Thebes was a powerful city in Ancient Greece which rivalled Athens as a major force in Greek history and mythology, particularly in the stories of Oedipus, Dionysus and Hercules. Thebes was the largest city in the region of Boeotia until it was destroyed by Alexander the Great at the Battle of Chaeoronea in the 4th century BC.
While the city thrived under the Byzantines, today few remains of ancient Thebes can be seen in the modern Greek town of Thiva.
Whilst first occupied in Neolithic times and already thriving in the Helladic period, Thebes reached its peak during the Mycenaean period. The settlement continued to thrive, becoming an important city of Ancient Greece in the 4th century BC.
Thebes is the site of numerous Ancient Greek events and myths, including being the birthplace of the Greek god Dionysus and demi-god Hercules. The city was also the setting of Sophocles’s tragedy of Oedipus, the legendary King of Thebes who killed his father and married his mother.
The army of Thebes was at one time considered to be the best in Greece and demonstrated its prowess numerous times against that of Sparta. Thebes’s army was vitally important to its power and allowed it to become the ruling city of the Boeotia region.
Thebes began to decline in 338 BC after suffering defeat at the hands of the Macedonians in the Battle of Chaeronea. Under the Macedonians, Thebes was the most dominant city-state until the final blow to the city occurred in 335 BC, when Thebes revolted against Alexander the Great resulting in its absolute destruction. So great was the damage that ancient Thebes never fully recovered, Alexander regretting his severity.
During the Byzantine period, Thebes was a place of refuge from foreign invaders and from the 10th century, the new centre of the silk trade – surpassing Constantinople. Although the city was plundered by the crusading Normans in 1146, Thebes recovered quickly until the Latin conquest in 1204. The city was later captured by the Ottomans who held it until the 19th century.
Today, modern Thebes is a bustling market town boasting a vibrant ancient past which attracts tourists from across the world. Some of the ruins which can still be seen are the fortified Mycenaean palace of Kadmos, also known as Cadmea, and the Temple of Apollo Ismenios (found between the Electran Gates and the Aghios Loukas cemetery).
Visitors can also explore the town’s large archaeological museum, which has a well-structured and extensive chronological display of artefacts relating to Greece and Thebes’ ancient histories. Set aside a couple of hours if you want a thorough look around.
Getting to Thebes
Located along Greece’s highways 3 and 44, Thebes is easily found if driving and is roughly an hour long journey via the E75 from Athens. Otherwise, Thebes train station serves many central train lines, linking you with Athens in over an hour.
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