Who were the Thracians and what was their place in European prehistory and history ? The purpose of this book is to try to assemble the available evidence for an answer to these questions, even though tentative and often controversial.
Until recent years only a few scholars knew the Thracians as other than barbarian neighbours of the Greeks and, briefly, Romans. The written sources vary greatly in reliability and are usually applicable only to the fringe of Thracian lands. Relatively few Thracian monuments great or small have survived and many have been attributed to other peoples. The Thracians had no written language; their longest inscription, in Greek letters on the bezel of a finger-ring, has still to be satisfactorily deciphered. They are best known, perhaps, through their burials, and it has been much harder to discover how, even where, they lived.
Now archaeology, unevenly but with growing momentum, and aided by a reappraisal of the written sources, especially Herodotos, and by other disciplines, notably linguistics, is rapidly changing the picture. The Thracians are beginning to emerge as a people of great antiquity, who contributed substantially to the foundation and growth of Troy, who in the Later Bronze Age appear as a power to rank with Mycenaean Greece and Hittite Anatolia. Still important in decline, especially in relation to Celts and Scyths, they virtually disappear early in the Christian era.
This quest for the Thracians covers a wide geographical area with variable and uncertain boundaries, and a span of several millennia. I have tried to trace the ancestry, continuity and limits of certain traditions reflected in artefacts of everyday life which, even if some are shared with other peoples, taken together constitute a Thracian identity. Research has made me abandon many preconceived ideas and reach unexpected conclusions which I could only slowly accept. Others may disagree, but at this stage almost all conclusions are tentative and controversy essential to progress.
The present occupiers of Thracian lands have naturally brought different archaeological approaches and priorities. As far as possible, except for ease of geographical location, I have used natural ancient divisions, calling them North, Danubian, South and East Thracian. Moldavia encompasses Romanian and Soviet territories and Aegean Thrace Greek and Turkish ones.
Although often not directed specifically to the Thracians, the relevant multilingual literature is vast. My wife, who has worked equally with me on the research and writing of this book, and I have read and assimilated as much as time, capacity and availability would allow. The bibliographical references, which represent only a very small amount of this, are intended both as source material and a select bibliography, which their own bibliographies will amplify. We have supplemented our reading by extensive travel over many years in the regions concerned, visiting sites and museums and everywhere receiving generous help from archaeologists and other scholars for which we are truly grateful.
In a relatively short book personal fallibility is compounded by the need for compression, inevitably leading to oversimplification and also accounting for the omission of important material, inter alia the history of the Phrygians and of other expatriate groups and individuals.