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Geography of Thrace


General Map of Thrace



Although I am going to discuss here about Thrace within Turkey, I also would like to give a description of the proper Thrace as described by the ancient authors. Because ancient Thrace covers much larger area including territories covered by today's Balkan and Mediterranean countries, such as Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey.

Borders of Thrace

Thrace, in broad sense, roughly covers the area from Black Sea in the east to the river Vardar in the west and from the river Danube in the north to the Aegean Sea in the south. Thrace is bound by Pontus Euxinus (Black Sea), Bosporos Thrakios (Bosphorus Strait), the Propontis (Marmara Sea),  in the east, and by the rivers Istros (Danube) and Axios (Vardar river) in the north and west, by the Aegeus  (Aegean Sea) and Dardanelles (Hellespont Strait). Just on the heart of this ancient region is Edirne (ancient Hadrianopolis).

Sometime, the northern border is considered to be the Haimos (Balkan mountains) and the western border as to be the river Strymon (Struma river). Strabon in his book Geography explains 

"In the area as far as Strymon river live Macedons, Paions and some tribes of the Thracians, beyond this point as far as Haimos mountains except the coastal area lives the Thracians". 

Strabo also says "when the Romans extended and divided the territories in Macedonia into four portions, the western border of Thrace became the river Hebros (Maritsa=Meric)". Later when Thrace became a province, the western border was decided to be the river Nestos (Mesta=Karasu). 

The fertile and rich area to the east of Thrace which is bound by Pontus Euxinus in the north, by Bosporos Thrakios on the east, by the Propontis Sea on the south and by the line stretching from the town Salmydessus on the coast of the Pontus Euxinus to the town Perinthus on the coast of the Propontis sea, is called the Delta. This was well explained in the book of Anabasis (Return of the ten thousand) by Xenophon. On the southern tip of the Peninsula was the Chersonessos Thrakios (Chersonessos of Thrace) (Callipoli=Gelibolu Peninsula), which was surrounded by the Dardanelles and the Propontis and by the Bay of Melas (Saros) on the west.

Physical Features

Mountains and Plains
Thrace has mountains to the north and south and large plains in between them. Principal heights of the region are the Haimos (Balkan) mountains on the north and Rhodope mountains on the south. Between these mountain chains lies the large plain of Ergene. The mountain chain that runs along the Pontus Euxinus whose ancient name is unknown is called Istranca, and was known to the Romans as Mount Asticus after the Thracian tribe of Asts who settled this area. On the south, along the Propontis Sea was the Ganos mountain which was probably known to the ancients as Hieron Oros that means Sacred Mountain. 

The interiors of Thrace had a very cold climate. Xenophon mentions with all the details, in his book Anabasis, the cold day he and his army spent under a heavy snowstorm in the plain of Thyn in the neighborhood of the town Perinthus. 

"There was deep snow, and cold so intense that the water brought in for dinner and the wine within the jars froze; and many of the Hellenes had their noses and ears frost-bitten. Now they came to understand why the Thracians wear fox-skin caps on their heads and about their ears; and why, on the same principle, they are frocked not only about the chest and bust but so as to cover the loins and thighs as well; and why on horseback they envelop themselves in long shawls which reach down to the feet, instead of the ordinary short rider's cloak". 

Ancient writers describe Thrace as open to the northern winds, covered by a dense forest and not suitable for human inhabitation. Thrace was covered by the forest on the mountains to the north and south and by the steppes in the large flat plain. 

The main river in Thrace was Istros (Danuvios=Danube) which flew from the interiors of Europe into the Pontus Euxinus. There were many other streams flowing in the north-south direction, pouring their waters into the Istros river, To name these smaller rivers, from west to east, Margos (Morava), Timacos (Timoka), Almos (Lom), Ciabros (Cibrica), Augusta (Ogosta), Oskios (Oeskos=Iskar), Utus (Vit),Asamos (Osam),Athyris (Iteros=Jantra). Further east, Aksios (Vardar) fed by the waters of smaller streams of Astibos (Bregalnica), and Erigon (Cerna), east and northeast of Vardar are Strymon (Struma) and Nestos (Mesta) rivers. 

In the south, and middle of the region ran the Hebros (Maritsa=Meric) river to which the streams of Tonzos (Tunca), Ardeskos (Arda) and Agrianes (Ergines=Ergene) joined. Agrianes had also smaller streams joining it, Arzos (Corlu Stream), Tearos and Kontadestos. There were also Apsinthos (Derbent), Melas which ran into the bay of Melas whose name came from the river, Athyra (Cekmece) which flew into the Propontis Sea, and both rivers of Cydaris (Alibey) and Barbyses (Kagithane) flew into the Golden Horn in Istanbul.

In the Chersonessos (Callipolis=Galliopli) region was the Aigos Potamois stream that emptied its waters into the Dardanelles (Hellespont). Near this Aigos Potamois was the place where the decisive naval battle between the Athenians and Spartans took place in 405 BCE. 

Thrace is not rich in lakes. There are some lakes but not of great size. In the eastern half are Phileitinios (Delcius=Terkos) near Istanbul, and Stentoris at the mouth of the river Hebros. In fact , Stentoris was a lagoon formed by Hebros, and Herodotus mentions of Stentoris as a lake. 


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Revised February 2015
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