1902 Encyclopedia > Thebes


THEBES (anciently ____, Thebx, or in poetry some-times ____, in modern Greek Phiva, or, according to the corrected pronunciation, Thivx), one of the most interest-ing towns in Greece, is situated on low hilly ground of gentle slope a little north of the range of Cithasron, which divides Bceotia from Attica, and on the edge of the Boeotian plain, about 44 miles from Athens, whence it is now reached by two carriage-roads. It has about 3500 inhabitants, and is the seat of a bishop. The present town occupies the site of the ancient citadel, the Cadmea ; two fragments of ancient wall are visible on the north, and another, belonging either to the citadel or the outer wall, on the south. Two streams, rising a little south of the town, and separated by an average distance of about half a mile, flow on the two sides, and are lost in the plain. These are the ancient Ismenus on the east and Dirce (AipKTj) on the west, which gave to the town its name St-7roTa,jU.os. The Dirce, now Platzkitissa, has several springs. From the west side of the Cadmea another copious fountain (Paraporti) falls to the Dirce. In a suburb to the east is another (Fountain of St Theodore), and north-west are two more. The Cadmea itself is supplied with water brought from an unknown source to the south by works supposed of prehistoric antiquity. It now enters the town by an aqueduct of twenty arches of Frankish construction. The " waters " of Thebes are celebrated both by Pindar and by the Athenian poets, and the site is still, as described by Dicaearchus (3d century B.C.), " all springs," Ka6v8po<s 7rao-a. One, from which a pasha of Negroponte (Eubcea) is said to have supplied his table, is still called " the spring of the cadi." Some of the marble basins, seats, &c, remain, and, with the frag-ments of wall above mentioned, are the only relics of the classic time. The most curious of later buildings is the church of St Luke, south-east of the Cadmea, believed to contain the tomb of the evangelist. From the abundance of water the place is favourable to gardens, and the neighbouring plain is extremely fertile. But the population is scanty, and the town at present of no importance.
In prehistoric times the Cadmea, with the enlarged city of Thebes into which it developed, was a power of the first rank, as is shown by its unrivalled legends. More particularly the mythical wars with Argos (see below) point to a time when the " Hellenes " of North Greece were still contending unequally against the " Achseans" of the Peloponnesus. In the legend as given by iEschylus these names are accurately preserved. At the beginning of continuous history (6th century B.C.) Thebes had long been possessed by immigrants from Thessaly, who knew the previous inhabitants as Cadmeans (KaS/xciot).
The history of the town to the end of the 4th century is part of the general history of the nation (see GKEECE). It had an aristocratic constitution, and claimed a contested sovereignty over the other towns of Bceotia. Down to 371 B.C. this status was not essentially changed. The battle of Coronea (394) showed the increasing military strength of the Thebans, and in 371 the genius of Epaminondas raised them by the victory of Leuctra for a brief period to the leading position in Hellas. Philip of Macedon spent part of his youth as a hostage at Thebes, and probably learnt there important lessons in war. By him and his successor the state was destroyed. In 338 the Thebans shared with the Athenians the defeat of Chsronea, and received a Macedonian garrison; the lion-monument erected by them on the field of battle, and still existing there, though in fragments, is a more impressive memorial of their greatness than anything now visible at the town itself. In 335, after the death of Philip, they revolted, and were punished by Alexander with a fearful ven-geance. It is said that 6000 Thebans were slain at the capture and 30,000 taken prisoners. The population was dispersed, and the town entirely razed (except, according to tradition, the house of the poet Pindar); and, though it was soon restored by the Macedonian Cassander (315), it never again played a leading part in history. In 86 B.C., having sided against the Romans in the Mithradatie war, it was plundered by Sulla, and fell into such decay that Strabo describes it as little better than a village. In the 2d century the traveller Pausanias, who gives a full account of it (ix. 5 sq.), found only the citadel inhabited. In 395 A.D., however, it had some strength, for Alaric, on his way to the capture of Athens, did not think fit to attack it. In the later times of the Eastern empire (10th to 12th century) it again became wealthy and important, being specially celebrated for the manufacture of silk and cloth. In 1143 it was plundered by the Normans of Sicily (who transferred thither the chief 'artisans of the silk trade), and, after the capture of Constantinople by the crusaders (1204), became with Athens a fief of the feudal empire. In 1311 it was again plundered by the Catalan Grand Company, a body of Spanish mercenaries, and appears to have had no return of prosperity.
