Odrysian kingdom

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Odrysian Kingdom

460 BC–46 AD
Odrysian kingdom under Sitalces
Capital Seuthopolis
Languages Thracian language
Religion Polytheism
Government Monarchy
Historical era Classical Antiquity
 •  Teres 460 BC
 •  Roman conquest 46 AD
Today part of  Bulgaria

The Odrysian Kingdom (/ˈdrɪʒən/; Ancient Greek: Βασίλειον Ὀδρυσῶν) was a state union of Thracian tribes that existed between the 5th century BC and the 1st century AD≥. It consisted mainly of present-day Bulgaria, spreading to parts of Northern Dobruja, parts of Northern Greece and parts of modern-day European Turkey. King Seuthes III later moved the capital to Seuthopolis.[1]

The Odrysians

The Odrysians (Odrysae or Odrusai, Ancient Greek: "Οδρύσαι") were one of the most powerful Thracian tribes that dwelled in the plain of the Hebrus river.[2] This would place the tribe in the modern border area between Southeastern Bulgaria, Northeastern Greece and European Turkey, centered around the city of Edirne.[3][4] The river Artescus[5] passed through their land as well. Xenophon[6] writes that the Odrysians held horse races and drank large amounts of wine after the burial of their dead warriors. Thucydides writes on their custom, practised by most Thracians, of giving gifts for getting things done.[7] Herodotus was the first writer to mention the Odrysae.

The Odrysian Kingdom

Thrace had been part of the Persian empire since 516 BC[8] during the rule of Darius the Great, and was re-subjugated by Mardonius in 492 BC.[9] During Persian rule, it made part of the Skudra satrapy (province).

The Odrysian state was the first Thracian kingdom that acquired power in the region, by the unification[10] of many Thracian tribes under a single ruler, King Teres,[11] probably in the 470s BC after the Persian defeat in Greece.[12]

Extent and control

A golden wreath and ring from the burial of an Odrysian aristocrat at the Golyamata Mogila tumulus

Initially, during the reign of Teres or[13] Sitalces the state was at its zenith and extended from the Black Sea to the east, Danube to the north, the region populated with the tribe called Triballi to the north-west, and the basin of the river Strymon to the south-west and towards the Aegean. Later, its extent changed from present-day Bulgaria, Turkish Thrace and Greece between the Hebrus and the Strymon (except for a coastal strip that was occupied by Greek cities.[14] Sovereignty was never exercised over all of its lands as it varied in relation to tribal politics.

Historian Z.H. Archibald writes:

The Odrysians created the first state entity which superseded the tribal system in the east Balkan peninsula. Their kings were usually known to the outside world as kings of Thrace, although their power did not extend by any means to all Thracian tribes. Even within the confines of their kingdom the nature of royal power remained fluid, its definition subject to the dictates of geography, social relationships, and circumstance

This large territory was populated with a number of Thracian and Daco-Moesian tribes that united under the reign of a common ruler, and began to implement common internal and external policies. These were favorable conditions for overcoming the tribal divisions, which could lead gradually to the formation of a more stable ethnic community. This was not realised and the period of power of the Odrysian kingdom was brief. Despite the attempts of the Odrysian kings to bolster their central power, the separatist tendencies were very strong. Odrysian military strength was based on intra-tribal elites[15] making the kingdom prone to fragmentation. Some tribes were rioting constantly and tried to separate, while others remained outside the borders of the kingdom. At the end of the 5th and the beginning of the 4th century BC, as a result of conflicts, the Odrysian kingdom split into three parts.[16] The political and military decline continued, while Macedonia was rising as a dangerous and ambitious neighbour.[17]


According to the Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides, a royal dynasty emerged from among the Odrysian tribe in Thrace around the end of the 5th century BC, which came to dominate much of the area and peoples between the Danube and the Aegean for the next century. Later writers, royal coin issues, and inscriptions indicate the survival of this dynasty into the early 1st century AD, although its overt political influence declined progressively first under Persian, Macedonian, later Roman, encroachment. Despite their demise, the period of Odrysian rule was of decisive importance for the future character of south-eastern Europe, under the Roman Empire and beyond.

Teres' son, Sitalces, proved to be a good military leader, forcing the tribes that defected the alliance to acknowledge his sovereignty. The rich state that spread from the Danube to the Aegean built roads to develop trade and built a powerful army. In 429 BC, Sitalces allied himself with the Athenians[18] and organized a massive campaign against the Macedonians, with a vast army from independent Thracian and Paeonian tribes. According to Thucydides, it included as many as 150,000 men, but was obliged to retire through the failure of provisions, and the coming winter.[19]

In the 4th century BC, the kingdom split itself in three smaller kingdoms, of which one, with the capital at Seuthopolis, survived the longest. During the Hellenistic era, it was subject at various times to Alexander the Great, Lysimachus, Ptolemy II, and Philip V, and was at one time overrun by the Celts, but usually maintained its own kings. During the Roman era, its Sapaean rulers were clients of Rome until Thrace was annexed as a Roman province in 46 AD.


