Thrace is an historical and geographic region in the extreme southeastern corner of Europe; today the region is divided, as Northern Thrace makes up southeastern Bulgaria (including Philippopolis, today Plovdiv), Eastern Thrace comprises all of the European part of the Republic of Turkey beyond Istanbul (including Edirne, formerly Adrianople) and Western Thrace makes up the extreme northwestern part of Greece (including Alexandroupoli).
Thrace gained its name around 1000 BC from the Indo-European Thracian tribe, and eventually came under the control of the Ancient Greeks. During parts of the Medieval period, large parts of the region were controlled by the various Bulgarian empires. From 1361, Thrace was conquered by the Ottomans, who made Adrianople (Turkish: Edirne) their imperial capital for the next 84 years, until they conquered Constantinople.
Ottoman rule over Thrace endured for around 500 years, and the Sublime Porte presided over a land of incredible ethnic and religious diversity. While the region’s population was overall a majority Greek, many towns and areas had ethnic Turkish or Bulgarian majorities, while sizeable communities of other groups (Jews, Roma, Romanians, etc.) existed all across the region. Until the 19th Century, Ottoman rule was quite secure, as the Sublime Porte permitted the various communities a high degree of autonomy, while the empire’s great military power discouraged any rebellious tendencies.
However, in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, Ottoman power declined, while the Balkans were increasingly gripped by the rise of national-ethnic consciousness. Long dormant, or suppressed, Greek, Bulgarian, Albanian, Romanian and Serbian movements for self-determination came to fore just as the Sublime Porte, mired in internal economic and political problems, was least able to effectively counteract them. Local insurgencies arose all over the peninsula, including in Thrace, with some movements becoming full-scale rebellions.
During the Greek War of Independence (1821-32), Greece securing its first independent state in centuries, although its territory was confined to the Peloponnesus (the Greek insurgency in Thrace was suppressed). Around the same time, Serbia (albeit controlling only the territory in the central part of the modern country) rebelled and gained its de facto independence.
Over the coming decades the Ottomans experienced increasing difficulty in maintaining order in the Balkans, although Thrace, located near Istanbul, was easier to control than the more far-flung regions.
A major turning point occurred during the Russo-Turkish War 1877-78, when a coalition of Russia and its Slavic Allies (including Bulgaria) throttled the Sublime Porte, nearly taking Istanbul. At the preliminary Treaty of San Stefano (March 3, 1878), hastily convened at the end of hostilities, the Ottomans were slated to lose all of Northern and Western Thrace to a newly independent Bulgaria. However, at the Congress of Berlin (June 13 – July 13, 1878), which superseded the San Stefano protocols, Britain and Francs intervened, and wishing to contain Russia (and her client state, Bulgaria), altered the terms in the Ottoman’s favour. While most of Bulgaria was to be given its de facto independence, Northern Thrace became ‘Eastern Rumelia’, an autonomous province under Ottoman suzerainty, while Western and Eastern Thrace would remain under Ottoman sovereignty.
In 1885, Bulgaria seized control of Eastern Rumelia, and made no secret of its desire to gain access the Aegean Sea upon one day taking over Western Thrace, while making a play for Eastern Thrace was not out of the question.
While the Ottomans won a war against Greece in 1897, overall, the Sublime Porte’s power in the Balkans continued to erode. Istanbul was gripped by internal dissent and economic instability, while Slavic, Greek and Albanian insurgencies broke out in various places. While the Ottoman control over Eastern Thrace was relatively secure, its authority in Western Thrace, and the bordering region of Macedonia, was becoming tenuous. In 1908, Bulgaria declared its total independence from the Sublime Porte, formally severing Northern Thrace from the Ottoman sphere of the first time in over 500 years.
During the Italo-Turkish War (1911-2), Italy fought the Ottomans for control over Libya, which succeeded in distracting the Sublime Porte from minding Balkan affairs.
It was in this context that the so-called ‘Balkan Alliance’ of Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria suddenly mounted a full-scale attack upon all Ottoman positions in Europe, in what would be known as the First Balkan War (October 8, 1912 – May 30, 1913). Supported by Russia and Italy, the alliance made short work of the Sultan’s men, surging over their lines and conquering tens of thousands of square kilometres of territory.
By mid-November, 1912, the Bulgarian army had taken virtually all of Eastern Thrace, and had rushed towards the ‘Çatalca Line’, a series of forts and trenches that crossed the isthmus just to the west of Istanbul, acting as the capital’s last line of defence. There, the Ottomans mounted a spirited resistance, narrowly saving Istanbul.
