Thracian Tribes

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By Strabo's time, "Thrace as a whole consists of twenty-two tribes.  But although it has been devastated to an exceptional degree, it can send into the field fifteen thousand cavalry and also two hundred thousand infantry."  (Geography 7 f47)

Out of the twenty or so Thracian tribes and clans (by Strabo’s count), a high proportion (eight, including all of the largest) are described as the best warriors.

Map of Thracian tribal areasThe ancients were hard put to it to decide which of the Thracian tribes was the most valiant: the Getae, Odomanti, Thyni, Dii, Bessi, Bisaltae, and Satrae, Moesians, or Odrysae. As you can see from the brief extracts below, different tribes also had different proportions of troop-types in their armies. There wasn't always a one third cavalry component. Those from the mountains favoured infantry, while those from the plains favoured cavalry - Thucydides says that principally the Odrysians and the Getae provided Sitalces' cavalry. The four tribes (Asti, Caeni, Maduateni, and Coreli) that composed the 10,000 men who attacked Manlius in the mountains probably had very few cavalry, if any. It is probable that different Thracian tribes favoured different fighting styles. For instance, in the Illiad Chapter 2 "Euphemes arrayed the Ciconians, men of the spear,…Pryaechmes led Paeonians, armed with the bow…" Mountain tribes were likely to have fiercer infantry than plains tribes. The mountain tribes included the Bessi, Satrae, Bisaltae, Dii, and Odomanti.

Here you will find over forty Thracian tribes or clans.


Map 1: Thracian Tribal areas (from Fol, Thrace and the Thracians, p 133)
Click on the map to jump to that tribe's description.


On a colouful note, Papazoglu draws attention to the hairstyle worn by the Thracian Abantes, as being apparently the same as the Moesians and some Arab tribes (taken from Plutarch, Life of Theseus. 5). The front of the head was apparently shaved (in the case of the Abantes, in order to prevent the enemy getting a ready hold in battle - presumably similar in style to the hair worn by the woodland Ottawa tribe of the North American Great Lakes region?):    " 'The Abantes' adds Plutarch, were the first people to cut their hair in this fashion; they had not learnt it from the Arabians, as some think, nor did they imitate the Moesians, but did it because they were hand-to-hand fighters - to avoid giving the enemy the chance to sieze them by the hair." From Fanula Papazoglu, The Central Balkan Tribes in Pre-Roman Times. Triballi, Autariatae, Dardanians, Scordisci and Moesians. Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1978, p.460.  This information kindly supplied by David Karunanithy.   


Herodotus, Histories IV.105

From the country of the Agathyrsi comes down another river, the Maris, which empties itself into the same; and from the heights of Haemus descend with a northern course three mighty streams, the Atlas, the Auras, and the Tibisis, and pour their waters into it. Thrace gives it three tributaries, the Athrys, the Noes, and the Artanes, which all pass through the country of the Crobyzian Thracians. Another tributary is furnished by Paeonia, namely, the Scius; this river, rising near Mount Rhodope, forces its way through the chain of Haemus, and so reaches the Ister. From Illyria comes another stream, the Angrus, which has a course from south to north, and after watering the Triballian plain, falls into the Brongus, which falls into the Ister....

The Scythians, reflecting on their situation, perceived that they were not strong enough by themselves to contend with the army of Darius in open fight. They, therefore, sent envoys to the neighbouring nations, whose kings had already met, and were in consultation upon the advance of so vast a host. Now they who had come together were the kings of the Tauri, the Agathyrsi, the Neuri, the Androphagi, the Melanchaeni, the Geloni, the Budini, and the Sauromatae. .....

The Agathyrsi are a race of men very luxurious, and very fond of wearing gold on their persons. They have wives in common, that so they may be all brothers, and, as members of one family, may neither envy nor hate one another. In other respects their customs approach nearly to those of the Thracians.


The Agrianians were a Paionian tribe, and are on the Paionian page.


Herodotus VI, 36

Miltiades' first act was to build a wall across the neck of the peninsula from Cardia to Pactya, to stop the Apsinthians from breaking into the Chersonese on plundering raids.   Here at the neck the peninsula is some 4 miles wide, its total length being about 52 miles.  Having completed the wall and shut out the Apsinthians, Miltiades next attacked Lampsacus; but he was ambushed and taken prisoner.

Herodotus IX, 119: Oeobazus is sacrificed to Pleistorus by the Apsinthians


Livy XXXVIII, 40 - they plunder Manlius' baggage.


Herodotus 7.111.1 says: "The Satrae[of which the Bessi were a clan], as far as we know, have never yet been subject to any man; they alone of the Thracians have continued living in freedom to this day… and they are excellent warriors."

Strabo is more humorous but less complimentary:

".. the peoples who live in the neighbourhood of the Haemus Mountain and those who live at its base and extend as far as the Pontus- I mean the Coralli, the Bessi, and some of the Medi and Dantheletae.  Now these tribes are very brigandish themselves, but the Bessi, who inhabit the greater part of the Haemus Mountain, are called brigands even by the brigands. The Bessi live in huts and lead a wretched life; and their country borders on Mount Rhodope..." (Geography 7.5.12)

Herodotus VII, 111

Valerius Flaccus II, 229-232 "the huge Bessi"

Polybius XXIII, 8

Strabo, Geography 7 f47 (Perseus)

Along the Hebrus live the Corpili, and, still farther up the river, the Brenae, and then, farthermost of all, the Bessi, for the river is navigable thus far.  All these tribes are given to brigandage, but most of all the Bessi, who, Hesc. Strabo. says, are neighbours to the Odrysae and the Sapaei.

Strabo, Geography 7.5.12 (Perseus)

Then come the peoples who live in the neighbourhood of the Haemus Mountain and those who live at its base and extend as far as the Pontus- I mean the Coralli, the Bessi, and some of the Medi and Dantheletae.  Now these tribes are very brigandish themselves, but the Bessi, who inhabit the greater part of the Haemus Mountain, are called brigands even by the brigands.  The Bessi live in huts and lead a wretched life; and their country borders on Mount Rhodope, on the country of the Paeonians, and on that of two Illyrian peoples - the Autariatae, and the Dardanians.

Thracian Tribal distribution, according to ArchibaldBistaltae

Livy (XLV, 30) relates "The first district [of the newly partitioned Macedonia] enjoys many advantages. It has the Bisaltae, first class fighting men (they live beyond the Nessus, in the neighbourhood of the Strymon)." The Bisaltae are often referred to as a source of Macedonian mercenaries, a Macedonian refuge, or as a place for Athenian colonisation.

Herodotus VIII, 115- 116

Livy XLV, 30: The Bisaltae are first-class fighting men who live near the Strymon

Livy XLIV.46 (168 BC)

After Perseus had tried his only remaining hope, the possibility of getting help from the Bisaltae, and had sent envoys to them without success, he came before an assembly of the people, bringing with him his son Philip, with the intention of strengthening by his exhortations the resolution of the people of Amphipolis...

Plutarch Pericles 11.5 (Perseus)

In addition to this, he despatched a thousand settlers to the Chersonesus [447 BC], and five hundred to Naxos, and to Andros half that number, and a thousand to Thrace to settle with the Bisaltae, and others to Italy [444 BC]... All this he did by way of lightening the city of its mob of lazy and idle busybodies, rectifying the embarrassments of the poorer people, and giving the allies for neighgours an imposing garrison which should prevent rebellion.

Strabo Geography 7 f36 (Perseus)

Above Amphipolis, however, and as far as the city Heracleia, Heracleia Sintica [now Zervokhori] is the country of the Bisaltae, with its fruitful valley;  this valley is divided into two parts by the Strymon, ... If one goes up the Strymon, one comes to Berge [now Tachyno];  it, too, is situated in the country of the Bisaltae, and is a village about two hundred stadia from Amphipolis.

Pseudo-Apollodorus Library e.6.16 (Loeb)

[E.6.16] Demophon with a few ships put in to the land of the Thracian Bisaltians, and there Phyllis, the king’s daughter, falling in love with him, was given him in marriage by her father with the kingdom for her dower. But he wished to depart to his own country, and after many entreaties and swearing to return, he did depart.

Diodorus Historical Library 12.68.5 (Loeb)

[12.68.5] Also he had many complete suits of armour made, which he distributed among the young men who possessed no arms, and he gathered supplies of missiles and grain and everything else. And when all his preparations had been made, he set out from Amphipolis with his army and came to Acte,1 as it is called, where he pitched his camp. In this area there were five cities, of which some were Greek, being colonies from Andros, and the others had a populace of barbarians of Bisaltic origin, which were bilingual.

12,68,5,n1. The region about Mt. Athos.


Herodotus. 7.110


Ovid, Heroides II

The Heroides are among Ovid's earliest works. They are in the form of fictitious letters, written by mythological women to the famous lovers who have abandoned them. Phyllis fell in love with one of the sons of Theseus, who promised to return to her after he had seen to his affairs in Athens. After a long delay, she fell into despair and hanged herself, transforming into an almond tree upon her death. When Demophoon finally returned, he could only embrace the tree, which put forth leaves in recognition of their love. This letter is written shortly before her suicide. ( this text and translation is from the following web page: )

Phyllis to Demophoon

Demophoon--I, your Phyllis who made you welcome in Rhodope,
Complain that you are absent past the promised time.
When the horns of the moon had joined once in full circle,
Your anchor was promised to our shore--
The moon has waned four times, and waxed four times to full circle;
But the Sithonian wave does not bear the Actaean ships.
If you count the time--which we lovers count well--
My complaint does not come before its day.

