Where Was Thrace In Ancient Rome

Background of Thrace in Ancient Rome

Thrace was an area located in coastal Eastern Europe and the Balkan Peninsula. It was first inhabited by the Thracians, a non-Indo-European-speaking population. In antiquity, Thrace stretched from the Danube River in the north to the Aegean Sea in the south and from the Black Sea in the east to the Adriatic Sea in the west. It was largely composed of uplands and lowlands, and it was rich in forests, mountains, and mineral resources, making it a highly sought after region throughout its history.
When Rome annexed Thrace in 46 and 29 BCE respectively, they initially respected its autonomy and loose status. Therefore, the Thracian tribes were left to retain their own laws and customs, while Roman citizens in the region enjoyed all the rights and privileges granted by Rome.

Relationships Between Ancient Rome and Thrace

Although Rome was a powerful and influential empire that was able to expand its territories, it found it difficult to completely subdue Thrace, as the region was quite populous and governed by numerous independent tribes. That said, Rome did manage to incorporate Thrace into its provinces firstly by incorporating some of its cities, such as Philippopolis and Nicopolis, into its system of cities.
Rome was also able to subdue Thrace by attaching it to the Province of Achaea, which was managed by the Roman Legatus who was based in the Macedonian port city of Thessalonica. These actions enabled the Roman government to collect taxes, build infrastructure, and secure military power over the region.

Roman Rule in Thrace

During the 1st century BCE and 1st century CE, Thrace was thriving under the rule of Rome. The Roman city of Philippopolis, for example, was home to a diverse population of individuals from various ethnic backgrounds. It was also famous for its role in delivering Roman justice and maintaining law and order over the region.
The Roman presence in Thrace significantly impacted the people’s cultural practices and beliefs. For instance, the cult of Mithras and the cult of Dionysos—two popular cult practices in Thrace—were both affected by the adoption of the Roman pantheon of gods and goddesses. Additionally, the introduction of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity during the Byzantine era of Thrace was also a direct result of Roman rule.

Economy and Trade of Thrace During the Roman Era

The commercial economy of Thrace flourished during Roman times, owing to its strategic location on the Black Sea and Aegean Sea and its access to the lucrative routes that connected Rome to East Asia and the Middle East. This allowed Roman merchants to trade products, such as wheat, oil, wine, and fish, with foreign merchants. As a result, Thrace witnessed the emergence of cities that acted as centres of commerce, such as Philippopolis and Plovdiv.
The presence of Romans in Thrace also had a positive effect on its economy, as Rome invested heavily in improving the region’s infrastructure. Aqueducts and Roman roads were built to facilitate transportation between cities, and Rome introduced its currency, the denarius, which facilitated trade.

Architecture and Art of Thrace in Ancient Rome

Thrace was home to numerous impressive architectural and artistic monuments during the Roman era. It can be noted that many of these monuments have been well-preserved, allowing us a glimpse into the region’s past. One of the most well-known examples is the stronghold of Trimontium, situated near modern day Plovdiv. It is a well-preserved Roman fortress that served as a formidable defensive structure during the Roman era.
Outside of the stronghold, there are several remaining monuments that show the impact of Roman architecture in Thrace. This includes the remains of Roman bathhouses, monuments, and statues found in various cities throughout the region.

Religion and Spirituality in Thrace During the Roman Era

Religion and spirituality played an important role in the daily lives of the people of Thrace during the Roman era. It had been important for many centuries before, but the advent of the Roman Empire brought a new wave of spiritual practices and beliefs, as Rome adopted and merged its own pantheon of gods and goddesses with the Thracians’.
The most popular religion in Thrace during Roman times was the cult of Mithras, which had become quite widespread in the region by the 2nd century CE. This was accompanied by the celebration of feasts, such as the Dionysia and the Saturnalia, which was a winter festival in honour of the god Saturn.

The Impact of Ancient Rome on Thrace

Thrace during the Roman era was an important commercial and political centre that allowed Roman citizens to trade with merchants from other parts of the world. It was also a hugely diverse region with a variety of ethnic groups who had been allowed to retain their autonomy under Roman rule. The Roman administrators in the region had developed a relatively tolerant attitude towards the indigenous religion and culture of the region, which included the introduction of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity during the Byzantine era.
Furthermore, the Romans had invested heavily in improving the infrastructure of Thrace through developments such as the construction of roads and the introduction of their currency. This resulted in the flourishing of the economy and the development of major trading cities throughout the region. Finally, the people of Thrace were exposed to a wide range of artistic and architectural styles brought by the Romans, which were both directly inspired by and distinct from the traditional Thracian culture.

Thrace in Later Genres

The influence of ancient Roman culture and rule over Thrace didn’t end with the fall of Rome. Many later genres such as Byzantine and Ottoman culture, as well as modern cultures, still retain Roman influences to this day. This can be seen in the architectural styles found in Thrace where Byzantine churches, Ottoman mosques, and modern houses all have remnants of their Roman predecessors.
Additionally, Thrace has experienced a resurgence in its spiritual practices, such as the cult of Dionysos, with the practice of the festival of Dionysia still being celebrated today. Furthermore, many of the customs and beliefs of the Thracians that were previously suppressed by the Romans have now been revitalized by the locals.

Thrace During the Age of Migration and War

The Roman era in Thrace witnessed a period of relative peace and stability, however this would soon come to an end when the region was invaded by various warring tribes. In 396 CE, the Goths conquered Thrace, followed by the Huns, the Ostrogoths, and the Avars. During the 7th century, the region became part of the Byzantine Empire, and it experienced a period of growth and prosperity.
This prosperity would soon come to an end in the late 13th century, following the arrival of the Ottoman Turks. The Ottomans would occupy Thrace for the next 500 years, bringing about a period of transition for the region as it was subjected to the influence of Islam.

Thrace Under the Ottoman Empire

Although Thrace remained an autonomous, albeit subject, province of the Ottoman Empire, its inhabitants were still able to enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy. The government provided incentives for the locals to practice their religion and retain their customs. The major cities of Thrace, such as Philippopolis and Plovdiv, served as cultural and economic hubs and were said to be some of the most cosmopolitan cities of the Ottoman Empire.
During this period, Thrace saw significant growth in areas such as trade and architecture. The Ottomans introduced the golden age of Ottoman architecture in Thrace, as well as heavily investing in the development of its commercial economy.

Conclusion of Ottoman Rule

The period of Ottoman rule in Thrace came to an end with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First Balkan War of 1912-1913. After the war, Thrace was divided between Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey, with the region becoming a battleground during the subsequent wars in the Balkans.
Today, while the region is still defined by its historical divisions, Thrace has come to be defined by its unique cultural, religious, and architectural heritage. Although the remnants of Rome’s influence over Thrace cannot be seen to the same extent as before, its presence is still strongly felt as we embark on a journey through this ancient region.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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