Meanwhile, the only remaining major Ottoman stronghold in Europe beyond Çatalca was Edirne (Adrianople), a city that had special significance to the Turkish people, as the former Ottoman Empire (from 1369 to 1453). During the Siege of Edirne (November 3, 1912 – March 26, 1913), which is notable for being one of the first battles to use airplanes for bombing, the Ottomans bravely resisted Bulgarian attempts to storm the city, but were finally compelled to surrender.
At the Treaty of London (May 30, 1913), the Ottomans had to agree to a humiliating peace, as they had been totally throttled by the Balkan Alliance. The Ottomans were to loose 83% of their European domains, with 69% of its European population. The new Ottoman boundary in Europe was to be the Enos-Midia Line, which ran from the mouth of the Maritsa River, on the Aegean, over to a point along the Black Sea. This settlement barely allowed the Ottomans to preserve the complete shorelines of the Sea of Marmara, while maintaining only a very narrow defensive perimeter to the west of Istanbul; the Ottomans thus lost all of Western Thrace and much of Eastern Trace (including Edirne). This resolution gave the Balkan Alliance almost all of what it wanted, while leaving the Sublime Porte in an untenable position.
Fortunately for the Ottomans, the Balkan Alliance soon crumbled. While the London Treaty set the Enos-Midia Line as the outer boundary of Ottoman Europe, it did not specify how the newly conquered lands beyond were to be divided between the Balkan powers. As Greece and Serbia moved in to take the lion’s share of the spoils, Bulgaria felt cheated.
During the Second Balkan War (June 29, 1913 – August 10, 1913), Bulgaria allowed itself to come into conflict with all of its neighbours at once, including the Ottomans, Serbia, Greece and Romania (which opportunistically joined the conflict to gain territory from Bulgaria in the north). Bulgaria was, not surprisingly, defeated. The Ottomans regained Edirne and Eastern Thrace; Serbia conquered frontier regions of Macedonia; while Romania conquered the South Dobruja region. However, Bulgaria was permitted to retain most of Western Thrace, giving it a 110 km-long Aegean seacoast, including the major port of Alexandroupoli. These new boundaries were ratified at the Treaty of Bucharest (August 19, 1913).
In November 1914 the Ottoman Empire entered World War I on the German side, joining an alliance that included its recent nemesis Bulgaria, while Serbia joined the Entente side. Greece was caught in a difficult predicament. The country’s pro-German King Constantine I wanted Greece to remain neutral (while quietly hoping for a Central Powers victory), while its prime minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, wanted to openly side with the Entente, as Britain and France promised to give Greece control of much additional territory, including all of Western Thrace.
In 1915, Britain and France, with Venizelos’s blessing, landed an expeditionary force at Thessaloniki, opening up the ‘Macedonian’ or ‘Salonica’ Front. In 1916, Greece fractured into pro-Constantine and Venizelist forces, with the latter taking control of most of Northern Greece. This state of affairs remained until Venizelos and the Entente Powers compelled Constantine I to abdicate in 1917, whereupon Greece was reunited, and formally allied to Britain and France. Later in the war, the Macedonian Front proved pivotal, as the Entente forces caused the collapse of the Bulgarian army, leaving Istanbul dangerously exposed. However, the war ended before a strike upon the Ottoman capital was endeavored.
As a spin-off of the Versailles Conference that aimed to resolve the postwar settlement, at the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine (November 27, 1919), Western Thrace was ceded by Bulgaria to the Entente Powers, who in turn decided to hand it over to Greece at the San Remo Conference (April 25, 1920). However, the decision on Western Thrace was never accepted by Bulgaria and its allies and would remain a flashpoint for the next generation.
Meanwhile Eastern Thrace remained under Entente occupation, with its future status up in the air. The Entente Powers seemed to prefer that most of its territory should be given to Greece, with the international community retaining some kind of permanent oversight upon Istanbul and the Turkish Straits.
The Present Atlas in Focus
The fate of Western and Eastern Thrace far transcended regional considerations in the postwar era, assuming prime international importance. First, the area guarded the Turkish Straits, one of the globe’s most important shipping lanes. Second, it secured Istanbul, one of the most important cities in the world. Third, continued instability in Thrace would have ripple effects throughout the Balkans, inviting the intervention of major powers and potentially instigating a new large war – something that the Entente Powers wanted to avoid at all costs.
Thus, it is no surprise that the present work, by far the most sophisticated attempt to analyze the Thrace Question, would emanate from Britain, the country that was the primary guarantor of the postwar peace.
Enter Mills and Chrussachi. J. Saxon Mills, was a barrister and historian, long associated with Cambridge University. Specializing in contemporary history, he was author such works as The Panama Canal: A History and Description of the Enterprise (1910); The Gathering of the Clans: How the British Dominions and Dependencies have Helped in the War (1916); The Genoa Conference (1922); David Lloyd George, War Minister (1924); and The Press and Communications of the Empire (1924).
