Thursday, October 27, 2016

Ancient Thracian tombs as mini-dungeons (Part 1)

The ancient Thracians are as sword & sorcery as it gets. Barbarians, occasionally united into kingdoms under the leadership of the strongest tribe, fierce warriors, hunters, connoisseurs of fine golden jewelry, but also with a deep interest in the mystical side of things - without going into scholarly details, this is the simplified picture you can paint of them.

And they built awesome tombs. Which you can easily turn into mini-dungeons for basically any dungeon-centric game. I'm breaking this down into two parts. Here, in Part 1, I will just provide a basic physical description of these tombs, their configuration; and in Part 2 (coming later) I want to talk about using some passages from ancient texts as additional inspiration.

The dromos of the tomb at Mezek

Most of these tombs feature a sequence of corridors and chambers, built on one axis, covered by an earthen burial mound. For example, here's the plan and section of the Mal-tepe tomb near Mezek:

This tomb features an unusually long dromos, a corridor/passageway (~ 20m). This is followed by two rectangular antechambers. The complex terminates in a tholos, a circular domed room (sometimes referred to as a beehive tomb). This has a burial couch on an elevated platforms and two pedestals, all hewn from stone.

Most tombs follow a similar pattern, with variations. For example, the tomb at Kazanlak (famous for the painted scenes adorning it) has a significantly shorter dromos and only one chamber preceding the tholos.

Tomb at Kazanlak

The Golyamata Kosmatka tomb also has a tholos, but it is placed before the rectangular burial chamber.

Golyamata Kosmatka

The passage between the various sections was often closed with elaborate stone doors. This example from Golyamata Kosmatka has two relief medallions, depicting two heads: of Apollo and of Gorgon., religious and apotropaic symbols.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more Thracian funerary / ritual complexes. Some of them feature unusual sculptural elements (e.g. the caryatids at Sveshtari, half-woman, half-plant figures supporting the ceiling). Some of them are not only underground crypts, but have edifices on the outside of the mound as well (e.g. Starosel)...

So there is a lot to work with! 

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