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Thracian Tribes in Scythia Minor Author(s): S. Casson Reviewed work(s): Source: The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol.

17 (1927), pp. 97-101 Published by: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies Stable URL: . Accessed: 22/01/2013 11:46
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tribe of Satrai--BraacOt 8e rv Strphcov Lal ol

The Thraciantribe Bessoiare spoken of in Herodotus (vii, III, 22) as if they were a religious sect or subdivisionof the larger Thracian
LpoU(on rpoT0(Pe6ov0TeSTOU

Pangaion). Whether they were of wider distribution in the fifth century B.C. is not known, but in the time of Livy1 and Pliny2 they seem to have been considered a large tribe. According to Pliny they lived on the left bank of the Strymon, which naturally includes their Pangaean settlement, while Strabo 3 places them slightly further inland
on Haimos-

northern slopes along the upper waters of the Hebros. We are thus able to identify them as being in their original home until the early years of our era. They were subdued by M. Lucullus in 72 B.C., In 29-28 B.C. M. Licinius and later by C. Octavius in 60 B.C.4 Crassushanded their sanctuary to the care of the Romanophil Odrysai. They were again suppressed in 16 B.C. and in 13-11 B.C. Here their history pauses. We next hear of them as in the Dobrudja. Ovid. knows them as his immediate neighbours,6 so that they had reached those parts by A.D. 8. He is referring to people around him and not: to distant tribes. Nor is he using the generic terms to describe the Thraco-Getic barbarians of those coasts, but specifically mentioning a Thracian tribe whom he knew. If the Bessoi still lived at this time only in the region of Sofia at the headwaters of Hebros and on the slopes of Haimos, it seems incredible that he should mention them.

7Xov ToU 6pouS veL0ovTat ro0 A'tLou-and even on its TrX

8, during which the whole or a part of this tribe moved northeastwards. The Bessoi, besides being wild mountaineers and enthusiastic worshippers of Dionysos, were also famous as soldiers in the Roman army and known for their skill as gold-miners. 7 They had given the name Ister to the Danube, 8 the southern name, contrasting with the northern Dacian or Getic name Dunaris, which has survived as the
1 39, 53iv 40. gens, Bessique, Getaeque'; and iv, i, 67, 'Vivere quam miserum est inter Bessosque Getasque.' 7 Tomaschek, 'lber Brumalia und Rosalia' Sitzungsber. der Akad. d. Wiss. Wien x868, p. 351 ff. See also p.. 397 n. 2. 8ibid. p. 399. It is thus .linguistically connected with the name Strumon.

We thus have a period of some nineteen years between

II B.C. and


Xa 3* 318 and 331 f~r. 48. 4 Suet. Aulg. 3. 5 Cass. Dio 5, 25, 5. Tristia iii, x 5, ' Sauromatae cingunt, fera

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Rumanian Dinare and can be compared with the similar river-names Naparis, Magaris and Sagaris prevalent in those parts in antiquity.1 They counted throughout history as a typically Thracian people. To Herodotus they had in the highest degree the pugnacity of the Thracian stock, while to Strabo and to Roman authors their chief characteristics were rapacity and savagery. Dr. Vasile Parvan- has shown beyond dispute the essentially Bessic-Thracian nature of the northern half of Scythia Minor in the early centuries of our era. But it was Thracian by recent immigration. The immigrants came from their original home in Haimos and Rhodope. The excavations of Istria have provided some new and important inscriptions referring to Bessoi who lived in the region between Istria and Tomi. In Histria IV (Bucharest, I916), no. 20, we have a list of gerousiasts of Histria among whom several are found with Thracian names and there is mention of a ceremony of which can hardly be different from that of the Rosalia. 'PoSvtL,6q This ceremony, as Parvan points out,3 flourished most vigorously in Roman Philippi at the foot of Bessian Pangaion. No. 19 contains a Thracian name and No. 30 (almost a duplicate of an inscription at Bucharest, C.I.L. iii., I4447) uses the name Bessus as a personal proper name. But the most important group is IV. 24 and nos. 46, 49, 50, 51, 52 in Histria VII (Bucharest, I923)-five altars erected by inhabitants of the Vicus Quintionis, in which ' veterani, cives Romani et Bessi consistentes' are referred to. VII. 53 gives us one other similar altar of the Vicus Celeris, but privately dedicated (de suoposuit) by a Roman official Ulpius Ulpianus without mention of Bessian or other elements in the settlement. Finally VII. 6I, a precisely similar altar of the Vicus Secundini, gives us, instead of the usual phrase of the first and main group of six of the Vicus Quintionis, the phrase' cives Romani et LAI consistentes.' Almost the same phrase is found on another altar, long known, from a vicus near Tomi (C.I.L. iii. 7533) where we read ' cives Romani et LAE consistentes.' The name of the Vicus seems to be ' Turris Muca ': the name of the emperor is erased and the stone cannot be exactly dated. Parvan decides, 4 in view of the fact that all the altars are dedicated on the Ides of June, that the custom of the country was to erect altars in this way during the Rosalia. In a total of nine dedications there is little variation. The Vicus Quintionis seems to have been shared by Bessoi and Romans upon the same footing; one of each nationality shares in the dual mayorship. But in the last two inscriptions we meet with a surprise. The formula is almost identical with that used in the six altars of the Vicus Quintionis; but instead
1 V. Parvan, 'I primordi della civilta Romana alle foci del Danubio,' Ausonia x, p. I87 ff: and
Nume de rauri Daco-Scitiae (Bucharest, 1923),

