Thespiae (Greek: Θεσπιαί, Thespiaí) was an ancient Hellenic polis in Boiotia. It stood on level ground commanded by the low range of hills which runs eastward from the foot of Mount Helikon to Thebes.
Thespiae is mythologically linked to Thebes via Herakles and the assertions of Thespian nobility to be descended of Herakles via the fifty daughters of Thespius, though this myth may also symbolise the long-previous incoming of the Boeotians intermarrying with the Thracians who had established their presence in the area. The city's name may also derive from the nymph Thespia, whose sacred spring the city was formed around.
Before Thermopylae Edit
Thespiae's borders widened by dominating the smaller cities that surrounded in addition to claiming new settlements. After the death of Hesiod, between 700 and 650 BCE, Thespians overwhelmed the people of Ascra; Arscan refugees fled to Orchomenus, where they took with them the bones of Hesiod. Ascra was destroyed, and the hoplite phalanx proved troublesome in accepting social adjustments. Ascra's territory was annexed shortly thereafter.
Thespiae's rich nobility was few and, in spite of the majority of their nobles being poor, law excluded nobles from obligations to manual labour or trade, and often free to fill government positions or as Hoplites, who were armoured and equipped at their own expense. The Hoplite class maintained large estates to provide equipment surpluses of equipment and rations. Prior to the establishment of the Hoplite class, Thespians relied on Thebes for protection, Thebes being the larger city with the more efficient military. Soon after this establishment, land was reassigned to the impoverished nobles, much to the discomfort to the previous and far wealthier landowners, and by 600–550BCE the Thespians had reorganised themselves and ceased to rely on Thebes; They were able to settle the abandoned Mycenaean village of Eutresis.
In the greater scope of history of ancient Hellas, rather than the history of Boeotia in specific, Thespiae is regarded chiefly as an enemy of Thebes. After breaking their dependences on Thebes, like Plataea, a Boeotian city that always considered nearby Thebes as a bullying threat, Thespiae tried to safeguard their independence by allying themselves with other major cities such as Athens or Sparta which could protect them from Theban power. Conversely, Thespiae was a member of the Boeotian League, which came into existence due to increasing suspicions of the intentions of Thessaly. The city of Orchomenus stood apart from this League, fearing a Boeotia ruled by Thebes, which stood in presidency of the League until this distinction was stripped of the city in 480BCE, when Thebans assisted the Persian invasion, but Thespiae's union with the league stood on the basis of their long previous alliance with Thebes. To say that Thebes and Thespiae were enemies obviously is a gross oversimplification that ignores previous alliances.
During the Persian invasion of 480 BCE, Thespiae was one of the few cities in Boeotia to reject the example set by the Thebans, and sent seven hundred men with Leonidas to fight at Thermopylae. After the city was burned down by Xerxes I, the remaining inhabitants furnished a force of 1800 men for the confederate Greek army that fought at Plataea.
During the Athenian invasion of Boeotia in 424BCE, the Thespian contingent of the Boeotian army sustained heavy losses at the Battle of Delium, and in the next year the Thebans took advantage of this temporary enfeeblement to accuse their neighbors of friendship towards Athens and to dismantle their walls. In 414 they interfered again to suppress a democratic rising.
In the Corinthian War, Thespiae sided with Sparta, and between 379 and 372 repeatedly served the Spartans as a base against Thebes. In the latter year they were reduced by the Thebans and compelled to send a contingent to the Battle of Leuctra in 371. It was probably shortly after this battle that the Thebans used their new predominance to destroy Thespiae and drive its people into exile. The town was rebuilt at some later time.
The famous hetaera, Phryne, was born at Thespiae in the 4th century BCE, though she seems to have lived most of her life at Athens. One of the anecdotes told of her is that she offered to finance the rebuilding of the Theban walls, which had been destroyed by Alexander the Great (336 BC), on the condition that the words "destroyed by Alexander, restored by Phryne the hetaera" were inscribed upon them. The story, whatever its historicity, is in keeping with the attitude of her home-town toward Thebes, as such a declaration would have undoubtedly shamed Theban nobility. Historically, she caused a famous scandal as Praxiteles' model for the statue of Aphrodite at Cnidus, and her legal defence won against the Athenian charges against her by use of emotional rhetoric, though many Athenians believed it was because her defence council, the orator Hypereides, simply presented her nude before the court.
In 171 BCE, true to its policy of opposing Thebes, Thespiae sought the friendship of the Roman Republic. It is subsequently mentioned by Strabo as a place of some size, and by Pliny as one of only a handful of free cities within the Roman Empire.
In 1997CE, a statue monument was unveiled to commemorate the 700 Thespians who fell alongside the Spartans at Thermopylae. The statue depicts a nude male figure to represent Eros, the primary deity of Thespiae.
The modern Thespies, a small municipality that is home to less than 6,000 people (as per 2001 census) boasts similar borders to the ancient city.
Remains of what was probably the ancient acropolis are still to be seen, consisting of an oblong or oval line of fortification, solidly and regularly built. The adjacent ground to the east and south is covered with foundations, bearing witness to the extent of the ancient city. In 1882, the remains of a communal tomb (polyandrion), including a colossal stone lion, were discovered on the road to Leuctra. The tomb dates from the 5th century BCE, and is usually identified as that of the Thespians who fell at the Plataea, as those who fell at Thermopylae were buried on the battlefield.
Eros and the Mousai Edit
According to Pausanias, the deity most worshipped at Thespiae was Eros, whose primitive image was an unwrought stone. The city contained many works of art, among them the Eros of Praxiteles, one of the most famous statues in the ancient world; it drew crowds of people to Thespiae. It was carried off to Rome by Caligula, restored by Claudius, and again carried off by Nero. A marble Eros found in Pompeii is believed to be a Roman copy of the colossal Praxitelian work. Another work by Praxiteles associated with Thespiae was an Aphrodite, after which the Venus of Arles is typically believed by archaeologists to have been modeled. There was also a bronze statue of Eros by Lysippos, and this too is preserved via Roman-era marble copy.
The Thespians also worshipped the Moisai, honoured by a shrine in The Valley of the Mousai and celebrated in a festival, the Mouseia, in the sacred grove on Mount Helicon. The Mouseia was celebrated on a five year cycle.
Citizens of Thespiae are called Thespians. The common noun thespian, a synonym for "actor", comes from the legendary first actor named Thespis, and not the city. Both Thespis and Thespiae, however, are cognate with the verb thespízein (θεσπίζειν), "to institute"; these words as well as the related thesmós (θεσμός), "institution," and thesis (θέσις), "position," are ultimately derived from the verb tithénai (τιθέναι), "to put in place."
Famous Thespians Edit
- Demophilus -- military leader at Thermopylae
- Glykera -- hetaera, sponsored Praxiteles' colossal status of Eros to the city
- Phryne -- hetaera (courtesan); Praxiteles' model for Aphrodite
- Narkissos -- legendary youth, cursed to fall in love with his own reflection
- Thespius -- legendary king
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Buck, R.J. 1979, A History of Boeotia, University of Alberta Press, Edmonton.
- Buckler, J. & Spawforth, A.J.S. 2009, The Oxford Classical Dictionary, S. Hornblower & A.J.S. Spawforth eds, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Herodotus, Histories
- Larsen, J.A.O. 1955, "The Boeotian confederacy and Fifth-century oligarchic theory", