Ancient Thrace – the homeland of wine culture

What to start with the knowing of wine? If we try to answer this question, then we'll get into the context of a specific culture, where the unknown is a lot and there are both rational and irrational approaches – to the knowledge about it. Initially wine had been a mystery and the journey into the world of wine would be appropriate to begin with the mysterious ancient Thrace.

From the works of Homer, Herodotus and other ancient historians is known that the Thracians were skilled warriors, excellent farmers, they erected superb fortresses and towers and their honey and wine became truly legendary. Wine for the Thracians was in every sense of the word a drink, a nutritious liquid for the spirit and body. Their attitude towards wine became the basis of a high wine culture, forming a special quality approach to its acceptance and the wine – making.

Wine. A living legend

The process of knowing the wine culture is undoubtedly one of the most interesting tasks for the human mind. This process created the wine philosophy, which is an attempt to understand Man as such, in the process of wine consumption, and analyze the processes in his mind. The processes of development or degradation.

The Thracian culture is one of the oldest wine – producing cultures in the world, which had a great contribution to wine – making, and thus to the social life. The experiments that the mysterious Thracians carried out upon their own spirits are very curious.

What really connects the wine with the Heavens is unknown for certain, but as long as the earth reality prepared for us such a divine drink, then this connection is certainly not a fantasy, but a truth. Exactly Thrace is the place that is associated with the appearance of the God of wine. This is Zagreus, who later was reborn as Dionysus.

One of the biggest states in Europe in the V century BC, after the fight between the Scythians and the Persians, became the state, which was founded in the area between the Adriatic and the Black Sea by a Thracian tribe of the people of Edirne led by Teresa I. This is indicated by the Athenian historian Tusides Tusidides (V century BC). The heirs of Teresa, Sparadokos and Sitalkases and their offsprings up to the ruling of Cotys I, expanded their influence. In those times the area of Thrace extended from the mouth of the Danube to the shores of the Aegean and Marmara seas.

Subsequently the Odrysae dynasty even more strengthened the influence of the Thracians and Dionysianism not only in Thrace, but also in the neighboring countries. In the first place the Greeks. And even during the total decline, which is believed to have ended in the 45th year during the rule of Emperor Claudius, this culture was firmly established in the region, especially in the areas near Rome, where, however, Dionysianism acclimatized in a special way.

At any rate, between the Balkans and the Aegean Sea, the cult of Dionysus continued to exist until much later. Its influence can be found even in today's Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, Greece and Italy – the countries where the Thracian culture had been most influential.

In this series, of course, is distinguished Bulgaria. Here, till now they continue to worship Zagreus, the Thracian God of Wine. He was associated only with wine – making, not with fertility, as it was before, when the images of the gods included more “functions”. According to mythology, the powers of the Earth swallowed Zagreus, but his heart was saved by Zeus, who gave him a second life and after that he got the name of Dionysus.

Ecstatic cults in Europe – the roots of winemaking

Dionysianism is a particular doctrine, which appeared in the Thracians, in fact, it became the first organized religion, honouring the Sun God Sabazius. The Orphism is just present in it, which, in fact is based on the art of ecstatic living. According to this teaching, the people can achieve immortality and go to the constellation of Hyades. But the constellation of constellations, and in this doctrine there are more understandable aspects. One of the most important and close to our understanding is the concept of the wine breath (the pleasure from the wine aroma). The Thracians tasted the flavor of the wine before drinking it. Perhaps, this ritual act was associated with the cleansing of the body, as in the case of the fumigation with incense. It is believed that this procedure was offered to the Thracian King by someone named Evmolpy. The Roman historian Pliny the Elder wrote about this.

An interesting feature of the cult of Dionysus are the wine dances, coming from wine – making. Historically, they go back the trampling of the feet on the grapes. By squeezing this way the grape juice out of the ripe berries, the Thracians created a special kind of dance. The process of squeezing out the grape juice was regarded as particularly significant, and initially only women were engaged. It was believed that they unite the totem power of the place with the power of the vines. The Thracians, like some other ancient peoples, divided the lands into two types: those that had strong energy sources and possessed proper power, and the other that did not have such values.

