Thracian religion

Thracian religion includes the religious practices of the Thracians. Little is known about their mythology and rituals, but some of their gods are depicted in statuary or described in Greek sources.

Thracian Horseman Histria Museum
The cult of the "Thracian horseman" spread over much of the Balkans during the Roman period.


One notable cult, attested from Thrace to Moesia and Scythia Minor, is that of the "Thracian horseman", also known as the "Thracian Heros", at Odessos (Varna) attested by a Thracian name as Heros Karabazmos, a god of the underworld usually depicted on funeral statues as a horseman slaying a beast with a spear.[1][2][3]


Zalmoxis Aleksandrovo
Detail of the main fresco of the Aleksandrovo kurgan. The figure is identified with Zalmoxis.

Known Thracian deities include:

  • Sabazios, the Thracian reflex of Indo-European Dyeus, identified with Heros Karabazmos, the "Thracian horseman". He gained a widespread importance especially after the Roman conquest. This could be akin to Sleipnir, the horse ridden by Odin, in Norse mythology. After Christianity was adopted, the symbolism of Heros continued as representations of Saint George slaying the dragon (compare Uastyrdzhi/Tetri Giorgi in the Caucasus).[2]
  • Zibelthiurdos (also "Zbelsurdos", "Zibelthurdos"): a god recognized as similar to the Greek Zeus as a wielder of lightning and thunderbolts.
  • Kotys ("Cotys", "Cotto", "Cottyto", "Cottytus"), a goddess worshipped with much revelry by Thracian tribes such as the Edonians in the festival Cotyttia.[4] A cult of Cottyto existed in classical Athens. According to Greek sources her priests were called baptes or "washers" because their pre-worship purification rites involved bathing. Her worship included midnight orgies (orgia). Her name is believed to have meant "war, slaughter", akin to Old Norse Höðr "war, slaughter".[5]
  • Pleistoros

Several Thracian deities show close analogy to the Greek cult of Dionysus, Orpheus and Persephone (the Dionysian Mysteries):

  • Bendis was a Thracian goddess of the moon and the hunt[6] whom the Greeks identified with Artemis, and hence with the other two aspects of formerly Minoan goddesses, Hecate and Persephone.
  • Semele is probably the Mother Earth goddess akin to Lithuanian Zemyna and Latvian Semes, both of which are 'Mother Earth' goddesses. Likely there has been an early Semele Goddess in proto-Slavic mythology as 'earth' to this day is "земля" (zemlja) in Russian, "земља" (zemlja) in Serbian and "земя" (zemja) in Bulgarian. Also compare Phrygian 'Zemelo'.

Known Dacian theonyms include:

  • Zalmoxis, identified by some with the thunder-god Gebeleïzis,[7] an important god of the Dacians[8] and Thracians.[9]
  • Derzelas (also "Darzalas") was a chthonic god of health and human spirit's vitality.

Kogaionon was the name of a holy mountain of the Dacians.

See also


  1. ^ Lurker, Manfred (1987). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons. p. 151.
  2. ^ a b Nicoloff, Assen (1983). Bulgarian Folklore. p. 50.
  3. ^ Isaac, Benjamin H. (1986). The Greek Settlements in Thrace Until the Macedonian Conquest. p. 257.
  4. ^ Detschew, Dimiter. Die Thrakische Sprachreste. Wien, 1957: p. 258 (in German)
  5. ^ Also cognate: Irish cath "war, battle", early German Hader "quarrel", Greek kótos "hatred", Old Church Slavonic kotora "fight, brawl", Sanskrit śatru "enemy, nemesis", and Hittite kattu "spiteful". See Orel, Vladimir. A Handbook of Germanic Etymology. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2003: 165.
  6. ^ Theoi Project - Bendis
  7. ^ Hdt. 4.94, Their belief in their immortality is as follows: they believe that they do not die, but that one who perishes goes to the deity Salmoxis, or Gebeleïzis, as some of them call him.
  8. ^ Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898),(Zalmoxis) or Zamolxis (Zamolxis). Said to have been so called from the bear's skin (zalmos) in which he was clothed as soon as he was born. He was, according to the story current among the Greeks on the Hellespont, a Getan, who had been a slave to Pythagoras in Samos, but was manumitted, and acquired not only great wealth, but large stores of knowledge from Pythagoras, and from the Egyptians, whom he visited in the course of his travels. He returned among the Getae, introducing the civilization and the religious ideas which he had gained, especially regarding the immortality of the soul. Herodotus, however, suspects that he was an indigenous Getan divinity ( Herod.iv. 95)
  9. ^ XCV. This Zamolxis, as I have been informed by those Greeks who inhabit the Hellespont and the Euxine, was himself a man, and formerly lived at Samos, in the service of Pythagoras, son of Mnesarchus; having obtained his liberty, with considerable wealth, he returned to his country. Here he found the Thracians distinguished equally by their profligacy and their ignorance; whilst he himself had been accustomed to the Ionian mode of life, and to manners more polished than those of Thrace; he had also been connected with Pythagoras, one of the most celebrated philosophers of Greece. He was therefore induced to build a large mansion, to which he invited the most eminent of his fellow-citizens: he took the opportunity of the festive hour to assure them, that neither himself, his guests, nor any of their descendants, should ever die, but should be removed to a place, where they were to remain in the perpetual enjoyment of every blessing. After saying this, and conducting himself accordingly, he constructed a subterranean edifice: when it was completed, he withdrew himself from the sight of his countrymen, and resided for three years beneath the earth.—During this period, the Thracians regretted his loss, and lamented him as dead. In the fourth year he again appeared among them, and by this artifice gave the appearance of probability to what he had before asserted. XCVI. To this story of the subterraneous apartment, I do not give much credit, though I pretend not to dispute it; I am, however, very certain that Zamolxis must have lived Many years before Pythagoras : whether, therefore, he was a man, or the deity of the Getse, enough has been said concerning him. These Getse, using the ceremonies I have described, after submitting themselves to the Persians under Darius, followed his army. - Herodotus page 117 Published by P.P. Berresford, 1828