2 ibid. p. 198 ff. 3ibid. p. 208.

4Histria vii, p. 57 (Academia Romana 1923,


6 ff.

Memoriilie tectiunii istorice III, ii, i).

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is a correct transliteration of the LAI of the Istrian and the LAE of the Tomitan altar. The large group from the Vicus Quintionis belongs to the second All save one can be dated exactly (VII. 46-A.D. I49; century A.D. formula would hardly change much in so short a time. But the Vicus Secundini and Vicus Turris Muca examples are of a much
later date-the

of ' Bessi consistentes' we read 'Lai (or Lae) consistentes,' if this










the same time on epigraphical grounds, though the absence of the imperial name or names makes it impossible to fix exactly. Yet the formula persists virtually unaltered. Parvan interprets the unique LAI-LAE as being the equivalent of Xoo = gentes, or special colonists with Roman privileges, like the paocXtxoly?opyol of the Hellenistic age. He is, no doubt, strengthened in this view by the Roman character of the names of the magistrates in both cases (Aurelius Fortunatus and Aelius Herculanus in VII. 6I, and Vimianus and Herculanus in C.I.L. iii. 7533). In all the six inscriptions of the Vicus Quintionis, on the other hand, one of the two magistrates is pure Bessian while two out of six quaestors (VII. 50 and 52) are also Bessian, half-Romanised as Genicio Brini and Frontone Burtsitsinis1 (to leave them in the ablative). But there is a difference of some eighty years between the two groups, and the Roman names of VII. 6I and C.I.L. iii. 7533 may hide non-Roman officials. The Romanising, at least in name, of the non-Roman elements in these villages was rapid. Despite the attractiveness of Parvan's interpretation of LAI-LAE, it does not convince. We expect a tribal name-and such there is available. Thucydides2 mentions a tribe called AAocZioL live who in Paionia near the Strymon and Mt. Skomios, while Stephanus Thucydides as his source. The same tribal name has recently been identified on Thraco-Macedonian coins of the early fifth century which all come from the region of Ishtip, between the upper Struma and the Vardar.3 The coin inscriptions vary only in length. Out of five known examples two have AAIAI and three AA, all preSince the Bessoi and Laiaioi were neighbours in the StrymonHaimos region the occurence of LAI-LAE in a part of a formula where a tribal name is expected suggests that some of the Laiaioi accompanied the Bessoi in their partial migration from Rhodope
of the fifth century The AOCLOtOL
3 J. Svoronos, VHellenisme primitif de la Macedoine (I919), pp. 22 ff., 'E9. 'Apx. 1889, p. 93 ff., and my Macedonia, Thrace and Illyria, p. z65.

former belongs to A.D. 237, and the latter to about

of Byzantium

gives a tribe A`ivoc, sOvos IHaLovLx6, acknowledging

sumably standing

as for AocmC&wv in Thucydides.

and Haimos to the Pontic shores.

1 A characteristic Bessian name, I think; cf. Tomaschek, op. cit. p. 388.

ii. 96.

