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Few people know that besides Athens and Sparta there was another military superpower in ancient Greece. At its peak Thebes controlled many of the Greek city states through their military prowess.
Today there are 3 things that the ancient Greek city of Thebes is known for. First, Thebes was strong enough to stand directly against Athens. Second, Thebes sided with Xerxes I of Persia and fought against the Greeks during the Greco-Persian Wars. Third, Thebes would successfully defeat Sparta and form the short lived Thebian hegemony.
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Without further ado, here are the 3 things that the ancient Greek city of Thebes is known for.
Thebes Was Strong Enough To Stand Directly Against Athens
One of the main things that ancient Thebes was best known for was being at the head of a large confederacy of Greek city-states called Boeotia.
Thebes was the largest city in this confederacy and was heavily fortified. Lying just northwest of Athens by about 60 miles, Thebes was always in danger of being invaded. As a response to this Thebes would build up one of the most heavily fortified defensive cities in Greece.
Thebes and Athens would remain fierce rivals for the whole of classical Greece. From the very start Thebes would help small villages surrounding Athens remain independent by supplying resources. In 506 BC Thebes successfully repelled Athenian influence from coming into their land.
In 424 BC Thebes would deliver a crushing defeat to Athens and her allies during the Peloponnesian War. At the Battle of Delium 18,500 soldiers under the command of the Thebian general Pagondas would defeat 17,000 Athenian troops. This defeat would help cement Theban military superiority in northern Greece.
As such one of the main things that Thebes is best known for in ancient Greece is successfully standing against Athens several times.
Thebes Sided With The Persians And Fought Against The Greeks During The Greco-Persian Wars
One of the main things that ancient Thebes was known for was fighting against the Greeks during the Greco-Persian wars.
After sending 400 troops to help Leonidas I at the Battle of Thermopylae, Thebes would decide to side with King Xerxes I of Persia against the coalition of Sparta and Athens.
Thebes was known for its superior fighting force. Herodotus details how during the final Battle of Plataea in 479 BC Thebes would provide somewhere between 10,000-14,000 troops. This number has been recently brought into doubt as archeological evidence has demonstrated less numbers in total.
However, what is known is that during this battle the soldiers of Thebes fought with ferocity. After the defeat of Persia Thebes would be heavily punished for fighting against the other Greek city states.
Sparta attempted to remove Thebes from the Delphic amphictyony. This was a loose confederation of Greek states that followed the same religion. Being removed from this religious institution would essentially mean that Thebes would lose its Greek status.
Athens would interject into this decision. If Thebes was removed it would destabilize their power basis against Sparta. Thebes would be allowed to remain but it would lose all political power in the Boeotian League which essentially made it a client state.
As such one of the main things that ancient Thebes is best known for in ancient Greece was siding with Xerxes I of Persia during the Greco-Persian wars.
Thebes Would Successfully Defeat Sparta And Form The Brief Lived Theban Hegemony
One of the main things that Thebes would be best known for in ancient Greece was defeating Sparta at the battle of Leuctra.
Thebes would fall into a period of low power after their punishment for siding against the Greeks during the Greco-Persian wars. However, 403 BC Thebes would begin to help Athens instead of Sparta.
This would directly put Thebes on a trajectory to fight with Sparta. During this time Sparta was the dominant power in the Greek world. However, Thebes was known for its fighting prowess and its defensive fortifications.
From 403-394 BC Thebes would defeat Sparta at several battles. However, even though they won, the cost of the battle proved too much and in 382 BC Thebes would be occupied by Spartan forces.
In 379 BC Thebes would successfully expel the Spartan forces and rapidly mobilize its remaining military against the Spartan hegemony. Thebes was known to support democracy across the Greek peninsula while Sparta supported autocratic regimes.
In 371 BC Thebes would engage the main Spartan army at the Battle of Leuctra. The Theban army was commanded by the legendary generals Pelopidas and Epaminondas.
During this battle Epaminondas knew that the Spartan military would fight with the traditional hoplite system of battle. Here the Spartans would attempt to use their right wing to push back the Theban troops. Epaminondas would instead do something that no General up to that point had done.
Epaminondas would order his troops to gather on his left flank. Here his most experienced and battled hardened troops would mass. During the charge the entire Theban army would shift to the right and rotate. This would cause the heavily fortified left flank to sweep into the Spartan army and swiftly crush it. After this the Theban left flank would continue to swing around and encircle the enemy.
This was the first use of what today generals call the oblique order.
Because of this military tactic Thebes would defeat the massive Spartan army at the Battle of Leuctra. This was the start of the brief lived Theban hegemony where Thebes was the leader of the Greek city states. The Theban hegemony would last from 371-362 BC.
As such one of the main things that Thebes is best known for in ancient Greece is successfully defeating Sparta and creating the time period of Theban hegemony.
There you have it; an entire article centered around the 3 things that the ancient Greek city of Thebes is best known for.
Thebes remains a fascinating subject of discussion. Today its history is eclipsed by the famous histories of Athens and Sparta. However, at one point in time this was the most powerful city in ancient Greece.
Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you enjoyed this article then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around the internet.
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