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Thracians and wine

What is the Bulgarian place in the world’s history of wine? Or to be more specificsince when vines are grown and wine produced in our lands? Wine was produced in what is now Bulgaria even 5000 years ago.


The beginning of its production was set by the Thracians. They are believed to be one of the best ancient winemakers. A lot of the teories aiming to reveal who was the first to start winemaking point out the Thracians. The first vines in Europe were brought by them from the Middle East and planted in what is now Southern Bulgaria. At the beginning wine was produced along the Maritsa river and around seaports.

In his book "Ancient Wine", Patrick McGovern supports these thesis by mythology. Semele is a Thracian goddess, mother of Dionysus. The name is associated with Phrygian word meaning "mother earth" and the old Bulgarian Землia” (Earth). One of the stories aboutSemele says that the goddess got pregnant from Zeus. When Hera found out she called the Thracian tribesand orderd them to extract the baby from his mother’s womb and burn it. At the end vines grown from the ashes of what they did.
There are also many other myths and legends which connect the beginning of wine producing with the Thracians. According to Homer, the most popular wine in his time was the aromatic and heavy wine from Maroneia, which is a city in Thrace. According to his stories Odysseus used this wine to put to sleep the Cyclops before he spear the eye of Polyphemus.
Another Thracian legend reveals the story of Orestes and his dog Sirius. According to it the dog miraculously gave birthto a piece of wood.Orestes buried it into the ground and the next spring it sprouted out in the first vine. According to the story Orestes was the son of Deucalion and the latter is in a way the Greek version of Noah. And if you look in the Bible, it says that Noah planted the first vine after the flood. There are a lot of other stories and mythsand all of them express the strong bound between wine and human history.A bound which is as well an integral part of the Bulgarian lands’ history.

Thracians had a cult of wine, and the brightest example of this is Dionysus. They had a well-developed viticulture.The Slavs and the Proto-Bulgarians inherited and continue to develop this tradition when they came to the Balkans. After thechristianization the Dionysus’ cult began to fade away.Its feast was christianized but Saint Trifon and Trifon Zarezan ritualshave a lot in common with the characteristics of the cult of Dionysus ( for example pouring wine and electing a king). Even the days of celebration of both holidays are the same.
During the Middle Ages the church took the wine producing under its protection.

Thracian Gods

The main gods of the Bessi are Dionysus worshiped as Zagreus in Thrace, and the goddess Bendis. Holidays (Dionysian mysteries), dedicated to Dionysus in Greece are called Dionysii in Rome - Bacchanalia in Thrace - Rozalii.

In ancient times the obscure figure of Zagreus was worshipped by followers of Orphism, whose late Orphic hymns invoke his name. Actually Zagreus was a Thracian god prototype later known as Dionysus - the god of joy, wine and ecstasy in the Greek and Bacchus in the Roman mythology.

The Orphic mysteriesheld in honor of Dionysus-Zagreus used to be performed only by devoted unmarried men. They were called a-bii, which means “not alive”, because they didnt lead an ordinary life. The mysteries were held in closed societies and hidden places far from the eyes of the ordinary people - rocks and caves. They were accompanied by choral songs and mimic games. The culmination of the mysterieswas the symbolic death of the king-priest, identified with Zagreus who was teared apart by the Titans and the symbolic birth of the mother goddess -the beginning of life. The “death” is carried out through a blood sacrifice of a bull, horse, goat or even sometimes people. Conceptionwas performed by a mass orgy of men and women. Later on Orphic mysteries became apart of the Bacchanalia’s honor of the god of wine and merriment - Dionysus.

Wine and fire are essential part of the cult of Dionysus. The act of wine producing itself was recognized as a tale of the life and sorrow of the god in his Thracian prototype. Picking and smashing the vines represent the way that the Titans tear apartthe Thracian Dionysus. That is why vinification was a mistery that was acompaniedwith sad songs reminding of akeen.

Bendis is a Thracian godess worshiped in Southwestern Thrace. There She is usually presented as a a hunter, wrapped with leather with boots and a fox fur hat. In her hands she holds a spear, a bow or even a net and she is often accompanied by a hunting dog. In the Greek mythology boots are a symbol of speed. That is why they present in Bendis images. But what is different from her Greek analogies is that only she wears a fox fur hat. In the ancient the myths and legends fox was considered to be the most cunning hunter or animal. The fox was believed to be able to avoid all traps and nets.

Vine and Haberlea rhodopensis ( the Orpheus’ flower) were religious cult for the Bessi. Wine used to gave divine euphoria and flame in the fiery-wine rituals. For fortunetelling and misteries they used to pour wine on the altar and make predictions upon the height of the blazed fire. This rituals in the Dyonisus tample were described by Svetonii Tranquil and Herodotus. For another auspice the Bessi used to sacrifice an animal on the altar and burn it. If the flame are vast the year would be fruitful, if not – the fire did not start at all.

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