In the heart of the Balkan Peninsula it is found the country of the Bulgarians, which is one of the oldest nations of Europe. However, before it appeared and the Slavs arrived, an Indo-European people settled in the south of the Danube thousands of years ago. They would develop an incredible culture and society in time. The history knows them as Thracians. Their main gods were Orpheus and Dionysus and their worship went beyond Ancient Greece.

30.10.2008 Text and pictures: JOSEP Mª ROSELLÓ

In 1396 the Ottoman Turks ended the conquest of the last free territories of Bulgaria. Neither the Greeks, Macedonians, Serbians, Croats, Bosnians, Albanians could avoid a long night of occupation that lasted nearly five hundred years. All these countries did not gradually recover their sovereignty until 19th century and the beginning of 20th century. In the case of Bulgaria, this large amount of centuries under the Turks control was very hard and it was very difficult to get recovered from it.

The country recovered a so-called sovereignty such as an ephemeral kingdom, which was aimlessly controlled by foreign powers. This circumstance was later highlighted during the two big battles, when Bulgarian monarchy continued erratic strategies and was always on the losing side. After World War II, Bulgaria had voted to be a republic but this did not let avoid another long and uncertain tunnel: the airtight curtain of steel. In this way, the country became another satellite of the huge and all-powerful Soviet Union. This situation spanned the following four decades (1).

Until its recent joining to the European Economic Community, Bulgaria was a nearly remote and far-off country for the Europeans. We did not know anything or almost anything from it. It had not excelled in nothing special and had had limited importance on the international level.

Nevertheless, Bulgaria like its neighbour Romania has started to wake up, although weakly, and it claims the attention of Europe’s political and social world. But it also wants to be known in the historical and cultural field because of the rediscovery of the Thracian culture that today is expecting to be part of the history from where it had been displaced, forgotten and nearly always ignored arbitrarily. However, the latest archaeological findings are adequately locating each of these historical pieces that Thracians took part in. Until little time ago, nobody considered that Dionysus, the well-known God of ancient times that symbolises the regeneration of life through the cycle of vine cultivation, was not one of the Gods of the Greek pantheon and later assimilated by Romans under the name of Bacchus. The same was thought about another classical God, the great Orpheus, whose myth fascinated the ancient word for centuries. Today the Thracian origin from both gods is recognised.

Nonetheless, the origin and the most distant version of these and other gods were found in Mesopotamia. These figures and their primitive worship possibly came into Europe through the Balkan Peninsula with the arrival of agriculture. In that respect, this place and especially the space that today takes up the Bulgarian, north-eastern Greek and European Turkey territories, which in ancient times was known as Thrace, was probably the entrance place for the first human people of all species, whose remains have been found scattered around Europe. It is also the entrance place for the most important trends and many other developments that travelled from the East to the West. All this is evidenced by the big amount of archaeological remains from all periods that are found in this territory.

Bulgarian people took up again the ancient agricultural native worship with the arrival of Indo-European people in what today is Bulgaria. They did that by adding new gods into their pantheon, probably by masculinising some of their most important goddesses. Other Indo-European neighbours, the Greeks, later also added Dionysus and Orpheus to their group of gods, which had been developed by Thracian culture. However, when they reached Greece, they were outshone by other gods that were quite more ostentatious and had done a lot of heroic deeds. These deeds were mythical as well as unusual and imaginative and Greeks were very keen on them. The Thracians lent masculinity to their local goddesses but they preserved their original sense by being recognised as closely connected with nature, land and life regeneration as well as playing the feminine essential role. That is, they kept the connotations of agricultural worship that appeared long before they arrived in the Balkans.

The Greeks preferred admiring values like force, military skills, individualism and the common features of a much more highlighted masculinity in relation to their gods, whereas Dionysus required the necessary feminine collaboration to carry out the sacred mission of life regeneration through reproduction. Orpheus, at the same time, strummed his magical lyre and cried the loss of his beloved wife Eurydice. Nevertheless, both of them became very important in Thracian and Greek societies.

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