Under the Odrysians, Greek became the language of administrators[20] and of the nobility, and the Greek alphabet was adopted. Greek customs and fashions contributed to the recasting of east Balkan society. The nobility adopted Greek fashions in dress, ornament and military equipment, spreading it to the other tribes.[21] Thracian kings were among the first to be Hellenized.[22]


Residences and temples of the Odrysian kingdom have been found, particularly around Starosel in the Sredna Gora mountains.[23] Archaeologists have uncovered the northeastern wall of the Thracian kings' residence, 13m in length and preserved up to 2m in height.[24] They also found the names of Cleobulus and Anaxandros, Philip II of Macedon's generals who led the assault on the Odrysian kingdom.[24]

List of Odrysian kings

The list below includes the known Odrysian or Astaean kings of Thrace, but much of it is conjectural. Various other Thracian kings (some of them perhaps Odrysian like Pleuratus) are included as well.[25] Odrysian kings though called Kings of Thrace never exercised sovereignty over all of Thrace.[26] Control varied according to tribal relationships.[27]

Astaean line

Sapaean line

Genealogy of Teres founder of the Odrysian kingdom

Odrysian treasures

Sinemorets Gold figurines 
Vazovo Thracian Pegasus 
Letnitsa treasure 
Golden mask of Teres I, the first ruler of the Odrysian kingdom 
Bronze Head of Seuthes III found in Golyamata Kosmatka 
Odrysian Wreath of Cersobleptes, Zlatinica-Malomirovo 

See also


  1. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  2. Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898),"(Odrusai). The most powerful people in Thrace, dwelling in the plain of the Hebrus, whose king, Sitalces, in the time of the Peloponnesian War, exercised dominion over almost the whole of Thrace. (See Thracia.) The poets often use the adjective Odrysius in the general sense of Thracicus."
  3. The Cambridge Ancient History, volume 3, John Boardman, I. E. S. Edwards, E. Sollberger, N. G. L. Hammond, Cambridge University Press, 1992, ISBN 0521227178, p. 605.
  4. The Thracians 700 BC-AD 46 (Men-at-Arms) by Christopher Webber and Angus McBride,2001, ISBN 1-84176-329-2, page 5
  5. Herodotus, The Histories (ed. A. D. Godley),4.92.1,"XCII. From there, Darius set out and came to another river called Artescus, which flows through the country of the Odrysae; and having reached this river, he pointed out a spot to the army, and told every man to lay one stone as he passed in this spot that he pointed out. After his army did this, he led it away, leaving behind there great piles of stones."
  6. Xenophon, Hellenica, 3.2.1, 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.
  7. The History of the Peloponnesian War By Thucydides,"For there was here established a custom opposite to that prevailing in the Persian kingdom, namely, of taking rather than giving; more disgrace being attached to not giving when asked than to asking and being refused; and although this prevailed elsewhere in Thrace, it was practised most extensively among the powerful Odrysians, it being impossible to get anything done without a present".
  8. The Oxford Classical Dictionary by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, ISBN 0-19-860641-9,"page 1515,"The Thracians were subdued by the Persians by 516"
  9. Herodotus,6.43.1
  10. Readings in Greek History: Sources and Interpretations by D. Brendan Nagle and Stanley M. Burstein, ISBN 0-19-517825-4,2006, page 230: "... , however, one of the Thracian tribes, the Odrysians, succeeded in unifying the Thracians and creating a powerful state ..."
  11. The Oxford Classical Dictionary by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, ISBN 0-19-860641-9, page 1515,"Shortly afterwards the first King of the Odrysae, Teres attempted to carve an empire out of the territory occupied by the Thracian tribes (Thuc.2.29 and his sovereignty extended as far as the Euxine and the Hellespont)"
  12. "The Expedition of Cyrus". Retrieved 24 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Cambridge ancient history D. M. Lewis, John Boardman, Simon Hornblower, Cambridge University Press, 1994, ISBN 0-521-23348-8, p. 444.
  14. The Oxford Classical Dictionary by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, ISBN 0-19-860641-9, page 1514, "the kingdom of the Odrysae the leading tribe of Thrace extented ver present-day Bulgaria, Turkish Thrace (east of the Hebrus) and Greece between the Hebrus and Strymon except for the coastal strip with its Greek cities"
  15. The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald,1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 149
  16. Lysimachus: A Study in Early Hellenistic Kingship by Dr Helen S Lun, page 19,"... Profiting from dynastic rivalries which had split the powerful Odrysian kingdom into three realms, in 341 BC Philip II finally ..."
  17. Fol, Alexander. Demographic and Social Structure of Ancient Thrace.
  18. The Oxford Classical Dictionary by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, ISBN 0-19-860641-9, page 1515, "Sitalces allied himself with the Athenians against the Macedonians"
  19. Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War, ii. 98.
  20. The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald,1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 3
  21. The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald,1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 5
  22. The Peloponnesian War: A Military Study (Warfare and History) by J. F. Lazenby, 2003, page 224, "... number of strongholds, and he made himself useful fighting 'the Thracians without a king' on behalf of the more Hellenized Thracian kings and their Greek neighbours (Nepos, Alc. ...
  23. "Bulgarian Archaeologists Make Breakthrough in Ancient Thrace Tomb". Novinite. March 11, 2010. Retrieved April 3, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. 24.0 24.1 "Bulgarian Archaeologists Uncover Story of Ancient Thracians' War with Philip II of Macedon". Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency). June 21, 2011. Retrieved June 24, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 Thracian Kings, University of Michigan
  26. The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald,1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 105
  27. The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald,1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 107
  28. The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus Unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology) by Z. H. Archibald, 1998, ISBN 0-19-815047-4, page 104
  29. The History Of Rome by Livy, 2004, ISBN 1-4191-6629-8, page 27: "... Pleuratus and Scerdilaedus might be included in the treaty. Attalus was king of Pergamum in Asia Minor; Pleuratus, king of the Thracians;

External links

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