27 Ocak 2021 Çarşamba

Thracians-Bessi and Balkans

   Map showing regions of Thracian tribes in ancient times 
"Thracians" is the general name of tribes that lived in present day Thrace region in ancient times, especially in the mountainous part of the region. However, it is a well-known fact that the nomenclature "Thracian" was not used among these people. This name is mostly used by today's historians. The names of the Thracian tribes have survived to the present day in Greek or Latin. These names sometimes describe small tribes into which large tribes are divided. Sometimes, various definitions such as "Mountain Thracians", "Kingless Thracians", "Sword-bearing Thracians" were used by the Greeks to distinguish tribes or tribal groups from each other. Some tribes were named according to where they lived. Thracian tribes came from the north of Central Europe to the Rhodopes and Strandja with the migrations thought to have started in the 1200s BC. This indicates that the migrations began during the European Early Iron Age or European Late Bronze Age. The center of the Thracian tribes was the lands of present-day Eastern Thrace and Western Thrace, although it was a culture that influenced much of the Aegean, Northwest Anatolia and the Balkans. The Dacians who lived in present-day Romania (the same community is sometimes called the Getae) are also considered to be related to the Thracians. In Homer's Iliad, the Thracians who settled in Northwest Anatolia and possibly the Marmara coast of Thrace and the Gallipoli Peninsula are mentioned as allies of Troy. A lot of information about the Thracian tribes (Thracians did not use writing) has been obtained from ancient Greek written sources. The Thracians did not leave any written work, and in addition, it is very difficult to find biological material related to this community. Because the Thracians believed in reincarnation, they cremated their corpses and buried their ashes in a vase called an urn container. The reason why they cremated their corpses and did not use writing is the desire to be reborn or to be cleansed for the next world. They saw writing as an obstacle to their purification. The Unetice and Urnfield Cultures in Central Europe are closely related to the Thracian culture. Except for the Chief Tombs (Tumuli) and the Dolmens reflecting the cult of the Mother Goddess, not much remains from the Thracians. Although there are various theories about Thracian language, which is a dead language, no one has come to a definite conclusion. Some scholars have included the Thracian language in the Satem Group of Indo-European languages, while others argue that it is a Centum language influenced by the Satem languages. 

Some tribal names and Etymology: "Bessoi" (-oi is the Greek plural suffix) is the name of a great Thracian tribe that lived in the Rhodopes. The word "bhendh-so-" in the ancient Indo-European language means "bound to something (contract, faith), reliable". The name of the tribe is thought to be related to the Albanian word "besë" meaning "trust". The name "Besian" is still used among Albanians, means "trustworthy, reliable" and its Turkish equivalent is "İnal". In some cases, the tribal name is derived from the geographical name. For example, the Apsinthioi tribe (a tribe living in the area north of Chersones (Gallipoli)) is a derivative of Apsinthos, a border river and the main settlement of the Apsinthioi tribe. The name of one of the great Thracian tribes, the Odrysians, is derived from the name of the tribe's main city, Odrisia. This place is known today as Edirne and the origin of the name is probably Thracian. 

It is understood that between 1000 BC. and 800 BC. Thracians formed tribes under the leadership of chiefs who were also high priests. It is widely rumored that Orpheus, who has an important place in ancient mythology, was a Thracian priest and tribal chief who lived during this period. Some tribes adhered to the cult of Dionysus and the Orphic rite, while some tribes worshiped the Greek Gods. In this period, tribes living with tombs and open-air temples, especially integrated with Dolmen-type monuments, were scattered over the mountainous regions of Thrace. The tribes preferred to live in the mountainous regions, especially in the villages and hamlets of the Rhodopes, instead of establishing cities. It is known that the relations between the Macedonian-Greek peoples and the Thracians were not very friendly. The Thracians, who opposed the Greek colonization, were constant problem for the Greek colonists. Ancient Roman and Greek historians describe the Thracian tribes around the Rhodopes as warrior, rebellious and plundering communities. In addition to these, there was a calm and peaceful group living on the plain, who could establish good relations with the Hellenic cities established on the Aegean and Marmara coasts. In addition to their own troops, the Thracians served as mercenaries in the Greek and Roman armies from time to time. Although they were brave, warlike and expansionist, unity among the Thracians was never fully realized, except for the Odrysian Kingdom and some tribal states. The 5th century BC. witnessed the establishment of a Thracian Kingdom under the rule of the Odrysians who settled in the Maritza basin. The state, which was formed under the presidency of Teres (460-440 BC.), one of the chiefs of Odrysians, adopted the Persian administration system as a basis. In this system, which was shaped around the rulers who declared their loyalty to the center, the people who were farming lived around the mansions of the rulers. The Thracian people joined the army as infantry, and the rulers or elite nobles as cavalry. The tribes living in the Maritsa and Ergene plains were obliged to give soldiers to this army. The tribes further west, in the mountainous areas, were independent.