The wine dances originate from the very concept of the wine labor, which is a very important concept: it anticipated the understanding of the physical labor with the position of quality. And the first high – quality labor that humanity had known was wine – making. In ancient times, the quality of done work defined the quality of a person with respect to the divine will. No matter what Man did, he anyways connected with the divine will through his own act. It turns out that the Thracians established a link between the state of being ecstatic and the labor, and the term “wine labor” is the consideration of the work as an act of creation. And the attitude to the work is a part of Dionysianism.

Dionysianism is also a religious cult that has its own language. However, if there is a language, then there is also a certain form for its designation. If the Thracians were really the first who created a written language, as many scholars believe so, then we can say that wine, which is the basis of the cult of Dionysianism, is certainly the root of the written language. The Bulgarians, the heirs of the Thracians, have the right to be proud of the fact that they found the script for the mankind. The oldest written language, which is explaining the processes, not just designating them, was developed around the Thracian town of Montana and dates from approximately 5000 years BC.

The Thracian script was based on the effects of the seven planets. It was used to describe the wine – growing, which means that it explained the process of connecting with God. Later, the development of the Thracians in this area became the basis of the great work of Cyril and Methodius.

The Cyrillic, or the Russian alphabet, can also be considered partly as a wine alphabet, the one forming an ecstatic sounding. According to the cult of Dionysus only the language that has an ecstatic sound can be considered a language that has power. Also according to the Thracians to drink wine means to drink knowledge, strength and courage.

The cult of Dionysus is covered by many legends, but the most interesting one is that according to the Thracians the cult to the God of Wine was considered a cult of immortality. Consequently, they identified the very wine with a drug, giving not only strength and courage, but also an ability to gain immortality. With what specific wine the Thracians associated these capabilities, and whether it was wine at all, remains a mystery. But the presence of local varieties with a long history (autochthonous varieties – Mavrud, Pamid, Melnik) of the grapes in modern Bulgaria, which are associated with the Thracian times, gives us the opportunity to rely on the genetic memory of these varieties, storing the ancient knowledge of wine – making, which we can taste even today. Or, at least, we can dream about it. Besides, the Bulgarians believe that they have even more ancient varieties of grapes that grow around the Thracian sanctuaries. One of these sanctuaries is called “The tears of Orpheus”. According to legend, this sanctuary is over 3000 years old.

A very interesting sign of the Thracian culture from that time reached to us – the Thracian Horseman, which symbolizes two important concepts: movement and development. These are qualities that very precisely characterize the Thracian culture, and which were sung by Homer in the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey.” Perhaps, the Thracian Horseman is a symbol, which has even more ancient roots, and it doesn't only mean movement and development, but some kind of a teaching, in which the perception of wine took may be not the most important but certainly a very significant place, and was associated with the ecstatic aspect of living. The philosophy of such doctrine is implemented in Orphism, the mystical teaching in Thrace, which is associated with the name of the mythical poet and singer Orpheus.

Orpheus was the patriarch, the spiritual leader in the early period of existence of the Thracian culture. In more recent times there was another Orpheus, who lived in the Rhodope Mountains in southern Bulgaria. This second Orpheus was a legendary Thracian poet and musician. According to legend, his music had the power to move inanimate objects, and even raise the dead.

The cult of Orpheus required an observation of certain rules of the wine acceptance. The Thracians knew: if you drink wine according to the laws of rhythm, then it will sound. And then the wine consumption will become an ecstatic process. Man should be able to play the wine in order to be able to enjoy the wine state.

The wine state, or the ecstatic state is a concept that is also likely to have come to us from the Thracians (possibly they improved the Etruscan knowledge of the laws of ecstatic experience). During the rituals, the Thracians reached mystical states. The Orphics believed that the proper implementation of ecstatic state will allow them to get away from the duality of the soul and will not let the dark beginning to implement in a person. This means that the person's life will be filled with sound.

Any ecstatic state is a journey similar to the one that made Odysseus. By the way, according to Homer, Odysseus in his travels and wanderings drank wine, which was brought to him by the Thracians. The legendary Troy also derived power from the Thracian wine. Also, according to legend Odysseus used exactly the Thracian wine to defeat the Cyclop Polyphemus. In fact, we can consider Odysseus as the first traveler, whom the Thracian wine had made him famous.

