Thebes ( Kadmeia )

Thebes (Ancient Greek: Θῆβαι, Thēbai, Modern Greek: Θήβα, Thíva) is a city in Boeotia, central Greece. It played an important role in Greek myth, as the site of the stories of Cadmus, Oedipus, Dionysus and others. Archaeological excavations in and around Thebes have revealed a Mycenaean settlement and clay tablets written in the Linear B script, indicating the importance of the site in the Bronze Age.
Thebes was the largest city of the ancient region of Boeotia and was the leader of the Boeotian confederacy. It was a major rival of ancient Athens, and sided with the Persians during the 480 BC invasion under 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. Prior to its destruction by Alexander in 335 BC, Thebes was a major force in Greek history, and was the most dominant city-state at the time of the Macedonian conquest of Greece. During the Byzantine period, the city was famous for its silks.
Ruins of the Thebes' Pyramid -3000 B.C

The modern city contains an Archaeological Museum, the remains of the Cadmea (Bronze Age and forward citadel), and scattered ancient remains. Modern Thebes is the largest town of the regional unit of Boeotia.


Thebes was the seat of the legendary king Oedipus and the locale of most of the ancient Greek tragedies—notably Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Antigone—and of other compilations about the fate of Oedipus, his wife-mother, and his children.

Said to have been occupied originally by Ectenians under the leadership of Ogyges (Ogygus), Thebes is called Ogygion by some classical poets. Greek legend attributes the founding of the ancient citadel, Cadmea, to the brother of Europa, Cadmus, who was aided by the Spartoi (a race of warriors sprung from dragon’s teeth that Cadmus had sown).
 The Theban Hegemony, 371 BC - 362 BC,

The building of the celebrated seven-gated wall of Thebes is usually attributed to Amphion, who is said to have charmed the stones into moving by the playing of his lyre. Archaeological evidence indicates that the site was inhabited in both the early and late Bronze ages. The ruined 15th-century-bce Minoan-style palace at Cadmea was adorned with frescoes of Theban women in Minoan dress; some Cretan vases also suggest contacts between Thebes and Knossos in the period 1450–1400 bce. In 1970 clay tablets confirming Mycenaean-Minoan links were found, while the discovery of Mesopotamian cylinder seals in 1964 strengthened the theory that Cadmus introduced writing to Greece.

Thebes rivaled Argolís as a centre of Mycenaean power until its palace and walls were destroyed shortly before the Trojan War (c. 1200 bce). According to tradition, the city was destroyed by the sons of the Seven about whom Aeschylus wrote. Knowledge of succeeding centuries is sparse. Immigration produced a Boeotian mixed stock, including the Aegeids, a Dorian clan, and an oligarchy of large estates was regulated by laws passed about 725. In the 6th century a league of Boeotian cities was formed; it was dominated by Thebes from the 5th century. Hostility to Athens over mutual interest in the Plataea district led in the 5th century to Theban collaboration with Persia and, later, with Sparta. A Theban suggestion at the end (404) of the Peloponnesian War that the Spartans annihilate the Athenians was rebuffed; the two powers clashed, and Sparta, winning, disbanded the Boeotian League (386) and occupied Cadmea (382).

Revolting after 379, Thebes reorganized the league along democratic lines and defeated Sparta at Tegyra (375) and Leuctra (371).
The fallens at battle of Leuctra

For the next 10 years Thebes was the first military power in Greece; its commander Epaminondas invaded the Peloponnese (370–362) and died at the Battle of Mantineia (362). A rapid decline followed, and in 346 civil strife forced Thebes to admit Philip II of Macedonia. Still fickle, Thebes broke confidence with Philip and in 338 was defeated at Chaeronea; the Boeotian League was again dissolved, and Thebes was garrisoned by Macedonian troops. After a massacre and almost total destruction in a fruitless uprising (336) against Alexander the Great, Cassander rebuilt Thebes in 316. The city’s fortunes wavered between independence and subjugation. From about 280 it was once more part of the revived Boeotian League, forming regional alliances as required. For its participation in the Achaean revolt, the city eventually fell under Rome and was stripped of half its territory in 86 by the Roman general Sulla.

The historian Pausanias (2nd century ce) reported Cadmea still inhabited, but the town was overrun by a succession of conquerors and adventurers. In Byzantine and Frankish times it prospered as an administrative and commercial centre, particularly for silk weaving. It had a large Jewish colony in the 12th century.
 Byzantine Ruins

Throughout the Turkish occupation (1435–1829), it was only a poor village, and in the 19th century it was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt. Few artifacts of its earliest days survive.
 Byzantine Ruins

The present city is the chief market town of a rich agricultural plain, trading in wheat, olive oil, wine, tobacco, and cotton, as well as silk manufacture. It is linked by rail to Athens (Athína).
Byzantine Ruins

Among the few ancient ruins are remnants of the city walls, the palace of Cadmus (c. 1450–1350 bce), and the Ismeneion, or temple of Apollo Ismenius.

