Translated from the book "Bulgaria Illustrated History" by Maria Nikolotva
text used here with permission from translator, save modifications for noding


Ancient Civilizations in the Bulgarian Lands

The ancient civilization in the Bulgarian lands is usually associated with the culture of the Thracians. In its centuries long history that people, 'the second greatest in the world after the Indians' in Herodotus's words, had not created any culture in a written form. On this account the spiritual make-up of the Thracian cultural heritage should be sought after by a careful study of the available evidence of Thracian art and the symbolism of its elements.

It seems that the Thracians' Weltanschauung (hence the nature of their culture) was founded upon a distinctly religious doctrine. That was the Orphic belief that man was immortal. Orphism exhorted its followers to the belief that precisely man and not his soul had eternal life, as man was equal to transmigration - a virtue that could be accomplished through self-perfection.

The way to perfection was said to pass through heroism with man first becoming demigod or a lesser deity. Once only part mortal, he can, eventually, become god upon death. This Orphic transformation, regarded as incredible by many ancient religions, had been accepted as feasible under the popular belief that all human beings were the offspring of the Divine Mother-Goddess.

The religious Chthonian-solar doctrine, combining the forces of the Earth with those of the Sun, was reflected in the Thracian toreutics - the most outstanding branch of Thracian art. The numerous Thracian treasures of precious metals discovered in the Bulgarian lands had shown clear icon painting and decoration. Similarities with the art of the Scythians and the Persians - a testimony to a common view of life and similar economic and political development.

The stone-vaulted sepulchers of the Thracian kings, which were built to preserve the body of the ruler intact under a thick layer of loose ground, had interesting elements of the Mediterranean culture added to them during the Hellenistic epoch. The magnificent frescos of the Kazanluk tomb, as well as the tombstones at the Sveshtari vault, are in corroboration of this influence. Even so, the virtual purport of sepulchral structures, the only surviving remnants of Thracian architecture (not counting the few hundred primitive unplastered or mortar-free chipped-stone fortress-walls) will always be related with the traditional views of the world.

After the first century AD, the Thracian lands were gradually integrated in the Roman empire. It was exactly in those lands, endowed with natural wealth that the universal Roman civilization accomplished some of its most remarkable achievements, namely, the large cities designed in conformity with the Roman town-planning practices, i.e. impressive public buildings, modern urban infrastructure, roads, water pipelines, public baths and churches. A multitude of people migrating from Asia, Italy, Gaul (Latin Gallia) and Central Europe also settled in those parts to contribute their stratum to the cultural life already existing there. It was in those days that the figure of the Thracian Rider spurring his horse gained extremely wide currency. Over 4000 marble tablets with his image, dated from that epoch, had been discovered in the Bulgarian lands, This original ancient messenger had brought down to posterity the legacy that the Roman civilized and toga uirilis-clad Thracian would always bear hidden in the heart of his hearts the dim faith of his ancestors.

The lot in store for the people who had created the Thracian civilization was to be a hard one. During the Barbarian raids in the 3rd-7th centuries they were subjected to ruthless annihilation. The last to come, settle and stay for ever in those lands were the Bulgarians and Slavs. They seem to have never ceased to survey the breath-taking monumental remains of the mysterious barrows of the Roman cities.

The surviving groups of Thracians which had coalesced into the Bulgarian people were soon to forget their stock and their tongue.

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