Thrace (Θράκη — Thráke — in Modern Greek, Тракия — Trakiya — in Bulgarian, and Trakya in Turkish: ) is a geographical and historical area in southeast Europe, now split between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, which is bounded by the Balkan Mountains to the north, the Aegean Sea to the south and the Black Sea to the east. It comprises southeastern Bulgaria (Northern Thrace), northeastern Greece (Western Thrace) and the European part of Turkey (Eastern Thrace).
In antiquity, it was also referred to as “Europe”, prior to the extension of the term to describe the whole continent. The name Thrace comes from the Thracians, an ancient Indo-European people inhabiting Southeastern Europe, from Ancient Greek Thrake (Θρᾴκη), descending from Thrāix (Θρᾷξ). The name of the continent Europe first referred to Thrace proper, prior to extending its meaning to the whole continent. The region obviously took the name of the principal river there, Hebros, probably from the Indo-European arg “white river” (the opposite of Vardar, meaning “black river”), according to an alternative theory, Hebros means “goat” in Thracian.
In Turkey, it is commonly referred to as Rumeli, Land of the Romans, owing to this region being the last part of the Eastern Roman Empire that was conquered by the Ottoman Empire.
The indigenous population of Thrace was a people called the Thracians, divided into numerous tribal groups. The region was controlled by the Persian Empire at its greatest extent, and Thracian soldiers were known to be used in the Persian armies. Later on, Thracian troops were known to accompany neighboring ruler Alexander the Great when he crossed the Hellespont which abuts Thrace, during the invasion of the Persian Empire itself.
The Thracians did not describe themselves by name; terms such as Thrace and Thracians are simply the names given them by the Greeks.
Divided into separate tribes, the Thracians did not form any lasting political organizations until the founding of the Odrysian state in the 4th century BC. Like Illyrians, the locally ruled Thracian tribes of the mountainous regions maintained a warrior tradition, while the tribes based in the plains were purportedly more peaceable. Recently discovered funeral mounds in Bulgaria suggest that Thracian kings did rule regions of Thrace with distinct Thracian national identity.
During this period, a subculture of celibate ascetics called the Ctistae lived in Thrace, where they served as philosophers, priests and prophets.
Sections of Thrace particularly in the south started to become hellenized before the Peloponnesian War as a significant amount of Athenian and Ionian colonies were set up in Thrace before the war and Spartan and other Doric colonists followed suit after the war. The special interest of Athens to Thrace is underlined by the numerous finds of Athenian silverware in Thracian tombs. In 168 BC, after the Third Macedonian war and the subjugation of Macedonia to the Romans, Thrace also lost its independence and became tributary to Rome. Towards the end of the 1st century BC Thrace lost its status as a client kingdom as the Romans began to directly appoint their kings. This situation lasted until 46 AD, when the Romans finally turned Thrace into a Roman province (Romana provincia Thracia)
During the Roman domination, within the geographical borders of ancient Thrace, there were two separate Roman provinces, namely Thrace (provincia Thracia) and Lower Moesia (Moesia inferior). Later, in the times of Diocletian, the two provinces were joined and formed the so-called Dioecesis Thracia. The establishment of Roman colonies and mostly several Greek cities, as was Nicopolis, Topeiros, Traianoupolis, Plotinoupolis and Hadrianoupolis resulted from the Roman Empire’s urbanization. It is noteworthy that the Roman provincial policy in Thrace favored mainly not the Romanization but the Hellenization of the country, which had started as early as the Archaic period through the Greek colonization and was completed by the end of Roman Antiquity.] As regards the competition between the Greek and Latin language, the very high rate of Greek inscriptions in Thrace extending south of Haemus mountains proves the complete language Hellenization of this region. The boundaries between the Greek and Latin speaking Thrace are placed just above the northern foothills of Haemus mountains.
During the imperial period many Thracians — particularly members of the local aristocracy of the cities — had been granted the right of the Roman citizenship (civitas Romana) with all his privileges. Epigraphic evidence show a large increase in such naturalizations in the times of Trajan and Hadrian, while in 212 AD the emperor Caracalla granted, with his well-known decree (constitutio Antoniniana), the Roman citizenship to all the free inhabitants of the Roman Empire. During the same period (in the 1st-2nd century AD), a remarkable presence of Thracians is testified by the inscriptions outside the borders (extra fines) both in the Greek territory and in all the Roman provinces, especially in the provinces of Eastern Roman Empire.
By the mid 5th century, as the Western Roman Empire began to crumble, Thracia fell from the authority of Rome and into the hands of Germanic tribal rulers. With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Thracia turned into a battleground territory for the better part of the next 1,000 years. The surviving eastern portion of the Roman Empire in the Balkans, later known as the Byzantine Empire, retained control over Thrace until the 8th century when the northern half of the entire region was incorporated into the First Bulgarian Empire and the remainder was reorganized in the Thracian theme. The Empire regained the lost regions in the late 10th century until the Bulgarians regained control of the northern half at the end of the 12th century. Throughout the 13th century and the first half of the 14th century, the region was changing in the hands of the Bulgarian and the Byzantine Empire (excluding Constantinople). In 1265 the area suffered a Mongol raid from the Golden Horde, led by Nogai Khan, and between 1305 and 1307 was raided by the Catalan company.
