Thracian Rider

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THRACIAN RIDER . The so-called Thracian Rider, a demigod who was the focus of a cult in ancient Thrace, is known principally from sculptures and inscriptions dating from the fourth century bce to the early fourth century ce. In Greek and Latin inscriptions he is identified simply as "the hero" (hērōs or heros, usually, but also hērōn, heron, eron, etc.). According to Dimiter Detschew (1957, p. 200), the name of the Thracian horseman was probably related to the Thracian term for "hero," *ierus, or *iarus, which has Celtic parallels. If so, this linguistic fact reinforces the religious analogies between this Thracian type of divinity and the Greek heroes.

The oldest monuments of the Thracian Rider belong to the fourth century bce, but his cult was particularly influential in Thrace and in Moesia Inferior (i.e., Lower Moesia, the region of Greco-Roman settlements on the western shore of the Black Sea) during the second and third centuries ce. Roman iconography and inscriptions of that time show that he was identified with Asklepios, Apollo, Dionysos, Silvanus, and other divinities. He bore the epithets sōtēr ("savior"), iatros ("healer"), and even megas theos ("great god"), the last in the city of Odessus (present-day Varna), where he was also known by the Thracian name of Darzalas.

The extant monuments to the Thracian Rider are reliefs and statuettes having either a votive or a funerary character. The horseman is usually represented as riding to the right, toward a tree on which a serpent is coiled. In the inscriptions, Greek and Latin epithets are often added to the generic name of the hero, showing that the cult was adapted to particular heroes, who sometimes were known by Thracian names. The epithets are usually toponyms, names of tribes, or attributes of the horseman.

The names of the worshipers are known from votive inscriptions. It is interesting to note that 61 percent of the worshipers recorded in Moesia Inferior and Dacia (modern Romania and Bessarabia) bore Greek or Greco-Roman names, 34 percent bore Roman names, and only 5 percent bore names of Thracian or Thraco-Roman origin. Accordingly, it can be inferred that the majority of the adepts of the cult in Moesia Inferior were Greek.

Little is known about the cult itself, which was a combination of Greek and Thracian beliefs. At its height it was certainly related to concepts of survival after death and to healing, and it may have involved notions of survival either in the netherworld or in heaven. It was widespread among the population of Thrace and Moesia Inferior, and its devotees included people of various social standings and ethnic backgrounds. So far as we know, the cult never took the form of a mystery religion with secret communities organized in a hierarchy. The cult of the Thracian Rider died away in the first half of the fourth century ce.

See Also

Dacian Riders.


On the name of the Thracian Rider, see Dimiter Detschew's Die thrakischen Sprachreste (Vienna, 1957). For a listing of monuments from southern Thrace, together with an explanation and history of the cult, see Gawrill I. Kazarow's Die Denkmäler des thrakischen Reitergottes in Bulgarien, 2 vols. (Budapest, 1938). For a catalog of monuments from Moesia Inferior and Dacia, see Nubar Hampartumian's Corpus Cultus Equitis Thracii, vol. 4, Moesia Inferior (Romanian Section) and Dacia (Leiden, 1979).

New Sources

Condurachi, Emile. "A propos de la genèse de l'iconographie du cavalier thrace." In Mythologie gréco-romaine. Mythologies périphériques, pp. 6369. Paris, 1981.

Dimitrova, Nora. "Inscriptions and Iconography in the Monuments of the Thracian Rider." Hesperia 71 (2002): 209229.

Gočeva, Zlatozara. "Les traits caractéristiques de l'iconographie du cavalier thrace." In Iconographie classique et identités régionales, pp. 237243. Paris, 1986.

Dimitrova, Nora. "Inscriptions and Iconography in the Monuments of the Thracian Rider." Hesperia 71 (2002): 209229.

Walter, Christopher. "The Thracian Horseman." Byzantinischen Forschungen 14 (1989): 657673.

Hoddinott, Ralf F. "The Thracian Hero at Rogozen." In Studia Aegaea et Balcanica in Honorem Lodovicae Press, pp. 157165. Warsaw, 1992.

Ioan Petru Culianu (1987)

Cicerone Poghirc (1987)

Revised Bibliography