  • Tacheva, Margarita. Eastern Cults in Moesia Inferior and Thracia (5th Century BC-4th Century AD), 1983, ISBN 90-04-06884-8.
Absolute (philosophy)

The concept of the Absolute, also known as The (Unconditioned) Ultimate, The Wholly Other, The Supreme Being, The Absolute/Ultimate Reality, The Ground of Being, Urgrund, The Absolute Principle, The Source/Fountain/Well/Center/Foundation of Reality, The Ultimate Oneness/Whole, The Absolute God of The Universe, and other names, titles, aliases, and epithets, is the thing, being, entity, power, force, reality, presence, law, principle, etc. that possesses maximal ontological status, existential ranking, existential greatness, or existentiality. In layman's terms, this is the entity that is the greatest, highest, or "truest" being, existence, or reality.

There are many conceptions of the Absolute in various fields and subjects, such as philosophy, religion, spiritual traditions, formal science (such as mathematics), and even natural science. The nature of these conceptions can range from "merely" encompassing all physical existence, nature, or reality, to being completely unconditioned existentially, transcending all concepts, notions, objects, entities, and types, kinds, and categories of being.

The Absolute is often thought of as generating manifestations that interact with lower or lesser types, kinds, and categories of being. This is either done passively, through emanations, or actively, through avatars and incarnations. These existential manifestations, which themselves can possess transcendent attributes, only contain minuscule or infinitesimal portions of the true essence of the Absolute.

The term itself was not in use in ancient or medieval philosophy, but closely related to the description of God as actus purus in scholasticism. It was introduced in modern philosophy, notably by Hegel, for "the sum of all being, actual and potential".

The term has since also been adopted in perennial philosophy.


Cotyttia (Greek: Κοτύττια, Kotuttiā) was an orgiastic, nocturnal religious festival of ancient Greece and Thrace in celebration of Kotys, the goddess of sex, considered an aspect of Persephone.


The Ctistae or Ktistai (Greek: κτίσται) were a group/class among the Mysians of ancient Thracian culture.

The Mysians avoided consuming any living thing, and therefore lived on such foodstuffs as milk and honey. For this reason, they were referred to as "god-fearing" and "capnobatae" (kapnobatai) or "smoke-treading".

The Ctistae were a class of Mysians who not only observed these dietary restrictions, but abstained from cohabitating with women. They led celibate lives, never marrying. They were held in a place of honor by the Thracians, with their lives being dedicated to the gods. They are described by Strabo, sourcing Poseidonius.

According to Strabo, whether they took up celibacy or not they were collectively called Hippemolgi ("mare-milkers"), Galactophagi ("living on milk") or Abii ("not living (with women)").

Germanic paganism

Germanic paganism refers to the ethnic religion practiced by the Germanic peoples from the Iron Age until Christianisation during the Middle Ages. From both archaeological remains and literary sources, it is possible to trace a number of common or closely related beliefs throughout the Germanic area into the Middle Ages, when the last pagan areas in Scandinavia were Christianized. Rooted in Proto-Indo-European religion, Proto-Germanic religion expanded during the Migration Period, yielding extensions such as Old Norse religion among the North Germanic peoples, Continental Germanic paganism practiced amid the continental Germanic peoples, and Anglo-Saxon paganism among the Old English-speaking peoples. Germanic religion is best documented in several texts from the 10th and 11th centuries, where they have been best preserved in Scandinavia and Iceland.

