In ancient times, Thrace, a region north of the Aegean Sea and west of the Black Sea, was inhabited by a non-Greek people. Organized into various tribes, the Thracians lived in small, separate kingdoms. The Greeks considered them barbarians* partly because of their fierce, warlike nature.

The Greeks began to colonize the Aegean coast of Thrace in the 700s B.C. By the 500s B.C., they had established colonies along the region’s Black Sea coast as well. Among the settlements founded by the Greeks was Byzantium, which became a great city under the Romans. The Greek coastal settlements in Thrace grew into independent city-states*, and Greek culture took root there. The interior of Thrace, however, remained relatively untouched by Greek influence.

* barbarian referring to people from outside the cultures of Greece and Rome, who were viewed as uncivilized

* city-state independent state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory

The Persians conquered Thrace around 516 B.C. and introduced Persian culture to the region. Some Thracians fought with the Persian King Xerxes in the Persian Wars against Greece. In the 400s B.C. a native dynasty* emerged and united Thracian tribes into one kingdom. This dynasty collapsed in the mid-300s B.C., when Thrace was conquered by Philip II, the king of Macedonia.

Macedonian rulers controlled Thrace until the Romans conquered the region in the mid-100s B.C. The Romans incorporated western Thrace into their province* of Macedonia, but they left the rest of Thrace in the hands of local rulers allied to Rome. In A.D. 46 the Romans reorganized almost the entire region into the imperial* province of Thrace.

Throughout much of the Roman period, Thrace remained a land of small villages with an economy based on farming and mining. Beginning in the A.D. 200s, the region faced periodic invasions by barbarian tribes from the north. The emperor Justinian strengthened Thrace’s defenses in the A.D. 500s by building defensive walls and fortifications. (See also Peoples of Ancient Greece and Rome; Rome, History of.)

* dynasty succession of rulers from the same family or group

* province overseas area controlled by Rome

* imperial pertaining to an emperor or empire

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