Hope also has been slow to depart; we are slow to believe,
When believing wounds us; even now, your lover is unwilling for you to be guilty.
Often I have been deceitful to myself in your defense; often have I believed
The stormy south wind brought white sails.
Theseus have I cursed, because he would not let you go;
Yet perhaps he does not hold back your journey.
Sometimes I feared lest, while you made toward the shoals of the Hebrus,
Your ship had been wrecked, swamped in the white water.
Often, kneeling, have I honoured the gods with prayer
And sacred incense, that you, evil man, should prevail.
Often, seeing the winds in sky and sea were favorable,
Have I said to myself, "If he prevails, he is coming."
In short, faithful love has imagined whatever might hinder haste,
And I have been clever in finding reasons.
But you are absent long; neither do the gods you swore by
Bring you back, nor do you return moved by my love.
Demophoon, you gave to the winds both words and sails;
I complain that your sails have not returned, and your words lack faith.

Tell me, what have I done, except to love unwisely?
By my crime, I could deserve to have you.
The only evil in me is that I took you, evil man.
Yet this evil has all the weight and likeness of merit.
Where now are rights and faith, the joining of hand to hand,
The god who was so often in your lying mouth?
Where now the promised bond of Hymen in our shared years,
Which was my surety and security for marriage?
By the sea, which is all agitated by wind and wave,
Over which you certainly travelled, over which you should travel again,
And by your grandfather, who soothes the excited waves
(Unless he is a fiction, too), you swore to me;
By Venus, and the weapons which wound me too greatly--
One weapon the bow, the other weapon the torch--
And Juno who, kind guardian, watches over the marriage bed,
And by the secret rites of the torchbearing goddess.
If all of the many outraged gods should avenge their
Godheads, you alone would not be enough for the punishment.
Ah, mad, I even repaired your damaged ships--
So that the keel by which I was deserted might be solid--
And gave you the oars with which you were to flee from me.
Alas, I suffer wounds made by my own weapons!
I believed your flattering words, of which you had many;
I believed in your family and your name;
I believed in your tears--or can these also be taught to deceive?
Do these also have skill, to go where they are ordered?
I believed also in the gods--where now are the many pledges to me?
By any part of these I could have been captured.

I am not troubled that I aided you with a port and a place to stay;
But this should have been the extent of my service!
I regret that I, shamefully, augmented my hospitality
With the marriage bed, and joined my side to yours.
The night before that one, I wish had been my last,
When I could have died Phyllis the chaste.
I hoped for better, for I thought I merited it;
Wherever hope comes from merit, it is fair.

To deceive a trusting maiden is not hard-won
Glory. My simplicity was worthy of favor.
I, a lover and a woman, was deceived by your words.
May the gods grant that this is the height of your praise!
Your image should stand among the sons of Aegeus, in the middle of the city;
And set your distinguished father there first, with his honors.
When one has read of Sciron and savage Procrustes,
And Sinis and the mixed form of bull and man,
And of Thebes subdued in war and the rout of the Centaurs,
And of the knocking at the dark palace of the black god--
After these let your image be inscribed with this honor:
"Here is he whose fraud deceived the lover who welcomed him."
Of all the many deeds and exploits of your father,
Only his deserted Cretan bride has remained in your nature.
The only thing he makes excuses for, is the only thing you admire in him;
You behave as the heir of your father's decieit, treacherous one.
She--and I do not envy her--enjoys a better husband
And sits on high behind bridled tigers;
But the scorned Thracians shun marriage with me,
For I am said to have preferred a foreigner to my own countrymen.
And someone says, "Let her go now to learned Athens;
There will be another who rules arms-bearing Thrace.
The outcome proves her deed." Let him lack success, I wish,
Who judges the deed harshly from its result.
But if our seas should begin to foam with your oars,
Then for myself and for my countrymen, I would be said to have counselled wisely--
But I have not counselled wisely, nor will my palace receive you again,
Nor will you bathe your exhausted limbs in Bistonian waters.

That image of your departure remains in my eyes
When your departing fleet was close by my port.
You dared to embrace me and, wrapped round the neck of your lover,
You joined our lips in deep kisses, lingering long,
And mixed my tears with yours,
And complained that the wind favored your sails,
And spoke these last words to me as you departed:
"Phyllis, be sure to wait for your Demophoon!"

And do I wait, when you departed never to see me again?
And do I wait for the sails denied to my seas?
And yet I do wait--only return late to your lover,
So that your faith will have erred only by delay!
Why do I, unhappy one, plead? Perhaps now you have another wife,
And another love--the love which favored me so badly.
And now you have forgotten me, and remember nothing of Phyllis.
Alas for me! If you ask who Phyllis is and where she is from--
I am the one who, Demophoon, when you had been driven in long wanderings,
Offered you the ports of Thrace and gave welcome to you--
You whose resources were increased by my own, to whose poverty
My wealth gave many gifts, and would have given many more;
I am the one who subjected to you the broadest kingdom of Lycurgus,
Hardly suitable to be ruled in a woman's name,
Where icy Rhodope stretches to shady Haemus,
And the sacred Heber drives his racing waters--
To you, to whom my virginity was offered amidst birds of evil omen,
And who loosened my chaste girdle with deceiving hand!
As matron goddess, Tisiphone howled at that wedding,
And the bird of solitary places chanted its sorrowful song;
Allecto was present, with a twisted collar of little serpents,
And the moving lights were funeral torches.



Herodotus VI, 45 - The Brygi give Mardonius a drubbing in a night attack.

While thus it fared with the fleet, on land Mardonius and his army were attacked in their camp during the night by the Brygi, a tribe of Thracians; and here vast numbers of the Persians were slain, and even Mardonius himself received a wound. The Brygi, nevertheless, did not succeed in maintaining their own freedom: for Mardonius would not leave the country till he had subdued them and made them subjects of Persia. Still, though he brought them under the yoke, the blow which his land force had received at their hands, and the great damage done to his fleet off Athos, induced him to set out upon his retreat; and so this armament, having failed disgracefully, returned to Asia....

To the amount thus reached we have still to add the forces gathered in Europe, concerning which I can only speak from conjecture. The Greeks dwelling in Thrace, and in the islands off the coast of Thrace, furnished to the fleet one hundred and twenty ships; the crews of which would amount to 24,000 men. Besides these, footmen were urnished by the Thracians, the Paeonians, the Eordians, the Bottiaeans, by the Chalcidean tribes, by the Brygians, the Pierians, the Macedonians, the Perrhaebians the Enianians, the Dolopians, the Magnesians, the Achaeans and by all the dwellers upon the Thracian sea-board; and the forces of these nations amounted, I believe, to three hundred thousand men.

Herodotus VII, 77

The Paphlagonians wore wicker helmets, small shields, fairly short spears, javelins, and daggers.  They wore the native high boot reaching half-way to the knees.... The dress of the Phrygians was, with a few differences, like the Paphlagonian.  This people, according to the Macedonian account, were known as Briges during the period when they lived in Macedonia, and changed their name at the same time as, by migrating to Asia, they changed their country.  The Armenians, who are Phrygian colonists, were armed in the Phrygian fashion and both contingents were commanded by Artochmes, the husband of one of Darius's daughters.


Livy XXXVIII, 40 - they plunder Manlius' baggage

Strabo Geography 13.4.2

After a reign of forty-nine years Eumenes left his empire to Attallus, his son by Stratonice, the daughter of Ariathres, king of the Cappadocians. He appointed his brother Attalus5 as guardian both of his son, who was extremely young, and of the empire. After a reign of twenty-one years,6 his brother died an old man, having won success in many undertakings; for example, he helped Demetrius, the son of Seleucus, to defeat in war Alexander, the son of Antiochus, and he fought on the side of the Romans against the Pseudo-Philip, and in an expedition against Thrace he defeated Diegylis the king of the Caeni, and he slew Prusias, having incited his son Nicomedes against him, and he left his empire, under a guardian, to Attalus.

Diodorus Siculus XXXIII 14-15 and XXXIV 12 - the savagery and cruelty of Diegylis, a chieftain of the Caeni, and son-in-law to Prusias of Bithynia, c. 145 BC


Herodotus. 7.110


Homer Illiad, Chapter 2

Euphemus, son of Troezenus, the son of Ceos, was captain of the Ciconian spearsmen.

Acamas next and the hero Pirous led the Thracians confined by the strong-flowing Hellespont stream, and Euphemus arrayed the Ciconians, men of the spear, the son of Troezen the son of Ceos was he.   Pryaechmes led Paeonians, armed with the bow, from far Amydon by Axius' broad-flowing stream, Axius, fairest of waters that move on the earth


Pseudo-Apollodorus Library e.7.2 (Loeb)

[E.7.2] And putting to sea from Ilium, he touched at Ismarus, a city of the Cicones, and captured it in war, and pillaged it, sparing Maro alone, who was priest of Apollo.1 And when the Cicones who inhabited the mainland heard of it, they came in arms to withstand him, and having lost six men from each ship he put to sea and fled.

