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Ancient Thebes

7. The Fourth Century BC

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about Thebes in the fourth century BC, focusing in particular on: (i) the loosely federal structure of Boeotian politics from the mid-5th century onwards; (ii) the growth of Spartan power following their victory in the Peloponnesian War, leading to the Corinthian War (395-86 BC) and the King’s Peace; (iii) Sparta’s occupation of Thebes in 382 BC and her liberation by Pelopidas in 379/8 BC; (iv) the political and military reforms in Thebes in this period, and the importance of the figures of Gorgidas, Pelopidas and Epaminondas; (v) the Thebans’ decisive defeat of Sparta at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC and the foundation of Messene and Megalopolis in the Peloponnese; and (vi) the death of Epaminondas at the (Second) Battle of Mantinea (362 BC) and the fading of Thebes.


In this course, Professor Paul Cartledge (University of Cambridge) explores the history of Thebes from the Mycenaean period (1600-1100 BC) to its destruction at the hands of Alexander the Great in 335 BC. In the first module, we think about the ‘prehistory’ of the city of Thebes in the Mycenaean Age, including its location in Greece and the earliest mentions of the city in Greek (and non-Greek) literature. After that, in the second module, we think about cult in ancient Thebes, before turning in the third and fourth modules to consider the prominence of Thebes in the Greek epic tradition and in Greek tragedy. In the final four modules, we trace the history of Thebes in four key periods – the Greco-Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian, the fourth century BC up to the death of Epaminondas at the Battle of Mantinea, and the final decades of Thebes’ existence before its destruction in 335 BC.


Paul Cartledge is Professor of Greek History in the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge, where he has taught since 1979; he is also a Fellow of Clare College. His undergraduate and doctoral qualifications where obtained at Oxford, where he completed a dissertation on the archaeology and history of early Sparta under the supervision of Professor Sir John Boardman. He is the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of a score of books, including most recently The Cambridge Illustrated History of Ancient Greece; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization; Sparta and Lakonia: A Regional History c.1300-362 BC; The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others; The Spartans: An Epic History; Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past and Thermopylae: The Battle that Changed the World . He co-edits two monograph series, sits on the editorial boards of three learned journals and serves as consultant in ancient history to Duckworth publishers. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and holds the Gold Cross of the Order of Honour awarded by the President of the Hellenic Republic.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Cartledge, P. (2021, February 17). Ancient Thebes - The Fourth Century BC [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Cartledge, P. "Ancient Thebes – The Fourth Century BC." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 17 Feb 2021,