Title of Assessed Work: Why did Thebes come to political prominence in the fourth century? ‘The victory of the Thebans was the most famous of all those won by Greeks over Greeks”l This essay will look at the rise of Thebes to political prominence in Greece in the fourth century BC in a an analytical rather than chronological fashion, by considering both the decline of the major city states around Thebes as well as Theban advantages.It will draw on the format used by John Buckler2 by dividing the reasons for Thebes’ short hegemony (371-362 BC) into external factors including the eakening of Athens after the Peloponnesian war and the growing irrelevance of Sparta as a result of population decline and the inconclusive Corinthian war. This will be followed by a discussion of the factors that gave Thebes an edge including the excellent leadership of both Epaminondas and Pelopidas, military advantages such as the wedge shaped phalanx, and naturally the victory at Leuctra.The twenty seven years of conflict in the Peloponnesian war (431-404 BC) significantly weakened the city state of Athens.
Simon Hornblower argues in The Greek World 479-323 BC that if opulation is taken as a measure of prosperity, then Athens was clearly in decline3 as the number of Hoplites alone fell from 25,0004 to 90005. Apart from this there was the obvious economic impact of the loss of the overseas empire and cleruchies for the poor6, as well as the escape of 20,000 slaves who were skilled in handicrafts, mining and agriculture. The Athenians were far less influential abroad after their naval fleet, which Hornblower calls ???the vehicle of proselytizing democracy’ ceased to exist in 404 BC. 8 Tribute from the empire also ceased, causing a loss of 900 talents9, nd tax revenue fell by 60% from over 60 talents to Just 24. 10 From this we can surmise that Athens was a far less potent force than before the start of the conflict, both socially and economically. Spartan high handedness after the Kings Peace of 386 BC – a settlement which ended the Corinthian War of 395-387 BC – was a key reason behind the decline of Spartan hegemony and indeed Sparta as a city.The division of Mantinea into its constituent villagesl 1 and the invasion of the Cadmea in Thebes as well as the placement of a Spartan garrison in the city12 provoked outrage across the Greek world, ruining the Spartan image.
The liberation of Thebes in 379 BC13 set the stage for a series of events which greatly weakened Sparta, including the foundation of the Athenian sea league in 378 BC14 and prompting a war of attrition between Sparta and Athens that led both to exhaustion by 375 BC. 1 5 Another factor behind Spartan decline is the fall in its population, beginning with the earthquake of 465 BC16.There were 8000 Spartan soldiers in the Persian Wars17 but no more than 1000 by 371 BC at Leuctra18. The decline in Spartan manpower reduced the potency of the state’s formidable reputation as an invincible military force.
Thebes took advantage of the conflict between Sparta and Athens by utilising the two invasion free years, 376 and 375 BC, to march on many cities in Boeotia and restore Theban supremacy in the region, establishing a new and improved Boeotian league. 19 The composition of representatives was weighted to give Thebes by far the largest say in the running of the federation.There were only seven rather than eleven beotarchs, although Thebes retained its four beotarchs, giving it a majority.
20 In addition to this, ultimate decisions regarding policy did not rest with a representative council but rather a primary council of some sort. 1 All citizens of the Boeotian League were allowed to attend the federal Assembly meetings, which were held in Thebes, ensuring that Thebans were in the majority when decisions regarding policy were being made. 22 This laid down the political groundwork for the coming Theban hegemony.The growing military power of the Boeotians was shown to all of Greece by their victory at Tegyra in 375 BC, when Pelopidas used the newly formed troop of handpicked homosexual soldiers known as the Sacred Band together with the cavalry to inflict heavy casualties on the Spartan garrison in Orchomenus. 23 After two naval defeats and their inability to support their ally Polydamas of Pharsalus against the Boeotian allied Jason of Pherae24, Sparta was ready to make peace, and was Joined in this desire by Athens, which looked on the Boeotian revival with growing concern.
