Ancient Thebes (Ancient Greek: Θῆβαι) was a Boeotian city-state (polis), situated to the north of the Cithaeron range, which divides Boeotia from Attica, and on the southern edge of the Boeotian plain. It played an important role in the fabric of Greek mythology, as the site of the stories of Cadmus, Oedipus, Dionysus and others.
It was the largest city of the region of Boeotia and was the leader of the Boeotian confederacy. It was a major rival of Athens, and sided with the Persians during the 480 BCE invasion of Xerxes. Theban forces under the command of Epaminondas ended the power of Sparta at the battle of Leuctra in 371 BCE. The Sacred Band of Thebes (an elite military unit) famously fell at the battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE against Philip II and Alexander the Great.
In the Mycenaean period it attracted attention from the invading Dorians, and the fact of their eventual conquest of Thebes lies behind the stories of the successive legendary attacks on that city. The central position and military security of the city naturally tended to raise it to a commanding position among the Boeotians, and from early days its inhabitants endeavoured to establish a complete supremacy over their kinsmen in the outlying towns.
In the late 6th century BCE, the Thebians were brought for the first time into hostile contact with the Athenians, who helped the small village of Plataea to maintain its independence against them, and in 506 BCE repelled an inroad into Attica. The aversion to Athens best serves to explain the apparently unpatriotic attitude which Thebes displayed during the Persian invasion of Greece (480–479 BC). Though a contingent of 400 was sent to Thermopylae and remained there with Leonidas until just before the last stand when they surrendered to the Persians, the governing aristocracy soon after joined King Xerxes I of Persia with great readiness and fought zealously on his behalf at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BCE. The victorious Greeks subsequently punished Thebes by depriving it of the presidency of the Boeotian League and an attempt by the Spartans to expel it from the Delphic amphictyony was only frustrated by the intercession of Athens.
In 457 BCE Sparta, needing a counterpoise against Athens in central Greece, reversed her policy and reinstated Thebes as the dominant power in Boeotia. The great citadel of Cadmea served this purpose well by holding out as a base of resistance when the Athenians overran and occupied the rest of the country (457–447 BCE). In the Peloponnesian War the Thebans, embittered by the support which Athens gave to the smaller Boeotian towns, and especially to Plataea, which they vainly attempted to reduce in 431 BCE, were firm allies of Sparta, which in turn helped them to besiege Plataea and allowed them to destroy the town after its capture in 427 BCE. In 424 BCE at the head of the Boeotian levy they inflicted a severe defeat upon an invading force of Athenians at the Battle of Delium, and for the first time displayed the effects of that firm military organization which eventually raised them to predominant power in Greece.
After the downfall of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War, the Thebans, having learned that Sparta intended to protect the states which they desired to annex, broke off the alliance. In 404 BCE they had urged the complete destruction of Athens, yet in 403 BCE they secretly supported the restoration of its democracy in order to find in it a counterpoise against Sparta. A few years later, influenced perhaps in part by Persian gold, they formed the nucleus of the league against Sparta. At the Battle of Haliartus (395 BCE) and the Battle of Coronea (394 BCE) they again proved their rising military capacity by standing their ground against the Spartans. The result of the war was especially disastrous to Thebes, as the general settlement of 387 BCE stipulated the complete autonomy of all Greek towns and so withdrew the other Boeotians from its political control. Its power was further curtailed in 382 BCE, when a Spartan force occupied the citadel by a treacherous coup-de-main. Three years later, the Spartan garrison was expelled and a democratic constitution was set up in place of the traditional oligarchy. In the consequent wars with Sparta, the Theban army, trained and led by Epaminondas and Pelopidas, proved itself the best in Greece. Years of desultory fighting, in which Thebes established its control over all Boeotia, culminated in 371 BCE in a remarkable victory over the pick of the Spartans at Leuctra. The winners were hailed throughout Greece as champions of the oppressed. They carried their arms into Peloponnesus and at the head of a large coalition, permanently crippled the power of Sparta, in part by freeing many helot slaves, the basis of the Spartan economy. Similar expeditions were sent to Thessaly and Macedon to regulate the affairs of those regions.
Destruction of 335
However, the predominance of Thebes was short-lived as the states which she protected refused to subject themselves permanently to her control. Renewed rivalry with Athens, who had joined with Thebes in 395 BCE in fear of Sparta, but since 387 BCE had endeavored to maintain the balance of power against her ally, prevented the formation of a Theban empire. With the death of Epaminondas at the Battle of Mantin (362 BCE) the city sank again to the position of a secondary power. In a war with the neighboring state of Phocis (356–346 BCE) it could not even maintain its predominance in central Greece, and by inviting Philip II of Macedon to crush the Phocians it extended that monarch's power within dangerous proximity to its frontiers. A revulsion of feeling was completed in 338 BCE by the orator Demosthenes, who persuaded Thebes to join Athens in a final attempt to bar Philip's advance upon Attica. The Theban contingent lost the decisive battle of Chaeronea and along with it every hope of reassuming control over Greece. Philip was content to deprive Thebes of her dominion over Boeotia.
In 335 BCE while he was triumphantly campaigning north, the Thebans and Athenians rebelled once more against the Macedonians and their new King Alexander. Alexander reacted immediately, but, while the other cities once again hesitated, Thebes decided to resist with the utmost vigor. This resistance was useless, however, as the city was razed to the ground, except, according to tradition, the house of the poet Pindar and the temples. Amid great bloodshed its territory was divided between the other Boeotian cities. Moreover, the Thebans themselves were sold into slavery. Alexander spared only priests, leaders of the pro-Macedonian party and descendants of Pindar. The end of Thebes cowed Athens into submission. According to Plutarch, a special Athenian embassy, led by Phocion, an opponent of the anti-Macedonian faction, was able to persuade Alexander to give up his demand for the exile of leaders of the anti-Macedonian party, most particularly Demosthenes.
Cassander allowed the Thebans to rebuild their city in 316 BCE. It was besieged and taken by Demetrius Poliorcetes in 293 BCE, and again after a revolt in 292 BCE. This last siege was difficult and Demetrios was wounded, but finally he managed to break down the walls and to take the city once more, treating it mildly despite its fierce resistance. The city recovered its autonomy from Demetrios in 287 BCE, and became allied with Lysimachus and the Aetolian League.
- Aristides (4th century BCE), painter
- Crates (c. 365-c. 285 BCE), philosopher
- Epaminondas (c. 410 BC-362 BCE), general and statesman
- Pelopidas, statesman and general
- Simmias (5th-4th century BCE), disciple of Socrates
- Timoclea, fl. 335 BCE
|This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Ancient Thebes (Boeotia). The list of authors can be seen in the page history.|