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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites

Thebes

  The Kadmeia, the acropolis of Thebes, is situated midway along a chain of hills running from Tanagra to Mt. Helikon, in a natural ridge. It is a huge plateau 700 m long and 400 m wide with steep slopes on all sides except to the S and flanked by two deep gullies: that of Dirke to the W and Ismenos to the E. The Kadmeia rises some 50 m above the fertile Teneric plain. The lower city was spread out N and E of the acropolis.
   According to legend Thebes was founded by Kadmos after he had consulted the oracle at Delphi. Theban mythology is among the richest in Greek civilization. The legends surrounding the founding of the city, the birth of Herakles, the curse that fell on the Labadakidai, the war of the Seven against Thebes, and the fate of the Epigonoi inspired the tragic poets. The Kadmeion or "palace of Kadmos" is beneath the modern city; the partial excavations at the beginning of the century revealed traces dating probably from the 15th c. B.C. Recently a rich collection of BabyIonian cylinder seals of the 15th and 14th c. was found, as well as, underneath the palace, remains of buildings dating from the end of the third millennium. The Kadmeia apparently was abandoned in the 13th c. as a result of fires.
   Long a rival of Orchomenos, Thebes finally gained the upper hand and from the 7th c. grouped a dozen cities into a koinon with itself at the head. But for centuries three cities resisted Thebes: Orchomenos, Plataiai, and Thespiai. From the 6th c. Thebes opposed Athens, sided with the Persians in 480 and was defeated by Athens at Oinophyta in 457. Ten years later Thebes reorganized the Boiotian League, dividing the region into 11 districts and becoming powerful by absorbing the districts of Plataiai (427) and Thespiai (423). Faced with the Spartan threat, Thebes made a short-lived alliance with Athens in 395 but was defeated in 394 at Koroneia. At the King's Peace (386) the city recovered its power, thanks to Epaminondas who fought the Spartans at Leuktra (371) and Pelopidas. Epaminondas' death at the battle of Mantineia (362) marked the beginning of the decline of Thebes. In 338 Philip II captured the Kadmeia and in 335 Alexander razed it. Rebuilt from 316 by Kassander, the city once again took its place, modestly, in the new Boiotian Koinon organized in 338, but was no longer at its head. It was captured in 173 by the consul Licinius and destroyed in 146 by Mummius as reprisal for a revolt. Barely rebuilt, Thebes was sacked by Sulla. After three centuries of obscurity it regained importance with the advent of Christianity and, in spite of the invasions, became a prosperous provincial capital.
   Having seen so much destruction Thebes has few traces of the past. The modern town is built over the Kadmeia, and its suburbs of Pyri and Hagioi Theodori occupy the lower city. Only very partial excavations can be carried out. The finds can be seen in the museum. Little remains of the Kadmeian walls: only some Mycenaean traces near the Proitides gate and some remains of a 4th c. wall near the "Frankish" tower and Electra gate. The rampart had seven gates: Borrheai to the N, Proitides and Homoloides to the E, Electra, flanked by two round 4th c. towers, and Onka to the S, and Kreneai and Neistai to the W. A second rampart fortified the city and the Kadmeia; traces of its four square towers can be seen on the hill E of the Ismenos gully and beside the Hypsistai gate to the SW.
   On the Kadmeia were Pindar's house and the Sanctuary of Dionysos where a "statue fallen from heaven" was venerated. In his honor Thebes celebrated the Agrionia, which included a musical contest. Apollo Hismenios had an oracle to the SE of the Electra gate. The original temple (9th or 8th c.), which was of wood and brick, was burned and replaced in the 6th c. by a poros temple with Doric columns; this is the "temple of the golden tripods" (Pind.) that Herodotos visited. The 4th c. temple was a peripteral Doric building 22.80 x 46.25 m with six columns in front and 12 on each side; the sekos (9.30 x 21.60 m) was fronted by a spacious pronaos.
   E of the Kadmeia, near the Fountain of Oidipous, may have been the agora with its great portico and next to it the Temple of Artemis Eukleia, the Heroon of Alkmeon, and the funeral pyres of the Seven Chiefs of Argos. On the hill of Kastelli a large Mycenaean chamber tomb has recently been discovered; it has two dromoi and is decorated inside with frescos representing papyrus flowers and female figures. On top of the hillock N of the Kadmeia was the Tomb of Amphion and Zethos. In the middle of a circular tumulus (diameter 20 m) made of crude bricks, the tomb is a mere cist (2.20 x 1.15 m); it was richly fitted as shown by very fine gold jewels, but it had already been plundered in ancient times. It was covered with a stepped pyramid in the Egyptian or Oriental manner, built at the beginning of the second millennium. Farther NE is a depression that may mark the site of a theater built by Sulla in 86 B.C. In the plain, NE of the railroad station, is said to be the site of the Temenos of Iolaus that included the heroon, a gymnasium, and a stadium; remains of a portico can be seen. Near the stadium were the hippodrome with Pindar's tomb and an ancient Sanctuary of Poseidon Hippodromios. No trace remains of any of the monuments W of the city.
   The Temple of Herakles was S of the Kadmeia, near the Haghios Nikolaos Chapel, along with a stadium and a gymnasium. To honor Herakles Thebes celebrated the Herakleia, a festival with gymnastic contests. To the SW, near the Paraporti spring, is the Haghia Trias Chapel which is built on ancient foundations, perhaps those of the Temple of Athena Onka.
   Outside the city were a number of sanctuaries: the Amphiareion whose oracle was consulted by Croesus (traces on the road to Athens, 2 km S of the Onka gate); the Sanctuary of Herakles Hippodetes (in the Teneric plain on the road to Kabeirion), that of Demeter Kabeiraia and Kore (no traces) and especially that of the Kabeiroi. The Kabeirion, situated 8 km W of Thebes, in a valley opening on the Teneric plain, has been excavated. A four-columned prostyle temple, roughly 7 x 23 m, was built to the E in the 4th c. on prehistoric, archaic and Classical remains (a great peribolos wall, circular buildings outside the peribolos). To the S of the temple a portico 40 x 6 m and open to the SE was modified in the 1st c. B.C. Behind the portico and N of the temple are several unidentified buildings. In front of the pronaos of the temple a large Hellenistic and Roman theater was uncovered (diameter of the orchestra: about 26 m); its tiers, 0.30 m high and 0.65 m wide, are of local limestone. The sanctuary has not yet been completely excavated. Most of the bronze objects and vases dedicated to "the Kabeiros and his son" are in the National Museum.