E,7,2,n1. As to the adventures of Ulysses with the Cicones, see Hom. Od. 9.39-66. The Cicones were a Thracian tribe; Xerxes and his army marched through their country (Hdt. 7.110).


Livy XXXVIII, 40 - the Coreli attack Manlius' baggage


Appian, The Civil Wars, IV, XI, 87-88: Octavian and Antony "seized the  passes of the Corpilans and the Sapaeans, tribes under the rule of Rhaseupolis, where lies the only known route of travel from Asia to Europe."


Herodotus V, 3 - The "people north of Creston" have the same customs as other Thracians except for polygamy and suttee.

With the Thracians who live beyond Creston, it is customary for a man to have a number of wives; and when a husband dies, his wives enter into keen competition, in Which his friends play a vigorous part on one side or the other, to decide which of them was most loved. The one on whom the honour of the' verdict falls is first praised by both men and women, and then slaughtered over the grave by her next of kin and buried by her husband's side. For the other wives, not to be chosen is the worst possible disgrace, and they grieve accordingly.


Livy XL.58 - a note in the Penguin translation say they were a warlike Illyrian people, with a Thracian admixture, who constantly raided Macedonia. 


Polybius XXIII, 8


Herodotus VII, 111 - Xerxes marches through their territory.


You can see a picture of a A Dii swordsman , by Clive Spong, in Warry's Warfare in the Ancient World p50

Thucydides declares that the Dii were the most warlike infantry in Sitalces' army (429 BC). The Dii make an interesting conundrum, as they clearly defeat Theban cavalry by using peltast hit-and-run tactics, and yet they are always referred to as swordsmen. However, they loved plunder just as much as other Thracians.

Thucydides (2.98) states "The most warlike troops among the infantry [in Sitalces' army] were the independent swordsmen who came down from Mount Rhodope." "[Sitalces] summoned many of the hill Thracian independent swordsmen, called Dii and mostly inhabiting Mount Rhodope, some of whom came as mercenaries, others as volunteers" Thucydides 2.100

"In this same summer there arrived 1,300 peltasts from the Dii, one of the Thracian tribes who are armed with short swordsin the rest of the retreat the Thracians made a very respectable defence against the Theban horse, by which they were first attacked, dashing out and closing their ranks according to the tactics of their country, and lost only a few men in that part of the affair. A good number who were after plunder were actually caught in the town and put to death. Altogether the Thracians had two hundred and fifty killed out of thirteen hundred, the Thebans and the rest who came to the rescue about twenty, troopers and heavy infantry." (Thucydides 7.27)

Thucydides VII, 27

Thucydides II, 98

Pausanias Description of Greece 1.23.3 (Loeb)

[1.23.3] Hard by is a bronze statue of Diitrephes shot through by arrows. Among the acts reported of this Diitrephes by the Athenians is his leading back home the Thracian mercenaries who arrived too late to take part in the expedition of Demosthenes against Syracuse. He also put into the Chalcidic Euripus, where the Boeotians had an inland town Mycalessus, marched up to this town from the coast and took it. Of the inhabitants the Thracians put to the sword not only the combatants but also the women and children. I have evidence to bring. All the Boeotian towns which the Thebans sacked were inhabited in my time, as the people escaped just before the capture; so if the foreigners had not exterminated the Mycalessians the survivors would have afterwards reoccupied the town.




Herodotus VII, 111 - Xerxes marches through their territory.

Thucydides IV, 107 - The Edonian king Pittacus, p329


Figure 46a from Duncan Head, The Achaemenid Persian Army: the Skudran throne-bearer from Persepolis tomb I. "He wears a Saka coat and akinakes (the Skudra on some tombs lack the akinakes, carrying only javelins), recalling Thucydides claim (II.96) the the north-Thracian Getai fought as Skythian-style mounted archers;   Darius I conquered and conscripted them for the Skythian campaign.  The hat may be the Macedonian petasos; other Skudra wear Saka-style caps."

Herodotus (IV, 98) calls the Getae "the bravest and most just of all the Thracians". I have already mentioned how their religion caused them to welcome death, especially in battle. Arrian says the Getae marched out against Alexander with 4,000 cavalry and 10,000 foot. Appian (IX, XVIII) says that the Getae provided 10,000 foot and 10,000 cavalry as mercenaries to Perseus' army. The Getae lived between the Heamus and the Danube, and between the Danube and the Skythians. They were in constant contact with the Skythians, and Herodotus IV,80 mentions a confrontation and royal marriage between Thracian and Skythian forces.

The Getae were particularly fearless, and were certainly "eager to take advantage of disordered enemy by charging home", as it says in the LH (S) definition. Although Alexander beat them, the Getae captured Lysimachus, and showed him what tough fellows they were, by eating out of wooden bowls, while giving the soft Macedonians gold and silver to eat out of, and draped couches to sit on.

Getic horse archerHerodotus (4.93.1) says that the Getae "pretend to be immortal", and that they resisted Darius stubbornly. He says (4.95.2) that Zalmoxis taught the Thracians that none of them would die, but "they would go to a place where they would live forever and have all good things." Plato (Charmides 156d) says that the Thracian physicians of Zalmoxis "are said even to make one immortal."

"Arrian (Tactica XVI,6) reports that the northern Thracians [ie the Getae] had learnt the wedge-shaped battle formation from the Skythians."[30] Valerius Flaccus confuses the Getae with the Skythians and Sarmatians. Thucydides (II,96 & 98) asserts "Both the Getae and these other tribes are neighbours of the Skythians and are armed in the same way, being all mounted archers... The Odrysians themselves and, next to them, the Getae formed the majority of the cavalry." Valerius Flaccus (V,95-100) tells us a story that Pharaoh Sesostris waged war on the Getae, but was so terrified by the slaughter of his people he returned to Thebes and the Nile. Though this story is obviously untrue, it still demonstrates a great respect for Getic ferocity. Classifying Getic horse archers as LH (S) represents fierce Getic horse archers charging in wedge. Classing some of the peltasts as Wb(F) or Bd (F) would make them more like their direct descendants, the Dacians (who spoke the same language as the Getae).

North Thracian noble heavy cavalrymanHerodotus IV, 92-96

Thucydides - the Getae in Sitalces' army

Relationships with the Skythians:

The mercenaries supplied to Perseus

Valerius Flaccus (II, 229-232)

Valerius Flaccus V 417-420

... how first their king [pharoah] Sesostris waged war upon the Getae, how terrified by the slaughter of his people he withdrew some to Thebae and his native stream.

Valerius Flaccus Argonautica VII 645-647

Straightway the son of Aeson hastens in reeking armour to the river, like unto Mars when leaving the dust of Getic warfare he enters Hebrus in his car and brands it deep with the burning sweat of battle.

Valerius Flaccus VI, 507 - 514 - the Getae lose a battle to the Geloni

Arrian - Alexander crosses the Danube and defeats the Getae in a surprise attack (335 BC)

Lysimachus and the Getae

The tomb at Sveshtari

The fate of the Getae - how they pushed out the Celts

Appian The Civil Wars, III.III.24 - 25

...Brutus and Cassius... decided to go to Syria and Macedonia... and seize them by force... Antony ... conceived the idea of transferring to himself the army in Macedonia, which was composed of the very best material and was of large size (it consisted of six legions, besides a great number of archers and light-armed troops, much cavalry, and a corresponding amount of apparatus of all kinds)...

25.  Suddenly a rumour burst upon them that the Getae, learning of Caesar's death, had made an incursion into Macedonia and were ravaging it.  Antony asked the Senate to give him an army in order to punish them, saying that this army had been prepared by Caesar to be used against the Getae before marching on the Parthians... The Senate distrusted the rumour, and sent messengers to make inquiry...Antony... was chosen as absolute commander of the forces in Macedonia... Those who had been sent to inquire into the rumour came back and reported that they had seen no Getae in Macedonia, but they added, either truthfully, or because they were instructed to do so by Antony, that it was feared they would make an incursion into Macedonia if the army were withdrawn.

Diodorus Siculus XXI. 11 - 12 (292 BC) - The Getae are men who are barbarous and lead a bestial existence, live in a wintry land deficient in cultivated grains and fruit, normally sit on straw, eat from a wooden table, and drink from cups of horn or wood. Their king, Dromichaetes, captures Lysimachus and his son.

Strabo Geography 7.3.13 (Loeb)

[7.3.13] The Marisus River flows through their country into the Danuvius,1 on which the Romans used to convey their equipment for war; the "Danuvius" I say, for so they used to call the upper part of the river from near its sources on to the cataracts, I mean the part which in the main flows through the country, of the Daci, although they give the name "Ister" to the lower part, from the cataracts on to the Pontus, the part which flows past the country of the Getae. The language of the Daci is the same as that of the Getae. Among the Greeks, however, the Getae are better known because the migrations they make to either side of the Ister are continuous, and because they are intermingled with the Thracians and Mysians. And also the tribe of the Triballi, likewise Thracian, has had this same experience, for it has admitted migrations into this country, because the neighboring peoples force them2 to emigrate into the country of those who are weaker; that is, the Scythians and Bastarnians and Sauromatians on the far side of the river often prevail to the extent that they actually cross over to attack those whom they have already driven out, and some of them remain there, either in the islands or in Thrace, whereas those3 on the other side are generally overpowered by the Illyrians. Be that as it may, although the Getae and Daci once attained to very great power, so that they actually could send forth an expedition of two hundred thousand men, they now find themselves reduced to as few as forty thousand, and they have come close to the point of yielding obedience to the Romans, though as yet they are not absolutely submissive, because of the hopes which they base on the Germans, who are enemies to the Romans.