There was a lively trade network between the Thracians, represented by many tribes mentioned in Greek sources, and the Greek colonies on the coast. While the Thracians exported products such as wood, coal, metal, salt, and fish, they imported ceramics, metal goods, luxury goods, olive oil and wine from the Greeks. It was also seen that the Thracian tribes were not completely tied to a place and changed places from time to time. The Thracian lands, which are important not only in terms of mineral resources but also in terms of rich agricultural potential, have been the area of interest and action of foreign tribes, nations and the most important powers of the Ancient Age in the East and West. The Thracian lands, which were of interest to the Greek city-states from the west and the Persians from the east, were also important for the Macedonians and the Romans. Among the tribes that accepted the dominance of the Persians, who generally established good relations with the Thracians, the names of Skyrmia and Nipsa are mentioned. In addition, Scythians from the North and Celts from Central Europe also had an important influence on Thrace. (279 BC.) The Celts established a state focused on the western part of Eastern Thrace around the Odrysian lands. This Celtic state, which lived for 60 years, was destroyed by the Thracians. In the 4th century BC, the Macedonians began to advance in the Thracian lands. First King II. Philip and his son Alexander the Great dominated the region by making important wars with the Thracians.

Thracians lived independently in the region for a long time. It is stated in various sources that some tribes in the Rhodopes did not lose their Thracian language and culture even in the 8th century AD. Some important tribes in the Rhodopes are Bessi, Satrae, Maedi, Dii. However, towards the end of the Thracians, the name Bessi was used to describe all Thracians around the Rhodopes. Because the Bessi was one of the most conservative and warlike Thracian tribes and they lived in isolation in the Rhodopes for a long time. It was also larger in population than other tribes, and other tribes are considered to be the clan (subgroup) of Bessi. Also, according to Roman sources, the Bessi was the tribe with the highest literacy rate among the Thracians, in other words, they were more intellectual. According to some sources, the center of this tribe was Uscudama (Today's Edirne) or Bessapara (Near Pazardzhik, Bulgaria). The tomb of Dionysus on top of a mountain was a sacred site for Bessi. It is possible that this place was the sacred Thracian city known as Perperikon, which is located in the present day Kırcalı region. Many ancient sources mention the Bessi tribe. According to the ancient Greek historian Strabo, the Bessi was a tribe addicted to plunder, and even the bandits of the time described Bessi as bandits. Herodotus, on the other hand, defines them as follows: Satrai (a clan of the Bessi tribe), as far as we know, they have never been under the rule of anyone until today. Among the Thracians they are the only ones who have been free so far. Because they live on high mountain tops, they are mountains full of deep rocks, covered with various forests and covered with snow.

Due to the fact that the region is on the migration route and has valuable mines, there have been many wars, occupations and assimilations in the region. As a result of the attacks against the freedom or identity of the Thracians, many rebellions took place in the region. For example, the region was shaken by the Bessi rebellion in 11 AD, and was destroyed by the freedom fire of Thracians 21 AD again. Although the Romans wanted to take power directly, they could not do much. In 21 AD, II. Rhoemetalkes was killed in Plovdiv by rebels, including the Odrysians. During this revolt, which was supported by traditional Thracian values and life style and realized to be supported by religious groups, a great hatred emerged against Rome and its puppet kings. The "Mountain Thracian" rebellion, which showed a wide spread, was suppressed in 26 AD. It is possible that the Thracian fortresses, which were probably extensions of the European Iron Age fortresses with natural fortifications built on high mountain areas during the rebellion, provided an advantage for the rebels. Perhaps this place is an important fortress, which had an important effect on the suppression of the great Thracian revolt. Thracians, who had taken refuge, surrendered due to hunger and thirst. While some of the Thracians surrendered, others preferred to commit suicide. After the suppression of the rebellions, III. Rhoimetalkes, the eldest son of Kotys of the Sapeians, was elected as a King supported by Rome in 38 AD. After III. Rhemetalkes was killed in 45 AD, the last remaining part of Thrace became a province during the reign of Claudius, and completely connected to Rome in 46 AD. It is understood that the last Thracian Culture, after living in remote mountainous regions until the Middle Ages, disappeared under the influence of Christianity during the Byzantine rule. However, when the folkloric data of the region is examined, it is clearly seen that many beliefs and behaviors from the Thracian cultural heritage existed in Thrace until recently. 