Kassite cylinder seal

This is one of the famous cylinder seals of Near Eastern provenance discovered in the 'Treasure Room' in the Mycenaean palace at Thebes, which burned down in the Late Helladic IIIB period. The cylinder's curved surface is entirely carved with a religious scene and an inscription in the cuneiform script. The gigantic figure of a god, standing between two forested mountains, dominates the composition. He holds two rivers that pour out of two elongated vases and into two other vases positioned at the lower corners of the scene. This imposing figure has been interpreted as the Near Eastern god Marduk, son of Ea. The seal has been dated on stylistic grounds to the reign of King Burna-Buriash (1359-1333 BC) of the Babylonian Kassite dynasty.


Several rescue excavations and less systematic work in the area of ancient Thebes yielded an abundance of evidence for the city's history and art. However continuous occupation and the presence of a thriving modern town over the ancient remains rendered impossible a full investigation of the site. Occupation began in Neolithic times (Pyri) and the settlement was already strong in Early Helladic (3000 - 2000 B.C.) and Middle Helladic period (2000 - 1680 B.C.). The city reached its highest point of splendour and power in Mycenaean period (1600-1100 B.C.). Thebes was a considerable settlement in geometric and archaic times and during the classical period gained "the hegemony" over the rest of Greece (371-362 B.C.). After the battle of Chaironeia (338 B.C.) and its complete destruction by the Macedons (335 B.C.). Thebes never regained its former glory and power.

In the years before 1900 only sporadic excavations took place in the area of Thebes. Between 1906 and 1929 A. Keramopoullos excavated remains of the Mycenaean palace and of fortifications on the Kadmeia as well as several mycenaean chamber tombs and the foundations of the Temple of Apollo Ismenios. N. Platon and E. Touloupa (1963-1965) and later other members of the Greek Archaeological Service revealed some important parts of Mycenaean administrative center on the citadel as well as the foundations of ancient and medieval buildings investigated in the Lower town. Quite recently (1993-95) a cospicuous number of clay tablets (c.250) were found in the area of the so-called "Armoury".

Restoration work at Thebes began, for the first time in 1994 with the consolidation and restoration of the monumental chamber tomb of the "Sons of King Oedipus" in the hills of Kastellia. Works continue and will be completed in the few next years.

Dirce at Thebes
 Dirce at Thebes 1890

Site Monuments

Palace of Kadmos 

The mycenaean palace "of Kadmos" (14th-13th c. B.C.). One of the most important mycenaean administrative centres (palaces) of Mainland Greece lays in about the centre of the Kadmeia citadel. Its various wall painted annexes and "departments" covered a great part of the natural hill of Thebes.
  Archaeologists at the Theban Mycenaean Palace

Parts of the palace were excavated by A. Keramopoullos (1906-1929) and later (1963-1995) by archaeologists of the 9th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. Particularly important are the archives in Linear script B, the inscribed stirrup-jars, the "Room of the Treasure" and the "Armoury".
Temple of Apollo Ismenios
The Temple of Apollo Ismenios, belongs to one most important cult of Thebes (the other was the cult of Demeter Thesmophoros). 
It is situated on the pine-covered hill between the cemetery (Aghios Loukas) and the Electran Gates. The temple was excavated by A. Keramopoullos. 
Its remains belongs in a temple with dimensions 21,60X9,30 m and columns respectively 12X6, built perhaps after the battle of Leuktra (371 B.C.). Before the 4th B.C. temple, there, in the same place a geometric and late an archaic one. From the latter parts of its terracotta superstructure were found.

Mycenaean tomb

The Gates of Kadmeia
The Gates of Kadmeia. From the seven mythological gates of Thebes, whose names (often more than seven) are known from the tradition, only the entrance between the two circular towers of the Electran Gates are preserved today. In the place of Proitides and Homoloides Gates were preserved sections of the Mycenaean wall (excavations 1915 and 1984). The other gates are hypothetically located with the help of the natural exits from the city. The towers of the Electran Gates were excavated by A. Keramopoullos (1908) and were dated in the time of the city's rebuilding by Kassander (315 B.C.). 