7,3,13,n1. On the various names of the river, see Pauly-Wissowa, s.v. "Danuvius."

7,3,13,n2. The Getae.

7,3,13,n3. Getae.

Polyaenus, Stratagems of War 7.38

38. Seuthes

When the Athenians were raiding the coast of the Chersoneus, Seuthes hired 2,000 light troops of the Getae and secretly ordered them to burn and destroy the region and to attack the defenders on the walls, as if they were enemies of the Thracians.  The Athenians disembarked from their ships with high expectations and approached the walls.   Seuthes came out from the walls opposite the Athenians and the Getae acted as though they intended to deploy with the Athenians.  Since they were behind the Athenians and took the rear position, the Thracians from one side, the Getae from the other killed them all.

Click here to read about Ovid's life amongst the Getai


After the country of the Scordisci, along the Ister, comes that of the Triballi and the Mysi ... and also the marshes of that part of what is called Little Scythia which is this side the Ister... These people, as also the Crobyzi and what are called the Troglodytae live above the region about Callatis [now Mangalia on the Black Sea], Tomis [Konstanza], and Ister [Karanasib].


Thucydides 2.100 - they are a Paeonian tribe, part of Sitalces' empire


Livy XXXVIII, 40 - they plunder a Roman army.


Thucydides 2.100 - they live near the Paeonians, and join Sitalces' army.

Livy XXVI, 25 (210 BC)

Phillip (V) "marched into Macedonia..., and thence into Thrace against the Maedi.   This latter people had made a habit of raiding Macedonia whenever they knew that the king was occupied with a foreign war and the kingdom, in consequence, inadequately defended.  So in order to break them he set about the devastation of their land and, simultaneously, the siege of their capital town, Iamphorynna.

When Scopas [the Aetolian chief magistrate] learned that Philip had gone to Thrace and was engaged in operations there, he armed all the Aetolians of military age in preparation for the invasion of Acarnarnia....A message was sent [by the Acarnarnians] to Philip informing him of the dangerous turn events had taken, and he was compelled to give up the war in which he had engaged, though Iamphorynna had already surrendered and other successes had been won.

Livy XXVII, 5 (207 BC - Philip V)

The report of his coming brought to Demetrias delegations from Philip's allies all over the country, with requests for aid against the dangers which were threatening their respective communities either by land or sea... Even from Macedon reports were hardly of a peaceful nature: Scerdilaedus and Pleuratus were up in arms; Thrace was restless, and the Maedi in particular were likely to invade Macedonia if Philip were kept employed by a distant campaign.


Xenophon Anabasis 7.2.32


"It is a repulsive task to describe the savagery and cruelty of the Moesians and their barbarity surpassing that of all other barbarians." Florus II, XXVI. The Moesian War. The Moesi lived in eastern Thrace, in the plains bordering the sea and the Danube.

Strabo, Geography 7.3.2 says that the Mysi lived on either side of the Ister, "these also being Thracians and identical with the people we now call Moesi"

F. Papazoglu, The Central Balkan Tribes in Pre-Roman Times, 1978 pp 391-394

The name of the Moesians usually evokes the image of a great and ancient people. On the one hand, this is because the Moesians were the only tribe in the interior of the Balkan Peninsula which is mentioned in Homer. On the other, the importance of this people is shown by the fact that its name was given to the extensive Roman province which included all the lands on the Danube from the confluence of the Save to the Black Sea.

History, however, has not been kind to the Moesians. Wrapped in obscurity for centuries, they appear on the scene of history at the moment when the Roman danger was already threatening them. In fact, the few data which have come to us from literary sources only throw light on their vain struggle to preserve their independence. The first historical information about the Moesians concerns the defeat inflicted on them by the Romans in the seventies of the first century B.C., and already by 28 B.C., they were subjugated, during the famous campaign of Marcus Crassus, and soon afterwards became part of the Roman empire. Hence their history - if it can be called a history - lasted only a few decades.

The past of the Moesians presents us with a difficult problem: how are we to explain the fact that this people is never once mentioned in either classical or Hellenistic times? Does it mean that the sources which record them have disappeared by chance, or that the Moesians really were, until the appearance of the Roman legions in the Morava Valley, beyond the horizon of the ancient writers? The matter becomes still stranger when we remember that the oesians are attested to in one fine of the Iliad. Let us first see what was known of these earliest Moesians.


The XIIIth book of the Iliad begins with the following passage:

"Now Zeus, after that he had brought the Trojans and Hector to the ships, left them to their toil and endless labour there, but otherwhere again he turned his shining eyes, and looked upon the land of the Thracian horsebreeders, and the Mysians, fierce fighters hand to hand, and the proud Hippemolgoi that drink mare's milk, and the Abioi, the most righteous of men. To Troy no more at all he turned his shining eyes......

Who were these Mysians who fight hand to hand - M?soi ta??a??? - whom the poet mentions together with the Thracians, Hippemolgi and Galactophagi? Were they the Mysians of Asia Minor, neighbours of the Trojans, well-known throughout antiquity, or were they the Moesians who lived in the distant lands by the Istrus?

This was disputed already by the writers of antiquity. In a lengthy excursus inserted in his description of the Getae, Strabo has preserved for us the main lines of the controversy which arose among the Greek scholars about the line of Homer quoted above. Interesting in itself as an example of ancient critisisim and exegesis, this excursus will best introduce us to the actual problem.

After expressing the general conviction that some of the tribes of Asia Minor, including the Moesians, were of Thracian origin - "the Greeks considered the Getae to be Thracians; the Getae lived on both sides of the Istrus as did the Mysians,(Mvsoi), who were themselves Thracians and are now called Moesians (Moisoi); from these Mysians sprang also the Mysians (Mvsoi) who live now among the Lydians, Phrygians and Trojans. And the Phrygians themselves are Briges, a Thracian tribe, as are the Mygdones, the Bebryces, the Medobithyni, the Bithyni, the Thyni, and 1 should say, also the Mariandyni. These all left Europe completely, but some of the Mysians remained ,3 - Strabo turns to Posidonius' interpretation of Homer's lines, which forms the basis of the whole discussion. "It seems to me, writes Strabo, that Posidonius is right in considering that Homer designates the European Mysians (1 mean those in Thracia) when he says ai),rb.z U irdXtv 7.p~7rev 6aue oaetvc~, v6aOw do'iiriroir6Xcov E)pOrCov KaOopc~juevo.z a~av Mvac5v T'4-iXegdXcov. For if it were taken that he meant the Mysians in Asia, the statement would not hang together. If, indeed, in the words "he turned his eyes away from Troy towards the Thracian lands" one were to include the land of the Mysians who are not far from the Troad, but its neighbours, an d who are situated behind it and on both sides of it, and are divided from Thrace by the wide Hellespont, one would be confusing the continents and would not understand the poet's words. For the phrase 7rdXtv 7.p~7rev certainly means "turned back", and if from the Troad, Zeus turned his gaze on those who were in their rear or on their flanks, he would be looking forward and not back at all. And what follows (after these words), proves the same thing - because the poet connected with the Mysians the Hippemolgi, Galactophagi and Abii, who are indeed wagon-dwelling Scythians and Sarmatians. Today these peoples, as well as the Bastarnae, live mixed with the Thracians, especially with those beyond the Istrus, but also with those on this side".

"Posidonius says that the Mysians, out of piety, abstain from eating any living thing and therefore from their flocks also. They feed on honey, milk and cheese and live peacefully, on account of which they are called god-fearing and "capnobatae"." (Some Thracians live apart from women and them the poet has named 'Aowt, i.e., men who do not lead complete lives, for the life which is bereft of woman is only half-life.) "And the Mysians he called "hand-to-hand fighters", thereby meaning that they were indomitable as are all brave warriors. And one should write in the XIIIth book - adds Posidonius - M?soi 7'ayXegdXwp instead of Mva(U ,r'ltyxepetxwp,,. 4

Although in the main he accepts Posidonius' opinion that Homer was not speaking of the Mysians of Asia Minor, but of the Balkan Mysians, Strabo does not agree with Posidonius' suggestion that the spelling of the name itself should be changed in the epic. "To touch a form of writing which has been for so many years established is perhaps superfluous, for it is more probable that they (i.e. the European Moesians) were originally called Mvsoi and that they got their present name later". As regards the term Uwt, Strabo is of '.'c opinion that it is more applicable to men who were homeless, living in wagons, than to those who were unmarried. For it is well known that the Thracians were unbridled in many things, including their attitude to women. Strabo quotes evidence that the Getae had ten or more wives and that a man who had only a few was considered poor and miserable. The idea that those who live without women are god-fearing and ', capnobatae" is in contradiction to the common conception, for all consider that it is women who lead men to the worship of the gods.

