Last week we launched our first ever free app for iPad (download it now!). Today, Europeana’s Milena Popova introduces you to one of the app’s five themes – ‘Treasures of the Past’, and tells you all about the old Thracians and their finest works.
‘Treasures of the Past’ showcases more than 2,000 archaeological artefacts and orthodox icons provided by the Central Library of the Bulgarian Academy of Science, the Institute of Balkan Studies and Thracology, Bulgaria and Museu Nacional de Arquelogia, Portugal.
The Thracians, Bulgars and Slavs are the three ancestral groups of modern Bulgarians. The Thracians inhabited the Balkan Peninsula from 1234 BC till the early centuries AD. The ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, said that the Thracians were the second-most numerous people in the part of the world known by him (after the Indians), and could be the most powerful were it not for their lack of unity. Divided into numerous tribes, the Thracians didn’t form any lasting political organisation until the Odrysian state was founded in the 5th century BC.
Thracians lived in small villages with simple dwellings and yards for the livestock. However, Thracians despised the work of farming and cattle-breeding and instead spent their time either in war (they made their living from it) or in glorious, continuous celebrations with a lot of wine and dance.
Thracians were regarded as warlike and courageous and many became soldiers of fortune (seeking money or adventure through military exploits) and gladiators. One example is Spartacus, a Thracian gladiator who led a large slave uprising in southern Italy in 73–71 BC. Perhaps the secret to their bravery lay in their strong belief in the afterlife; in particular, that after death they would go down to the underworld where the gods would welcome them and an endless feast would begin. Like other ancient civilisations, men were buried with all their belongings, and with their wife – in fact, the female relatives often fought with each other for this privilege.
However, Thracians appreciated arts at least as much as they loved war. Remember the legends about the talented singer and poet Orpheus who was the king of the Thracian tribe of Cicones? Music and dance were seen by Thracians as a direct path to God, so their wild celebrations – and orgies – were in fact the pagan way of achieving unity with God.
The Thracian admiration for the arts is shown also by the masterpieces of gold and silver (jewellery, weapons, household items, etc.) and the wall-paintings found in the Thracian tombs (of which there are more than 20,000 in Bulgaria).
Among the most beautifully decorated and well-preserved tombs are the ones near the town of Kazanlak and the village of Sveshtari. The monument in Kazanlak dates back to the 4th century BC and has been on the UNESCO protected World Heritage Site list since 1979. It is situated in a region in Central Bulgaria known as the ‘Valley of the Thracian Kings’ where more than 1,000 tombs of kings and members of the Thracian aristocracy can be found. The murals in the Kazanlak tomb are memorable for their splendid horses and especially for the gesture of farewell, in which the seated couple grasp each other’s wrists in a moment of tenderness and equality.
The Thracian tomb of Sveshtari is situated in north-eastern Bulgaria. This 3rd century BC tomb has unique architectural décor. Ten female figures carved in high relief on the walls of the central chamber and the decorations of the lunette in its vault are the only examples of this type found so far in the Thracian lands.
So, download the Europeana Open Culture app and enjoy your journey into Thracian treasures!
Blog by Milena Popova, Europeana.
All images in this blog are from the Institute of Balkan Studies and Thracology, Bulgaria, and are available under a CC-BY licence.