P. Roesch, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Oct 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains 6 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.


Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

Thebae

    Thebai, in poetry Thebe (Thebe, Dor. Theba). Now Thion; the chief city in Boeotia. It was situated in a plain southeast of Lake Helice and northeast of Plataeae. Its acropolis, which was an oval eminence of no great height, was called Cadmea (Kadmeia), because it was said to have been founded by Cadmus, the leader of a Phoenician colony. On each side of this acropolis is a small valley, running up from the Theban plain into the low ridge of hills by which it is separated from that of Plataeae. Of these valleys, the one to the west is watered by the Dirce, and the one to the east by the Ismenus, both of which, however, are insignificant little streams, though so celebrated in ancient story. The greater part of the city stood in these valleys, and was built some time after the acropolis. It is said that the fortifications of the city were constructed by Amphion and his brother Zethus; and that, when Amphion played his lyre, the stones moved of their own accord and formed the wall. The territory of Thebes was called Thebais (Thebais), and extended eastward as far as the Euboean Sea. No city is more celebrated in the mythical ages of Greece than Thebes. It was here that the use of letters was first introduced from Phoenicia into western Europe. It was the reputed birthplace of the two great divinities, Dionysus and Heracles. It was also the native city of the great seer Tiresias, as well as of the great musician Amphion. It was the scene of the tragic fate of Oedipus, and of one of the most celebrated wars in the mythical annals of Greece. Polynices, who had been expelled from Thebes by his brother Eteocles, induced six other heroes to espouse his cause, and marched against the city; but they were all defeated and slain by the Thebans, with the exception of Adrastus, Polynices, and Eteocles falling by each other's hands. This is usually called the war of the Seven against Thebes. A few years afterwards the Epigoni, or descendants of the seven heroes, marched against Thebes to avenge their fathers' death; they took the city and razed it to the ground. Thebes is not mentioned by Homer in the catalogue of the Greek cities which fought against Troy, as it was probably supposed not yet to have recovered from its devastation by the Epigoni. It appears, however, at the earliest historical period as a large and flourishing city; and it is represented as possessing seven gates (heptapulos), the number assigned to it in the ancient legends. Its government, after the abolition of monarchy, was an aristocracy, or rather an oligarchy, which continued to be the prevailing form of government for a long time, although occasionally exchanged for that of a democracy. Towards the end of the Peloponnesian War, however, the oligarchy finally disappears; and Thebes appears under a democratical form of government from this time, till it became with the rest of Greece subject to the Romans.
    The Thebans were from an early period inveterate enemies of their neighbours, the Athenians. Their hatred of the latter people was probably one of the reasons which induced them to desert the cause of Grecian liberty in the great struggle against the Persian power. In the Peloponnesian War the Thebans naturally espoused the Spartan side, and contributed not a little to the downfall of Athens. But, in common with the other Greek States, they soon became disgnsted with the Spartan supremacy, and joined the confederacy formed against Sparta in B.C. 394. The peace of Antalcidas in 387 put an end to hostilities in Greece; but the treacherous seizure of the Cadmea by the Lacedaemonian general Phoebidas in 382, and its recovery by the Theban exiles in 379, led to a war between Thebes and Sparta, in which the former not only recovered its independence, but forever destroyed the Lacedaemonian supremacy. This was the most glorious period in the Theban annals; and the decisive defeat of the Spartans at the battle of Leuctra in 371 made Thebes the first power in Greece. Her greatness, however, was mainly due to the preeminent abilities of her citizens, Epaminondas and Pelopidas; and with the death of the former at the battle of Mantinea in 362, she lost the supremacy which she had so recently gained. Soon afterwards Philip of Macedon began to exercise a paramount influence over the greater part of Greece. The Thebans were induced, by the eloquence of Demosthenes, to forget their old animosities against the Athenians, and to join the latter in protecting the liberties of Greece; but their united forces were defeated by Philip, at the battle of Chaeronea, in 338. Soon after the death of Philip and the accession of Alexander, the Thebans made a last attempt to recover their liberty, but were cruelly punished by the young king. The city was taken by Alexander in 336, and was entirely destroyed, with the exception of the temples, and the house of the poet Pindar; 6000 inhabitants were slain, and 30,000 sold as slaves. In 316 the city was rebuilt by Cassander, with the assistance of the Athenians. In 290 it was taken by Demetrius Poliorcetes, and again suffered greatly. Dicaearchus, who flourished about this time, has left us an interesting account of the city. He describes it as about seventy stadia (nearly nine miles) in circumference, in form nearly circular, and in appearance somewhat gloomy. He says that it is plentifully provided with water, and contains better gardens than any other city in Greece; that it is most agreeable in summer, on account of its plentiful supply of cool and fresh water, and its large gardens; but that in winter it is very unpleasant, being destitute of fuel, exposed to floods and cold winds, and frequently visited by heavy falls of snow. He further represents the people as proud and insolent, and always ready to settle disputes by fighting, rather than by the ordinary course of justice. It is supposed that the population of the city at this time may have been between 50,000 and 60,000 souls.
   After the Macedonian period Thebes rapidly declined in importance; and it received its last blow from Sulla , who gave half of its territory to the Delphians. Strabo describes it as only a village in his time; and Pausanias, who visited it in the second century of the Christian era, says that the Cadmea alone was then inhabited. The modern town is also confined to this spot, and the surrounding country is covered with a confused heap of ruins.

