previous next

THEBES Boiotia, Greece.

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.


A. Kéramopoullos, “Thebaïka,” Deltion 3 (1917); F. Schober & L. Ziehen in RE (1934), s.v. ThebaiM; P. Cloche, Thèbes de Béotie (1952); F. Vian, Les origines de Thèbes, Cadmos et les Spartes (1963); “Chronique des Fouilles” BCH (1964) 775-79; (1966) 848-53; (1968) 856-62PI; E. Touloupa, Deltion 19 (1964) 191-97PI; P. Roesch, Thespies et la Confédération béotienne (1965)MI; “Thèbes de Béotie,” in La Civilisation grecque de l'Antiquité à nos jours II (1969) 377-88I; N. Papahadjis, Pausaniou Hellados Periegesis V (1969) 46-90, 99-108, 148-50MPI; Th. Spyropoulos, AAA 4 (1971) 161-64; 5 (1972) 16-27; J. P. Michaud, BCH 96 (1972) 694-99.

On Kabireion: E. Szanto, AthMitt 15 (1890) 396ff; P. Wolters & G. Bruns, Das Kabirenheiligtum bei Theben I (1940); G. Bruns, Arch. Anz. (1964) 231-65PI; N. Papahadjis, Pausaniou Hellados Periegesis V (1969) 150-59MPI.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: