sun-discs have been carved in the rocks, crowning the ridge of a not very high hill. The suns are made in high-relief, as well as in low-relief. One can see also discs engraved one within the other. Their diameter varies from 0.20 to 1 meter. The sun discs are facing northeast and east and are lit from the first rays of the rising sun. Also in this sanctuary, as in the other solar sanctuary on the territory of the village of Melnitsa, rock-cut platforms and pits around and near the suns have been found.

            On the highest spot of the ridge the rocks shape a defense line, which had been used in the beginning of the 1st millennium B.C. for the construction of a fortress. The fortress had been repeatedly reconstructed and functioned also during the Middle Ages. Thereof comes the name of the sanctuary “Paleokastro”. On the top of the ridge, between the rocks in 1973 a winged sun disc has been found. One of the wings is still not found.

            The earliest representation of the Sun-God as a winged sun disc is in Egypt during the time of the first pharaoh of the fourth dynasty Sneferu (around 2650 B.C.). By the end of the 2nd millennium B.C. the image of the Sun-God was already known also outside Egypt – in Asia Minor and in Mesopotamia. It is accepted that this image personifies the rising sun and is equal to the birth of the Sun-God. Since the first evidence in Egypt, the winged disc is related to the cult of the ruler and that idea passes through all cultures worshiping the sun.

            The winged disc most probably personifies the rising sun. This image was widely spread yet until Constantine the Great. It is still hard to say whether the winged disc, discovered in the “Paleokastro” solar sanctuary, is from the second half of the 2nd or from the 1st millennium B.C. The father of history Herodotus (5th century B.C.) mentions that the Egyptian pharaoh of the 19th century B.C. (the 12th dynasty) had sent an expedition to Thrace and the Egyptians had left many stones with inscription at some places. Another interesting information from an ancient author, which we have available, says that during the Roman period (1st century A.D.) Egyptian masters had been moved to Thrace in order to process metals. The winged sun-disc is a reliable proof of the cultural interactions and transfer of knowledge and technologies in the East Mediterranean lands during the Antiquity, as well as of the importance of the sun cult in ancient Thrace.

            Another solar sanctuary down the Tundzha River is located at about 3.5 km to the southwest of the village of Melnitsa, Elhovo region. It has been shaped in the not too high rocks, which crown the elongated hill with general orientation Northwest – Southeast. The ridge is between two gorges, which join at the northwestern end of the rocky garland. After their merge, the deep gorge leads towards the Tundzha River. On the highest part of the hill, in four groups of rocks at 150-200 m from one another, douzens of sun-discs of various diameters (from 0.40 to 1 meter) are shaped on the rocks by high relief or by outlining. The rocky groups are of various configurations and heights and tower above the surrounding terrain. The discs are positioned on the northwestern side of the rocks lit early in the morning by the sun rays. On many places in front of and around the discs rock altars, platform and pits are shaped. According to the way of cutting and grouping of the sun discs, the platforms, the altars and the pits in front of or in their closest vicinity this sanctuary is a close parallel of the solar sanctuary “Paleokastro” near Topolovgrad and with the sanctuaries in Phrygia.

            At 1.5 km to the west of the village of Ruzhitsa, Bolyarovo municipality, Yambol District, in the southern sector of a mound a destroyed monumental tomb was found. It consists of a funeral chamber, an anteroom and a dromos with total length of 7.05 m. The tomb was constructed of limestone blocks and unprocessed granite slabs without binding, the entrance facing south. The facade has been destroyed – one to three rows of carved limestone slabs with square shape are preserved in its upper section. Probably, the lower section of the facade wall had been built of sun-dried bricks. The roof of the dromos and the anteroom is made of unprocessed granite slabs placed crosswise to the premises. The funeral chamber is rectangular and the funeral couch also made of sun-dried bricks is preserved. The chamber’s floor is also of tampered clay also covered by unprocessed granite slabs. The entrance wall of this room is partially preserved and the northern wall had been demolished. The entire tomb is covered by thin plaster, painted in white, which is now partially preserved. The sides of the entrance to the funeral chamber are covered with frescos – triangles, rhombs, big and small meanders, palmettes, ivy leaves, spirals, squares, etc. in three colors. The colors are ocher, red and white. Until now, such frescos performed in such technique have not been found in Thrace. The similarities of some separate components of the frescos can be seen in some tombs in Asia Minor, dated 7th – 6th century B.C.

