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Ancient Thebes

5. The Greco-Persian Wars

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about Thebes’ participation in the Greco-Persian Wars (490-79 BC), focusing in particular on: (i) the history of the Persian Empire, including its rapid expansion in the second half of the 6th century BC; (ii) the concept of ‘medism’, i.e. to join with the Persians; (iii) the Ionian Revolt; (iv) Darius’ expedition against Athens in 490 BC and his defeat at the Battle of Marathon; (v) Xerxes’ expedition against Greece ten years later, which records some victories (e.g. Thermopylae), but is ultimately defeated; (vi) the practical and ideological reasons that the Thebans decided to side with the Persians, rather than joining the anti-Persian alliance lead by Athens and Sparta; and (vii) the consequences for Thebes once the Persians had been defeated and had withdrawn from Greece.


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 Greco-Persian Wars [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Cartledge, P. "Ancient Thebes – The Greco-Persian Wars." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 17 Feb 2021,