Did you know that the first country on the Balkan Peninsula was the Odrysian Kingdom? The Odrysian Kingdom was established around 460 BC by the Thracian tribe the Odrysians and lasted until the Roman conquest in 46 AD. The Odrysian Kingdom included the territories of the entire modern-day Bulgaria, Northern Greece, the European part of Turkey and a small part of Southeastern Romania. Often the kings of the Odrysian Kingdom were referred to as Kings of Thrace even though the kingdom did not encompass all Thracian tribes.

odrysian kingdom

The Odrysians were one of the most powerful Thracian tribes who mainly inhabited the areas around the Hebrus river (nowadays it’s called Maritza and passes through the oldest town in the region – Plovdiv). As all Thracians, the Odrysians were skillful warriors, exquisite jewelry makers, and avid wine drinkers. The Odrysians considered death as a cause of celebration – not mourning – and were famous for organizing horse races and feasts with wine when an important person died.

Mezek tomb from IV c. BC - the largest Odrysian tomb on the Balkans

The first ruler of the Odrysian Kingdom was Teres I. He united some of the Thracian tribes and expanded the Odrysian Kingdom to the north, reaching the Danube river. Teres I had an extraordinary (for those times) long life; he died at 92 years of age. As all Thracian kings he was buried in a special tomb with some of his riches and most precious objects. In 2004, archaeologists found what is believed to have been Teres’ mask – the largest Thracian mask made out of pure gold that has been discovered so far.

Thracian Gold Mask

The Odrysian Kingdom continued its expansion under the subsequent rulers. Sitacles conquered new territories and made other Thracian tribes subordinate to the Odrysians. During the reign of Seuthes I the Odrysian Kingdom consolidated its power and achieved remarkable financial stability through the collection of taxes from the different tribes living in the kingdom. However, the biggest prosperity of the Odrysian Kingdom was under Cotys I around 4th century BC. Cotys I expanded the kingdom even further and was an important ally of the city-state of Athens. Ironically, it is considered that influential Athenians ordered Cotys’ I murder in the middle of 4th century BC.

Political instability followed after the death of Cotys I and the Odrysian kingdom split into three parts. This weakness was used by Phillip II (the father of Alexander the Great) who conquered the Odrysian Kingdom around 339 BC. Phillip II renamed the city of Evmolpia (modern-day Plovdiv) into Phillipopolis (the city of Phillip) and completely rebuilt it to turn it into one of antiquity’s most beautiful cities. On the other hand, the old Odrysian capital of Kabile (the remains of which could be found today in the heart of the Eastern Thrace Wine region) was turned into an important trade center. However, the rule of Phillip II and his son Alexander the Great lasted only about nine years after which the Odrysians were able to regain their independence and reestablish their kingdom.

Read the second part of the Odrysian Kingdom’s history, learn about the prominent Seuthes III and the new Odrysian capital that now lies under a dam. Read Part 2.