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European Kingdoms

Eastern Mediterranean


Sapes (Thrace)

The Thracian tribal kingdom of Sapes was founded in 55 BC, and in circumstances just as mysterious as the founding of its rival, the tribal Astean kingdom. In 57-55 BC there was unrest in Macedonia during which the Roman governor of Macedonia, Lucius Calpurnius Piso, had to take action to restore control over the Bessoi, and perhaps other tribes, making this the perfect opportunity to secede from Roman control. However, the kingdom is often marked out as a Roman creation, one which was set up to provide a puppet government over the other Thracian tribes. It certainly seems to have received very little support from its own people while Rome appears more generous towards it than other Thracians. Astean always posed the biggest threat to Sapes in the short period in which both existed alongside each other.

Otherwise known as the Sapaei or Sapaioi, an Odrysian king known as Abrupolis (c.200-172 BC) was perhaps one of their number. There is a line of apparently rival kings in this period who could be early representatives of the tribal Sapaei.

The Roman occupation of Thrace began with a large production run of silver tetradrachms and the apparent removal of the ruling Odrissae king. The subsequent century saw Thrace being developed into a permanent Roman client state, albeit with the emergence of the Astean tribal kingdom around 100 BC. A further half-a-century later, the Sapaei tribe also emerged, initially under the rule of Raskouporis. They seem to have picked up a good deal of Roman influence, not least when it came to political intrigue and assassination. The last of these royal murders came in AD 46 when Roimitalkes III was finished off by his own wife. By this time he was king of both Sapes and Astean, and the territories were immediately annexed by Rome, ending Thracian independence for good.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by I Mladjov (University of Michigan) and Edward Dawson, from Continuity and Innovation in Religion in the Roman West, R Haeussler, Anthony C King & Phil Andrews, from Liber Prodigiorum, Julius Obsequens, from Periocha, Livy, from Res Gestae, Ammianus Marcellinus, from Valerius Maximus, Pseudo-Quintilian, and Paulus Orosius, from Epitome of Roman History, Florus, from Historia Romana, Cassius Dio, from Flavius Eutropius, from Strategemata, Frontinius, from 'Breviary', Sextus Festus, from St Jerome Emiliani (Hieronymus), from Getica, Jordanes, from The Celts in Macedonia and Thrace, G Kazarov, from The Origin of the Gundestrup Cauldron, Antiquity, Vol 61, 1987, A K Bergquist & T Taylor, from The Getae in Southern Dobruja in the Period of the Roman Domination: Archaeological Aspects, S Torbatov, and from External Links: Journal of Celtic Studies in Eastern Europe and Asia-Minor, and Scordisci Swords From Northwestern Bulgaria.)

c.55 - 48 BC

Kotys I

Son of Roimitalkes?

48 - 42 BC

Raskouporis I / Rhascuporis I


42 BC

During his reign, Raskouporis has already granted assistance both to Pompey and Caesar during their struggle for power. Now, immediately after the murder of Julius Caesar, he supports the Roman republican faction under Brutus and Cassius against Mark Antony and Octavian. In return, Brutus and Cassius lead campaigns against the tribal Bessoi in the highlands in defence of their allies.

c.42 BC


Co-ruler? Although the name may simply be a shortening.

c.42 - 31 BC

Kotys II

Son of Raskouporis.

c.42 - 31 BC

Sapes conquers or otherwise controls the Astean kingdom, although no details appear to be known regarding the circumstances. It seems to be around this time that Sapes becomes the Roman proxy government in Thrace, providing an unpopular controlling hand over local affairs.

31 BC - AD 12

Roimitalkes I / Rhoemetalkes I

Son. Possibly reigned from 11 BC instead.

28 BC

A campaign by Crassus is designed to 'punish' the Scordisci tribes of north-western Bulgaria. By this time Rome has engaged the kingdom of Sapes to act as a proxy government over local Thracian affairs and to oversee the gradual Romanisation of the region. It seems that Thracian resistance to Rome to any substantive degree has finally come to an end.