Matthew George Chrussachi, was then a student at Oxford and an assistant to Mills. Of Greek extraction, he was active in promoting the Greek cause, having delivered a well-publicized speech, published as ‘The Greater Greece’: A Lecture delivered at a Meeting of the Fellows of the Royal Colonial Institute (1919). He subsequently worked as a barrister in London.
Mills and Chrussachi published the present work in December 1919, in the heady days after the Neuilly Treaty, when Western Thrace was slated to be controversially awarded to Greece, and while the fate of Eastern Thrace remained undetermined.
Like most British historians, politicians and commentators, Mills and Chrussachi possessed a clear pro-Greek bias. However, neither were propagandists, but were rather rigorous empiricists who aimed to use the best geographic evidence and statistics supplied from all parties as authoritative evidence to back up their arguments, which is very much the ethic of the present work.
While Mills and Chrussachi accepted that all of Northern Thrace should remain part of Bulgaria (it had an overwhelming majority ethnic Bulgarian population), they believed that all of Western Thrace, and at least a good part of Eastern Thrace should be permanently awarded to Greece.
In the ‘Avant-propos’ (Forward) of the present work, the authors justify their partiality to the Greek claims in Thrace:
“Even today, however, there is a tendency in certain quarters to regard the Greek claim in Thrace as “Ersatz”, something that could be thrown overboard without much ado in return for concessions elsewhere. Such a view is wholly erroneous. In any consideration of the Thracian question we must not lose sight of the fact that Greece has already sacrificed her historic rights to her ancient capital, along with half a million of her nationals, to the necessity of internationalizing Constantinople and the Straits. Even if the formulated Greek claims are all satisfied, including the claim to Thrace, only 65% of the Greek race will be thus included within the frontiers of the Greek State. Such a moderation has not been shown by any other State which had an “Irredenta” before the War. It should surely strengthen rather than weaken the claim advanced by Greece to Thrace, especially if that claim can stand on its own merits”.
Yet, Mills and Chrussachi are clear that any decisions should be predicated upon hard evidence, not emotional-nationalistic sentiment, noting that “the facts that ought to be decisive” and confidently asserting that they “are easier to establish here than in the case of any other Balkan problem.”
The authors divide the work into two parts. The first part, ‘Historique’ (Historical) maps, features Thrace as it appeared with its political divisions at various points in Medieval times, the purpose of which is to show who occupied what areas prior to the Ottoman conquest.
The second part, ‘Ethnologique’ (Ethnological) maps, features various cartographic interpretations of the distribution of ethnic-national groups across Thrace in modern times (over the previous three generations). The purpose is to show who occupies the land today, giving claim to ‘right by possession’ for the different parts of Thrace.
Presumably, people who both occupied areas in the Medieval times and were still the majority ethnic group on the land in the modern era possessed an ironclad claim to the land in 1919-20, following the prevailing ‘Wilsonian’ principles.
In the first part, on Historical Maps, the authors provide facsimiles of the most authoritative maps of Medieval Thrace, showing the expansion and contraction of the various Bulgarian empires which existed the region in the seven or so centuries prior to the Ottoman takeover. Plate 1 contains four maps after Professor E.A. Freeman (1903) that depict the evolving boundaries of the Bulgarian states from the 10th the 13th centuries. Plates 2 to 8A inclusive are copied from the 1917-8 work of Wassil Zlatarski, or ‘Slatarski’, the Bulgarian nationalist academic, and they chart the boundaries of the Bulgarian imperial lands from the 6th to 14th centuries.
Interestingly, while Zlatarski’s maps were intended by their author to support Bulgaria’s modern claims in Thrace, here Mills and Chrussachi flip the maps to support contemporary Greek claims. In the ‘Quelques Conclusions’ (Some Conclusions) they explain that while Zlatarski’s maps support Bulgaria’s overwhelming claim to Northern Thrace (already controlled by Bulgaria), it shows that historically the Bulgarians had only a light footprint in Western and Eastern Thrace. As Zlatarski shows, the Medieval Bulgarians only controlled Western Thrace for only 17 years, during the reign of Czar John Assen II, in the 13th century (the territory was otherwise controlled by Greek entities), while the only major part of Eastern Thrace the Bulgarians ever controlled was Adrianople, which was held only during the same brief period. While Zlatarksi argued that the Bulgarians brief rule over these areas supported their modern claims, Mills and Chrussachi argue, more convincingly, that the transient nature the Bulgarian presence is far less potent than the longtime Greek presence.
