The Thracian tribe of the Bessoi (or sometimes the Bessi) existed between the fifth and first centuries BC. The tribe occupied an area of the Rhodopi Mountains and the northern foothill mountain plain on the upper and middle streams of the River Maritsa (the ancient Hebros), and the adjoining mountain hinterland, all of which is in modern southern-central Bulgaria. Other tribes around them included the Odrissae (of which the kingdoms of Astean and Sapes appear to have been part), none of which were entirely under Roman control once Thrace had been incorporated into the province of Macedonia in 146 BC.
Thanks to Herodotus, the somewhat erratic ‘father of history’, and to archaeological finds, it is clear that the Bessoi possessed a stable political organisation as early as the fifth century BC. Herodotus says ‘The Satrai, as far as I know, were never conquered by anyone and are the only ones of the Thracians who continue to be free until today; they live high in the mountains covered with all kinds of forests and snow, and they are excellent warriors; among the Satrai, they engage with prognostications in the sanctuary, a priestess tells the predictions as in Delphi – there is nothing different.’ Herodotus fails to reveal which ‘highest mountain’ is discussed, whether it was Rhodopi, Rila, Pirin or Pangaion, even though most scholars consider it to be the Rhodopi.
Gradually the name Bessoi – the name of the clan from which the priests and priestess were drawn – replaced the name Satrai. It seems that the Bessoi were a constituent tribe of the Satrai, and perhaps achieved dominance within that collective, thereby giving their name to the entire people over time. That would have been easier than expected, given that the tribe disappeared from history for a period of about three hundred years from 346 BC. By the time they were recorded again, the transformation was complete.
Warrior on horse galloping to right, stabbing a boar with spear held in his right hand, shield in his left; axe below the boar; Behind the rider, a hound;
Bunches of grapes hanging from vine inside a square, vessel beneath, legend on the outside; all within incuse square
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