26 BC

With the Celts now inhabiting the most inhospitable and least desirable parts of Thrace, they appear to pose no threat to Rome. Their steadfast refusal to acknowledge Rome's rule and send recruits to serve in the Roman army is a threat, however. The Roman solution to this problem is to ethnically cleanse the area. Mass deportations and demographic engineering have already been common imperial practice in Thrace, but the mountains provide good protection for the Celts from this. The leader of the Artacoi, Dinas, sends a delegation to the Roman military governor of Thrace, Gaius Poppaeus Sabinus, promising loyalty and friendship if the Romans leave them alone but he laces the request with a warning not to try and force the issue.

A Roman legion led by Pomponius Labeo arrives from Moesia to join that of Sabinus, and Sicambri cohorts are added to the force. The Thracian King Roimitalkes I of Sapes also supplies a body of auxiliaries from the Odrissae, amounting to a sizeable army to deal with the Celts.

Sabinus' army enters the Haemus (Balkan) mountains, and the Celts melt away before them. When he reaches the first Celtic fortress, his archers fire on a few warriors who are taunting the Romans, but a subsequent charge to clear them and take the fort is met with a completely unexpected and ferocious counter-attack. The Romans dig in for a more considered attack, leaving Roimitalkes to safeguard their rear. His troops begin to enjoy their orders to rape and pillage the Celts far too much and lose all discipline. The Celts learn of this and, under the cover of darkness, launch an attack on the Roman encampment. This is only a diversion, while other Celts slip past the Roman flanks and take the Thracians completely by surprise. Now easy prey, the Thracians are slaughtered.

11 BC

Upon the death of Kotys IV, the last Astean king, the Roman Emperor Augustus confers all of Thrace to his Sapaen uncle, Roimitalkes. He rules the region as a client kingdom. In this period between about 11 BC and AD 12, Roimitalkes and his queen, Pythodoris, share a coin with Augustus, one of many that are Thracian-made but which appear to be Roman.

Roimitalkes coin
A coin issued during the reign of Roimitalkes which, although it is Thracian, bears heavy similarities to Roman coins

AD 12

Rather than concentrate their energies on uniting to fight the Romans, the Odrysian kings of Sapes and Astean continue their dynastic squabbles. Roimitalkes does in this year, and Rome entrusts the Odrysian territories to the north of the Haemus to Raskouporis II, while those to the south are given to Kotys III.

12 - 19

Raskouporis II / Rhascuporis II

Son of Kotys II. Ruled in the north-west.

12 - 19

Kotys III

Son of Roimitalkes I. Ruled in south-east. Also king of Astean.


Kotys is killed by Raskouporis II. Roimitalkes II, the son of the victorious king is given the lands to the north of the Haemus while Kotys' son, Roimitalkes III gets the lands to the south, both ruling under the guardianship of the Roman governor of Macedonia.

19 - 38

Roimitalkes II / Rhoemetalkes II

Son of Raskouporis II. Also king of Astean.

38 - 46

Roimitalkes III / Rhoemetalkes III

Son of Kotys III. Also client king of Astean. Murdered by his wife.

38 - 46

Pythodoris II

Wife and cousin.

AD 46

Roimitalkes of Sapes and Astean is murdered by his wife (or perhaps by his subjects), and Thrace is annexed as a province by Roman Emperor Claudius, permanently ending its independence. Under the third century administrative reforms of Diocletian, Thrace's territory is divided into four smaller provinces: Europa, Haemimontus, Rhodope and Thracia. These are overseen by the diocese of Thraciae, which is part of the 'Prefecture of the East'. This organisation remains in place until the Balkan peninsula is largely overrun by the Avars and Slavs in the 640s, following which it is reorganised as a Eastern Roman diocese. Today the territory forms parts of south-eastern Romania, central and eastern Bulgaria, and Greek and Turkish Thrace.

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