Battle of Thebes
|Battle of Thebes|
|Part of Alexander's Balkan campaign|
Remains of the Cadmeia, the citadel of Thebes
|Commanders and leaders|
|Alexander the Great||
|30,000 foot, 3,000 cavalry||36,000|
|Casualties and losses|
|6,000, 30,000 captured |
The Battle of Thebes was a battle that took place between Alexander the Great and the Greek city-state of Thebes in 335 BC immediately outside of and in the city proper in Boeotia. After being made hegemon of the League of Corinth, Alexander had marched to the north to deal with revolts in Illyria and Thrace, which forced him to draw heavily from the troops in Macedonia that was maintaining pressure on the Greek city-states of the south to keep them in subjection. Although Alexander did not desire to destroy Thebes, after sending several embassies requesting their submission on what he considered merciful terms, he eventually decided to destroy the city as an example to others.
Thebes had been under Macedonian occupation since the battle of Chaeronea, which had resulted in the defeat and deposition of Thebes as the pre-eminent city-state of Southern Greece. The Thebans had reluctantly accepted this, as well as their compulsory membership in the League of Corinth, which had been previously imposed by Phillip II of Macedon, Alexander's father.
The expedition against Persia had been long in the works, and Alexander did not make it a secret that he planned to avenge the attacks on Greece by Persia a century and a half before, despite that at the time his kingdom had been a Persian vassal state. It was as a result of this planned expedition that King Darius III started to distribute money to the Greek city-states with the hope that they would rise against their new hegemon. In addition to this, he had sent his most able general Memnon of Rhodes against the Macedonian troops that were already stationed in Ionia at this time.
News of Alexander had not reached the southern Greek city-states for some time. He had been busy with the siege of Pelium and a rumour had reached them that he had died during the course of this siege. Demosthenes - a prominent Athenian politician - produced a man who claimed to have been present at the siege and claimed that Alexander was dead. Alexander had, indeed, been injured during this siege, so it was not a totally implausible claim to make.
Upon learning of the alleged death of Alexander, Theban exiles in Athens raced off to their native city in Boeotia and sought to incite a revolt from Macedonian rule there. The Thebans received Persian monetary aid as did Demosthenes who used it to purchase weapons and other equipment and donated it to the Thebans. The Athenian Ecclesia signed a defensive alliance with the Thebans clearly aimed against the Macedonians. The Cadmaea, the citadel that was situated upon a hill in Thebes, was occupied by a Macedonian garrison, and it was this place that the Thebans sought to attack. To this effect, they killed two Macedonian officers who had been roaming the city, and declared their independence from Macedonia.
When Alexander learned of the revolt of Thebes, he was immediately concerned about the situation. He had only secured the allegiance of the city-states at the beginning of his reign because he had an army present with which to bring the city-states to terms. This time, there was no such army present in southern Greece. As a result, many cities were throwing off the Macedonian yoke.
He therefore raced south, hitting Thessaly by the seventh day and Boeotia by end of the next week. Having marched over three hundred miles in two weeks, the Thebans were shocked to see him in such close proximity to them, and did not believe that it was, in fact, Alexander at all, contesting that it was Antipater. He had passed through the pass of Thermopylae without any of the city-states knowing about it.
Alexander's arrival and siege
Having arrived in Boeotia, many cities immediately deserted the cause of Greek independence and left Thebes to her own devices. Athens, being led by Demosthenes, an inveterate opponent of Phillip, was incited against Macedonian hegemony and voted to support Thebes. In spite of this moral support, and Demosthenes' having supplied the city with weapons, Athens held back their forces, deciding to await the course of events. In addition to this, the Spartans sent troops as far as the Isthmus of Corinth. However, they held back their forces upon learning of the King's arrival also.
Despite this moral defeat, the Theban assembly met and decided upon war with Alexander with great enthusiasm. However, Alexander had an overwhelming number of experienced troops at the gates of the city at this time. He was by no means eager to destroy the city. He approached the city very slowly and initially encamped far from the city, hoping to awaken the city to its dangerous situation. He also issued to it relatively lenient terms. The condition was: Phoenix and Prothytes - men at the center of the insurrection - were to be surrendered to him at once. Beyond this, he promised to harm no one. However, the Thebans replied that he should surrender Antipater and Philotas to them. This request was not accepted.
The Cadmae in Thebes - commanded by Philotas - had fortified itself as best it might against the Thebans outside in the city itself. The Thebans, in their turn, had put a series of works around the citadel in order to ensure that sorties could not be easily made by this garrison. They built these in addition to the works they had constructed outside of the city itself.
It took Alexander three days to get everything ready for the general assault that was about to take place against the city. When things were finally ready, Alexander divided his force into three parts. The first part of the force he ordered to attack the palisades that were around the city itself. The second part formed a line of battle and faced the Theban infantry. The third part was a reserve, tasked with plugging up any holes and to press up any advantages that the Macedonians gained in the course of the siege.
The Thebans planned their defense in the following manner. They emancipated their slaves and faced them towards that part of the Macedonian force which drove towards the wall itself. The Theban cavalry was placed within the palisades themselves. The Thebans made everything ready to fight to the last man, and put their women and children in the city temples. They were aware that there was to be no quarter.
Once the siege began, the Thebans fought desperately, fearing for their homes, wives and children. The battle went on for some time, and it was in doubt. However, Alexander sent in his reserves and the situation started to improve. Despite the Theban's valiant struggle, however, Alexander noticed that a unit of their guard had abandoned one of the gates. It is here that he sent Perdiccas troops to enter and penetrate into the city itself. At this point, realizing that the fight for the city walls was a lost cause, the Thebans retreated and began their final battle within the city itself. It was around this time that Philotas and his garrison broke out of the citadel and began fighting in the battle as well.
Destruction of Thebes
Alexander punished the Thebans severely for their rebellion. Wishing to send a message to the other Greek states, he had the 30,000 Thebans not killed in the fighting sold into slavery. The city itself was burnt to the ground, with the exception only of the house of Pindar, which Alexander ordered be left intact out of gratitude for Pindar's verses praising Alexander's ancestor, Alexander I of Macedon.
- "LacusCurtius • Diodorus Siculus — Book XVII Chapters 1‑16". penelope.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 2015-02-23.
- Habicht 1998, p. 33.
- "Plutarch • Life of Alexander (Part 1 of 7)". penelope.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 2015-02-23.
- Plutarch, Life of Alexander 11.6; Arrian, Anabasis Alexandri 1.9.10