‘An incisive, inspiring and vitally illuminating account of a city which changed the ancient world and which deserves to be remembered by the modern. A masterful book written by a master historian.’ - Bettany Hughes, bestselling author of Istanbul and Helen of Troy.
Continuously inhabited for five millennia, and at one point the most powerful city in Ancient Greece, Thebes has been overshadowed by its better-known rivals, Athens and Sparta.
According to myth, the city was founded when Kadmos sowed dragon’s teeth into the ground and warriors sprang forth, ready not only to build the fledgling city but to defend it from all-comers. It was Hercules’ birthplace and the home of the Sphinx, whose riddle Oedipus solved, winning the Theban crown and the king’s widow in marriage, little knowing that the widow was his mother, Jocasta.
The city’s history is every bit as rich as its mythic origins, from siding with the Persian invaders when their emperor, Xerxes, set out to conquer Aegean Greece, to siding with Sparta – like Thebes an oligarchy – to defeat Pericles'
democratic Athens, to being utterly destroyed on the orders of Alexander the Great.
In Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece, the acclaimed classical historian Paul Cartledge brings the city vividly to life, and argues that it is central to our understanding of the ancient Greeks’ achievements – whether politically or culturally – and thus to our own culture and civilization.
Historian Cartledge (Democracy: A Life) explores the mythic origins and enduring legacy of the ancient Greek city of Thebes in this comprehensive account. Though frequently overshadowed by rival city-states Athens and Sparta, Thebes played an integral role in the achievements and culture of ancient Greece, according to Cartledge, who brings the city back to life through the myths of Oedipus and Heracles, the dramas of Pindar and Sophocles, and the histories of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Plutarch. Cartledge also notes that, though Thebes committed the treacherous act of "medism" by siding with Persia in its invasion of Greece in 480 BCE, Theban soldiers fought alongside the Spartan army at the Battle of Thermopylae. Liberated from Athenian rule by Sparta's victory in the Peloponnesian War, Thebes became the "single greatest power and power broker of mainland Greece" between 371 and 362 BCE, Cartledge writes. Though it was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 335 BCE, Thebes was eventually refounded and flourished in relative peace under Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman rule. Cartledge concludes with an illustrative rundown of Theban influences on Western culture, including Shakespeare's Hamlet and the theories of Sigmund Freud. Diving deep into centuries' worth of scholarship, Cartledge manages to make the ancient world accessible to modern readers. This deeply informed and richly detailed chronicle restores Thebes to its rightful place in history.