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The Thracian thalassocracy and the literary tradition during the Late Antiquity

Cvete Lazova (THRACIA, 8, pp. 17-22, Аcademia Litterarum Bulgarica, Serdicae, 1988)

Historiography occupies a prominent position in the ancient written literary tradition. The historical science of today actualizes its investigation in connection with the problems of the authenticity and reliability of the information contained in it. The object of research is the complex structure of the ancient historiographic tradition, which has been connected ever since its emergence with the philosophy, the development of the sciences, the moral theories and political events of its time.

The ancient historiographic tradition has also stored part of the history of the Thracians and of Thrace as a part of major historical works (e. g. of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon and Polybius), in fragments of lost works (of Ephorus, Theopompus and Diodorus). Titles such as Thracica [1] have also been mentioned; their presence in the ancient historiographic tradition can be established by studying various types of historical narrative containing data about the Thracian history. The fragmentary character of most of these historical works creates great difficulties in attempts to reconstruct the entire text to which a concrete fragment or a concrete title belongs. Studies aimed at reconstructing missing elements in the ancient historiographic tradition would enrich our views on the place of the Thracians and Thrace in the ancient historiography. An important element in such studies is the tracing of the history of the fragmented text in the Antiquity, the investigation of its sources and of the conditions for its transformation into a historical source.

A fragment of Diodorus' Bibliotheca Historica [2] contains a list of the thalassocracies, i. e. states that ruled over the sea, from the time of the Trojan War until the reign of Alexander the Great, among which is the Thracian thalassocracy as well. This fragment is preserved in Chronica by Eusebius of Caesarea. [3] Two approaches to the investigation of the fragment are possible: the history of the text during the Antiquity or Diodorus' narrative in connection with the sources used by him. The problems are connected with the authenticity of the fragment and with its use as a valuable historical source.

The list of thalassocracies preserved in Eusebius' work is the object of several studies, one of which dwells on the problems related to the origin, dating and character of the text used by Eusebius. The problems connected with the chronological pattern in this list are also discussed. [4] Another study presents problems of a general palaeographic and text-critical nature. [5] Recently the problems associated with the investigation of the thalassocracies have been placed within the wider frameworks of a study of the ancient chronography and an attempt has been made to reconstruct Diodorus' text borrowed by Eusebius. [6]

Diodorus' list of thalassocracies has come to us through the works of Eusebius of Caesarea, the author of Chronica — a work consisting of two books written in Greek. One of these books, Chronographia, is a chronological treatise consisting mostly of fragments of earlier works; the book has reached us in an Armenian translation. The second book, Chronici Canones, is a chronological table starting with the year when Abraham was born and reaching until the twentieth year in the rule of Constantine the Great. It has reached through the above-mentioned Armenian version in a Latin translation by Hieronymus and through several references in a Syrian epitome. The Greek original of both books has been lost, but it is reconstructed to a considerable extent from quotations and parallel texts of Hieronymus, Georgius Synceilus and other authors.

The thalassocracies appear in two places in the Chronica, in the Chronographia available only in Armenian translation and in Chronici Canones existing in Armenian translation, in Hieronymus' translation and in the chronographic work of Georgius Synceilus. The studies on the character of Synceilus' works, with the sources used by him, show that he did not use additional material while working on Eusebius' text. He extracted the information he needed from Chronici Canones and not from the Chronographia. [7]
Diodorus, VII, fr. 11 (Vogel) 
Ex Diodori scriptis breviter 
de temporibus
Thalassocratorurn, qui maria 
tenebant. Post bellum
Trojanum mare obtinuerunt : 

I. Lidi et Maeones annos XCII
II. Pelasgi LXXXV
III. Thrakii LXX1X
IV. Rhodii XXIII
V. Phrygii XXV
VII. Phynikii XLV
VIII. Egiptii . . .
IX. Melesii (XVIII)
X. (Cares) (LXI)
XI. Lesbii (LXVIII)
XII. Phokaei XLIV
XIII. Samii . . .
XIV. Lakedemonii II
XV. Naxii X
XVI Eretrii XV
XVII Eginenses X 

usque ad Alexandri (vel Xerxis)
Transfretationein (Euseb. 
Chron. I. p. 225 Sell.) 