Then Strabo continues:

"Such problems may rightly be raised in connection with what thepoet says about the Mysians and the proud Hippemolgi. Yet what Apollodorus said in the preface (7rpooigtov) to Book 11 of his work "On ships" can in no way be said". Apollodorus, whom Strabo here brings into the discussion, had a quite different opinion as to the historical value of the above-quoted lines of Homer. He agrees with Eratosthenes, who considered that the Hippemolgi, Galactophagi and Abii were imaginary folk, in making little of the geographical knowledge of Homer and other ancient writers. Strabo gives at great length all the examples of the "ignorance" of distant parts with which Eratosthenes and Apollodorus reproach the poet of the Iliad, Hesiod, Hecataeus and a whole series of ancient authors, and concludes: It is true that the later Greeks had more experience and knew remote lands better than the ancients, but Apollodorus and Eratosthenes exaggerate, and in the case of Homer attribute things to him because they themselves do not know a great deal.'

Strabo now passes on to a confrontation of the two points of view. "We have spoken of the Thracians and of the " M?soi (.~v r'a'uclAaxwv Kat i-n7r77MoX-I<.~v, -yaXaKroodywv ffliwv re, btKawrdrwv dvop(.~7rwv", in the desire to compare what 1 and Posidonius have said with what they (i.e. Apollodorus and Eratosthenes) say". They say that the poet does not mention the Scythians, but invents some nonexistent righteous people, the proud Hippemolgi and the virtuous Galactophagi. With this assertion Apollodorus and Eratosthenes display their ignorance. "Were not" asks Strabo, "peoples who lived beyond the Mysians, Thracians and Getae also hippemolgi, galactophagi and abii? 6 They exist even today and are known as bgd~otKot 7 and nomads, they Eve on small livestock, on milk and cheese, especially mare's milk, do not know anything of accumulating wealth, or of trade, except by barter---. Strabo quotes examples from which it is to be seen that Homer really had the Scythians in mind. Hesiod directly calls the Scythians "hippemolgi". Other ancient poets and historians have also known of the singular way of life of this people, who in their simplicity and poverty were very honourable. All this shows that Homer did not invent the "galactophagi" and "abii", but that all the earlier writers considered that nomads who dwelt far away from other peoples led just such a simple life, and that the epithets "hippemolgi, galactophagi and abii" applied to them.

F. Papazoglu, The Central Balkan Tribes in Pre-Roman Times, 1978, pp 417-419

Dio begins his survey of Crassus' expedition with a temporal qualification -"at the time when this happened" - which would in itself be sufficient, did not the previous passage speak first of the events of 29 B.C., and then of those of 30.87 However, it is now established that Crassus crossed into Macedonia and set out to war with the Bastarnae in the spring of 29.88 According to Dio's introductory sentence, Crassus made war "on the Dacians and the Bastarnae", Livy's periochae note war "against the Bastarnae, Moesians and other tribes", and war "against the Thracians", while in the fasti triumphales mention is made of his triumph "over the Thracians and the Getae".89 Dio in his further account does not mention the Dacians again, which shows that in this sentence, which does not derive directly from the source, he was using a term usual in his time. 90 What is much more unusual, and more difficult to explain, is the fact that in the fasti tritimphales there is no mention of either the Bastarnae or the Moesians. But let us return for the present to Dio's account of the course of the war.

"The Bastarnae, who are rightly considered Scythians, then crossed the Danube and conquered Moesia, which is opposite their own country, and after that the Triballi, who border on Moesia, and the Dardanians who live in their country (i.e. of the Triballi). As long as they were so doing, they had no dealings with the Romans; but when they crossed Mount Haemus and invaded the land of the Thracian Dentheletae, who were allies of Rome, Crassus, partly because he wished to protect Sita, the king of the Dentheletae, who was blind, but mainly because he feared for Macedonia, set out against them and, terrifying them by his very approach, drove them out of the country without a struggle. Thereupon, when they were returning to their own homes, Crassus, following them, took what was known as Segetica (7~v Ze lertK~v KaXoviAdvnv) and invaded Moesia (et'oz r~v Mvai6a). He ravaged the land and with his advance-troops approached a certain fortified place, but was at first unsuccessful (for the Moesians, thinking that there were no more of the enemy, came out of the fortifications). When, however, he came to the support of these troops with the rest of the army, Crassus not only vanquished the defenders but, surrounding them, took the fortress. While he was doing so, the Bastarnae stopped in their flight and stayed by the river Kedros (7rpbR rCp K~6py 7ro,rapQ), waiting to see what would happen. And when, after defeating the Moesians, Crassus turned on them, they sent envoys to dissuade him from pursuing them, for they had, they said, done no harm to the Romans".

The battles with the Bastarnae, of which an account follows, do not greatly interest us here, although they took place on Moesian soil, near the confluence of the Kedros with the Danube (? ). We shall only draw attention to the circumstance that Crassus was aided in his conquest of the Bastarnae by the Getic king Rholes, one of a number of rulers who are mentioned at this time in Daco-Getic lands.---Aftervanquishing the Bastarnae, Crassus again turned on the Moesians and subjugated all except a very small number of them, some by persuasion, others by threats, and some by the use of force, not without effort and danger. And then, as it was already winter, he withdrew, but suffered much from the cold and still more from the Thracians, through whose land, considered friendly, he returned. Therefore he thought he ought to be satisfied with what he had achieved. The decisions as to the sacrifices and the celebration of the victory had already been announced (in Rome), regarding not only Caesar but also him. However, as soon as the Roman army moved away, the Bastarnae again invaded the country of the Dentheletae to punish them for calling the Romans to their aid. This drove Crassus to return hastily to the struggle. Overcoming the Bastarnae, "as he had again taken up arms, he sought to avenge himself on the Thracians who had harassed him when he was returning from Moesia; it had already been rumoured that they were budding fortifications and preparing for war. He vanquished the Maedi and the Serdi in a number of battles, and subjugated them, not without difficulty, after ordering the hands of captives to be cut off. All the other lands, except the land of the Odrysae, he overran and ravaged".  But this was still not the end of his expedition. Called to the aid of Rholes, who had been attacked by another Getic king, Dapyx, he moved north in the direction of the Danube and there won several victories over the Getae. Among other things, he took the fortress of Genucla, where the Roman standards taken by the Bastarnae from the ill-fated and cowardly Antonius Hybrida were kept. "This he did in the land of the Getae, and as for the Moesians, his officers re-took the districts which had formerly been conquered and which had in the meantime revolted; he himself fought the Artacii and some others who had not been subjugated before and who wore still unwilling to admit his authority and were therefore not only puffed up with self-confidence but also challenged others to resist and rebel; these he also mastered, partly by force, for the resistance was fairly strong, and partly by the fear which his treatment of captives inspired".

The subjugation of the proud and freedom-loving Artacii and their neighbours concluded, according to Dio, the two-years' warfare of Marcus Crassus in Thrace, Moesia, and the land of the Getae. When in 29 he set out to defend the blind king of the Dentheletae, Crassus himself could certainly hardly have imagined that this campaign of his would assume such proportions. One action led to another and thus the warlike, determined and cruel Roman commander crossed and re-crossed the whole northern part of the Balkan Peninsula. It was a real war of conquest, in the course of which many new regions were subjugated. The Roman legions had not set foot in western Moesia since Curio's time, and Lucullus' successes in eastern Moesia, as far as they led to the formation of any "alliance with the Moesian tribes, had been annulled by Hybrida's fatal activities. The growing strength of the Dacian state under Burebista had in any case removed the last traces of Roman influence in the area north of the Balkan Mountains. It is clear from what Dio says at the beginning of the passage..."

L. Annaeus Florus Book II (Loeb)

XXVI. The Moesian War.

IT is a repulsive task to describe the savagery and cruelty of the Moesians and their barbarity surpassing that of all other barbarians. One of their leaders , after calling for silence, exclaimed in front of the host, Who are you? " And when the reply was given, We are Romans, lords of the world," "So you will be." was the answer, "if you conquer us." Marcus Crassus accepted the omen. The Moesians immediately sacrificed a horse in front of the army and made a vow that they would offer up and feed upon the vitals of the slaughtered leaders of their enemies. I can well believe that the gods heard their boast, for they would not even endure the sound of our trumpets. No little terror was inspired in the barbarians by the centurion Cornidius, a man of rather barbarous stupidity, which, however, was not without effect upon men of similar character; carrying on the top of his helmet a pan of coals which were fanned by the movement of his body, he scattered flame from his head, which had the appearance of being on fire.

XXVII. The Thracian War.

THOUGH the Thracians had often revolted before, their most serious rising had taken place now under King Rhoemetalcis. He had accustomed the barbarians to the use of military standards and discipline and even of Roman weapons. Thoroughly subdued by Piso, they showed their mad rage even in captivity; for they punished their own savagery by trying to bite through their fetters.

