According to tradition, Thebes was founded by Cadmus, who arrived in the area in search of his sister Europa. His city was initially named Cadmeia, taking the name by which it was later known from Thebe, daughter of Asopus. Among the descendants of Cadmus was Laius, whose family became the nucleus of one of the most important mythological cycles, familiar to us from the works of the great ancient tragedians. Laius married Jocasta, and the fruit of their union was Oedipus. When the child was still a babe in arms, he was turned out of the palace for fear of an oracle which had pronounced that he was destined to kill his father and take his mother to bed. When Oedipus grew up-far from his birthplace-he did indeed kill Laius, though without knowing his identity. At this time, Thebes was terrorized by a monster called the Sphinx, which asked each passer-by a riddle and killed him when he failed to find the answer to it.
Oedipus solved the riddle, and was awarded marriage to the widow Jocasta as a prize. When the tragic truth came out, Oedipus blinded himself with his own hands and went into exile (see Oedipus Rex). After he had gone, his sons Polynices and Eteocles fell out over who should occupy the throne, and Polynices waged war on Thebes with the help of seven leaders of other Greek cities (see Seven Against Thebes, Phoenician Women). The brothers killed each other, but while Eteocles was buried with full honours, Creon, Jocasta’s brother, forbade the burial of Polunices. Antigone, daughter of Polynices, ovjected to this ban and buried her brother in accordance with the laws of the gods – for which she was punished with death (see Antigone). At a later date, the sons of the original seven leaders marched once more against Thebes and destroyed the city.
Another cycle of the myths involves Dionysus, son of Zeus by Semele, daughter of Cadmus. Dionysus was born in Thebes but raised far from home, and when he returned to his birthplace he brought a new religion of his own with him. Pentheus, king of Thebes, opposed the cult of Dionysus and received divine punishment: his own mother, Agave, and the women of Thebes, in a frenzy of ecstasy caused by the wine of Dionysus, dismembered Pentheus and devoured him (see Bacchae).
The mythical tradition about Cadmus and finds which archaeological investigations of modern Thiva have yielded tell us much about the city’s importance in the Mycenean era. The Mycenean acropolis of Cadmeia occupied the site of an Early Helladic settlement and now lies beneath the centre of the modern city. Archaeologists hypothesise that the city was surrounded by a wall which we know to have been built in two phases. Sections of the old Cadmeum have been discovered beneath Pindarou St.
In the late fourteenth century BC, the old palace was destroyed and the New Cadmeium built in its place.
Traces of this (the archive, the baths, the armoury, workshops, etc.) have come to light in various parts of the town. The New Cadmeium was itself destroyed by fire in the mid-thirteenth century BC.
In the historical period, Thebes was an independent city-state in constant rivalry with nearby Orchomenos. Around 520 BC, Thebes and the surrounding cities set up the Boeotian Federation, which was in effect a defensive alliance to protect themselves against Athens and Thessaly. During the Persian Wars, Theban animosity towards Athens caused the city to help the invaders, while bearby Plataeae and Thespiae sided with the rest of the Greeks. It was at Plataeae, in 479 BC, that one of the most decisive Greek victories over the Persians took place, and after it the Thebans were desplated from their leadership of the Boeaotian Federation and punished in other ways. The city now sided with Sparta against Athens, and after a short period of Athenian hegemony was soon back as the chief city in the Boeotian Federation (446 BC). During the Pelopponnesian Wars, Thebes took the side of Sparta, but when the financial benefits which the Spartans had promised to it and other Greek cities failed to materialize, it changed sides. The Federation broke up in 386 BC, and in 382 Sparta installed an oligarchic government in Thebes. In 379, on the initiative of Pelopidas and Epaminondaw, Thebes expelled the Spartan garrison, and in 377 joined the Second Athenian League. At the same time, Thebes became the leader in the founding of a new union of cities, the Koinon (commune) of Boeotia, and came into conflict with Sparta again, a war which culminated in the battle of Leuktra in 371 BC. The victory won by Epaminondas in that battle proved decisive, and made Thebes the leading power in Greece for a while. Epaminondas advanced into the Peloponnese, allying Thebes with the Arcadians and Messenians, always traditional enemies of Sparta. In 370 and 369 BC, he founded Megalopolis and Messene, respectively, but after his death in 362 BC Thebes went into decline. In the fourth century BC, Thebes and Athens faced Philip of Macedon together. The heroism of the Sacred Band was unable to prevent Philip’s victory at Chaironeia in 338 BC, and the Macedonian king punished by installing an oligarchic regime in the city and putting a Macedonian garrison in the Cadmeum. At Chaironeia itself, a marble lion was placed on a high plinth as a memorial over the tomb of those who were killed in the battle; it can still be seen, restored. In 335 BC, Alexander occupied Thebes and burned the city, sparing only the house of the poet Pindar. Rebuilding was completed in 316 BC by Cassander, king of Macedon, who refounded the Koinon of the Boeotians. In 197 BC, the city sided with Rome, and in 86 BC it was sacked by Sulla. In the Roman era, Thebes subsided into obscurity; we know that it laid waste by the Goths in the third and fourth centuries AD. Under Byzantium, however, it flourished once again thanks to its production of silk, and under the Franks it was fortified and served as the capital of a principality. The Archaeological Museum of modern Thiva is in Pindarou St and has an interesting collection of finds dating from prehistory to the Roman period. In the entrance hall there are Hellenistic and Roman reliefs and inscriptions; the exhibits of Room A include important sculptures and funerary stelae. Including the fine kouroi found at the sanctuary of Apollo on Mt P t o n. In Room B, the eye is drawn by the Mycenean finds from the Cadmeum and by the exhibits from the settlements, cemeteries and sanctuaries of historic Boeotia as well as from the sanctuary of the Cabiri, 8 km. to the west of Thebes, where mystical ceremonies took place. Room C contains sculpture dating from between the fifth century BC and the Roman period. Room D is devoted to the finds from the Mycenean cemetery at Tanagra; there are numerous terracotta sarcophagi painted with scenes connected with the rites for the dead.