Hieronyrnos (Helm) 
119.18 Tertio inare optinuerunt
Thraces an. XVI III
123.14, Thraces Bebryciam,
quae nunc Bithynia
vocatur, transeuentes a
Strymone occupaverunt
125.4. Thraces mare obtinuerunt
125.10. Thraces mare obtinuerunt 
Synceilus (Dindorf)

The comparison of the evidence of Georgius Synceilus and Hieronymus shows that Synceilus adhered to his original, i. e. Hieronymus. The number of references to the Thracian thalassocracy is different in these two authors, but this fact suggests that even in Eusebius the Thracian thalassocracy may have been mentioned more than once. The researchers of Eusebius' text propose three possibilities for his work with the text of Diodorus: (1) he may have used the scheme of thalassocracies in Diodorus; (2) he may have used and combined two schemes, one of which goes back to Diodorus; (3) he may have used the scheme going back to Diodorus, as well as a mass of data and related events, which do not follow any definite principle. [8] The third assumption seems to be the most feasible due to the character of Eusebius' work with the sources, which apparently consisted in consulting them and borrowing various types of source material: his dates have probably been borrowed from several authors — Castor of Rhodes, Diodorus, Porphyry and others.

There is evidence in the Suda that Castor wrote on the thalassocracies

He is also the author of Chronica which contains synchronous tables about the history of the East, of Greece and Rome. His work probably appeared around the sixties of the first century B. C. It is also known that Diodorus' work was written between the years 60 and 30 B. C., so that it could have beer perfectly possible for Diodorus to have known Castor's work. There is an opinion that Diodorus borrowed his list of thalassocracies from Castor. However, it seems more probable that both authors used independently of one another the tradition of thalassocracies, which was of a very early origin, dating back to the time before the Trojan War.

The term  has been used in connection with the early history of Paros [9] and of Carpathos. [10] The same meaning is perceived in the story about Minos in Thucydides. [11] A similar term was used by Strabo about Chios, [12] while the local thalassocracy of the pontic city of Sinope [13] demonstrates the wider use of this term. Obvious is the use of the term to denote a state which ruled over the sea for a certain period of time and was a maritime force.

It may be assumed that lists of thalassocracies were in circulation over a long period of time. This way of listing them resembles somewhat Homer's Catalogue of Ships, containing the ships that had taken part in the Trojar War. The Catalogue reveals a certain similarity with a peculiar historical chronicle clad in a poetic form, which differs from a comprehensive epic narrative. [14] The "catalogue" pattern can be perceived as being an archaic prototype of the "thalassocracy" pattern, to which the years of the reign of the thalassocracies were added later. Probably this characteristic contained the idea about the chronological sequence of the listed units, which is a new stage in the development of this type of historical narrative. The tradition of the catalogue and thalassocracies can be added to the large number of lists of names of archons, priests, etc., which were in circulation and were used by the early historiographers, mythographers and genealogists during the period when the Greek historiographic tradition was formed. Such type of documentary material was also used in the first attempts at chronological presentation of Greek history (Hellanicus of Lesbos).

In addition to the similar characteristics of the list of thalassocracies and Homer's Catalogue of Ships, this list also shows some common features with Thucydides' Introduction to his Historiai, where he presented the history of the largest Greek thalassocracies. This observation has given grounds to some researchers to assume that such a list of thalassocracies existed at the time of Thucydides and that it was known to the historiographic tradition. [15] The assumption is justified, because the local character of the historical works presupposed the existence and the use of similar lists, which were also of a local nature.

Researchers have noted the absence of such a tradition of the thalassocracies in Herodotus. However, the data concerning communities included in Eusebius' list would have the value of indirect evidence for the existence of such lists. The preserved evidence about the Thracian thalassocracies in Hieronymus and Syncellus in connection with the transition of the Thracians from Europe (from the Strymon region) into Asia Minor fully coincides with the data in Herodotus [16] who noted the tradition that the Thracians initially inhabited the valley of the Strymon river and only after they migrated to Asia Minor they called themselves Bithynoi.

