Among the allies of the Trojans in their bitter war to save their city were men from the far off land of Thrace. According to Homer, their chariots were laden with silver and gold and their weapons were also of the yellow metal. A taste for war, for silver and gold, for fine horses; Homer caught features that were to mark the Thracians throughout their history.
Their lands coincide with Bulgaria, western Turkey and northeastern Greece. Archaeologists have dug up ample evidence of their sculpting and metalworking craft; well fashioned bracelets, necklaces, and other adornments of gold that date from before 3000 B.C. Whatever happened to them is not that clear. The Thracians that Homer heard of, the sumptuously armed, hard-driving warriors, appear on the scene a few centuries before the Trojan War, at about 1500 or earlier. They were intruders who must have come from the Indo-European homeland to the east, but from precisely where or under what motives is a mystery.
In northern Bulgaria, a farmer turning soil in his vineyard blundered upon the grave of a Thracian chieftain and he unearthed twenty-seven pounds of gold objects. The leaders of this obscure people went to eternal rest in hardly less luxury than their celebrated contemporaries to the south who were buried in the Tomb of Agamemnon, the Tomb of Clytemnestra, and other magnificent chambers that Heinrich Schliemann found in Mycenaean Greece.
These opulent chieftains eventually got sucked into the churning of peoples when unidentified invaders brought the curtain down on the Bronze Age. When the Iron Age opened, the Greeks referred to the Thracians as barbarians since they spoke an incomprehensible language, spurned urban life, and maintained their age old tribal organization.
Around the middle of the fifth century, the insatiably curious Greek traveler Herodotus visited Thrace and what impressed him most was their religious idiosyncrasies. Like all Greeks, Herodotus worshiped many gods, the more the better, and had a healthy preference for this world over any hypothetically joyous hereafter; hence he was astonished to learn that certain Thracian tribes were not merely monotheists but, no question about, favored the next world.
Another way the Thracians differed from the Greeks was in practicing polygamy. When a man died, his favorite wife would be slaughtered and put in the grave along with him- whether the reverse was true is not clear- since this ensured an accelerated entry into eternal happiness. There was much competition for the honor that friends of the family had to decide which of the widows had been the most beloved. Sometimes more than one qualified. One grave yielded the bodies of a young couple, the woman with a knife in her chest. In an outer chamber was found another woman with a spear through hers.
Herodotus also noted that the Thracians followed the practice, scorned by Greeks, of tatooing themselves, the higher the rank, the more the markings. Thracian sexual behavior, too, was very un-G
. Greek men insisted on virgin brides, whereas Thracian girls were allowed all the sexual partners they wanted. Marriage, to be sure, changed this. Then the boom came down with a vengeance since, among other considerations, a prospective groom had to purchase his bride from her family for a stiff price and no doubt felt fully entitled to exclusive possession.
Any Thracian who could afford it held farming in contempt and considered fighting, principally brigandage, to be the sole proper source of income. It was a natural for them to contract themselves out to Greek commanders. By the fifth century B.C. they were so common a sight on the streets of Athens that Aristophanes could make jokes about them. One of Lysistrata’s comrades in the sex strike tells how she saw a Thracian buck come swaggering into the marketplace.
Nearby a soldier, a Thracian, was shaking wildly his spear like Tereus
in the play,
To frighten a fig-girl while unseen the ruffian filched from her
fruit-trays the ripest away….
For looters, Bulgaria is El Dorado, a vast trove of buried treasure where some graves have harbored gold since at least 4000 B.C. Through the sweep of many centuries, this strategic bridge between Asia and western Europe saw a long succession of invaders, conquerors, soldiers, travelers, traders, and settlers. Thracians, Macedonians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Slavs, Bulgars, Byzantines, and Turks all made their mark—and left artifacts that now mean money in the bank for anyone who succeeds in digging them up.
The royal tombs of the Thracians, built between the fifth and third centuries B.C., are easy marks for looters. The great overgrown beehive mounds of the tombs rise several stories high along roads and in tilled fields. In the 50-mile-long (80 kilometers) Kazanluk Valley, where Kitov works, a thousand such mounds interrupt the rose farms that bloom beneath the peaks of the Sredna Gora and Balkan Mountains. Some 25,000 more mounds are scattered throughout the rest of the country. Many show the fresh scars of illegal excavations—jagged trenches of rusty earth that cut through their tangled cover of grass and brush. Sometimes the looters break into a tomb that was already robbed in antiquity. And sometimes, instead of gold or silver, they find painted vases or bronze sculptures or fragments of murals—any of those things will earn a handsome profit on the antiquities market.
Ancient treasures are property of the state in Bulgaria, and that was once taken very seriously. In 1949 three brothers digging clay for tiles near the town of Panagyurishte uncovered nine ornate vessels of solid gold, buried for more than 2,000 years. The country had fallen under the Soviet heel only a few years before, and the new totalitarian state dealt brutally with anyone who broke the law, so the brothers dutifully turned their find over to the authorities. Back then, no one needed to run the risk of trying to sell such a windfall. Factories that produced everything from canned fruit to Kalashnikovs guaranteed full employment, and the government took care of everything else. So in 1985, when a villager in Rogozen hit a cache of 165 silver and gold vessels while working in his vegetable garden, he too handed the priceless hoard over. Both of these treasures now rest safely in museums. Read More:http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2006/12/gold-rush/williams-text/2