The strategy of Ethnic Engineering – the mass deportation of certain ethnic groups as part of a wider political or military plan – was common in the Ancient World, reaching its peak in the Roman Imperial period.
The first major example in southeastern Europe is recorded at the end of the 4th c. BC, when it was implemented by the Macedonian leader Kassander in an attempt to halt the southwards advance of the Celtic tribes in the Balkans. As part of this strategy, 20,000 of the Illyrian Autariatae tribe, who had fled into Macedonia in the face of the Celtic advance, were resettled in the Orbelos area (on the modern Greek/Bulgarian border) as military settlers in order to establish a buffer zone protecting Macedonia’s northern border from Celtic expansion (Diodorus Siculus Bibliotheca historica XX. 19.1; see also ‘Flight of the Ravens’ and ‘The Thunderbolt’ articles).
A variation of the same policy was implemented by the Macedonian King Philip V in 179 BC. In order to neutralize the Dardanii tribes, traditional Macedonian enemies, Philip struck a deal with the Celtic Scordisci and the Bastarnae, whereby the latter would be resettled in Dardania, thus eliminating the Dardanii threat, and ensuring Bastarnae help for Macedonia’s planned war with Rome (Livy 40:57, 41:19).
Philip V silver tetradrachm (circa 220 BC)
Diademed head of Philip V right / Athena advancing left
Most examples of this strategy, however, date from the Roman Imperial period. For example, in 26 AD a plan was formulated by Rome for the mass deportation of the troublesome Celtic Artacoi tribe in the Haemus (Balkan) mountains (see ‘Artacoi’ article), and in the 2nd / 3rd c. AD mass transfers of the aforementioned Bastarnae to the south of the Danube were carried out by the Roman emperors Probus and Diocletian (Historia Augusta Probus 18; Eutropius IX.25; see below).
The policy of Ethnic Engineering produced mixed results, and rather than solving the problem it often simply postponed or relocated it. The ethnic buffer zone created to protect Macedonia’s northern border by Kassander later proved counterproductive when the Illyrians actually joined the Celtic tribes in their attack on Macedonia. Philip V’s partially successful attempt to resettle the Bastarnae in Dardania produced no long term benefits for Macedonia, and following Philip’s death the Bastarnae refused to fight for Philip’s son, Perseus, in his war with Rome. Fierce resistance by the Artacoi in the Balkan mountains to Rome’s deportation policy meant that, after a bitter struggle in 26 AD, the empire abandoned its attempt to relocate the tribe.
In the later Roman period the policy of Ethnic Engineering had the long term effect of further complicating the ethnic mix on the Balkans. Under the Emperor Probus (276-82) 100,000 of the Celto-Scythian Bastarnae were settled in Thrace (Historia Augusta Probus 18), and shortly afterwards Emperor Diocletian (284-305) carried out another ‘massive’ transfer of the Bastarnae population to the south of the Danube (Eutropius IX.25).
Bust of Diocletian
(Arkeoloji Müzesi, İstanbul)
Thus, the Bastarnae presence in Thrace, already established since the 2nd c. BC (see ‘Bastarnae’ and ‘Peucini’ articles), was reinforced by the ethnic engineering policies of both Probus and Diocletian. Such statistics are estimated to represent the majority, if not all, of the Peucini Bastarnae, and leaves no doubt that by the Late Roman period, partly due to the intervention of these emperors, a substantial proportion of the population of today’s Bulgaria were of Bastarnae origin.