These data confirm the assumption that the list of thalassocracies was in circulation in the 5th century B.C. [17] and that it was known to the historiographic tradition. This finding, however, does not suggest that the fifth century was the time when the list of thalassocracies was compiled. It would be more feasible to assume that this was the time when the list took shape, having been compiled earlier.

The list of thalassocracies is ascribed to Diodorus of Sicily, whose work Bibliotheca historica was an important stage in the development of the ancient historiographic tradition. The evaluation of Diodorus and of his work by modern historiography makes it possible to adopt a new approach to the data contained in his work. [18] He was a representative of the age of Caesar and Augustus, i. e. the age when the Roman state was created. A great interest in compiling different types of reference works, summaries and historical reviews was evoked in connection with the formation of the cosmopolitical notions in the sphere of ideology. Diodorus' Bibliotheca historica was intended to present both a general picture of events in the history of the world and to include this picture in a synchronous chronological table. His chronological system has some imperfections for such an ambitious task, in spite of the good sources used by Diodorus. It is believed that he based his writings on a chronographer, most of whose data were reliable. Moreover, Diodorus combined information from different sources, most of which have been lost since.

One of the important aspects in the present-day evaluation of Diodorus' work as a historical source concerns his method of work over the sources when writing and the universal historical conception. Contemporary studies have shown that a considerable part of Diodorus' information about the history of the peoples of the East (books I-V) is supported by ancient Eastern texts and by archaeological evidence. [19] This suggests that a large part of his information is reliable to a considerable extent. This is hardly a general characteristic for all parts of his work, but the fact suggests in itself conscious work with the sources. Diodorus' ambition to arrange a large number of dates and events in a definite chronological system, without basing himself on an earlier stable chronographic tradition, doomed to failure the synchronization of the enormous amount of data, facts and events. Hence the impression of his uncritical compilativeness which gave ground for the negative evaluation of Diodorus as a historian, prevalent at the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century.

The dependence of Diodorus on the historiographic tradition of the 4th century B.C. and especially on the Isocratic School is known, as it has left a deep imprint on historical works. [20] The historical conception began to be universalized during that period, comprising the history of all Greek-speaking communities. In its essence, however, it remained within the typological framework of a historical writing of the hellenica type, i. e. Greek and not world history. The non-Greek communities were included in the historical narrative only insofar as they were connected with Greek history. For this period considerable stages in the development of historiography were marked by the works of Ephorus, Theopompus, Timaeus, which apparently influenced Diodorus. In the 4th century B.C., for the first time after Hellanicus of Lesbos, further steps in the development of the chronology were made (Timaeus). This fact was significant for the further development of the ancient historiographic tradition. [21] Diodorus followed this tradition by improving the methods for creating a universal historical conception. The use of a large number of works was totally subordinate to the idea of creating a consistent chronological system which would comprise the world history.

Bearing in mind Diodorus' system of work with the sources and his chronological pattern, it should be assumed that the list of the thalassocracies and of the events synchronous with them occupy an important place in his work. In the historiographic tradition of Diodorus, Eusebius, Hieronymus and Georgius Syncellus, the Thracian thalassocracy was presented with two figures: the years 19 and 79. The palaeographic and text-critical investigations on the work of Hieronymus reject the assumption of a mechanical error in copying the text. [22] The existence of these two figures suggests that there must have been some source material, perhaps of a documentary nature, containing these figures and that Diodorus may have used this material. It is possible that he was the first to derive these figures on the basis of source material studied. The figures were also accepted by Eusebius who, as was mentioned earlier, mentioned more than once the Thracians in the tradition of thalassocracies. In this case the assumption that there was some abbreviated variant of the original between the texts of Eusebius and that of Hieronymus, which strongly reduced the value of Hieronymus' Latin translation, is justified. [23]