Plutarch, Theseus, 5

On a colouful note, Papazoglu draws attention to the hairstyle worn by the Thracian Abantes, as being apparently the same as the Moesians and some Arab tribes (taken from Plutarch, Life of Theseus. 5). The front of the head was apparently shaved (in the case of the Abantes, in order to prevent the enemy getting a ready hold in battle - presumably similar in style to the hair worn by the woodland Ottawa tribe of the North American Great Lakes region?):    'The Abantes' adds Plutarch, were the first people to cut their hair in this fashion; they had not learnt it from the Arabians, as some think, nor did they imitate the Moesians, but did it because they were hand-to-hand fighters - to avoid giving the enemy the chance to sieze them by the hair." From Fanula Papazoglu, The Central Balkan Tribes in Pre-Roman Times. Triballi, Autariatae, Dardanians, Scordisci and Moesians. Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1978, p.460.   This information kindly supplied by David Karunanithy.   It seems that Prof Fol has misinterpreted this passage when he says in Ancient Thrace that the Moesians (not the Abantes) were famous hand-to-hand fighters.


Herodotus VIII, 78


Strabo, Geography 7.3.2 says that the Mysi lived on either side of the Ister, "these also being Thracians and identical with the people we now call Moesi"


Herodotus IV, 93 - they live near Apollonia or Messembria, and submit to Xerxes


In Aristophanes’ Archarnanians, 170, the Odomanti are described as "the nastiest tribe in Thrace". They are mentioned in Thucydides 5.6.2 as useful Athenian allies and mercenaries. They lived near Amphipolis.

Herodotus VII, 111

Thucydides 5.6.2 - Cleon asks Polles, king of the Odomantians to provide a mecenary force.

Aristophanes Archarnians, 130-170

Herald  Theorus, lately come from Poobah!

Theorus Present!

Dicaeopolis  And yet another phony is announced.

Theorus  We wouldn't have stayed in Thrace so very long-

Dicaeopolis If you hadn't drawn some pretty hefty paychecks.

Theorus -but the whole of Thrace was shoulder-deep in snow, and all the rivers froze at the very same time, when Theognis' play was leaving you all cold. I stayed on duty, drinking with the Poohbah, and I must say he's very pro-Athenian. He actually has the hots for you. His walls are plastered over with Men of Athens pinups.

His son, the one we'd made a citizen, kept pining to be a genuine Greek by blood, and begged his dad to send us aid and succor. Poohbah agreed, and swore he'd send an army so big that all Athenians would have to say,  "what a giant swarm of locusts heads our way!"

Dicaeolpolis May lightning strike me if I believe a word of what you've said here, except the locust part.

Theorus May I present his gift: some mercenaries, the nastiest tribe in Thrace.

Dicaeopolis  That's plain enough.

Theorus Come forward, Thracians that the Poobah sent.

Dicaeopolis  The hell is this?

Theorus The army of Odomanti.

Dicaeopolis  Odomanti my ass. What's this supposed to be? Who chopped the Odomantians' foreskins off?

Theorus   A hundred bucks a day for each of them, they'll rape the whole of Boeotia with their spears.

Dicaeopolis  A hundred a day for guys without a foreskin? The men who row our ships and guard our polis would yell about that! Hey, dammit! Now I'm done for: the Odomantians have swiped my lunch!

Hey, drop that sandwich!

Theorus  Wait, you idiot, don't rush them when they're in a feeding frenzy!

Dicaeopolis  Oh Magistrates, do you let me suffer this in my own polis, at the hands of barbarians? 1 move that the Assembly be adjourned  and the subject of Thracian pay be tabled. I say I felt a drop of rain, a sign from Zeus.


Map 2: Thrace and Thracian Tribal areas

map.jpg (97856 bytes)



The Odrysae was the most powerful Thracian tribe, the only one to briefly unite all the others. Most Thracian kings mentioned in ancient texts were Odrysian kings. They were based in the central Thracian plain. Their united Thracian army of 150,000 men was about one third cavalry. Forces of mercenary Odrysians include

"a force of Odrysians, about two hundred horsemen and about three hundred peltasts, came… as allies from Seuthes across the strait" (Xenophon Hellenica 3.2.2)
and "3,000 free Thracians were under their own commander…Cotys, son of Seuthes, king of the tribe of the Odrysae, had arrived at Citium with 1,000 picked cavalry and about an equal number of infantry" Livy XLII.52 (168 BC)

In 429 BC " The empire of the Odrysians extended along the seaboard from Abdera to the mouth of the Danube in the Euxine… The tribute from all the barbarian districts and the Hellenic cities, taking what they brought in under Seuthes, the successor of Sitalces, who raised it to its greatest height, amounted to about four hundred talents in gold and silver… It was thus a very powerful kingdom; in revenue and general prosperity surpassing all in Europe between the Ionian Gulf and the Euxine, and in numbers and military resources coming decidedly next to the Scythians, with whom indeed no people in Europe can bear comparison,... so that the whole [of Sitalces' army] is said to have formed a grand total of a hundred and fifty thousand. Most of this was infantry, though there was about a third cavalry, furnished principally by the Odrysians themselves and next to them by the Getae. The most warlike of the infantry were the independent swordsmen who came down from Rhodope; the rest of the mixed multitude that followed him being chiefly formidable by their numbers." (Thucydides 2.100)

Thucydides 2.100 - The Odrysian invasion of Macedonia:

It was thus a very powerful kingdom; in revenue and general prosperity surpassing all in Europe between the Ionian Gulf and the Euxine, and in numbers and military resources coming decidedly next to the Scythians, with whom indeed no people in Europe can bear comparison, there not being even in Asia any nation singly a match for them if unanimous, though of course they are not on a level with other races in general intelligence and the arts of civilized life.

Herodotus IV, 92-96

Herodotus, Histories

Marching thence, he came to a second river, called the Artiscus, which flows through the country of the Odrysians. Here he fixed upon a certain spot, where every one of his soldiers should throw a stone as he passed by. When his orders were obeyed, Darius continued his march, leaving behind him great hills formed of the stones cast by his troops.

Polybius XXIII, 8

Polybius XXVII, 12

Strabo, Geography 7 f47

BizyeBizye (now Viza) was the home of King Tereus (in the story of Philomena and Procne) and was the residence of the last Thracian dynasty, which was of the stock of the Odrysae. was the royal residence of the Astae.  The term "Odrysae" is applied by some to all the peoples living above the seaboard from the Hebrus and Cypsela as far as Odessus (now Varna) - the peoples over whom Amadocus, Cersobleptes, Berisades, Seuthes, and Cotys reigned as kings.

Valerius Flaccus V, 95-100

While Mopsus marvels at the omen, he sees the barrow far away at the limit of the strand, and veiling his head pours wine and calls upon the ghost.  Moreover, the Odrysian chief begins in order due to the chant that shall appease the spirit they have seen, and strikes his echoing lyre, singing the while, and bequeaths a name to the sands.

The following Anabasis extracts are from Perseus Project pages:

Xenophon Anabasis 7.2.32
[7.2.32] Then Seuthes spoke as follows: "Maesades was my father, and his realm embraced the Melanditae, the Thynians, and the Tranipsae. Now when the affairs of the Odrysians fell into a bad state, my father was driven out of this country, and thereafter sickened and died, while I, the son, was brought up as an orphan at the court of Medocus, the present king.

Xenophon Anabasis 7.3.16
[7.3.16] When they had reached his doors and were about to go in to dinner, there stood a certain Heracleides, of Maroneia;1 this fellow came up to each single one of the guests who, as he imagined, were able to make a present to Seuthes, first of all to some people of Parium who had come to arrange2 a friendship with Medocus, the king of the Odrysians, and brought gifts with them for him and his wife; to them Heracleides said that Medocus was a twelve days' journey inland from the sea, while Seuthes, now that he had got this army, would be master upon the coast.

7,3,16,n1. A Greek city in Thrace.

7,3,16,n2. Through the mediation of Seuthes; cp. Xen. Anab. 7.2.32-4.

Xenophon Anabasis 7.4.21
[7.4.21] On the next day, accordingly, Seuthes gave over the hostages--men already elderly and the most powerful, so it was said, of the mountaineers--and came himself with his troops. Now by this time Seuthes had a force quite three times as large as before; for many of the Odrysians, hearing what success Seuthes was enjoying, came down from the upper country to take service with him.

Xenophon Anabasis 7.5.15
[7.5.15] By that time Seuthes had an army larger than the Greek army; for more and still more of the Odrysians had come down from the interior, and the peoples that from time to time were reduced to obedience would join in the campaign. And they went into camp on the plain above Selymbria, at a distance of about thirty stadia from the coast.

Xenophon Hellenica 3.2.2

[3.2.2] When these things had taken place, Dercylidas went to Bithynian Thrace and there passed the winter, by no means to the displeasure of Pharnabazus, for the Bithynians were often at war with him. And during most of the time Dercylidas was plundering Bithynia in safety and had provisions in abundance; when, however, a force of Odrysians, about two hundred horsemen and about three hundred peltasts, came to him as allies from Seuthes1 across the strait, these troops, after making a camp about twenty stadia from the Greek army and enclosing it with a palisade, asked Dercylidas for some of his hoplites as a guard for their camp and then sallied forth for booty, and seized many slaves and much property.

3,2,2,n1. King of the Odrysians, who dwelt "across the strait" (i.e., the Bosporus) in Thrace.

Xenophon Hellenica 3.2.5
[3.2.5] As for the latter, when they had accomplished this speedy victory, had slain the Odrysian Thracians who guarded the tents, and recovered all the booty, they departed; so that the Greeks, on coming to the rescue when they learned of the affair, found nothing in the camp except dead bodies stripped bare. But when the Odrysians returned, they first buried their dead, drank a great deal of wine in their honour, and held a horse-race; and then, from that time on making common camp with the Greeks, they continued to plunder Bithynia and lay it waste with fire.