It is possible to find traces of Thracian cultural heritage in the Rhodopes even during the Ottoman-Turkish period. Many wars took place between the Ottoman Turks and other ethnic groups in the region. The Kırcalı/Dağlı Revolts, which took place in the late periods when the Ottoman Empire weakened in the region, are important for Thracian history. This subject has not been studied much by historians, but there are some works, although not neutral, about the conflicts between Ottomans and Kırcalı/Dağlı tribe: Osmanlı İmparatorluğunda Dağlı İsyanları (1791-1808), Author: Doç. Dr. Yücel Özkaya. Today, "Kırcalı" or "Dağlı" are names used to describe an ethnic group in the Rhodopes. Even today, this tribe is an important ethnic group of Thrace. The Ottomans defined these people as warrior, rebellious and plundering communities, just as the Romans defined the Mountain Thracians (Bessi) in the past. After the Turkification of region, the names of ethnic groups became Turkish too. For example, for Albanians, the Romans translated the word "Arben" into their own language as "Arvanit". Later, when the Turks came to the region, the Turks translated the word "Arvanit" into their own language as "Arnavud". Some Albanians call themselves "Malisör" and these Albanians are referred to as "Dağlı" in Ottoman records. "Malisör" means "Mountain tribe" in Albanian and its Turkish equivalent is "Dağlı". In short, the situation is the same for Kırcalı/Dağlı tribe. However, this tribe could not protect their language, unlike other Balkan peoples who changed their religion during the Ottoman period. It can be guessed that as a result of the occupation of the region by Turks and Bulgarians and possible language bans, many Thracian origin place and tribe names were replaced with Turkish or Bulgarian synonyms. 

Revival of the "Kırcalı" Tribe
One of the main reasons of Kırcalı/Dağlı Revolts was the opposition of this group to the new army called Nizam-ı Cedit, which the Ottoman Empire wanted to establish for centralization. The local administrators and chiefs of Kırcalı tribe in the Balkans thought that with the new army to be established, the Ottomans would no longer need them. The purpose of this new army was to eliminate the Janissaries. During the Ottoman period, the Kırcalı Sekbans and the Albanian Sekbans were an important military power in the region. The Ottomans recruited mercenaries from the warlike Kırcalı and Albanian tribes for many wars and missions in history. (Sekban troops were Christian origin and constituted an important part of the Ottoman Janissary units. They were also called "Yerli Kulu" and were mercenaries, generally made up of peasants. They only served during wartime and received the janissary salary "Ulufe" during this time. In peacetime, they ensured the security of the province they belonged to. ) However, these soldiers were not loyal to the Ottomans. They didn't fight for religion either. They would fight for whoever paid them. That is why these groups sometimes fought on the Ottoman side and sometimes fought against the Ottomans in the rebellions against the Ottomans. Their only purpose was to earn money or gold. These rebellious and difficult-to-control soldiers were a major obstacle to the Ottoman's efforts to establish an obedient and well-trained army similar to the regular armies in Europe. In short, peace in Rumelia was maintained by mercenaries. The attempt of the Ottomans to destroy this structure naturally prompted the mercenaries of Christian origin to revolt. And the gang leaders went down in the history of Bulgaria as heroes who tried to save the local people from the Turks. Rhodopes are not arable and since ancient times mercenary was an important source of livelihood for the local people. In the past, the Thracians served as mercenaries for Rome, and Rome had a substantial legion of Bessi. Names of legions: Cohors I Flavia Bessorum and Cohors II Flavia Bessorum. As a result, the same group served as mercenaries for different empires at different times.

During what Bulgarian historians call the "Kırcalı period", the Ottoman Empire had largely lost its control in the region. The Kırcalı raids, which also left deep impressions on the Bulgarians, pushed even the famous Russian writer Pushkin to write a story on the subject. The word "Kırcalı" is present in almost all Bulgarian dictionaries and is often used to describe ruthless rebels who raid and plunder settlements. However, it is said that the meaning of this word in Turkish is "Warrior, Brave". Both meanings may be appropriate to describe this community. Indeed, the Kırcalı groups of the period attacked both Christian Bulgarians and Muslim Turks. They raided villages, slaughtered their men, and took the women with them. The Kırcalı figure created by Pushkin in his story was of Bulgarian origin. Probably the author came to this conclusion because he did not know enough about the history of the region and the Thracians. Pushkin describes how Kırcalı committed the robbery: "Kırcalı was cutting and killing, and Mihaylaki was carrying what they plundered. Both were shouting that Kırcalı, Kırcalı. The whole village was destroyed."