The second part of the work, Ethnological Maps, benefits from the fact that since the 1840s, the demography of the Balkans, including Thrace, was a great preoccupation of many of Europe’s leading geographers and cartographers. Here Mills and Chrussachi reproduce all of the seminal ethnographic maps of Thrace (Plates 9 to 16), including those by Ami Boueé (1847), Lejean (1861), Mackenzie & Irby (1867), Eliseé Reclus (1876), Kiepert (1876), Synvet (1877) and Cvijic (1913), and a map composed by a team of Bulgarian Professors (1912).
Generally, speaking, the maps show ethnic Bulgarians to be overwhelmingly dominant in the no longer disputed Northern Thrace, while ethnic Greeks represented the majority in Eastern Thrace and were the dominant in many strategically important areas of Western Thrace near the Aegean Sea (although ethnic Turks were the largest single ethnic group in the region overall), with there were many significant Bulgarian pockets. Additionally, Plate 17 features four maps charting modern Bulgaria’s evolving boundaries from 1876 to 1913. Plate 18 shows Greece’s claims to the bulk of Western and Eastern Thrace, as proposed at the recent Neuilly Conference, with alternative Greek-Bulgarian boundary lines.
In Mills and Chrussachi’s detailed ‘Résumé Ethnologique’ (Ethnological Summary), they argue that both the medieval and modern day evidence supports the awarding of the bulk of Western and Eastern Thrace to Greece, as the Bulgarian presence is more limited, while the Turks presence, while strong, is assumed the be negated by the expected dissolution of the Ottoman Empire due to its loss during the Great War (this latter assumption would prove presumptuous!).
The cartographic evidence is further supported on the final page., ‘Annexe. Tableaux Statistiques’ (Annex, Statistical Tables), which features population statistics for Western and Eastern Thrace, provided from both the 1894 and 1912 censuses. The 1894 Census shows that both Western and Eastern Thrace combined were home to 304,537 Greeks; 265,359 Muslims (mainly ethnic Turks); and 72,758 Bulgarians. Concerning Western Thrace alone, the census counted roughly 42,000 Greeks; 61,000 Muslims; and 20,000 Bulgarians. The 1912 Census shows that Western and Eastern Thrace combined were home to 393,515 Greeks; 344,01212 Muslims; and 67,843 Bulgarians; while Western Thrace alone had around 37,000 Greeks; 96,000 Muslims; and 26,000 Bulgarians.
A Note on Editions and Rarity
The present work was produced in 2 editions, the first was in Mills and Chrussachi’s original English language text under the title The Thrace Question, Greeks, Bulgars and Turks. The present example is of the second edition, in the French language noted as having been ‘trad. de l‘anglais‘, which appeared immediately on the heels of the first edition. As French was still the main diplomatic language of Europe, this issue was necessary to reach an audience outside of Britain.
Both editions of the atlas were issued in only small print runs, intended only for a rarified audience of senior politicians, diplomats and academics; the work probably never had much of a commercial footprint. Moreover, the atlas is of a fragile nature and its survival rate would have been quite low.
We can trace about a dozen examples of the present edition in institutional collections, with the English language edition being likewise rare.
Importantly, the atlas is very rare on the market; we cannot trace any sales records for either of the editions.
At the Treaty of Sèvres (August 10, 1920), the Allies completed their intended plan for Thrace, awarding the great majority of Eastern Trace to Greece, including all the territory just inland from the Sea of Marmara and to the west of the Çatalca Line, just beyond Istanbul (the remaining parts of Eastern Thrace were to be placed under the control of the League of Nations administered ‘Zone of the Straits’). Beyond that, the Treaty of Sèvres awarded Ionia in Anatolia (the region around Smyrna/Izmir) to Greece, while making much of the rest of Turkey into various Entente Zones of influence, in addition to lands designated for an envisaged Armenian state.
However, events in Thrace and Anatolia did not turn out as the Entente Powers and Greece had hoped or expected. As the Neuilly resolutions were being contemplated, the Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal ‘Atatürk’ was building a movement which during the Turkish War of Independence (1919-23) drove the Entente Powers and Greece out of Anatolia and forced them to withdraw from Eastern Thrace. The definitive Treaty of Lausanne (July 24, 1923), gave the new Republic of Turkey possession of all of Eastern Thrace, while Greece retained Western Thrace.
Yet, many in Bulgaria resented the Lausanne protocols and longed for the ‘return’ of their country’s Aegean coastline. During World War II, Bulgaria sided with Germany, which invaded Greece in 1941. The Nazis gave Western Trace to Bulgaria, which occupied the territory for the next three years, until the Greece’s liberation. In the postwar period, Greece retained Western Thrace, and this remains the state of play up to the present day. Today, the international boundaries which divide Thrace are accepted by all key parties, although low-grade tensions surrounding minority rights persist in some quarters.
References: Library of Congress: D651.T5 M64; OCLC: 714957693, 858595284 and 57445736.