Greek hero cult

Hero cults were one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion. In Homeric Greek, "hero" (ἥρως, hḗrōs) refers to a man who fought (on either side) during the Trojan War. By the historical period, however, the word came to mean specifically a dead man, venerated and propitiated at his tomb or at a designated shrine, because his fame during life or his unusual manner of death gave him power to support and protect the living. A hero was more than human but less than a god, and various kinds of supernatural figures came to be assimilated to the class of heroes; the distinction between a hero and a god was less than certain, especially in the case of Heracles, the most prominent, but atypical hero.The grand ruins and tumuli remaining from the Bronze Age gave the pre-literate Greeks of the 10th and 9th centuries BC a sense of a grand and vanished age; they reflected this in the oral epic tradition, which would crystallize in the Iliad. Copious renewed offerings begin to be represented, after a hiatus, at sites like Lefkandi, even though the names of the grandly buried dead were hardly remembered. "Stories began to be told to individuate the persons who were now believed to be buried in these old and imposing sites", observes Robin Lane Fox.

Illyrian mythology

Illyrian mythology is only known through mention of Illyrian deities on Roman period monuments, some with interpretatio Romana. There appears to be no single most prominent Illyrian god and there would have been much variation between individual Illyrian tribes. The Illyrians did not develop a uniform cosmology on which to center their religious practices.Some deities are known exclusively from Istria, such as Eia, Malesocus, Boria and Iria. In Liburnia, Anzotica is identified with Venus. Other local theonyms include Latra, Sentona and Ica. Bindus, identified with Neptune, was worshipped among the Japodes. Further north, the hot springs of Topusko were dedicated to Vidasus and Thana, identified with Silvanus and Diana. From the eastern Balkans, the cult of the Thracian horseman spread to Illyria during the early centuries CE. The god Medaurus mentioned in a dedication at Lambaesis in Africa by a Roman senator and native of Risinium appears to be identical to the horseman, being described as riding on horseback and carrying a lance. The Delmatae had Armatus as a god of war. The god En was also worshipped by Illyrians. In Serbia and other Slavic Balkan Orthodox countries have got Vidovdan in 28 june in Julian calendar and 15 june in Gregorian calendar,that day is celebrated by the example of the greatest Illyrian god Vidasus or Vid. Vidovdan is one of the biggest Serbian days.

List of religions and spiritual traditions

While religion is hard to define, one standard model of religion, used in religious studies courses, was proposed by Clifford Geertz, who defined it as a

[…] system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic." A critique of Geertz's model by Talal Asad categorized religion as "an anthropological category." Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws, or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world.The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system", but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. Most religions have organized behaviours, including clerical hierarchies, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural) or religious texts. Certain religions also have a sacred language often used in liturgical services. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, rituals, rites, ceremonies, worship, initiations, funerals, marriages, meditation, invocation, mediumship, music, art, dance, public service or other aspects of human culture. Religious beliefs have also been used to explain parapsychological phenomena such as out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences and reincarnation, along with many other paranormal and supernatural experiences.Some academics studying the subject have divided religions into three broad categories: world religions, a term which refers to transcultural, international faiths; indigenous religions, which refers to smaller, culture-specific or nation-specific religious groups; and new religious movements, which refers to recently developed faiths. One modern academic theory of religion, social constructionism, says that religion is a modern concept that suggests all spiritual practice and worship follows a model similar to the Abrahamic religions as an orientation system that helps to interpret reality and define human beings, and thus religion, as a concept, has been applied inappropriately to non-Western cultures that are not based upon such systems, or in which these systems are a substantially simpler construct.

Paleo-Balkan mythology

Paleo-Balkan mythology is the religious beliefs of the Paleo-Balkan peoples (e.g. Thracians, Illyrians, Dacians, etc.) prior to their assimilation by the Roman pantheon and subsequent Christianization.


Reincarnation is the philosophical or religious concept that the non-physical essence of a living being starts a new life in a different physical form or body after biological death. It is also called rebirth or transmigration, and is a part of the Saṃsāra doctrine of cyclic existence. It is a central tenet of Indian religions, namely Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism, although there are Hindu groups that do not believe in reincarnation but believe in an afterlife. A belief in rebirth/metempsychosis was held by Greek historic figures, such as Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato. It is also a common belief of various ancient and modern religions such as Spiritism, Theosophy, and Eckankar, and as an esoteric belief in many streams of Orthodox Judaism. It is found as well in some tribal societies around the world, in places such as Australia and South America.Although the majority of denominations within Christianity and Islam do not believe that individuals reincarnate, particular groups within these religions do refer to reincarnation; these groups include the mainstream historical and contemporary followers of Cathars, Alawites, the Druze, and the Rosicrucians. The historical relations between these sects and the beliefs about reincarnation that were characteristic of Neoplatonism, Orphism, Hermeticism, Manicheanism, and Gnosticism of the Roman era as well as the Indian religions have been the subject of recent scholarly research. Unity Church and its founder Charles Fillmore teaches reincarnation.

