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Thebes


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Was the birthplace of Heracles, who, as its champion, threw off the tribute imposed upon it by the king of Orchomenus. The legend of Heracles reflects the essence of Boeotian politics, which were moulded by rivalry between Thebes and Orchomenus. Herodotus erroneously attributes to Thebes the introduction of the alphabet to Greece (though he is right to speak in this connection of Phoenicians; see alphabet, greek; and for the allegedly Phoenician origins of the Thebans, see cadmus). By the late 6th cent. bc Thebes had organized an alliance or rudimentary confederacy consisting of its neighbours, with Orchomenus conspicuously absent. Thereafter, it vied for the hegemony of all Boeotia. It maintained friendly relations with the Pisistratids (see athens, History; hippias 1; hipparchus 1; pisistratus), but hostility to Athens arose over Plataea, which joined Athens in either 519 or 509. One group of Thebans stood with the other Greeks at Thermopylae, while other Thebans Medized (see medism; persian wars; thermopylae, battle of). The Greek victory at Plataea in 479 led to the temporary eclipse of Theban power. Thebes allied itself with Sparta in 457, but was overwhelmed by Athenian counter‐attack at Oenophyta later that year. After a period of Athenian domination, the Boeotians rose against Athens, and defeated Tolmides at the battle of Coronea in 447. Thebes and other major Boeotian cities thereupon formed the Boeotian Confederacy described in the Oxyrhynchus historian (see federal states). Thebes at the outset possessed two of the eleven units of the federal government. It was instrumental in igniting the Peloponnesian War by attacking Plataea in time of peace. Upon its surrender Thebes occupied its territory and took over its two units within the confederacy. Using the war to further its ambitions, Thebes destroyed the walls of Thespiae after the battle of  Delion in 424, and sometime later reduced the power of Orchomenus. It had thereby gained a position of ascendancy within the confederacy. After the defeat of Athens, Thebes became estranged from Sparta, and offered sanctuary to Athenian exiles hostile to the Thirty Tyrants. Thebes and the confederacy joined Athens, Corinth, and Argos to oppose Sparta in the Corinthian War, but defeat entailed the dissolution of the confederacy and the loss of Theban power. In 382 Sparta seized it in time of peace, only to lose it to a popular uprising in 379. Thebes thereupon re‐established the confederacy, brought it fully under Theban control, and used its resources to defeat Sparta at Leuctra in 371. The victory led to an ephemeral Theban hegemony of Greece under Epaminondas and Pelopidas, which ended with the former's death at the battle of Mantinea in 362 (see mantinea, battles of). The fortunes of Thebes declined owing to losses during the Third Sacred War, and its opposition to Philip II at the battle of Chaeronea led to its downfall (see chaeronea, battles of). Although Philip spared the city, its revolt against Alexander 2 the Great resulted in its destruction.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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