28.11.2018 The history of Bulgarian wine // The Thracians - Part 1

The history of Bulgarian wine

The Thracians – Part 1


It is totally unpredictable how long will be my effort for presenting the history of wine in our region. Hopefully not as long as the dispute where wine-producing has started… One thing is clear – we are proud of our winemaking history and there is a simple reason for that. The inhabitants of our lands (arguably the Thracians) are definitely among the first civilizations worldwide that started producing wine. This happened 4 000-5 000 years ago! We find information about this great civilization in the literary works of famous ancient authors like Plato, Xenophon, Athenaeus, etc. Even Homer described Thrace as a land where good wine was being produced. But when I say wine, please have in mind that a quite different liquid should be considered compared to what we enjoy today! Much sweeter, much thicker, much higher alcohol degree, much more aromatic and very deep-colored (red);

The ancient Thracians migrated from Asia Minor (though there are different hypotheses) and settled down in our lands, plus parts of Greece nearly five thousand years ago. They were craftsmen, engaged in the agriculture, breed-stocking, used to live in kingdoms, resp. they were divided in different tribes – Odrisi, Medi, Daci, Bessi, Tribali etc. And they have never became united (a bad habit which is so typical for our mentality even nowadays)! The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that “if the Thracian tribes were united, they would have conquered the world”. But that never happened. They were skilful soldiers and adored horses (the horse was buried very often together with its owner who has just passed away). Same happened occasionally with the wives (note the plural form) of the died ruler; some scientists assert that the women were still alive when they were buried – and it was actually a great honour for the woman or women. Probably I should have asked all feminists to skip the last sentence…


The Thracians were extremely good in two things – gold/silversmith and – guess what – wine-making! I will focus certainly on the second aspect but the first one is narrowly related to the wine also. Keep on reading (it is not that long and boring – hopefully) and you will understand why. The Thracians believed wine to be a gift from God. Their wine cult was extraordinary. The divine drink was firmly incorporated in their way of living and their special rituals. Its paramount, sacred function was people and Gods to merge into one. This civilization apotheosized Zagreus – the lord of the sun, wine, and jubilation, and Zelanos – the supernatural power that breathed magic into wine… Well known are their “followers”: the Greek God of wine Dyonissos and the Roman – Bacchus. In Thracian the word zelanos meant coveted and consequently the modified zelas was used for wine (actually this is one of the very few Thracians words that is known today).

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Wine has been drunk from the cradle to the grave – in ceremonies when a baby was born (a sad event, because for these people the life on earth was undesired and unhappy) and when a man died (they celebrated the transition of the soul into a better world)… Exactly the graves and tombs are the only visual evidences, depicting the live of the Thracians – thanks to the precious frescoes on their walls – very often including wine ceremonies and vessels. Fortunately many of them are now open for visitors – The tomb in Kazanlak, Alexandrovo tomb, Sveshtari tomb, Golyama Kosmatka, etc. Very often we are paying a visit to some of them during our Via Vino wine tours in Bulgaria!


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Another important artifacts are the above mentioned ornate vessels, known nowadays as “The Thracian Treasures”, which have been used during various, special wine related rituals. I am talking about magnificent and amazing precisely worked out jugs, rhytons, phials, etc. This is absolutely clear evidence about the importance of the wine. The Thracians haven’t simply quenched their thirst and haven’t drunk zelas from wineskins like the primitive cultures!

Everyone (men and women, young and old) simply enchanted and respected the wine, they deified the wine! It was food for the poor, pleasure for the rich, remedy for all! The slaves were allowed to drink wine as well. The Thracian wine has been sought-after and “exported” – in order to be enjoyed by other civilizations. And one more eloquent fact – the goods in the Thracian societies belonged regularly to the community or simply to a group of people. There were only two exclusions, which had an individual (!) owner – the sword and the wine goblet!



To be continued…

In Part 2 you will find out how have been used these wine vessels, what was the “price” of the ancient wine, but also what kind of knowledge and skills did the Thracian winemakers have. You may also check our Food & Wine Tour “On the Trails of the Thracians”  / “Auf den Spuren der Thraker”.




Sources & inspirations which I partly used and definitely would recommend:

1. “Виното в древността” – Ирко Петров, ТИЦ-Хасково, 2013;

2. “The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova”, Caroline Gilby, “Infinite Ideas Limited”, 2018;

3. “Das Bulgarische Weinbuch”, Jassen Borislavov, Trud, 2006;

4. “The Wine of the Thracians. Myth, Ritual and Art”, Ivan Marazov, Academic Book Market Publishers LTD, Sofia, 2014