In recent decades, many Europeans and North Americans have developed an interest in reincarnation, and many contemporary works mention it.

Thracian horseman

The Thracian horseman (also "Thracian Rider" or "Thracian Heros") is the name given to a recurring motif of a horseman depicted in reliefs of the Hellenistic and Roman periods in the Balkans (Thrace, Macedonia, Moesia, roughly from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD).

Its depiction is in the tradition of the funerary steles of Roman cavalrymen, with the addition of syncretistic elements from Hellenistic and Paleo-Balkanic religious or mythological tradition.

The Thracian horseman is depicted as a hunter on horseback, riding from left to right. Between the horse's hooves is depicted either a hunting dog or a boar. In some instances, the dog is replaced by a lion.

Inscriptions found in Romania identify the horseman as Heros (also Eros, Eron, Herros, Herron), apparently the word heros used as a proper name. The Cult of the Thracian horseman was especially important in Philippi, where the Heros had the epithets of soter (saviour) and epekoos "answerer of prayers". Funerary stelae depicting the horseman belong to the middle or lower classes (while the upper classes preferred the depiction of banquet scenes).

The motif most likely represents a composite figure, a Thracian heroes possibly based on Rhesus, the Thracian king mentioned in the Iliad, to which Scythian, Hellenistic and possibly other elements had been added.In the Roman era, the "Thracian horseman" iconography is further syncretised. The rider is now sometimes shown as approaching a tree entwined by a serpent, or as approaching a goddess. These motifs are partly of Greco-Roman and partly of possible Scythian origin.

The motif of a horseman with his right arm raised advancing towards a seated female figure is related to Scythian iconographic tradition. It is frequently found in Bulgaria, associated with Asclepius and Hygeia.

The motif of a standing goddess flanked by two horsemen, identified as Artemis flanked by the Dioscuri, and a tree entwined by a serpent flanked by the Dioscuri on horseback is transformed into a motif of a single horseman approaching the goddess or the tree.

Related to the Dioscuri motif is the so-called "Danubian Horsemen" motif of two horsemen flanking standing goddess.The motif of the Thracian horseman is not to be confused with the depiction of a rider slaying a barbarian enemy on funerary stelae, as on the Stele of Dexileos, interpreted as depictions of a heroic episode from the life of the deceased.Under the Roman Emperor Gordian III the god on horseback appears on coins minted at Tlos, in neighboring Lycia, and at Istrus, in the province of Lower Moesia, between Thrace and the Danube.The motif of the Thracian horseman was continued in Christianised form in the equestrian iconography of both Saint George and Saint Demetrius.

Thracian language

The Thracian language () is an extinct and poorly attested language, generally considered to be Indo-European, spoken in ancient times in South-East Europe by the Thracians. The linguistic affinities of the Thracian language are poorly understood, but it is generally agreed that it exhibited satem features.

A contemporary, neighboring language, Dacian is usually regarded as closely related to Thracian. However, there is insufficient evidence with respect to either language to enable the nature of this relationship to be decided.

The point at which Thracian became extinct is a matter of dispute. However, it is generally accepted that Thracian was still in use in the 6th century AD: Antoninus of Piacenza wrote in 570 that there was a monastery in the Sinai, at which the monks spoke Greek, Latin, Syriac, Egyptian and Bessian – a Thracian dialect.Other theories about Thracian remain controversial.

Some linguists have suggested that the Albanian language and the ethnogenesis of the Albanians followed a migration by members of the Bessi westward into Albania.

A classification put forward by some linguists, such as Harvey Mayer, suggests that Thracian (and Dacian) belonged to the Baltic branch of Indo-European. However, this theory has not achieved the status of a general consensus among linguists.These are among many competing hypotheses regarding the classification and fate of Thracian.


Zalmoxianism or Zamolxianism is a Neopagan movement in Romania which promotes the rebuilding of an ethnic religion and spirituality of the Romanians through a process of reconnection to their ancient Dacian and Thracian roots. The religion takes its name from Zalmoxis or Zamolxe, at the same time the name of the primordial god and the archetype of the enlightened man in Paleo-Balkan mythology. Scholars Bakó and Hubbes (2011) have defined Zalmoxianism, like the other ethnic religious revivals of Europe, as a reconstructionist ethno-paganism.

Historical polytheism
Myth and ritual
Modern pagan movements
By geography
By association

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