The cult of Dionysus, Bacchus or Liber (depends on the culture that we are viewing – Greek, Roman or Italic) allowed to fully develop the foundations of the philosophy of wine culture, which was formed in the Romans as an independent subject of study. This cult, undoubtedly, has roots in the Thracian culture. The first philosopher of the cult of wine should probably be considered the Greek tragedian Euripides (about 480 – 406 years BC). In his poem “The Bacchae” we can see a philosophical trying to understand the Dionysian ecstatic state, which was studied, commented and glorified by Virgil, Ovid, Augustine, and others.

The wine philosophy is based not only on the ecstatic experiences of people, who consume wine, but also the very significance of the wine as a reproductive power of this ecstatic state. We should not forget that wine – making is, first of all, an agricultural process, therefore, it is a specific part of Man's life, his philosophy. Thoughts about this can be found in the works of Publius Virgilius Maro (70 – 19 years BC). Wine – making is closely related to various events, personalities, and even myths and ideologies, as the poet Publius Ovidius Naso (43 – 18 years BC) alludes us about in his “Fasti” (calendar).

Culture of wine consumption: an indicator of awareness

A special place in the wine philosophy takes the negative aspect of this cult, which in no case should be rounded and kept silent about it. One of the most serious accusers of the Bacchic cults is the great orator and Stoic philosopher Titus Livy, who lived at the turn of the old and the new era. He was convinced that the Bacchic orgies would lead to the fall of the greatness of Rome. This truly a patriot of his state denounced the negative aspects of the cult.

However, his criticism should rather be addressed to the negative displays of human personality. The cult of Bacchus develops not only the positive aspects and implements the useful properties of a person, but also reveals his negative qualities. Wine, thus, becomes some kind of a “lie detector”. The fact that Titus Livy draws our attention to the need of specific conditions for the performance of the cult, in fact, is the most important information for the philosophical analysis of the critic Titus Livy.

Undoubtedly, the controversy associated with wine is, in the first place, a reflection of the contradictions in the society. After all, the cult of wine is, in fact, a cult of culture, and if it is violated or distorted, then there would appear some negative consequences. But no matter the relation of one or another culture to wine and wine – making, there have always been those who wanted to control either the development of the cult, or its prohibition. And this already leads us to the trying to understand the state of dominion, which causes a person to deal either with his own nature, or with the surrounding one.

A similar thing we can see, by the way, also in Aurelius Augustine (Augustine of Hippo, 354 – 430 years, a Saint in both Catholicism and Orthodox). He wished to review all culturological foundations of the Roman society. One of the main critics of Rome was forced to comprehend also the Dionysian cult, and within the bounds of this interpretation, despite all its critical focus is recognized the importance of the wine culture, harmoniously blended, as we know, also in the Christian model of belief.

In order to give an accurate assessment or definition of the cult of wine, it is necessary to produce an analysis, which the Romans probably engaged themselves in, being at that time under the great influence of the Thracian culture. And with this cult they clearly failed, because for them it became contentious and political. Hence its decomposition into three major areas: in one it started to carry an orgiastic character, another was connected to the political and religious authority, and in the third it became the source for development of the consciousness and philosophical thoughts.

Today's people are quite different from their ancestors. The knowledge and experience of the ancient people nowadays in many call an arrogant – condescending attitude, laughter, and even irritation. Against the mad lust and pursuit for pleasures Man has lost himself. Although today people have learned to make better wines, very often the consumed drinks are too toxic and allowing a person to be only in a barren imagination of the past and the future (unfortunately, the amount of low – quality wines is many times more than the amount of quality ones).

The deep studies of the wine properties allowed the Thracians to understand that the incorrect and poor – quality wine, as well as the inability to consume it can easily become a weapon of mass destruction. Because the bad wine paralyzes the will and mind of Man. Such was applied also to the legendary Thracian hero Spartacus, the gladiator, who led a slave rebellion in the Roman Empire (73 – 71 years BC).

