The ancient Thracians spoke a now-lost language. Greek-language sources, myth and supposition depict them as warlike sorts, devoted to mystery religions such as the Great Gods cult, which influenced Greek pagan religion, too. At the Thracians’ supreme temple on Samothraki island, ancient Macedonian, Roman and Egyptian rulers were initiated. Secret rituals were associated with Orpheus, the mythical, tragic Thracian father of music.
Powerful Greek city-states vied with the Persians for Thrace's coast. Athens prevailed at the Battle of Plataea, though Philip II of Macedon took over in 346 BC. Later, with the Roman Empire’s AD 395 division, Thrace's strategic positioning on the Via Egnatia trade route made it important.
Constantinople's defensive zone was the Thracian plain, though its flatness made it vulnerable to marauding Goths, Huns, Vandals, Bulgars, Pechenegs, Cumans and poorly behaved Latin Crusaders – relatively few historic structures predating the Ottomans' 14th-century invasion thus remain.
In the 19th century Thrace’s turbulent past reawakened. The 1877 Russo–Turkish War, the 1912–13 Balkan Wars, WWI and finally Greece's failed 1922 invasion of Anatolia saw the territory change hands frequently. A mess of treaties and tragedies resulted in its final tripartite division.
The Turks of Greek Thrace were exempt during the 1923 population exchanges. While İstanbul’s Greek population was largely expelled after a 1955 pogrom, the Turks of Greek Thrace remain.