Xenophon Hellenica 4.8.26
[4.8.26] Accordingly he sailed to the Hellespont, and, since there was no adversary there, thought that he could accomplish some useful service for his state. In the first place, therefore, learning that Amedocus, the king of the Odrysians, and Seuthes, the ruler of the coast region, were at variance, he reconciled them to one another and made them friends and allies of the Athenians, thinking that if they were friendly, the Greek cities situated on the Thracian coast would also show a greater inclination towards the Athenians.

Xenophon On the Art of Horsemanship 8.6

[8.6] Going down hill should first be taught on soft ground; and in the end, when the horse gets used to this, he will canter down more readily than up hill. If some fear that horses may put out their shoulders by being ridden down hill, they may take comfort when they understand that the Persians and Odrysians all ride races down hill, and yet keep their horses just as sound as the Greeks.

Polyaenus Stratagems 3.9.60

Iphicrates carried off a great deal of booty from Odrysian territory.  A large number of Odrysians was pursuing him.  Having few horsemen, he gave them burning torches and told them to charge the enemy.  The Odrysians' horses, unable to endure the unfamiliar sight of the flame, turned around and fled.


The Paeonians may or may not have been a Thracian tribe.  Click here to go to the Paionian page (which also includes the Agrianians).


Herodotus VII, 111 - Xerxes marches through their territory


Herodotus VII, 111 - Xerxes marches through their territory

Appian, The Civil Wars, IV, XI, 87-88: Octavian and Antony "seized the  passes of the Corpilans and the Sapaeans, tribes under the rule of Rhaseupolis, where lies the only known route of travel from Asia to Europe."


Herodotus VII, 111 - Xerxes marches through their territory.


Herodotus IV, 93 - they live near Apollonia or Messembria, and submit to Xerxes


Serdica, (now Sofia). was named after the Serdi.  The centre of the modern city is still laid out much as it was in Roman times.  You can view the old city walls underground in a pedestrian underpass.


Thucydides 2.100 - Sitalces marches past them; they live between the Paeonians and Maedi.


The Triballi, Autariatae, Dardanians, Scordisci, and MoesiansKey to map above

Above:   F. Papazoglu, The Central Balkan Tribes in Pre-Roman Times, 1978 -map from back page.

Skordiski - an Illyrian tribe

A note in the Penguin translation of Livy (p 482) says that the Scordisci were "a Celtic tribe, now intermingled with Illyrians and Thracians, living where the river Sava joins the Danube."

Strabo Geography 7.5.12 (Perseus)

The Scordisci lived along the Ister and were divided into two tribes called the Greater Scordisci and the Little Scordisci.  The former lived between two rivers that empty into the Ister - the Noarus, which flows past Segestica, and the Margus [now the Morava] (by some called the Bargus), whereas the Little Scordisci lived on the far side of this river, and their territory bordered on that of the Triballi and Mysi.  The Scordisci also held some of the islands; and they increased to such an extent that they advanced as far as the Illyrian, Paeonian, and Thracian mountains; accordingly, they also took possession of most of the islands of the Ister.  And they had two cities - Heorta and Carpedenun.


Herodotus V, 3 - The Trausi have the same customs as other Thracians except for births and deaths.

... the Trausi follow the normal practices of Thracians in general, except in one particular - their behaviour, namely, on the occasion of a birth or a death. When a baby is born the family sits round and mourns at the thought of the sufferings the infant must endure now that it has entered the world, and goes through. the whole catalogue of human sorrows; but when somebody dies, they bury him with merriment and rejoicing, and point out how happy he now is and how many miseries he has at last escaped.

Livy 38, 41 - they attack a Roman army, but are defeated


Xenophon (Anabasis VII, 2) praises the Thyni: "Teres, with a large army, was said to have had his baggage train taken from him by the natives, who are called Thyni and are supposed to be the most dangerous of all the tribes, especially at night fighting." The Thyni lived in south-eastern Thrace and included clubs amongst their weapons.

Xenophon Anabasis VII, 2

Xenophon Anabasis 7.2.32

Xenophon Anabasis 7.4.2
[7.4.2] Then he dispatched Heracleides to Perinthus to sell the booty, so that he might get money to pay the soldiers with; while he himself and the Greeks encamped on the plain of the Thynians, the inhabitants abandoning their homes and fleeing to the mountains.

Bevan, Vol 1, p81

[The Thynians and Bithynians] were Thracian immigrants from the opposite shore, and had the same characteristics as their European cousins, savage hardihood, wild abandonment to the frenzy of religion and war. The terror of them kept the Greeks from making any settlement along their coast from Calchdon to Heraclea, and woe betide any mariner driven there.

Herodotus Histories 1.28.1 (Loeb)

[1.28.1] As time went on, Croesus subjugated almost all the nations west of the Halys; for except the Cilicians and Lycians, all the rest Croesus held subject under him. These were the Lydians, Phrygians, Mysians, Mariandynians, Chalybes, Paphlagonians, the Thracian Thynians and Bithynians, Carians, Ionians, Dorians, Aeolians, and Pamphylians;


Thucydides 2.100: They live near the Triballi and march with Sitalces on Macedonia


(Text From Evgeni Paunov's article): The Tralles (Trwcaleiz, Trwall(i)oi) are mentioned by Plutarch in the biography of Agesilaus of Sparta. He wrote that in 395/4 BC, returning from Asia Minor on a road from the Hellespont to Thessaly, he passed by some places inhabited and ruled by a Thracian tribe with this name. There are various readings of Plutarch's original text -Trwcaleiz, Tralleiz, trwseiz. On the other hand Titus Livius wrote that Tralles are only an Illyrian tribe. Stephanus Byzantinus has given us the name of a town of the Tralles in Illyria: Bolouroz, poliz tvn en Illuria Trallewn. A village with similar name Bellouroz, is mentioned by Procopius as being in the area of the Rhodopes mountains. Mercenaries of Tralles participated in the eastern anabasis of Alexander the Great [see below] and they founded a town named Tralleis in Caria, in Asia Minor. The Tralles are also mentioned in a late second century AD Greek inscription on a votive stone recently found at the ancient town of Neinae, between Skaptopara and Petra, on the left bank of the middle reaches of the Strymon (Struma)... The tribal area has been suggested as being near the modern Bulgarian-Greek border on the southern slopes of the Rhodopes and Pirin mountain, and between the rivers Nestus (Mesta) and Strymon (Struma).

Plutarch, Agesilaus 16

Having passed the Hellespont, he [Agesilaus] marched by land through Thrace, not begging or entreating a passage anywhere, only he sent his messengers to them to demand whether they would let him pass as a friend or as an enemy. All the rest received him as a friend, and assisted him on his journey. But the Trallians, to whom Xerxes is also said to have given money, demanded a price of him, namely one hundred talents of silver and one hundred women. Agesilaus in scorn asked why they were not ready to receive them? He marched on, and finding the Trallians in arms to oppose him, fought them, and slew great numbers of them.

Diodorus Historical Library 17.65.1 (Loeb)

[17.65.1] After the king had marched out of Babylon and while he was still on the road, there came to him, sent by Antipater, five hundred Macedonian cavalry and six thousand infantry, six hundred Thracian cavalry and three thousand five hundred Trallians, and from the Peloponnese four thousand infantry and little less than a thousand cavalry.1 From Macedonia also came fifty sons of the king’s Friends sent by their fathers to serve as bodyguards.

17,65,1,n1. Curtius 5.1.39-42 gives the same figures, with the exception of specifying 380 cavalry. These troops must have been sent by Antipater before trouble was anticipated in Greece. They had been recruited by Amyntas (chap. 49.1; Curtius 5.1.40). The Trallians were a Thracian people.

Livy The History of Rome XXXIII.8

The Macedonian phalanx consisted of 16,000 men, the flower of the fighting men of that kingdom.  Besides these, there were 2,000 equipped with light shields, whom they call peltasts, and an equal number - 2,000, that is, in each contingent - from Thrace and Illyria (of the tribe called the Tralles); there were also auxiliary mercenaries, a mixture of many races, numbering about 1,500, and 2,000 cavalry.


Xenophon Anabasis 7.2.32

Trausi - see Thrausi


Thucydides 2.100: They live near the Triballi and march with Sitalces on Macedonia


F. Papazoglu, The Central Balkan Tribes in Pre-Roman Times, 1978, p9:

"The Triballi lived deep in the interior of the Balkan Peninsula, between the lower course of the Southern Morava and the Isker , far from the civilising influences of the Hellenised shores of the Aegean and the Black Sea. Nevertheless, references to them in the second half of the fifth century B.C. show that they were then already fairly well-known to the Greeks. It is not clear by what channels the Greeks came into touch with this distant people, but it cannot be attributed to mere chance that the earliest mentions of them are linked with Athens. By the middle of the fifth century there must have been enough Triballian slaves in Athens for the name to signify in Athenian eyes the personification of primitiveness, savagery, strange customs and outlandish appearance. These slaves may have reached Athens either via the Thracian ports, which were members of the Delian League, or via the Odrysian kingdom, which also maintained relationships of friendship and alliance with Athens. It is not impossible, moreover, that already by that time the Triballi, attracted by the riches of the Greek Aegean colonies, were undertaking far-reaching plundering expeditions (as we know they did in the fourth century), and this was the reason for their being spoken and written about.