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I 00






B.C. might contract into the abbreviated forms of the two inscriptions.1 Their magistrates probably bore Roman names by the mid-

third century


The Bessoi, as we have seen, were partly subdued and deprived of their great religious centre by 28 B.C. The Laiaioi must have been subdued with them. Paionia was broken. But the Bessoi, like most Strymonic and Pangaean peoples, were skilled gold-miners. A large body of them moved eastwards to the Dobrudja perhaps to become agriculturists, perhaps to join Dacian miners. The Pirustae moved in this way from Illyria to Transylvania, where there was a Vicus Pirustarum,2 called Alburnus Major, the modern Verespatak, in the northern outlier of the Carpathians nor far from Kluj. The famous wax tablets found here between 1785 and I855 give much information on the commercial activities of Greeks and Romans at the gold mines between the years A.D. 13I and 167. Other settlements, perhaps of the Pirustae, are mentioned on the tablets, such as Immenosum Majus and Deusara. The Bessoi would thus seem to be firmly settled in the Tomi and Istria regions at very nearly the same time that Pirustae were living in the middle of Transylvania. Both alike lived in communities called vici. If we accept the transference of Thracian tribes from the Strymonian region to the Dobrudja it becomes more easy to explain the references in Ovid to the Bistonians. These were another Thracian tribe from the region of Lake Bistonis near the modern Kavalla. He expresses the hope 3that his ashes shall not be trampled by the hooves of a Bistonian horsenec male compositos, ut scilicet exule dignum, Bistonii cineres ungula pulset equi. And again4 he speaks of the twofold danger of those living at Tomialtera Bistonias pars est sensura sarissas, altera Sarmatica spicula missa manu. There is some reason5 for thinking that Ovid used ' Bistonian in the general sense of Thracian, in which case it would here be the specific equivalent of Bessian, but the two passages just quoted give a precise description of native raiders. From Ovid it seems clear that the Bessoi were as little settled and as savage in disposition as the Sarmatae and Getae, so that it seems likely that their migration was voluntary rather than forced
1The Istrian altar, whose inscription is well preserved has A throughout for A. 2 See the Tabellae Ceratae in C.I.L. iii, p. 921 ff., J. F. Neigebaur, Dacien aus den Ueberresten des klassischen Alterthuzms(Kronstadt I85I) p. I85 ff. and A. J. Evans, Antiqularian Researches in Illyricum, ii, p. 13.


Ponto, I. iii, 59.

s As in Ex Ponto, II. ix, 54. Other poets followed him, cf. Seneca Agam., 673 and Claudian, Proserp. ii, praef. 8. Ovid passed through the land of the Bistones on his way across Thrace by land from Tempyra to Tomi: see Tristia
I, x.



I. ii, Ioc.

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and that they lived a free and unsubdued life until they were persuaded sometime between A.D. 8 and 149 to settle in villages with Romans. This was the first step to their ultimate conversion to Christianity
soon after A.D. 398.1


Since the above was in proof the publication by the late Dr. Parvan of ' Fouilles d'Histria: inscriptions, troisieme serie I923He here publishes two new I925,' has appeared in Dacia, vol. II. and well-preserved altar-inscriptions (nos. 41 and 43) which again give the name LAI, with the same formula ' c(ives) R(omani) et Lai consistentes' in each case quite clearly and unambiguously cut. Both were erected in the Vicus Secundini. The first describes the Lai more fully as ' consistentes reg(ione) Si(tri ?),' which Parvan takes as a misspelling for Istri, thus suggesting that this vicus was quite close to Histria. It is dated between A.D. 198 and 2II. The second, an excellently cut stone, says simply ' consistentes vico Secundini posuerunt pro salute,' but the name of the emperor has been carelessly cut afterwards upon what must in the original inscription have been a blank. It is also put in the nominative (' pro salute Imp(eratoris) M. Ant. Gordianus'). Parvan rightly adds this altar to the group that were erected on the occasion of the Rosalia. We already have the altar dedicated in 237 (VII, 6I above) to the emperors Maximinus and Maximus. But in February the empire was in a turmoil and the succession was uncertain. So the lapidary of this altar left a blank to be filled up as events dictated. As news reached the village (after the Rosalia festival) the name of the young Gordian was duly (but carelessly) cut. Parvan, in view of no less than four inscriptions clearly mentioning the Lai (three from the same village near Histria), has abandoned his ' ' explanation Aot ; Une information,' he says, essentielle m'avait echappe,' and he quotes the passage of Thucydides referred to above
are in which the AocLiooL mentioned.

numismatic evidence, nor venture an explanation of the presence of in the AocLotao these parts. It is with pleasure that I quote this opinion of Parvan because we have each arrived separately at the same conclusion. Parvan was further satisfied that Prof. Rostovtzeff's theory2 that the word ' Lai' represents a tribal name ' Laeti' is untenable in view of the evidence for the Laiaioi. In this I concur, as, I feel sure, will Prof. Rostovtzeff.
1 See Tomaschek, op. cit. p. 396.
2 Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire, p. 558.

He does not, however, give the

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