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Episode 177: The Forgotten City


In the history of ancient Greece, three cities dominated its politics, society, and culture. Of these, Athens and Sparta are now best known. But set in the plains of central Greece was the third apex of this “fateful triangle”, the city of Thebes. Dismissed by both Spartans and Athenians as rustics, clods, and peasants–“Boeotian swine” according the Athenians–Thebes was nevertheless deeply consequential to the life of those two rival cities. Its myths and legends became the topics of some of the greatest of Athenian drama. Its alliance with Sparta helped tip the balance of the Pelopponesian War in Sparta’s favor. And in the period of Thebes’ greatest power, when it had turned against its old ally, Boeotian armies freed the helots of Sparta in successful campaigns of liberation the like of which would not be see again, until Toussaint L’Ouverture raised up an army in Haiti, and Sherman made Georgia howl.

With me to discuss the city of Thebes is Paul Cartledge, the A.G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, and the Emeritus A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture. He is the newly elected President of the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, and is an Honorary Citizen of (modern) Sparta. Author, editor and co-editor of (by my count) 32 books, his 33rd is Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece, which is the subject of our conversation today.


For Further Investigation

The Archaeological Museum of Thebes

Map of Classical Thebes

Essays by Paul Cartledge at History Today

Plutarch, Life of Pelopidas