The renewing of the Kings Peace in 375/374 differed from the original treaty in a major way: Thebes unprepared to accept a second dissolution of the Boeotian League25. In addition to this, Spartan and Athenian weakness was exposed by the lack of military action taken when Thebes agreed to the peace on behalf of all of the Boeotians26. According to Terry Buckley in Aspects of Greek History 750-323 BC, after the renewing of the Kings Peace, there was a real chance for Spartan and Athenian cooperation to contain the threat of Theban hegemony.
7 However, a conflict over Zacynthos and Corcyra a mere two years later reignited fighting between the two states and played into the hands of Thebes once again, allowing the Thebans to solidify their grip over Boeotia by defeating Spartan allied Platea and Thespiae. 28 We can know conclude that infghting between Sparta and Athens gave Thebes time to expand at two crucial stages: in 376/375 BC, when it re stablished the Boeotian League, and again from 373-371 BC, when Thebes strengthened its control over Boeotia.By 371 BC both Sparta and Athens had come to their senses, realising the Theban threat to their power, and agreed to a second renewing of the King’s Peace held in Sparta. 29 At the negotiations, Sparta and Athens laid stress on the autonomy clause of the Kings Peace in 386 BC, which has held to be applicable to Thebes’ Boeotian League but tacitly accepting that it would not in fact be applicable to either Sparta’s Peloponnesian League or the Second Athenian League. 0 A clause was introduced which would allow states to fight against violators of the autonomy principle, allowing Sparta to fght it out with Thebes while Athens avoided military conflict. 31 When the leading Theban General Epaminondas refused to accept the Spartan principle of autonomy as applying to Boeotia but not to Laconia32, King Cleombrotus was ordered to invade Boeotia from Phocis, resulting in the Battle of Leuctra of 371 BC.
The battle saw the death of over four hundred Spartans, including Cleombrotus, totalling a third of the Spartan citizen body. Terry Buckley states34 that the battle was ‘… one of the turning points in Greek history: the Spartans, who had been so dominant in Greek politics of two and a half centuries, were about to be reduced to the status of second rate power.
The Boeotians, under the leadership of Epaminondas and Pelopidas, were now on the threshold of becoming the most powerful state in Greece. ” The Battle of Leuctra established Theban hegemony and deserves further analysis. The major reason behind Theban victory was Epaminondas’ renewal of the phalanx.The problem of the phalanx had lways been that it tended to curl to the right, as hoplites instinctively moved to the right to gain protection from the shield of the hoplite beside them, however, the ‘sloping phalanx’, as introduced of the Thebans was deeper at the left wing, resulting was a classic encirclement, after the much stronger left wing had defeated the right wing of the enemy. 35 The result of the battle of Leuctra was another renewal of the Kings Peace, except this latest renewal of the treaty as organized by the Athenians made the clause regarding assisting a vulnerable ally compulsory rather than oluntary. 6 The Thebans were excluded from the Peace, which was followed by a military alliance between Sparta and Athens in 369 BC.
37 What do these steps tell us? From these developments we can deduce that the Athenians had come to see Thebes as the one of the most powerful states in Greece. They had, together with Sparta, singled out Thebes as the enemy. Clearly, Thebes and its Boeotian League had now come to be a political and military force to be dealt with. Theban hegemony had begun. This essay has shown that the rise of Theban political power owes as uch to external circumstances as internal factors.The decline of Spartan and Athenian power created a power vacuum that allowed the Thebans to reorganize the Boeotian League as an even more Thebes-centered federation than before. The Thebans established their political primacy through a series of military expansions and a major victory against Sparta at Leuctra. In this, the leadership of Epaminondas and Pelopidas proved crucial to Theban success.
For these many reasons, Thebes came to political prominence in the fourth century. Bibliography 1. Pausanius, Description of Greece 2. J.Buckler, The Theban Hegemony 371-362 BC, Harvard University Press, First Edition (1980) 3. S. Hornblower, The Greek world 479-323 SC, ed.
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Plutarch, Pelopidas 11 . R. Sealey, A history of the Greek States 700-338 BC, University of California Press (1997) 12.
T. Buckley, Aspects of Greek History 750-323 BC A source based approach, Routledge (1996) 13. K. Atkinson, Ancient Sparta: A Re-examination of the Evidence. Manchester University Press (1952) 14.
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