Modern studies in the field of ancient chronography devote special attention to the thalassocracies. [24] On the basis of studies on the sources and the chronology it is possible to reconstruct the fragmentary texts that have come to us and to determine the absolute chronology of the items in the list of thalassocracies. Thus, on the basis of the two references to the Thracians with the two figures denoting the durations of their thalassocracies, it was possible to reconstruct Diodorus' text. Probably the evidence about two Thracian thalassocracies goes back to this text. One of the Thracian thalassocracies lasted 19 years and it concerned the Thracians in Europe, while the other one lasted 79 years and concerned the Thracians in Asia Minor. [25] This reconstruction of Diodorus' text is supported by evidence of a historical nature, suggesting the historical and geographical unity of the Propontis area with its European and Anatolian hinterland. [26]

In order .to accept the reconstruction of Diodorus' text, it would be necessary to examine the Thracian thalassocracy in the context of the other thalassocracies, because together with them it belonged to a common cultural-historical layer reflecting the links and interrelations of Southeastern Europe, Asia Minor and the islands belonging to them.

The problems related to the reconstruction of missing elements from the ancient written tradition, which concern the Thracian history, are important for the investigation of the Thracian sources. They involve the evaluation of the works of ancient authors that have been lost, but the content of which may be reconstructed by indirect evidence. They are also connected with a re-evaluation of works or of preserved titles that have been declared to be forgeries by contemporary historical science. The solving of such problems would considerably broaden the foundations of Thracian source analysis and will map out the ways in which the evidence on Thracian history had entered and had remained, permanently in the ancient literary tradition.


1. P l u t a r c h i Moralia. Parallela Minora. 18, 31 (Fr. Duebner, Parisiis, 1877).

2. D i o d o r i Bibliotheca historica. VII, fr. 11 (Vogel-Fischer, Lipsiae, 1888-1906).

3. D i e G r i e c h i s c h e n Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte, XX, Eusebius Werke V. Die Chronik (J. Karst, Leipzig, 1911).

4. M y r es, J. L. On the "List of Thalassocracies" in Eusebius. — JHS, 26, 1926, 83-130.

5. F o t h e r i n g h a m, J. K. On the "List of Thalassocracies" in Eusebius — JHS 27, 1907, 75-89.

6. M i l l e r, M. The Thalassocracies. Studies in Chronography. New York 1971

7. F o t h e r i n g h a m, J. K. Op. cit., p. 80.

8. M yr e s, J. L. Op. cit., p. 93.

9. A p o l l o d o r i Bibliotheca. II, 5, 9 (R. Wagner, Lipsiae, 1926).

10. D i o d o r i Bibliotheca historica. V, 54, Vogel-Fischer, Lipsiae, 1888-1906.

11. T h u c y d i d i s Historiae. I, 4 (C. Hude, Lipsiae, 1910).

12. Strabonis Geographica. C995 (A. Meineke, Lipsiae, 1877).

13. Ibidem, C821.

14. А н д р е е в, Ю. В. Политическая география Гомеровской Греции. — B: Древний Восток и античный мир. M., 1980, C. 128.

15. M y r e s, J. L. Op. cit., p. 87.

16. H e r o d o t i Historiae. VII, 75 (C. Hude, Oxonii, 1908).

17. M y r e s, J. L. Op. cit., 85-89.

18. С т р о г е ц к и й, В. М. Диодор Сицилийский и его Историческая боблиотека в оценке историографии. — ВДИ, 1983, 4, 176—186.

19. B u r t o n, A. C. Diodorus Siculus, Book I. A Commentary. Leiden, 1972, p. 31.

20. З е л ь и н, К. К. Из области греческой историографии IV в. до н. э. — ВДИ, 1960, 1.

21. Bury, J. B. The Ancient Greek Historians. London, 1909, p. 168.

22. F o r t h e r i n g h a m, J. K. Op. cit.

23. К у з и щ и н, В. И. Источниковедение древней Греции (Эпоха Эллинизма). M., 1982, c. 124.

24. M i l l e r, M. Op. cit.

25. I b i d e m.

26. Ф о л, Ал. История на българските земи в древността. C., 1981, 144—159.