Spartacus was born on the Pyrenees Mountains, located to the south – west of Bulgaria. The movement that he headed was not simply against the slavery, but it was mainly a revolt for the salvation of the spirit. When Spartacus and his comrades found themselves in a training school, they were given to drink a certain beverage by the name of piquette. It was a bad wine diluted with water, which was given only to the slaves. The free men and women drank only higher quality wine.

The piquette was made from the skins and pulp of the grapes, or the remains after the extraction and processing of the grapes during the process of making the wine. The economical Romans in addition mixed this beverage with water. The consumption of such low – quality wine was not just bad for the health, but it simply killed the spirit of Man, which, in fact, was much more terrible for the ancient people than the physical destruction, because it meant a total destruction of his personality.

Then one day the consul Crassus and his retinue granted in a gladiatorial school to watch the fights. Lentulus Batiatus, the owner of the estate, offered his guests some wine. During this private performance, in fact, began the worldwide famous uprising of slaves, who quickly captured the entire school. And the first thing, they did after the win, was to drink good wine. Although many relegate this event to the level of celebration, similar to drunkenness, in actual fact, according to the tradition of the Thracian culture to drink good wine is to maintain your strength and spirit.

Structural wines of Thrace

Let's disregard the bad examples and remember that Homer, who describes the Thracian wines in the “Iliad” and “Odyssey”. The great poet wrote about their brevity, gathering, that is structuring. This is a very important concept in the wine – making, which determines the character, the potential of the wine.

The Thracians believed that the people are divided into three types: those who drink young and light wines, the ones that drink structural and complex wines and the sweet wine drinkers. The main type of people on the Earth is like a young wine, having a connection to the place of origin. These people bring some benefits exactly in the place where they were born. They, same like the wine, as if are bewitched by the terrain. They should not go beyond the borders of the places where they live. Such a person, regardless of his age has a life – giving, but undisclosed power, which he feeds in the culturological and social environment, in which he was born.

The same is with the young wine: it must be tasted only at the place where the wine was made, otherwise it is harmful. When the wine is isolated from its birthplace, it actually loses its useful properties, power and quality, in reality it becomes mad. Most often this happens with the young wines, if they are taken from their birth places till the moment when they have, so to speak, grown and gained power. It is believed that this wine throws you in a dream, creates insanity and fades. Isn't there something sacredly mysterious in this process? The young wine is always related to the natural cycle and the way it behaves in this place. And then it is useful, refreshing and performs important social functions.

However, this doesn't concern only the young, but also the vintage wines, if those necessary conditions, that make the wine a true wine, were not saved. And there's no mystery here: if the microclimate inside the bottle is disturbed, the wine begins to die.

Of course, today's drinks, as well as the people, are very much different from the ancient beverages. These days are made good, quality wines, as discussed above, but many of the modern wines contain preservatives and various substitutes. However, even such low – quality wine finds its fans. These people create the third group of people, whom the Thracians called undeveloped.

Subsequently, this story was used in the legend of St.Tryphon Zarezan and Virgin Mary. In fact, this a remake of an older story, associated with the birth of Dionysus. It is also necessary to mention the version of the relationship between the births of Jesus and Dionysus. Some researchers believe that in the name of Dionysus is hidden the name of Jesus. The birth conditions of them both are very much alike. The truth is, of course, that this version has a lot of enemies.

One of the most important aspects of the Thracians' perception of wine is the identification of wine with human blood. This particular attitude of the ancient to the wine subsequently passed on to Christianity.


Wine – making traditions of modern Bulgaria

At the beginning of our era the Thracian mysteries, thanks to the Romans, dissolved in the Christian cult. Spartacus became the last outstanding personality in the Thracian annals, who was associated with wine. After that already begins the Bulgarian history. So, the patron of wine – making Tryphon Zarezan appeared in the VII century, in order to replace Zagreus. The reverence to him is an eloquent fact about the impact of the Thracian cult on Christianity. By the way, Tryphon is revered both by the Catholics and Orthodox. So, during the VII century in the north – eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula appeared a new cult of wine – making, this time associated with the name of Tryphon.

