The Thracians in the Old Testament

Thracian Chariot and Horse

In a recent post I wrote about Dositheus, one of the Tubian Jews, a warrior who served in the army of Judas Maccabeus (2 Maccabees 12:35). Dositheus, who was on horseback and was a strong man, was fighting against one of the enemies of the Jews. Dositheus caught hold of Gorgias, a general in the Indumeans army, and grasping his cloak, forcibly dragged him, wishing to take him alive.

This is what happened to Dositheus:

“After celebrating Pentecost, as it is called, they [the army of Judas Maccabeus] advanced to attack Gorgias, the general in charge of Idumaea, who met them with three thousand infantry and four hundred cavalry. When the ranks joined battle, a small number of the Jews fell. But a cavalryman of great strength called Dositheus, one of the Tubian Jews, had hold of Gorgias by his cloak and was dragging the villain off by main force, with the object of taking him alive, when a Thracian horseman bore down on him and chopped off his arm; so Gorgias escaped to Marisa” (2 Maccabees 12:32-25).

A Thracian horseman attacked Dositheus and cut off his arm. As a result, the Idumean general escaped a certain death. This reference to the Thracian horseman is unique in the Bible. Who were the Thracians? And where do the Thracians appear in the Old Testament?

The identity of the Thracians in the Old Testament is debated. According to some scholars, the Thracians are the descendants of Japhet, Noah’s son: “The descendants of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras” (Genesis 10:2).

According to Josephus (Ant. 1 6 1) “Tiras also called those whom he ruled over, Thirasians; but the Greeks changed the name into Thracian.” According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, about one-fourth ancient Thrace lies in Turkey, about one-tenth in Greece, and the remainder in Bulgaria.

According to the Wikipedia, “The Thracians were a warrior people, known as both horsemen and lightly armed skirmishers with javelins.” Herodotus declared of them in his day that “the Thracians are the most powerful people in the world.” Thracians were regarded by many peoples as a warlike people. “The first historical record of the Thracians is found in the Iliad, where they are described as allies of the Trojans in the Trojan War against the Ancient Greeks.”

The Encyclopaedia Britannica says that the Thracians were advanced in metalworking and in horsemanship. They were also known to be superior fighters who hired themselves out as mercenaries. “Their soldiers were valued as mercenaries, particularly by the Macedonians and Romans.”

The reference to the Thracians in Genesis 10:2 is conjectural, and it is debated by many scholars. The identification of Tiras with the Thracians is made by Josephus, and by the Targum Pseudo Jonathan. However, the mention of Thracians in 2 Maccabees 12:35 is undeniable.

In 2 Maccabees 12:35 there is a reference to a Thracian horseman who attacked Dositheus and cut off his arm. The Thracians were horse-breeders. Their horsemen were skilled in their use of chariots. The Thracians were a people who served as mercenaries in foreign armies.

Recently, The Museum of Artifacts Blog reported that archaeologists found a

four-wheeled wooden chariot, its intricately carved bronze plating and fittings, plus the skeletal remains of two horses and a dog. . . . Thracian chariots were often buried with up to eight horses and their elaborately decorated bridles. The bronze plating features scenes from Thracian mythology, like the god Eros, a jumping panther and a mythological animal with the body of a panther and the tail of a dolphin.

Four wheeled chariots are a very rare find, and this one is particularly notable because of the large diameter of the wheels: 1.2 meters, almost 4 feet. The Thracian nobleman himself was also found buried with his chariot, the animals and some wooden and leather goods thought to be horse harnesses.

Although this discovery does not prove that the Tiras of Genesis 10:2 are the Thracians of history, this discovery explains why Dositheus, the warrior in Judas Maccabee’s army, was badly hurt by the Thracian horseman.

NOTE: For other articles on archaeology, archaeological discoveries, and how they relate to the Bible, read my post Can Archaeology Prove the Bible?.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Thrace.”

Wikipedia, “Thracians.”

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