Thebes (Greek: Θήβα) is a township of central Greece in the prefecture of Boeotia (Greek: Βοιοτία). It is situated on a plain between Lake Yliki to the north and the Cithaeron Mountains, which divide Boeotia from Attica to the south. Its history stretches from the Stone Age period (c.5000 BC) through to when the Ottomans captured the city in 1458. They renamed the city Istefe (meaning, towards Thebes). The 1821 War of Independence led to the city gaining its freedom in 1832. Although Thebes had been one of the strongest city states throughout its long history and the capital of Boeotia after Greece’s independence, in the late 19th century Livadeia became the new capital city.
According to mythology, Cadmus (Greek: Κάδμος), was the legendary founder of Thebes. He was a Phoenician prince, the son of King Agenor and Queen Telephassa of Tyre. His siblings were Pheonix, Cilix and Europa. Cadmus had been sent by his parents to find his sister Europa, who had been abducted by the king of the gods, Zeus. Zeus had fallen in with Europa when he saw how beautiful she was. He seduced her in the form 2 euro coin depicting
of a bull and enticed her to sit on his back. He then carried her to the island of Crete.
On his quest of Europa, he journeyed to Samothrace. There he met Harmonia (Greek: Αρμονία), whom he took away as his bride. From there his wanderings took him to Delphi, where he consulted the oracle. He was told to give up his quest and to follow a cow with a half moon on her flank. He was to build a township on the spot where the cow would lie down to rest. Thus, the founding of Thebes! The first shrine to be built in Thebes was to Selene, the goddess of the moon, connected to the moon-shaped mark on the cow.
Cadmus, Harmonia and the Ismenian Dragon
As Cadmus intended to sacrifice the cow to the goddess Athena, he sent his companions to the nearby spring to bring back water in order to cleanse themselves before the sacrifice. However, they were slain by the water-dragon, the guardian of the spring. Cadmus in turn slew the dragon and became a hero as the slayer of monsters.
Cadmea (Greek: Καδμεία), which dates to about 2000 BC, was the citadel or acropolis of Thebes named after Cadmus. Parts of the walls can still be seen today. They are referred to as the Cyclopean walls because of the large blocks of rock that have been used in the building of the walls. It is believed that Cadmus introduced the Phoenician alphabet to Greece, but the Greeks adapted it with the addition of vowels and consonants so that the ancient Greek alphabet is now considered to be the first ‘true’ alphabet.
Thebes is also connected to the story of Oedipus (meaning ‘swollen foot’) in the tragic trilogy by the playwright Sophocles. The trilogy consists of Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone. The plays express the flawed nature of humanity and the individual’s role in the course of his destiny.
Fate is a theme that occurs frequently in ancient Greek writing and the idea of attempting to avoid an oracle is the very thing that brings it about. This idea can be seen in the plays of Oedipus when he reveals the prophecy which caused him to leave Corinth where he thought that he was the true son of King Polybus and Queen Merope.
that I was fated to lie with my mother,
and show to daylight an accursed breed
which men would not endure, and I was doomed
to be murderer of the father that begot me.
Fate takes him to Thebes where along the road he meets and argues with a stranger, whom he kills. The stranger is Laius, his true father. When he reaches Thebes, he ends up marrying Jocasta, Laius’ widow and his true mother. When he finds out the truth about their relationship, he blinds himself as punishment and abandons Thebes.
Jocasta, unable to bear the truth of the situation, kills herself. The tragedy culminates in the play Antigone, which refers to the proper burial of her brother Polyneices, after having fought with his brother Eteocles for the right to the throne. Both are killed. Creon, their uncle and usurper of the throne, allows Eteocles to have a proper burial but orders that Polyneices should be left to the elements as he considered him a rebel. However, Antigone believes that every person deserves a proper burial and therefore goes against the orders of Creon, her uncle and the new king of Thebes and carries out the burial rites.
Last but not least, a visit to the new Archaeological Museum is a must. The new museum was officially opened in 2016. The history of Thebes is set out in such a way that it will absorb you as you wander from show case to show case looking at the artifacts on display. The exhibits range from the Paleolithic period to the end of the Ottoman rule. A large part of the collection
is rare or unique such as the Tanagra figurines, mainly of women in different forms of every day life. The bell-shaped figurines of the 8thc B.C. gave way to the use of molds, which made it possible for an increase in production. The figurines were mostly of women represented in different attitudes of every day life. They became so popular as voti
ve offerings in temples and in graves that they were sent to many parts of Greece.
Another impressive exhibit of the Mycenaean period is the Cretan frieze of women, which dates to about 1200 BC. It shows four women holding an offering in their hand to give to the fifth woman, who is believed to be a goddess.
In the courtyard of the museum there are statues, reliefs and inscriptions of stone and marble. There is also a medieval tower that dates back to the late 13th century. It was built by Lord Nikolaos II Saint-Home (1258-1294).