Before the conflict between Ottomans-Kırcalı tribe, a Kırcalı chief, who burned down any town in the region, was elected "Ayan" (administrator) for that region by the Ottomans. The names of some important Kırcalı chiefs of the period are known as "Kırcalı Emin Ağa", "Kara Feyzi" and "Kuşancalı Halil". Among them, Kuşancalı Halil took place with about a thousand Kırcalıs under his command, sometimes on the side of the Ottomans and sometimes against the Ottomans. Another example is "Kara Feyzi" and "Ince Voyvoda", who became a great power. Ince Voivoda's real name is Stoyan. In 1799, after returning from a exhibition held in Islimye, Kara Feyzi, Ince and 500 Kırcalı soldiers, attacked a trade caravan guarded by about 6,000 soldiers , seized all money and goods. Later, the same group advanced to the vicinity of Istanbul with 5-6 thousand Kırcalı soldiers in March-June 1800. According to Bulgarian historians, this was the first Istanbul expedition of the Kırcalı tribe against the Ottoman Empire. 

Osman Pazvantoglu was one of the important names of the Kırcalı/Dağlı revolts. He was the ruler of the Vidin region. He rebelled against the Ottoman rule for various political reasons. The revolt in Vidin had an exciting effect on the Ottoman Empire. The sekban groups, which became unemployed with the dissolution of the Janissary unit, naturally became an important human resource for any rebellion. Bosnian and Serbian Janissaries, Albanian rebels and perhaps the most brutal unit among them, nomadic bandits (Kırcalı tribe) were ready to offer their services to those who would offer them the highest money. The Kırcalıs' horses were decorated with gold and silver, their female slaves dressed as men had to sexually satisfy their masters and accompany them on the battlefield. All this added a very strange atmosphere to the settlement known as Vidin at that time.  (Glenny, Misha. "THE BALKANS Nationalism, War and the Great Powers" Page:15) The tradition of decorating horses with gold and silver is one of the features of Thracian culture. On mural paintings of Thracian tumuli in Thrace, Thracian horses are similarly decorated with gold and silver. In the past, to offer a gold and silver was effective in persuading the Thracians to fight. For example, Alexander the Great allowed Thracian mercenaries under his command to plunder the gold and silver goods of the Persian soldiers they fought during the Issos war. However, Thracian mercenaries, known for their brutality, easily changed sides in wars by taking bribes. 

After the Nizam-ı Cedit army, which III. Selim wanted to establish, was abolished by the Janissary revolt (Kabakçı Mustafa Rebellion), IV. Mustafa acceded the throne. After these events, Alemdar Mustafa Pasha came to Istanbul with 5-6 thousand Kırcalı soldiers. His aim was to put III. Selim back on the throne. At the end of the events, III. Selim was killed and IV. Mustafa was dethroned and replaced by II. Mahmut. Alemdar Mustafa Pasha becomes the grand vizier and a new army called Sekban-ı Cedid is formed. This new army was called Sekban and it was thought that the janissaries would not revolt again. Because sekbans constituted an important part of the Janissaries. However, Kırcalı sekbans who came to Istanbul later began to plunder Istanbul and the trust of the people in the sekbans was shaken. This army was removed with another rebellion and Alemdar Mustafa Pasha was killed. Vaka-i Hayriye (Auspicious Incident): It is the name given to the events that resulted in the destruction of the Janissary Corps by shelling by the Ottoman Sultan II. Mahmut in Istanbul on June 16, 1826 and the execution of the survivors. A new army called Asakir-i Mansure-i Muhammediye (Muhammad's victorious soldiers) was established and the Sekbans disappeared into history with the Janissaries.

