The Cicones (/ˈsɪkəˌnz/; Ancient Greek: Κίκονες Kíkones) or Ciconians /sɪˈkniənz/ were a Homeric Thracian[1] tribe, whose stronghold in the time of Odysseus was the town of Ismara (or Ismarus), located at the foot of mount Ismara,[2] on the south[3] coast of Thrace (in modern Greece). They are mentioned in book two of the Iliad as having joined the war on the side of the Trojans, led by Euphemus. In book nine of Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus and his men take Ismara by surprise and slay most of the Ciconian men they come across, taking Ciconian women as slaves. Later Ciconian reinforcements arrive and attack the invading Achaeans, killing so many of them that Odysseus and his men are forced to flee in their ships. Six men of each of Odysseus' ships were killed:

When I had set sail thence the wind took me first to Ismarus, which is the city of the Cicons. There I sacked the town and put the people to the sword. We took their wives for sexual pleasure, service, and booty which we divided equitably amongst us, so that none might have reason to complain. I then said that we had better make off at once, but my men very foolishly would not obey me, so they stayed there drinking much wine and killing great numbers of sheep and oxen on the sea shore. Meanwhile the Cicons cried out for help to other Cicons who lived inland. These were more in number, and stronger, and they were more skilled in the art of war, for they could fight, either from chariots or on foot as the occasion served; in the morning, therefore, they came as thick as leaves and bloom in summer, and the hand of heaven was against us, so that we were hard pressed. They set the battle in array near the ships, and the hosts aimed their bronze-shod spears at one another. So long as the day waxed and it was still morning, we held our own against them, though they were more in number than we; but as the sun went down, towards the time when men loose their oxen, the Cicons got the better of us, and we lost half a dozen men from every ship we had; so we got away with those that were left.[4]

The Cicones are also referred to in the book of poems Metamorphoses by Ovid. They are mentioned in book VI when he writes of Boreas and Orithyia, when Ovid states:

He bore her off; and as he flew he felt the flames of love gain force on force; he did not curbe his course across the air until he'd reach the north the lands and city of the Cicones.[5]

Orpheus, the Thracian lyre-player who sought his lover Eurydice in the underworld, was said to have been torn to pieces by Ciconian women after he rejected their advances, subsequently being reincarnated as a swan,[6] or, according to Ovid, his disembodied head floating on the sea until it came to rest on the island of Lesbos, where it continued to speak, uttering prophesies.[7]

In classical times and in a historical context they go into obscurity. Non mythical instances of them occur in Herodotus (5th century BC) as he writes of their land that Xerxes' army passed by.[1] The tribe itself is thought to have disappeared early on.[8]

Eumenes of Cardia lived there for a while after being retrieved from a sunk slave ship heading to Olbia, Ukraine.


  1. ^ a b Herodotus, The Histories (Penguin Classics), edd. John M. Marincola and Aubery de Selincourt, 2003, p. 452 (I10): "The Thracian tribes lying along his route were the Paeti, Cicones, Bistones, Sapaei, Dersaei, Edoni, and Satrae; […]".
  2. ^ Mogens Herman Hansen, An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis: An Investigation Conducted by The Copenhagen Polis Centre for the Danish National Research Foundation, 2005, p. 878.
  3. ^ Webpage on Cicones Archived 2009-08-23 at the Wayback Machine: "The Ciconians or Cicones, who lived on the southwestern coast of Thrace, sided with Troy against the Achaean invaders during the Trojan War. On this occasion they were led by Euphemus 2 (son of Troezenus, son of Ceas), who may therefore be counted among the TROJAN LEADERS. Another Ciconian leader during the Trojan War was Mentes, in whose shape Apollo addressed Hector, encouraging him to fight for the arms of the dead Patroclus. The fate of these two leaders has not been reported. After the sack of Troy, Odysseus, on his homeward way, came with his twelve ships to the land of the Ciconians, where he pillaged the city of Ismarus, not sparing anyone except a priest of Apollo called Maron, son of Evanthes. This Evanthes, who reigned in Marioneia, is said to be the son of Oenopion (son of Ariadne, either by Theseus or by Dionysus), who is said to have blinded Orion.In the land of the Ciconians, the Achaeans gave themselves to plunder and murder, and when they had taken women and treasures, Odysseus said to his men that they ought to be off, but as his soldiers enjoyed the Ciconian wine and food, they kept drinking and butchering animals by the shore, refusing to leave. Meanwhile, the Ciconians received reinforcements from their up-country neighbours, who were well trained at fighting from chariots, or on foot. When they had grouped, they attacked the Achaeans by the ships and, after fighting for a whole day, they broke their ranks. This is why the Achaeans put to sea, and fled after suffering what may be considered as heavy losses; for more than seventy men belonging to Odysseus' army were killed."
  4. ^ The Odyssey by Homer, Book ix , continuation: "Thence we sailed onward with sorrow in our hearts, but glad to have escaped death though we had lost our comrades, nor did we leave till we had thrice invoked each one of the poor fellows who had perished by the hands of the Cicons. Then Jove raised the North wind against us till it blew a hurricane, so that land and sky were hidden in thick clouds, and night sprang forth out of the heavens. We let the ships run before the gale, but the force of the wind tore our sails to tatters, so we took them down for fear of shipwreck, and rowed our hardest towards the land. There we lay two days and two nights suffering much alike from toil and distress of mind, but on the morning of the third day we again raised our masts, set sail, and took our places, letting the wind and steersmen direct our ship. I should have got home at that time unharmed had not the North wind and the currents been against me as I was doubling Cape Malea, and set me off my course hard by the island of Cythera. […] When the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared, we admired the island and wandered all over it, while the nymphs Jove's daughters roused the wild goats that we might get some meat for our dinner. On this we fetched our spears and bows and arrows from the ships, and dividing ourselves into three bands began to shoot the goats. Heaven sent us excellent sport; I had twelve ships with me, and each ship got nine goats, while my own ship had ten; thus through the livelong day to the going down of the sun we ate and drank our fill,- and we had plenty of wine left, for each one of us had taken many jars full when we sacked the city of the Cicons, and this had not yet run out. While we were feasting we kept turning our eyes towards the land of the Cyclopes, which was hard by, and saw the smoke of their stubble fires. We could almost fancy we heard their voices and the bleating of their sheep and goats, but when the sun went down and it came on dark, we camped down upon the beach, and next morning I called a council."
  5. ^ Ovid, The Metamorphoses, ed. Allen Mandelbaum, 1995, p. 205: "Then Boreas put on his dusty cloak; across the slopes and peaks, he trailed his mantle as he rushed across the earth; concealed by his dark cloud, he wrapped the terror stricken Orythia within his tawny wings.He bore her off; and as he flew he felt the flames of love gain force on force; he did not curbe his course across the air until he'd reach the north the lands and city of the Cicones."
  6. ^ Plato, Republic
  7. ^ Ovid, The Metamorphoses Book XI
  8. ^ Jan Bouzek, Greece, Anatolia, and Europe: Cultural Interrelations During the Early Iron Age, 1997, p. 208: "Some tribes, like the Homeric Kikones, disappeared soon […]".

See also

Categories: Ancient tribes in Thrace | Characters in Greek mythology | Thracian tribes

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