In 1352, the Ottoman Turks conducted their first incursion into the region subduing it completely within a matter of two decades and occupying it for five centuries. In 1821, several parts of Thrace, such as Lavara, Maroneia, Sozopolis, Aenos, Callipolis and Samothraki rebelled during the Greek War of Independence.
The region had been under the rule of the Byzantine Empire from the time of the division of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western empires in the early fourth century AD. The Ottoman Empire conquered most of the region in the 14th century and ruled it till the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913. During Ottoman rule, Thrace had a mixed population of Turks and Bulgarians, with a strong Greek element in the cities and the Aegean Sea littoral. A smaller number of Pomaks, Jews, Armenians and Romani also lived in the region. In 1821, several parts of Western Thrace, such as Lavara, Maroneia, and Samothraki rebelled, participated in the Greek War of Independence.
In 1912, the Balkan League (Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro) fought against the Ottoman Empire and annexed most of its European territory, including Thrace, in the First Balkan War (1912-1913). Western Thrace was occupied by Bulgarian troops who defeated the Ottoman army. On November 15, 1912, on the right bank of the river Maritza, Macedonian-Adrianopolitan Volunteer Corps captured the Turkish corps of Yaver Paha, which defending the Eastern Rhodopes and Western Thrace from invading Bulgarians.
After a clear victory, the Balkan countries divided and annexed most of its European territory, including Adrianople. Bulgaria, unhappy with the allocation of the land, (especially Greek and Serbian gains in Macedonia), launched an attack in June 1913 against its former allies. The Bulgarian attacks were quickly driven back, and Greek and Serbian armies invaded Bulgarian-held territory. Simultaneously, the Ottomans advanced into Eastern Thrace and retook Adrianople, while Romania used the opportunity to invade Bulgaria from the north and advanced with little opposition to within a short distance of Sofia, the Bulgarian capital.
In August 1913, Bulgaria was defeated. Attacked on all sides, Bulgaria was forced to agree to a truce and peace negotiations. In the end, the Bulgarians did not receive the territories in Macedonia that they wanted, but they were awarded much of the territory of Western Thrace. The region remained as part of Bulgaria until the end of World War 1
On the 1918, Entente forces defeated Bulgaria in Macedonia and as part of the surrender agreement, Bulgaria was to retreat from the area of Western Thrace, while “inter-allied” forces assumed control. On Oct,ober 10, 1919, General Charpy of France went to Komotini (Gumulcine) and assumed military control over the area. On October 22, General Charpy was appointed Governor of Western Thrace. The subsequent Treaty of Neuilly agreed in November, Bulgaria ceded all of Western Thrace to the Entente, thereby cutting off Bulgaria’s direct outlet to the Aegean Sea.
After the war, the Allied Supreme Council (without the U.S.), gathered at a conference in San Remo in April, 1920. At that conference, it was agreed (among other things) that the Greeks would assume control of Western Thrace, and would be allowed a Greek presence in eastern Thrace as well as on the Anatolian west coast and the Aegean Islands commanding the Dardanelles. Upon this agreement Greek forces moved into Western Thrace to replace the international troops, and on May 20, 1920, Greece officially annexed Western Thrace.
Because of the may political changes caused by World War I as well as the Balkan Wars and their aftermath, the stamps from this region can be difficult to assign to easily understood issuing entities. The Scott catalogue labels all of the stamps of Thrace under the “N” prefix which it designates as occupation stamps.
During the Second Balkan War, the cities of Dedeagatch and Giumulzina came under Greek occupation. There were 30 stamps issued by the Giumulzina District during 1913 that were created by surcharging Turkish, Bulgarian and Greek stamps. There was also a 1913 lithographic issue with Turkish inscriptions consisting of five stamps.
There were then a total of 33 Allied occupation stamps which received handstamps or overprints on Bulgarian stamps issued in 1919 and the first part of 1920. Bulgaria was forced to withdraw, and the Allied forces moved in and occupied Western Thrace. At the conference of San Remo on April, 1920, it was agreed that Greece would then control Western Thrace. The Greeks overprinted 58 Greek stamps and nine Turkish stamps beginning on May 20, 1920.
In my collection, I currently have only three stamps from the Allied occupation of 1919-1920.
In 1919, the Allied forces overprinted stamps of Bulgaria, including 3 postage due stamps, with various configurations of THRACE INTERALLIÉE. The first issue of six denominations were handstamped diagonally in violet (Scott #N1b-N6), but subsequent issues were printed either horizontally or vertically in red or black (Scott #N7-N15).
These nine stamps with this overprint used Bulgarian stamps of 1911-1919. A four stamp set with a vertical overprint of THRACE INTERALLIÉE on Bulgarian stamps of 1919 was issued at the start of 1920 (Scott #N16-N19).
In early 1920, an additional six definitive issues of Bulgaria, along with five postage due issues were overprinted THRACE OCCIDENTALE for Western Thrace (Scott #N20-N25). These were replaced in May of that year with Greek stamps overprinted Διοίκησις Δυτικής Θράκη which translates to Western Thrace Administration.