Today, there is a city called "Kırcaali" by the Turks in the Rhodopes. Even a Turkish commander named "Kırca Ali" is mentioned in history, but this is a political lie. The aim here is to erase the Kırcalı tribe from history. In ancient sources, the name of the place is referred to as "Kırçalı" or "Kırcalı". And this name comes from the Kırcalı tribe, which has an important place in the history of Bulgaria. Due to the assimilation policies implemented by some groups in Turkey, many people (Bosnians, Albanians, Kırcalıs, Pomaks..., even Greek origin Muslims in the Eastern Black Sea Region) claim that their ancestors were Yörük-Turkmen who were sent from Konya-Karaman. During the Ottoman period, some nomadic Turkmen-Yörüks were settled in various regions. However, considering that one of the main purposes here was the contribution of nomadic Turks to agricultural production, the idea that such a settlement existed in the mountain villages in the Rhodopes, which is unsuitable for agriculture, would be a very funny claim. All cultural, historical and genetic information, apart from the corrupt Turkish spoken by the local people, clearly shows that these people did not settle in the region with such a settlement. (Folklore Comparison) Islamization of the local people started with the Bektashi belief. Alevism and Bektashism have many common features in terms of belief. However, while Bektashism was a public belief in the past, Alevism was based on secrecy and is an identity that attaches importance to being a descendant of Hz. Ali. For this reason, Bektashism was seen as the best solution as the system that would enable the Janissary Corps, which consisted of devshirme, to become Muslim, and the Ottoman sultans supported the development of Bektashism throughout the establishment period of the state. In addition, it is a fact that the Slav/Bulgarian tribes, who started to settle in the Balkans from the 6th century AD, put pressure on the Thracian origin groups. And this pressure may have facilitated the adoption of Ottoman culture by non-Slavic groups such as the Kırcalıs or Albanians.

Thracian sword (Rhomphaia) and Thracian crescent symbol on it

Few skeletal remains from Thracians and depictions in ancient Greek sources indicate that Thracians were generally white-skinned people with light-colored eyes and brown/blonde hair. Xenophanes, one of the ancient Greek thinkers, described the Thracians as tall, white-skinned people with straight hair and gray eyes. Thracians are described similarly in other sources. In addition, Thracian men are depicted with goatee in some works. As a result of recent genetic studies, the connection of the Y-DNA haplogroup "I-L161" with the Thracians has been proven. The first scientific data on the subject were revealed with the FTDNA Balkan Project initiated by Erhan Inal in 2014. The project link is in the references section at the end of the article. Most of the individuals(I-L161+) are from the villages around the ancient Thracian city of Perperikon in the Rhodopes (Kuşallar/Komuniga, İnallar/Poshevo, Ördekler/Patitsa...) and from the ethnic group known as Kırcalı/Dağlı. A few Pomak individuals(I-L161+) are from the villages of Vaklinovo(around Blagoevgrad/Kochan) and Barutin(around Smolyan). (Test results of Pomaks are generally the same as the results of Christian Bulgarian/Slavic samples. However, Thracian origin families were also detected.) All villages were ancient settlements of Bessi and other related tribes (Satrae, Dii, Maedi).

Reference STR Values for Thracian Haplogroup I-L161:
STR Loci DYS393 DYS390 DYS19 DYS391 DYS385i DYS385ii DYS426 DYS388 DYS439 DYS389i DYS392 DYS389ii
STR Value 13 25 17 10 12 16 11 13 11 13 11 30
Ancient DNA studies for the "Unetice" and "Urnfield" cultures in Central Europe showed that the ancient remains of these cultures have the Y-DNA haplogroup I-L161. The same haplogroup has also been detected in ancient remains of megalithic cultures in Lithuania, Sweden and England, and in early Bronze Age remains in northeast Serbia (Mokrin Necropolis). Making an estimation about the mt-DNA haplogroups of the Thracians does not seem easy for the patriarchal Thracian communities. However, it can be estimated that several mtDNA haplogroups common in Europe in ancient times were also common among the Thracians. Thracian culture was a culture formed by the development of Neolithic cultures in Europe? Or was it formed by the movement of tribes (Bronze Age Indo-European Migrations) who migrated from the region of the Dnieper and Dniester rivers and descended to the south? This was a matter of great importance. However, genetic studies have proven that groups associated with Neolithic cultures in Europe were at the center of this community.

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Map of Kırcalı/Dağlı Villages >>Tıklayın
FTDNA Balkans Project:

FTDNA Thracian/Bessi I-Y13338 Project:

Thrace Y-DNA Haplogroup I-L161 Results:
Central Europe, Unetice Culture DNA Study: >>PDF
Central Europe, Urnfield Culture DNA Study >>PDF
Ancient DNA Results-2021: >>PDF,   >>Excel
Rumeli Dağlı İsyanları
Odrysian Kingdom
Tribal Kingdom of the Bessoi (Thrace)
The Thracians-Lionel Casson
ThraciansThracian LanguageDionysusOrpheus

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