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Θῆβαι
Thebes

6th century BC–335 BC
Map of Greece during the height of Theban power in 362 BCE, showing Theban (blue), Spartan (red), Athenian (pink) and Corinthian (yellow) power blocs.
Capital Not specified
Language(s) Boeotian Greek
Religion Polytheism
Government Monarchy / Democracy
Historical era Classical Antiquity
 - Established 6th century BC
 - Boeotian League 480s BC
 - Macedonian conquest 335 BC

Thebes (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 myth, 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 BC invasion of Xerxes. Theban forces ended the power of Sparta at the battle of Leuctra in 371 BC under the command of Epaminondas. The Sacred Band of Thebes (an elite military unit) famously fell at the battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC 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 lie 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.

Contents

Classical period

In the late 6th century BC, the Thebans 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 BC 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 (480479 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[1], 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 BC. 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 BC 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 (457447 BC). 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 BC, 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 BC. In 424 BC 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.

Partial map of Boeotia, Attica and the Peloponessus in Classical times, showing the position of Thebes.

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 BC they had urged the complete destruction of Athens, yet in 403 BC 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 BC) and the Battle of Coronea (394 BC) 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 BC 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 BC, 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 (see also: Sacred Band of Thebes). Years of desultory fighting, in which Thebes established its control over all Boeotia, culminated in 371 BC 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.

Fall

However, the predominance of Thebes was short-lived as the states which she protected refused to subject themselves permanently to her control. Due to their renewed rivalry with Athens, who had joined with Thebes in 395 BC in fear of Sparta, but since 387 BC 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 Mantinea (362 BC) the city sank again to the position of a secondary power. In a war with the neighboring state of Phocis (356346 BC) 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 BC 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; but an unsuccessful revolt in 335 BC against his son Alexander was punished by Macedon and other Greek states by the destruction of the city, except, according to tradition, the house of the poet Pindar and the temples.

While he was triumphantly campaigning north, the Thebans and Athenians rebelled once more. 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 amid great bloodshed and its territory divided between the other Boeotian cities. Moreover, the Thebans themselves were sold into slavery.[2] Alexander spared only priests, leaders of the pro-Macedonian party and descendants of Pindar, whose house was the only one left standing. 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.[3]

Notable people

References

  1. ^ Herodotus Bibliography VII:204 ,222,223.
  2. ^ Alexander the Great. Encyclopædia Britannica.
  3. ^ Plutarch. Phocion. p. 17.  

See also

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