            The Sanctuary of the Hero from the 2nd – 3rd century A.D. was discovered at 500 m to the southeast of the village of Dryanovo and at 30 km to the south of Yambol on the “Hisarluka” hill situated on the right bank of the Chengene Dere river. The sanctuary represents a rectangular building orientated north-south with dimensions 12 m in length and 6.10 m in width. The walls with thickness from 1.40 m to 1.70 m are constructed of stones which vary in size and form, bound with mud. There are 74 intact or fragmented votive plates of the Thracian Horseman, which have been found in the sanctuary.

            The Thracian royal city of Cabyle (Kabyle) is located on a plateau, crowned with a stony acropolis, called “Zaychi Vrah”, which is the most eastern point of the Sarnena Gora Mountain. The plateau is situated at the curve of the Tundzha River and dominates the plain. A sanctuary-observatory has been shaped in the acropolis on the peak, which represents two rock-cut perpendicular trenches. The trench orientated along the east – west axis is 12 m long and the one orientated along the north – south axis is 15 m long. A strongly eroded rock relief, probably of Cybele or Artemis Phosphorus, foundations of a public building and two rectangular premises, most likely of a cultic nature, have been found in the acropolis-sanctuary. A later toponym of the habitat is Dampolis/Diampolis as a corruption of Diospolis. There is a hypothesis that Diospolis, i. e., "Zeus's city", is a translation-description of the worshiping of a supreme male god, most likely Sabasius, because of the possible etymology Kab-/Sab- in the root of Cabyle's name. The second part of the toponym -'yle gives the opportunity for interpreting as "sacred wood", i. e. Cabyle's name could depict "Sabo's (belonging to Sabasius) holy wood". This interpretation is supported by the rock-cut sanctuary on the top, which functioned during the 2nd – 1st millenniums B.C.

            A settlement originated around the sanctuary at the end of the 2nd millennium B.C. The discovered pottery from the 10th – 6th century B.C. proves that the settlement existed during the early Iron Age as well. In all times Cabyle has been a key point on the way from Enez (Aenos), next to Maritza River's mouth, to the Balkan Mountain (Haemus) and the lower course of the Danube, as well as on the diagonal route from Byzantium through Sofia (Serdica) – Nish (Naissos) towards the middle course of the Danube. This location predetermined the destiny of the settlement for centuries to come. The archaeological material shows that during 5th – 4th century B.C. the city maintained important trade relationships with the Hellenic cities at the Aegean and the Black Sea coasts.

            The city was conquered by Phillip II during 342-341 B.C. and a military garrison was deployed there. During the Hellenistic period, Cabyle was built according to the architectural principles of the epoch with a well-formed agora. According to an inscription discovered in the city of Seuthopolis, the capital of the Odrysian ruler Seuthes III (± 330- 302/301 or 297 B.C.), there must have been a temple of Artemis Phosphorus and an Apollo's sanctuary in Cabyle. By the end of the 4th – the beginning of the 3rd century B.C., Cabyle was the capital of the Odrysian para-dynast Sparatokos, mentioned in the Seuthopolis inscription. He was famous for his own coins, minted during the first quarter of the 3rd century B.C. During the Celtic invasion, the royal power in Cabyle was replaced with a townhall rule. During the 3rd – 2nd century B.C. the city was a large economic and commercial center which maintained relations with Asia Minor and the coastal cities.

Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus was a consul in Thrace in 73 B.C. and a proconsul in Macedonia in 72-71 BC. He undertook a two-year long campaign in Thrace as a punitive action for the Thracians’ participation as allies of Mithridates VI Eupator against Rome and in 72 B.C. he conquered the city and destroyed it. During the 1st century B.C. – 1st century AD two Roman cohorts were located in the city and it gradually declined, but during the 2nd – 3rd century AD it became the most important Roman military camp in the Thracian province. This is also the time when Cabyle flourished as a crossroad center. Christianity appeared in the city as early as the 4th century. A monumental basilica with a nave and two aisles with mosaic floors, reconstructed in the 5th century, as well as a smaller basilica with a baptistery located within the outlines of the military camp, have been discovered. In 377 there was a battle around the city between the Visigoths and the Roman armies. The barbarian invasions forced the population to settle behind the walls of the military camp. Cabyle was destroyed by the Avars in 583. A small population continued to live in the 7th – 8th centuries and during the Middle Ages on the territory of the already insignificant settlement. The toponym Cabyle is preserved today as the name of the village located in the closest proximity of the ancient city.

The region downstream the Tundzha River before its merger with the Maritsa River at Odrin, Sakar Mountain and the Eastern Rhodopes could be designated as indigenous Odrysian territory. One of the most impressive discoveries lies in the southwestern end of Sakar Mountain on the territory of the village of Izvorovo, Harmanly Municipality. Under a quartz-rocks mound, buried on top by soil, a funeral was found made by cremation during the first half of the 2nd millennium B.C. Quite impressive are the funeral gifts scattered among the stones. A necklace was found 1.6 m long, consisting of 342 golden beads in the shape of barley grains and small spheres, two golden weights for spindles decorated with sun relief, a golden and a silver plates linked by a silver rivet, a bronze razor and a stone hone, as well as a ceramic vessel with relief and cut-in decoration. Obviously, the place was worshiped as a sacred topos during the ages, because in 2nd century B.C. the mound has been reinforced by a krepis with a diameter of 22 m and on top soil was additionally piled and three stone layers. A settlement has originated around the mound during that period. Between the rocks of this second stage of piling the mound, a bronze fibula-brooch was found in the shape of a hare, also silver, bronze and iron coins, glass beads, iron knife, as well as ceramic fragments. The barley grains are related to the cult of Demeter, which is one of the most important hypostases of the Great Goddess-mother, protecting the fertility and caring to transfer to the people the knowledge of growing cultivated plants. The barley grains necklace has a parallel on the island of Crete, where 24 golden barley grains were found. The necklace from the village of Izvorovo is about 15 times longer than the Cretan one. Relationships of the middle course of the Tundzha River with Crete have been documented also by the spool with inscription in Linear B script, discovered near the village of Drama, Yambol region.

Photo of the golden barley grains and the golden spindle weights

Along the most crowded in the entire history of the European Southeast so called Diagonal Road, the Thracian tomb-heroon at the village of Mezek is situated. The tomb is located at 1 km East of the village. The ideally preserved till present day sub-mound structure is 32 meters long and consists of a long corridor (dromos) with a two-sloped roof, two rectangular rooms and a beehive chamber vault. Although plundered yet in the Antiquity, upon the discovery of the tomb, two secondary funerals have been found with gifts and elements of the decoration of a Celtic chariot. It is possible that a Celtic chief have been secondarily buried. The dating of the tomb-heroon is in the middle of the 4th century B.C. Year before the discovery of the tomb, on the top of the mound a bronze sculpture of a wounded wild boar of natural proportions has been found. The sculpture is now in the Archeological Museum in Istanbul. It is a well-grounded assumption that the wild boar should be a part of a large sculpture group depicting a horseman killing a boar – a scene well-known from the Thracian toreutics and from the mural paintings in the tomb near the village of Alexandrovo, as well as from the images of the Thracian Hero during the Roman age. Another Thracian tomb was discovered in the region under the Sheynovets Peak in the eastern end of the Rhodope Mountain, between the villages of Valche Pole and Malko Gradishte.

Photos of the tomb near the village of Mezek and of some of the artifacts found therein.

In the Sakar Mountain, the dolmens that reached the present days are considerably more than in the other zones of their distribution in the European Southeast. Considerable share of them is situated in the central part of the mountain on the territory of the villages Hlyabovo, Sakartsi, Balgarska Polyana, Miladinovo, Oryahovo. For the time being, the dolmens of the territory of Hlyabovo are the most monumental, with facades which show that these tombs dated from the end of the 2nd till the middle of the 1st millennium B.C. have been used repeatedly. The dolmen in “Nuchevi Chairi” locality is the biggest documented megalithic tomb on the Balkans. The dolmen necropolis in the “Avdzhika” locality on the territory of Hlyabovo is a preserved and rock-cut womb-cave, which most likely served during the rituals of immortalization of the aristocrats buried in the dolmens.