It is quite natural that the Thracian tradition of wine – making and wine – growing was adopted by their ancestors (descendants) – the modern Bulgarians. The ancient rituals were slightly transformed into the national consciousness, and eventually became associated with the celebration of grapes.

Today in Bulgaria the celebration of wine – making is officially held in honor of the Christian priest Tryphon. The ascetic faith was put to death in Nicaea in the year 250. The legends say that, because of some mystical coincidence or by God's providence, all Bulgarian vineyards, in the day of the martyr Tryphon's execution, were attacked by harmful insects. The residents of the country appealed to the priest asking him to protect their lands and especially the vineyards, and the Saint miraculously granted their request. There are also other stories about Tryphon, which say that even he alone was engaged in the breeding and growing of the grapes.

According to the existing centuries – old tradition in the day of St.Tryphon they pruned the vines in the grape bush in order to get a bigger fall harvest. So they started to call Tryphon – Tryphon Zarezan (The pruned one).

Lately, following the changes in the church calendar, the Tryphon Zarezan Holiday was started to be celebrated on February 1, although in many areas they continue to celebrate it on February 14. On this day the women in the Bulgarian families immediately start to look after the house: they cook a chicken, stuffed with rice, they pour the homemade wine into a special wooden vessel called “buklitsa”, then further all that is put together with the homemade bread in a new bag of wool. The men take all these dishes and go to the vineyards, where, in fact, the main celebrations take place.

The very process of pruning the vines reminds of some sacred ritual: first the men cross themselves and ask Tryphon for a blessing and help, then everyone picks up a pruning knife and cuts three twigs from three different grapevines. Once again they cross themselves and pour the brought wine onto the vines and start the elections of the King of vineyards. The chosen King with a crown of grapevines and a grapevine garland around his neck comes back home in a cart. Moreover, this cart is dragged by all the other wine – growers. Keeping in mind that the spring is just about to come, and along with it will begin the new working year for the peasant, all the villagers are trying one last time to relax their souls. The holiday is traditionally celebrated for three days.

Thus, the Bulgarians kept the ancient traditions. But that is, so to say, the human factor. There is also another one, a truly unique, which is associated with the vine. Or rather with the autochthonous grape variety Mavrud. This is exactly the variety that represents the connection to the centuries. Certainly Mavrud is credited with the genetic link with those distant times. It is pretty much fair to say that any quality vine can absorb genetic memory from its roots. However, it is exactly the wine produced from Mavrud that carries the information of the land, on which the culture of wine – making has been developed.

One interesting legend is associated with Mavrud. In ancient times, wine was a symbol of quality and development. However, not everyone had the right to touch it. This prohibition created in the people an irresistible urge to taste this fruit. The people did not understand what was the secret of the wine and why it could not belong to all, but only the rulers. Therefore, they started to make wine beverages that had nothing to do with the true wine and started to get drunk from these drinks.

In the year 803 Khan Krum ordered to uproot the vineyards, which he could not control. But though Krum was a great ruler of the first Bulgarian Kingdom, it was difficult for him to stop the people, who wanted to taste this divine drink. In order to avoid any strife, he issued an order, forbidding to go out on the street at night – from sunset to sunrise. For intimidation they let a lion on the streets during the night. However, not everyone was afraid of the lion and there was one young man, who, despite the ban, went to his beloved.

Once an excited guard rushed to the Khan with the words:

– Oh, Great lord! The lion is defeated, they screwed its head off! – and he fell on his face.
This news surprised the Khan very much and he demanded to find the killer.
When they brought the young man, who dealt with the lion, Krum marveled at his beauty and sturdy build.
– Who are you, brave young man, what's your name? – the Khan asked him.
– My name is Mavrud – he replied.
– But who raised you so big? – the Khan was amazed.
– My mother nursed me with her milk, bread and wine.

And then the Khan ordered to be planted the grapevines, from which they made the wine that raised the youth, across the whole country and named it in honor of the brave Mavrud. Since then the true connoisseurs of taste and strength started to appreciate the wine made from Mavrud. So, the person, who drinks wine produced from Mavrud, will become an accomplice of the cult of Dionysus, as the information that was kept in the land, even today continue to enter the wine made from this grape.

03 april 2009

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