This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


Perseus Project index

The Catholic Encyclopedia

Thebes

  A metropolitan titular see of Achaia Secunda.
  The city was founded by the Phoenician Cadmus in the sixteenth century B.C., afterwards made illustrious by the legends of Laius, OEdipus, and of Antigone, the rivalry of Eteocles and Polynices, and the unfortunate siege by the seven chiefs of Argos. After the taking of Troy, Thebes became the capital of Boeotia, but did not succeed in imposing its hegemony, for Athens supported certain towns in their opposition. Thebes allied itself to the Persians against the Greeks, but was conquered with them and submitted to Sparta, until its two generals Pelopidas and Epaminondas restored it to the first rank. The death of the latter before Mantinea in 363 B.C., opened a new series of misfortunes for the city. Conquered by Philip of Macedonia, in 338 B.C., it revolted two years after and drew on itself the vengeance of Alexander who killed or sold all the inhabitants and destroyed all the houses save that of the poet Pindar. Rebuilt in 316 B.C., by Cassander, it was taken and retaken again.
  In the second century B.C., the acropolis alone was inhabited. In the Middle Ages the city was repeopled through the silk industry. In 1040 the Bulgarians took possession of it; six years after the Normans sacked it. In 1205 it was taken by Boniface III of Montferrat and assigned with Athens to Othon de la Roche. In 1364 the Turks took it in behalf of Frederick III of Sicily and later on their own account, but its neighbour, Livadia, soon supplanted it.
  At first a suffragan, Thebes was an autocephalous archbishopric at the beginning of the tenth century and until 970; about 1080 it was a metropolitan see; and about 1170 it numbered five suffragan sees. In 1833 Thebes was reduced to the rank of bishopric with the title of Boeotia; since 1882 the diocese has had the title of Thebes and Livadia. The bishop resides at Livadia and exercises his jurisdiction over the entire district of Boeotia. Since 1210 it has had a Latin metropolis which became by degrees a titular.

S. Vailhe, ed.
Transcribed by: Thomas M. Barrett
This extract is cited June 2003 from The Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent online edition URL below.


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Thebes


Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)

Thebae


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