In the western Sakar Mountain, on the territory of the village of Ovcharovo, Harmanly Municipality, there stands one of the menhirs, preserved until nowadays. In the scientific literature from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, this kind of monuments has been mentioned, but that is the only one which has reached the present day.

Photo of the dolmen and photo of the “Chuchul Kamuk” menhir

 

Eastern Rhodopes

            In the foothills of the Eastern Rhodopes, in closest proximity to the village of Alexandrovo, Haskovo District, under a mound 15 m high and with a diameter between 60 and 70 m, a tomb-heroon is located decorated with frescos, which evidence the highly developed mastership of the Thracian fine art. One can reach the covered with frescos beehive vault of the sub-mound facility through a 10 m long dromos and passing through a rectangular room, also decorated with frescos. The frescos in the anteroom depict combat scenes and in the vault hall – sacrifice, probably an episode of the immortalization ritual, and in the vault – hunting – a trial of values.

At a few kilometers from Haskovo, on the territory of the village of Kasnakovo, one of the most interesting Thracian sanctuaries from the Roman period, dedicated to Aphrodite and the nymphs is situated. It was built in the 2nd century A.D. near Karst mineral springs by the Thracian veteran from the Roman army Titus Flavius Beytyukent Esbenerios and his wife Claudia Montana. The archaeological researches show that the springs have been sacred for the Thracians even as early as the beginning of the 1st millennium B.C. The inscriptions discovered during the excavations reveal not only the names of the persons, who built the big sanctuary complex, but also that it had been dedicated to the nymphs and the goddess Aphrodite. The beautifully shaped with arches mineral springs and the cultic buildings are parts of a big complex, comprising amphitheatre and numerous buildings, including also buildings for worshipers. Christianity could not obliterate the memory of the sanctuary, but utilized it for its own needs. In the past there stood a small chapel, demolished long ago, but even today people gather around the holy spring on the Christian feast of the Ascension Day (40 days after Easter, the so called Spasov den), make a bloody sacrifice of a lamb, bring gifts, throw coins in the spring and light candles.

In the Eastern Rhodopes some of the most impressive rock-cut sanctuaries are located. Dolmens have been documented on the territory of the villages Ostar Kamuk, Bryagovo and Ivanovo, as well as a cromlech at the village of Dolni Glavanak, Madzharovo Municipality.

On of the Eastern Rhodopes ridges, which separate the valleys of the Maritsa and the Arda rivers before their fusion at Odrin, the villages of Malko Gradishte and Valche Pole are perched on the hilltops and between these village the sanctuary of “Gluhite Kamany” is located. The highest peak in the region – Saint Marina, - rising to the North of the Ivaylovgrad dam, had been a Thracian fortress in the Antiquity. From the fortress it is plain to see the Arda and Maritsa rivers valleys. East of the peak, almost at its foothills, above a deciduous forest, the four rocky massifs called “Gluhite Kamany” are towering, studded with hundreds of rock-cut niches. They are situated at about 2 kilometers west of the saddle, where now the road from Lyubimets to Ivaylovgrad stretches.