Tomb of Eteocles
Epaminondas and Thebes
He was of an honorable family, though left poor...but he was among the best educated among the Thebans; he had been taught to play the harp and to sing to its accompaniment by Dionysius [a famous musician], to play the flute by Olympiodorus, and to dance by Calliphron. For his instructor in philosophy he had Lysis of Tarentum, a Pythagorean, to whom he was so devoted that---young as he was---he preferred the society of a grave and austere old man, instead of companions of his own age.
-- Life of Epaminondas by Cornelius Nepos
Born in 418 BCE, Epaminondas was, as noted by the Roman biographer above, a member of a Theban aristocratic family which, though without wealth, granted the future general a superior education. Intellectually and physically endowed, Epaminondas matured during the struggles of Thebes against the hegemonic authority of Sparta. During the Spartan occupation of Thebes, Epaminondas organized the liberation effort from within the city with the support of Athens. Alongside his colleagues Pelopidas and Gorgidas, Epaminondas led the overthrow of the Spartans in Thebes in 379. Following the Theban liberation, Epaminondas became a statesman, elected one of the seven Boeotarch who led the newly established Boiotian Confederacy by 371. In that year, an invasion of Boiotia by Sparta was challenged by Thebes at the Battle of Leuctra. Leading the Theban forces, Epaminondas recognized that the outnumbered Thebans could not defeat the Spartans. Instead, Epaminondas moved the elite Sacred Band unit from the right flank to the left, where, led by Pelopidas, they would engage the Spartan elite. Additionally, the ranks of the Theban phalanxes on the left flank were redoubled in numbers. While the weak Theban right flank was ordered to retreat and regroup continuously, the left flank broke through the Spartan lines and caused massive casualties in their ranks, a consequence of which was the start of the decline of Spartan military power.
In 370 Epaminondas invaded the Peloponnese, liberating both Acardia and Messenia from Sparta, and establishing them as regional counterbalances to the waning hegemon. Returning to Thebes, Epaminondas was condemned to death for exceeding the limits of his constitutionally defined powers as Boeotarch. The charges were dropped, enabling a second Peloponnese campaign in 369, after which he was again indicted and acquitted. The efforts of Epaminondas, and his political ally Pelopidas, resulted in the rise of Thebes as the latest, and final, hegemonic city-state in Hellas. With the defeat and death of Pelopidas in 364, Thebes had become the new evil, and thereby rallying point, in Hellenic politics.
The second Battle of Mantinea in 362 was both Epaminondas’s finest hour and one of the greatest Hellenic engagements of history. Duplicating the tactics at Leuctra, the Thebans and their allies successfully broke the lines of Sparta and her allies. As the pursuit of the retreating Spartans began Epaminondas fell from a mortal wound. He was, according to the Roman Cicero, "the first man…of Greece."

Sources / Bibliography / Photos

Herodotus – Histories
Angold, Michael (1984) – The Byzantine Empire, 1025–1204
"Detailed census results 2011" (xls 2,7 MB). National Statistical Service of Greece. (Greek)
Θῆβαι. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
Πίνακας 3. Πραγματικός πληθυσμός, επιφάνεια και πυκνότητα του πληθυσμού, με διάκριση σε αστικές και αγροτικές περιοχές καθώς και σε πεδινές, ημιορεινές και ορεινές περιοχές. Μέσος σταθμικός των υψομέτρων. (in Greek). Ελληνική Στατιστική Αρχή (Hellenic Statistical Authority). Retrieved 11 December 2013.
"Kallikratis law" (in Greek). Greek Ministry of the Interior. August 11, 2010. Retrieved June 8, 2014.
Raymoure, K.A. "Thebes". Minoan Linear A & Mycenaean Linear B. Deaditerranean. "The Linear B word te-qa-ja". Palaeolexicon. Word study tool for ancient languages. "KN 5864 Ap (103)". "PY 539 Ep + fr. + fr. + fr. (1)". "TH 65 Wu (γ)". "MY 508 X (unknown)". "TH 140 Ft (312)". DĀMOS: Database of Mycenaean at Oslo. University of Oslo.
Θήβασδε. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
John Buckler, The Theban Hegemony, 371-362 avant J.-C., 1980, ISBN-0674876458.
Vasilis Anastopoulos http://www.panoramio.com/user/1876847
Palaima, Thomas G. (2004). "Sacrificial Feasting in the Linear B documents". Hesperia 73: 217–246.
Herodotus Bibliography VII:204 ,222,223.
Alexander the Great. Encyclopædia Britannica.
Plutarch. Phocion. p. 17.
"The Parian Marble". The Ashmolean Museum. Retrieved 12 November 2012.
Siculus, Diodorus. "Book XIX, 54". Bibliotheca historica.
ΓΕΩΡΓΙΟΣ ΚΟΤΣΩΝΑΣ http://www.panoramio.com/user/4898326?with_photo_id=40078044 

2 σχόλια:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.


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