The time when the Greek writers first began to mention the Triballi coincides, as far as we can see, with the period of their greatest prosperity. Their history, however, is of short duration. They disappear from the stage in the troubled times after the death of Alexander which culminated in the Celtic catastrophe. The few scattered references to them in later times show that the memory of the Triballi was preserved as the once greatest and most powerful tribe in the central region of the Balkans. This explains why, many centuries later, learned Byzantine writers, seeking the ancient name for the Serbs, chose the term Triballi as the most likely."

Arrian, History of Alexander - Alexander defeats the Triballi

Thucydides 2.100 - their role in the great Thracian invasion

Thucydides IV, 101

Diodorus Siculus XV. 36. 1-5 (376/5 BC) - the Triballi defeat the Abderans.

... in Thrace the Triballians, suffering from a famine, moved in full force into territory beyond their borders and obtained food from the land not their own.  More thatn thirty thousand invaded the adjacent part of Thrace and ravaged with impunity the territory of Abdera; and after seizing a large quantity of booty they were making their way homeward in a contmptuous and disorderly fashion when the inhabitants of Abdera took the field in full force against them and slew more than two thousand of them as they straggled in disorder homewards.  The barbarians then, enraged at what had happened and wishing to avenge themselves upon the Abderites, again invaded their land.  The victors in the earlier conflict, being elated by their success and aided by the presence of the Thracians of the neighbouring region, who had sent out a body of men to assist them, drew up their lines opposite the barbarians.  A stubborn battle took place, and since the Thracians suddenly changed sides, the Abderites, now left to fight alone and surrounded by the superior number of the barbarians, were butchered almost to a man, as many as took part in the fight.  But just after the Abderites had suffered so great a disaster and were on the point of being besieged, Chabrias the Athenian suddenly appeared with troops and snatched them out of their perils.  He drove the barbarians from the country, and, after leaving a considerable garrison in the city, was himself assasinated by certain persons.

1.  Other sources, and Diordorus himself, state that Chabrias died eighteen years later in Chios.

Aristotle Topica 2.11

In the same way, also, it is honourable in some places to sacrifice one’s father, for example amongst the Triballi,111 but absolutely it is not honourable. (Or is a relativity to persons rather than places indicated here? For it makes no difference where they may be; for, wherever they are, it will be honourable in their eyes because they are Triballi.)

Demosthenes Against Conon 39 (Loeb)

[54.39] The contempt, however, which this fellow feels for all sacred things I must tell you about; for I have been forced to make inquiry. For I hear, then, men of the jury, that a certain Bacchius, who was condemned to death in your court, and Aristocrates, the man with the bad eyes, and certain others of the same stamp, and with them this man Conon, were intimates when they were youths, and bore the nickname Triballi1; and that these men used to devour the food set out for Hecate2 and to gather up on each occasion for their dinner with one another the testicles of the pigs which are offered for purification when the assembly convenes,3 and that they thought less of swearing and perjuring themselves than of anything else in the world.

54,39,n1. The Triballi were a wild Thracian people. Many parallels for the use of the name to denote a club of lawless youths at Athens might be cited. Sandys refers to the Mohock club of eighteenth century London.

Strabo Geography 7.3.13 (Loeb) - the Triballi respond to pressure from migrating tribes

Polyaenus Stragems of War 46.8

Philip II (Alexander's father) was defeated and pursued by the Triballi, so it is likely that the following passage refers to this event:

Philip was pursued by the Thracians.  He ordered the rear rank, when the trumpeter sounded to retreat, to lower its spears and remain in place, and the rest to retreat, in order to stop the enemy's pursuers and to provide a head start for his own men.

Polyaenus Stratagems of War 4.2.13

When Philip was being pursued by the Thracians, he commanded them in the rear, when the trumpeter signaled to flee, to stand their ground as a cover, and the others to flee, so that he might stop the pursuing enemy and allow his own men to get a head start on the road.

Polyaenus Stratagems of War 44 Scythians

Intending to fight a battle with the Triballi, the Scythians ordered the farmers and horse herders to show from a distance charging herds of horses, when they perceived that the Scythians had joined battle with the enemy.  The horse herders made their display and the Triballi, after seeing at a distance a large number of men and horses, dust stirred up, and a shout raised, thought that the upper Scythians had come as allies and fled in fear.

Excerpts of Polyaenus Stratagems of War 15.8 Illusion of number

About to fight a battle with the Triballi, the Skythians ordered the farmers and horse-keepers, when they perceived that the Skythians were in battle, to appear in the distance driving their herds of horses.  The enemy saw them, imagined a force of cavalry and infantry, and fled.

Demosthenes, Speeches 11-20: speech 18, section 43 [On the Crown]

The rest of the Greeks, though similarly overreached and disappointed, observed the peace; and yet in a sense the war against them had already begun;for when Philip was moving hither and thither, subduing Illyrians and Triballians, and some Greeks as well, when he was gradually getting control of large military resources, and when certain Greek citizens, including Aeschines, were availing themselves of the liberty of the peace to visit Macedonia and take bribes, all these movements were really acts of war upon the states against which Philip was making his preparations.


Diodorus Siculus, Library: book 15, chapter 36, section 1

During their term of office, in Thrace the Triballians, suffering from a famine, moved in full force into territory beyond their borders and obtained food from the land not their own.


Diodorus Siculus, Library: book 17, chapter 17, section 4

There were found to be, of infantry, twelve thousand Macedonians, seven thousand allies, and five thousand mercenaries, all of whom were under the command of Parmenion. [4] Odrysians, Triballians, and Illyrians accompanied him to the number of seven thousand; and of archers and the so-called Agrianians one thousand, making up a total of thirty-two thousand foot soldiers. Of cavalry there were eighteen hundred Macedonians, commanded by Philotas son of Parmenion; eighteen hundred Thessalians, commanded by Callas son of Harpalus; six hundred from the rest of Greece under the command of Erigyius; and nine hundred Thracian and Paeonian scouts with Cassander in command, making a total of forty-five hundred cavalry. These were the men who crossed with Alexander to Asia.5 [5] The soldiers who were left behind in Europe under the command of Antipater numbered twelve thousand foot and fifteen hundred horse.6


Isocrates, Speeches and Letters (ed. George Norlin): speech 8, section 50 [On the Peace]

We glory and take great pride in being better born than the rest but we are readier to share this noble birth right with any who desire it than are the Triballians or the Leucanians to share their ignoble origin.


Isocrates, Speeches and Letters (ed. George Norlin): speech 12, section 227 [Panathenaicus]

But if I appear to some to use a comparison which is not in keeping with the reputation of the Spartans, I discard this and instance the Triballians, who, according to what all men say, are of one mind as are no other people on earth, but are bent on destroying not only those who border upon their territory and those who live in their neighborhood but also all others whom they are able to reach.


Strabo, Geography: book 7, chapter 3, section 8

For when Alexander, the son of Philip, on his expedition against the Thracians beyond the Haemus, invaded the country of the Triballians and saw that it extended as far as the Ister and the island of Peuce in the Ister, and that the parts on the far side were held by the Getae, he went as far as that, it is said, but could not disembark upon the island because of scarcity of boats for Syrmus, the king of the Triballi had taken refuge there and resisted his attempts; he did, however, cross over to the country of the Getae, took their city, and returned with all speed to his home land, after receiving gifts from the tribes in question and from Syrmus

Nicolaus of Damascus in his Collection of Strange Customs

Fanula Papazoglu, The Central Balkan Tribes in Pre-Roman Times. Triballi, Autariatae, Dardanians, Scordisci and Moesians. Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1978, p.460:   "Nicolaus of Damascus in his Collection of Strange Customs [Nic. Damas. Mor. Mirab. frag. 116J], says that the Triballi drew up their forces in battle in four ranks [phalanges]: in the first went the weaker, in the second the strongest men, in the third the horsemen and in the last the women, who by their curses and scolding prevented the men from running away. Although phalanges are spoken of, it is clear that there was no question of a regular military formation. The most unusual feature is the point about the weaker men. Were they deliberately exposed to the greatest danger so that they should not fall alive into the hands of the enemy? Of women urging on their husbands and sons and preventing them form leaving the field, we have accounts in the case of many peoples, under various circumstances. The appearance of such women was certainly frequent among tribes which set out on expeditions...It is very probable that Nicolaus of Damascus' note originated in an account of some such expedition as that against Abdera."    (Thanks to David Karunanithy for supplying this quote).

Two other tribes with rather un-Thracian names

Polyaenus, Stratagems 7.22, Cosingas

The Cebrenii and Sucaeboae were Thracian peoples, among whom it was the custom to have priests of Hera as their leaders.  Their priest-leader was Cosingas, who the Thracians would not obey.  Cosingas collected many large wooden ladders and having joinde them together one after the other, he said that he could ascend into heaven to declare to Hera that the Thracians dosbeyed him.   In fear of their leader's ascent into heaven, they begged like stupid, irrational Thracians, and swore on their honour to obey all his commands.

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This page last updated on Monday, 07 January 2002 by Christopher Webber