Of more lasting effect than the politics of Thebes have been its legends. Bceotia, or rather the Cadmeis (Thucyd., i. 12), was a land of poetry from extremely ancient times, and the stories of Thebes are in Greek literature as important as those of Troy. The legends of the five chief groups will be found under the names indicated in the following division :—(1) the foundation of the Cadmea by Cadmus; (2) the foundation by Amphion, —to this belong originally the '1 seven-gated " wall, the name of eirriirvKos 0iji8i), and the legends of Zethus, Antiope, and Dirce; (3) war of the "Seven" (under Adrastus of Argos) ; war of the Epigoni, or " descendants " of the Seven ; the story of (Edipus ; (4) legends of Bacchus,—at Thebes as elsewhere this religion was comparatively late, but became characteristic of the town ; (5) legends of Heracles (commonly found with those of Bacchus ; Thebes was reputed the birthplace of both). From the epic poems, of which little but titles remain, these tales descended to the Attic tragedians ; upon them are founded the Seven against Thebes of iEschylus, the (Edipus Tyrannus, CEdipus Coloneus, and Antigone of Sophocles, the Phoenissas, Supplices, and Bacchse, of Euripides, &c, with innumer-able plays not extant. Apart from direct imitation of these works, the stories themselves, through Statius, Boccaccio, and others, have exercised a great influence on modern literature. In historical times the Thebans were not conspicuous for intellectual accom-plishments, but their reputation is sufficiently sustained by Pindar, perhaps the most distinctively Hellenic of all the national poets.
The most famous monument of ancient Thebes was the outer wall with its seven gates, which even as late as the 6th century B.C. was probably the largest of artificial Greek fortresses. The names of the gates vary, but four are constant,—the Prcetides, Electa, Neistae or Neitse, and Homoloides ; Pausanias gives the others as Ogygia;, Hypsista?, Crensea;. There is evidence that the gate Eleetrse was on the south, and near it was the tomb of the Thebans who fell at the capture by Alexander. The gates shown to Pausanias as Neista? and Prcetides led respectively north-west and north-east. Two of the springs have been identified with some probability,—that of St Theodore with the QEdipodea, in which GMipus is said to have purged himself from the pollution of homicide, and the Paraporti with the dragon-guarded fountain of Ares (see CADMUS). Dicaiarchus, referring to the town of Cassander, gives two measurements for the circuit, equal to about 9 miles and 5J miles, but even the smaller is impossible for the wall, and they probably refer to the territory proper of the town, or yri ®ri$als. Beyond this the topography is wholly uncertain. From the interest of the site in history and still more in literature, as the scene of so many dramas, the temptation to fix details has been specially strong. Conjectural plans or descriptions, differing widely, are given by Leake, Forchhammer, Ulrichs, Bursian, and others (references below). All are based on the assumption that the description of Pausanias and the allusions of the Attic trage-dians may be read together and combined, and that the result will give the plan as it existed in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. But to this two objections must be taken. (1) The account of Pausanias, even when clear in itself, is very uncertain evidence for anything earlier than the destruction by Alexander. It is said indeed that the restored town occupied the same area, but this is consistent with great disturbance of tradition ; and we have further to allow for inaccurate transmission through 450 years of decad-ence, and finally for the quality of Pausanias's information, given apparently by casual guides to a traveller extremely uncritical. (2) It may be doubted whether the tragedians had accurate know-ledge of Theban topography, and they had certainly no reason for introducing it in their plays. Their plots are laid in a remote past; and it is difficult to suppose them on the one hand so careful as to fit their scenes to the actual Thebes, and on the other hand so careless as to presume that it had suffered no great change between the times of Cadmus or of ffidipus and their own days. Indeed they did not make this mistake. The plays which contain most references to topography are the Seven against Thebes and the Phcenissx. In the Seven the name of " Thebes " does not occur at all (the title is a misnomer, probably not given by the author); the town is called by its ancient name "The Cadmea" (KaSueia TTO'AU), and the whole play assumes that the "city of Cadmus" was much smaller than the Thebes contemporary with yEsehylus can have been. In the Phcenissx the circuit of the walls is said to be so small that a person within must necessarily know all that had taken place in a general attack (v. 1356). None of the con-jectural plans would approximately satisfy this, nor can it have been true for the time of Euripides. After this, it is not surprising to find that the attempt to use the plays as evidence is involved in unanswered difficulties, a few of which are given below.
In itself, however, and as relating to the ruins ot the restored town merely, the description of Pausanias is curious and interesting. The principal buildings were at that time (2d century) the temple of Apollo Ismenius, which must have stood somewhere about the present church of St Luke, the theatre, near the gate Prcetides, the Heracleum, with a gymnasium and race-course, and the temples of Artemis Eucleia, of Amnion, and of Fortune (Tixy). Besides these Pausanias was shown all the gates, all the legendary sites, the house of Pindar (north-west beyond the Dirce), statues, &c, dedicated by him, several statues of immense antiquity, others attributed to the greatest artists, and in fact much more than it is easy to believe.
