Monday, 26 April 2010


Boeotian Hoplite

Theban Hoplite

Thespian Hoplite

Thespean warrior
This warrior represents the 700 Thespians that volunteered to fight with the Spartans at Thermopylae and died to the last man. During the fifth century BC the symbol of the city of Thespeans was the half moon of the Melaini Aphrodite on a Beotean shield (the worship of the power represented by Aphrodite and Eros was of great importance in the spiritual life of the Thespeans. The whole armor was black the colour of the night and grief, symbolising his belief that he is marching to a battle with no return. (source)

Source: Wikipedia
In ancient times, Thebes was the largest city of the 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.

In the late 6th century BC, 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 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 (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[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 (457–447 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.

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. 

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 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 (356–346 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. 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.

Hellenistic Period
Cassander allowed the Thebans to rebuild their city in 316 BC. It was besieged and taken by Demetrius Poliorcetes in 293 BC, and again after a revolt in 292 BC. This last siege was difficult and Demetrios was wounded, but finally he managed to beak 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 BC, and became ally with Lysimachus and the Aetolian League.

The Sacred Band of Thebes
Source: Wikipedia and historytoday
The Sacred Band of Thebes was (according to some ancient sources) a troop of picked soldiers, consisting of 150 pederastic (age-structured) male couples which formed the elite force of the Theban army in the 4th century BC. Pederasty in ancient Greece was a socially acknowledged relationship between an adult male and a younger male usually in his teens. It is said to have been organised by the Theban commander Gorgidas in 378 BC and to have played a crucial role in the Battle of Leuctra. It was annihilated by Philip II of Macedon in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC. The band's organization appears in this context to have been typical of the Greek military in general, where any sexual or amorous relationships between comrades were "sporadic" and co-incidental – they were not systematic. Plutarch records that the Sacred Band was made up of male couples, the rationale being that lovers could fight more fiercely and cohesively than strangers with no ardent bonds.
The Sacred Band originally was formed of 300 hand-picked men who were couples, each lover and beloved selected from the ranks of the existing Theban citizen-army. The pairs consisted of the older "heníochoi", or charioteers, and the younger "parabátai", or companions, all housed and trained at the city's expense in order to fight as hoplites. During their early engagements, they were dispersed by Gorgidas throughout the front ranks of the Theban army in an attempt to bolster morale.

After the Theban general Pelopidas recaptured the acropolis of Thebes in 379 BC, he assumed command of the Sacred Band, in which he fought alongside his good friend Epaminondas. It was Pelopidas who formed these couples into a distinct unit: he "never separated or scattered them, but would stand [them with himself] in the brunt of battle, using them as one body." They became, in effect, the "special forces" of Greek soldiery, and the forty years of their known existence (378–338 BC) marked the pre-eminence of Thebes as a military and political power in late-classical Greece.

The Sacred Band under Pelopidas fought the Spartans at Tegyra in 375 BC, routing an army that was at least three times its size, though they retreated before the Spartans reformed. It was also responsible for the victory at Leuctra in 371 BC, called by Pausanias the most decisive battle ever fought by Greeks against Greeks. Leuctra established Theban independence from Spartan rule and laid the groundwork for the expansion of Theban power, but possibly also for Philip II's eventual victory.

The Theban Sacred Band survived for exactly four decades and then met its nemesis in Philip of Macedon. There is kind of irony in this finale, for a crucially formative period of Philip's own youth had brought him into intimate contact with the Band. As a young prince, Philip had been sent to Thebes in 367 at the age of fifteen as a hostage by Pelopidas and remained there for three years. This was shortly before the battle of Mantinea at a time when Thebes was at the height of her prestige. Philip must have been stirred by the victories of Epaminondas and Pelopidas, and fascinated by their new fighting methods. He later revolutionised military tactics by adapting them to his own purposes. Dio Chrysostom even links him intimately to the Sacred Band by making him the beloved of Pelopidas. Perhaps he was, or perhaps this is a purely honorific assumption in accordance with the Hellenic motto, cherchez l'amant.

On his return to Macedon, Philip put to use what he had learned at Thebes. When he came to the throne, he built up a strong professional army, and having secured his position in the north, managed by a series of adroit diplomatic manoeuvres to extend his power into southern Greece, with the intention of uniting the entire country under his command. Thebes and Athens belatedly formed an alliance to oppose him. The crucial battle took place in 358 at Plutarch's Chaeronea - it was the decisive contest in which Philip II of Macedon, with his son Alexander, extinguished Theban hegemony.  The traditional hoplite infantry was no match for the novel long-speared Macedonian phalanx: the Theban army and its allies broke and fled, but the Sacred Band, although surrounded and overwhelmed, refused to surrender. The Sacred Band were once more the prime troops of the Greek army, still intact and undefeated, but this was their Gotterdammerung. True to their traditions, they stood their ground, and were killed to the last man, so that the bodies of the 300 lay strewn on the field.(source)

James G. DeVoto says in The Theban Sacred Band that Alexander had deployed his cavalry behind the Macedonian hoplites, apparently permitting "a Theban break-through in order to effect a cavalry assault while his hoplites regrouped." The Thebans of the Sacred Band held their ground and nearly all 300 fell where they stood beside their last commander, Theagenes. In the triumph of victory Philip came upon the remains of the regiment he had known in Thebes as an adolescent thirty years before. Plutarch describes his reaction: "And when, after the battle, Philip was surveying the dead, and stopped at the place where the 300 were lying, all where they had faced the long spears of his phalanx, with their armour, and mingled one with another, he was amazed, and on learning that this was the band of lovers and beloved, burst into tears and said: 'Perish miserably they who think that these men did or suffered aught disgraceful'.

In about 300 BC, the town of Thebes erected a giant stone lion on a pedestal at the burial site of the Sacred Band.

More about this incredible story in another article, involving Philip the Macedonian and his sone Alexander the Great.

In the history of ancient Greece, Thespiae was one of the cities of the federal league known as the Boeotian League. Several traditions agree that the Boeotians were a people expelled from Thessaly some time after the Trojan War, and who colonised the Boeotian plain over a series of generations, of which the occupation of Thespiae formed a later stage. Other traditions suggest that they were of Mycenean origin.

In the Archaic Period the Thespian nobility was heavily dependant on Thebes. This possibly reflected that land ownership was concentrated in the hands of a small number of nobles, and therefore there was difficulty in equipping an effective force of hoplites. Thespiae therefore decided to become a close ally of Thebes. The Thessalians invaded Boeotia as far as Thespiae, more than 200 years before Leuctra (according to Plutarch), c. 571 BC, which might have given Thespiae the impetus to join the Boeotian League. But elsewhere Plutarch gives a date for the Thessalian invasion as shortly preceding the Second Persian War.

During the Persian invasion of 480 BC Thespiae's ability to field a substantial force of hoplites had changed. Thespiae and Thebes were the only Boeotian cities to send a contingent to fight at Thermopylae, Thespiae sending a force of 700 hoplites who remained to fight beside the Spartans on the final day of the battle. In 1997, the Greek government dedicated a monument to the Thespians who fell alongside that of the Spartans. After the battle, Thebes was the final Boeotian state to side with the Persians, and in doing so they denounced both Plataea and Thespiae to Xerxes I as the only Boeotian states to side with the Greeks. After the city was burned down by Xerxes, the remaining inhabitants furnished a force of 1800 men for the confederate Greek army that fought at Plataea.

During the Athenian invasion of Boeotia in 424 BC, the Thespian contingent of the Boeotian army sustained heavy losses at the Battle of Delium. In the next year the Thebans dismantled the walls of Thespiae on the charge that the Thespians were pro-Athenian, perhaps as a measure to prevent a democratic revolution. In 414 the Thebans aided the Thespians in suppressing a democratic revolution.

In the Corinthian War, Thespiae was initially part of the anti-Spartan alliance. At the Battle of Nemea in 394 BC, the Thespian contingent fought the Pellenes to a standstill while the rest of the Spartan allies were defeated by the Boeotians. After Nemea, Thespiae became an ally to Sparta and served as staging point for Spartan campaigns in Boeotia throughout the Corinthian War. The city became autonomous as stipulated in the King's Peace of 386 which resolved the Corinthian War, and maintained autonomy until 373. In 373 Thespiae was subdued by the Thebans, the Thespians were exiled from Boeotia and they arrived in Athens along with the Plataeans seeking aid. But they still sent a contingent to fight against the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra in 371. The Boeotarch Epameinondas allowed the Thespians to withdraw before the battle, along with other Boeotians who nursed a grudge against Thebes. At some point later the city was restored.

In 335 BC, the Thespians joined in an alliance with Alexander the Great in destroying Thebes. The famous hetaera (courtesan) Phryne was born at Thespiae in the 4th century BC, though she seems to have lived at Athens. One of the anecdotes told of her is that she offered to finance the rebuilding of the Theban walls on the condition that the words "destroyed by Alexander, restored by Phryne the courtesan" were inscribed upon them.

In 171 Thespiae sought the friendship of the Roman Republic in the war against Mithridates VI. It is subsequently mentioned by Strabo as a place of some size, and by Pliny as a free city within the Roman Empire, a reward for its support against Mithridates. Thespiae hosted an important group of Roman negotiatores until the refoundation of Corinth in 44 BC.

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