The western rock, which is the highest one and dominates the other three, is the central place of the sanctuary. The southern wall of the rock had been carefully leveled and a womb-cave had been cut therein. Through an arched entrance 1.40 meters high one can enter a room with irregular quadrangular shape, arched at the bottom. A short rock shelf had been cut in its eastern end, whereon the believers placed gifts and sacred objects, and in the small rectangular niche behind it – the most precious gift or an image of the deity. At 2 meters west of the cave entrance, a big arched niche had been cut with 80 centimeters basis, 1.10 meters high and 80 centimeters deep. East of the womb-cave entrance a stairway had been shaped leading straight upwards. Climbing to the sky is an integral part of the Thracian ritual and a symbol of the spiritual purification and rising. After the nineteenth step, a leveled platform follows and the stairway turns west under a right angle. After thirteen more steep steps, a view spreads to the Arda and Maritsa rivers valleys and to the west – the mount Saint Marina. On the top of the rock, a big quadrangular basin had been cut, 3.20 meters long and 3 meters wide, always full of water. From the southern and the northern sides of the basin grooves have been cut to accommodate a cover or a wooden grid. The archaeologists studying the sanctuary deem that the stairway and the basin had been completed in the Middle Ages, when a church had been built on the hilltop. By now, the data from the ongoing archaeological researches show that the cult activity and the temple upkeep were existing at this location during the late Chalcolithic Age, the Early Iron Age, the Roman period and the Middle Ages.

The remaining three rocky massifs are also covered with rock niches from foot to top – hundreds of rectangular, trapezoid and numerous unfinished niches of various sizes. On top of those rocks basins also had been cut – some with grooves, others without, but of quite smaller sizes. A look through binoculars to the southwest from any top of the sanctuary reveals other rocks towering here and there above the trees. On one of them we can see three niches and that implies that the sacred territory has been far greater than the described hereby. On one of the “Gluhite Kamany” rocks am image of a solar barque has been noticed.

Folklore and language possess the feature to treasure knowledge, beliefs and ritualism, even upon change of population, generations and religions. The cultural memory of the people in the region has preserved an amazing quantity of traces, if only we could identify them and arrange the puzzle pieces. Not accidentally have I started the description with the villages of Malko Gradishte and Valche Pole and mount Saint Marina. Most indicative of the Thracian heritage in the folk culture of the people living in the region of “Gluhite Kamany” are the preserved legends in the village of Malko Gradishte. They tell that the master of the village is the winter Saint Athanas, who lives in one of the wells. He is a huge horseman with a high fur cap. After midnight he is patrolling the village and the people can tell this by the clatter of hooves and the loud clinging of the decorative chains he is wearing. To honor him they sacrifice a bull or a ram. The sacrifice takes place at the well, where he lives, and it is extremely important that the blood drain away at the foundation of the water source.

On January 18, his day, the saint takes off his fur coat and puts on a silk shirt, climbs on the top of the sanctuary and shouts to the winter to go away. Saint Athanas is the master of the winter sun, people say, so that after his shout the day starts to increase and the year turns toward the summer. Together with his brother Saint Anton, they are patrons of the blacksmiths, shoeing smiths and the iron mongers. They even tell that Saint Athanas has invented the tongs while observing the dog’s paws. It is forbidden to eat beans and lentils in the days of both saints. Beans were forbidden food for the Orphics, as well as the wool clothes, claim the ancient authors. The image of the saint has inherited the belief in the immortal king-priest, who performed the main ritual at the beginning of the new annual cycle.

Photo of“Gluhite Kamany”

In the Eastern Rhodopes there are also numerous rock-cut caves, interpreted as places for a small number of people, because of the implemented therein astronomical knowledge about the movement of the sun, and for immortalization of those, who have passed Beyond, or as rock tombs. The first hypothesis is more acceptable, since in Thrace some ten natural caves have been found, which have been additionally processed so that to measure the time as per the length of the incoming sunlight. The artificial caves were made following the same principle. On the territory of the village of Pchelari several such objects have been documented in the localities “Hambar Kaya”, “Ak Kaya”, “Mal Kazan”, “Hodjas”. One of the best preserved rock-cut caves is in the “Kara In” locality at about 2.5 km southeast of the village.

Photoofthecave-sanctuaryatvillageofPchelari, “KaraIn” locality

 

                        In the Eastern Rhodopes near the village of Dolni Glavanak, Haskovo District, the best preserved Thracian cromlech is situated, representing big stones driven vertically as a circle into the ground. The cromlech on the territory of the village of Dolni Glavanak was erected directly upon the ledge rock. South of the sacred spaces fenced that way, two funerals by cremation have been discovered. The dating of the megalithic facility, according to the discovered materials, is the beginning of the 1st millennium B.C.