1. Apollo Ismenius and Apollo Spodius.—Sophocles (Œ. T., 21) mentions, as one of the Theban sanctuaries, " the oracular ashes of Ismenus," 'Icixnvoô ^avreia o-xàoos. Pausanias, who calls the river not Ismenus but Ismenius, describes (1) a temple of Ismenius or Apollo Ismenius (ix. 10, 2), and (2) an altar of Apollo Spodius, made of ashes and used in a peculiar manner as an oracle (ix. 11,7). "VVe should suppose from Sophocles that both observations related to the same sanctuary ; and Sophocles clearly identified the two. But in Pausanias they are in différent places and have no connexion at all. Either therefore the topography and ritual of the one period differed from those of the other, or, which is equally probable, the poet used Theban names without regard to accuracy.
2. The Fountain of Ares.—Euripides, in the Supplices (v. 650 sq. ), describes an army advancing on Thebes from the south as having its right at the Ismenian hill, its left at the fountain of Ares, and "the chariots below the monument of Amphion." Pausanias also places the Ismenian hill on the right of the southern gate. But the fountain of Ares he places on the same side, a de-scription quite inconsistent with this and other allusions. Ulrichs, while insisting on the agreement about the hill, merely observes on this that Pausanias is unintelligible. Of a still greater difficulty he says nothing. The tomb of Amphion is placed by iEschylus north of the town, and there or in that direction was shown to Pausanias. The topographers accordingly suppose that the ' ' chariots ' ' of Euripides were in the plain to the north. But there is no suggestion in the passage that any part of the advancing army was separated from the rest, and the observer expressly says that he was at the place where the chariots fought and had a particularly good view of this part of the battle (v. 684). Now he stood on the gate Electa, i. e., as far as possible from the tomb of Amphion, as placed by iEschylus and Pausanias. It is impossible to make a consistent account of this, and it seems plain that Euripides took up the name " tomb of Amphion " at hazard, and ignored or forgot that the real tomb could not be brought into his picture.
3. The Attar of (Athena) Onea.—This was shown to Pausanias (ix. 12, 1), who was told that it marked the place where the lying down of a cow indicated to Cadmus the site destined for his city (eSei èvravda oÏKr)txai). "It is said," he continues, "that in the acropolis there was formerly the house of Cadmus (Kâ5>ou oîiela)." No other indication is given as to the place of the altar, and the natural inference is that it was shown in the Cadmea. But iEschylus (Septetn, 501) places it outside the walls. Accordingly it is suggested that the oracular sign only indicated the neighbour-hood of the destined site, and that the altar shown to Pausanias was near that of Apollo Spodius, which is mentioned last before it, and may have been outside the wall. But this juxtaposition proves nothing about the place of Onca, for Pausanias himself shows that mention of Onca here is suggested by a reference to " oxen " in connexion with the altar of Spodius, which brought to his mind the "cow" of the other legend.
4. The Tomb of Amphion and Zethus.—Apart from the con-fusion of Euripides already noticed, there is a difficulty about the mention of this monument in Pausanias and iEschylus. Pausanias, after describing several buildings near the gate Prcetides, conclud-ing with some in the market-place, mentions next (without further indication of place) the tomb of Amphion and Zethus, and con-tinues thus,—"the way from Thebes to Chalcis (north-east) is by this gate Prcetides, &c." jEschylus places the tomb of Amphion outside the wall opposite the north gate (Septcm, 527), and the Prcetides elsewhere. Ulrichs concludes that Pausanias " evidently " went out by the north gate to view the monument and then returned to the Prcetides. Of course this is possible, but it is useless to draw exact inferences from documents which require such an hypothesis. It is equally probable that Pausanias identified the tomb with a monument called the Ampheion, which seems (Ulrichs, p. 17) to have been somewhere near the market-place. Indeed, there is no proof that they were not identical, for the only evidence that the tomb was outside the wall (and therefore different from the Ampheion) is that of jEschylus and Euripides, whose imaginary cities were not much larger than the Cadmean hill, and must have excluded the Ampheion itself.
On the history, see references under GREECE; on the topography and legends, Ulrichs, Reisen und Forschungen in Griechenland, ii. 1 sq.; Leake, Travels in Northern Greece, ii. xiv.; Bursian, Géographie von Griechenland, i. 225 sq.; and the " Seven against Thebes" ed. by A. W. Verrall, "Introduction." (A. W. V.)

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