The Trojan heroes

The second half of the 2nd Millennium BC starts in Thrace with a remarkable accidental find at the village of Vulchitrun near the town of Pleven (Central North Bulgaria). The find is a set of large and small gold vessels, lids and a unique trichotomous receptacle whose three parts are connected by tubes to mix the holy liquids wine (blood), water, milk, olive oil and honey. These objets d’art that weigh 12.5 kilograms were owned by a majestic ruler. He had the power to perform religious libations with the vessels and, therefore, the functions of a high priest.
This figure is an epitome of a centralised socio-political organisation where the king was vested with judicial, military and religious power. In Southeastern Europe such an organisation is named Mycenean after the formidably fortified royal residence in Mycenae in the Peloponnes which was the legendary stronghold of the king of kings Agamemnon who, Homer says, led the Hellenic kings (basileuses) and their armies in the ten-year siege of Troy. The archaeological Mycenean culture from the second half of the 2nd Millennium BC is excellently documented with the cyclopean type of building (huge stone blocks), metal extraction and metal working, ceramics, painting and goldsmithery and also with the earliest Hellenic script (Einear B). The Vulchitrun set of gold vessels designated for rituals is the most convincing proof that ancient Thracian lands were part of the Mycenean world.

Thracian-Hellenic convergence culminated in the most dramatic event of that age, the Trojan War (13th Century BC). Troy was a city with a port on the northwestern Asia Minor coast of the Hellespont (the Dardanelles) which controlled the shipping in the straits from and to the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea and stood in the way of Mycenean expansion to the east and northeast.
Homer extolled the heroes of the great war in the Iliad and m the Odyssey. He mentioned the Thracians in Chersonesus Thracica (Peninsula of Gallipoli) and in the lands along the northern Aegean coast from where many Trojan allies joined the war. Rhesos was the most famous of the Thracian kings. He and his suite rode to the city walls on horses that were whiter than snow and as fast as the wind; his chariot was decorated with gold and silver; his weapons were huge and made of gold. They were fit for gods, is the conclusion of that passage from Book Ten of the Iliad. So when Rhesos and his warriors, drooping with fatigue, fell asleep, Odysseus and Dioemedes sneaked in their camp during the night and killed them all.
The appearance of Trojan allies from Thrace is completely understandable because the Thracian ethnic and linguistic community comprised also the whole of Northwest Asia Minor with Troas. Even in Homeric antiquity these regions were part of a large zone of contact between the centres along the big rivers in Southeastern Europe: the Istros (Danube), the Axios (Vardar), the Strymon (Strouma), the Nestos (Mesta) and the Hebros (Maritza) and those in Mycenean Greece. The cultural and historical rapprochement between Thrace and Ancient Greece as a forerunner of the future Hellenisation of the southern Balkan Peninsula was the subject of poetic myths in Euripides’ tragedy “Rhesos”. The great tragic poet extolled the Thracian king who was turned into a demon in human form and an immortal oracle of Dionysus in the underground shrine of the god in Mount Pangaeus (on the Aegean coast between the mouths of the Strymon and Nestos rivers).
That mercy was given in the mythical story by Athene, the goddess of wisdom. That insight of the Euripidean myth is to be attributed to the postwar historical reality as the victory of some and the defeat of others resulted in destinies that they were to share. The war weakened the rivals and caused internal redivision of territories possessed while the process was stepped up by the replacement of the bronze alloy (copper and tin) by iron as the main material from which tools, weapons and craft objects were made. Seafaring pirates pillaged kingdoms in Asia Minor and islands in the Eastern Mediterranean and extended their threat even as far as Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Meanwhile new peoples emerged in the southeast. Of these the Phryges who occupied the lands locked between the Black Sea and Mount Ida (Karadag in Turkey) were the best known. They moved from southwest Thrace where, as Herodotus testifies, originally they were called Bryges. Unlike the Thracians and the Ilyrians, the Phryges in Asia Minor invented an alphabet and an early writing tradition which is reflected in the numerous inscriptions from the 6th Century BC onwards.

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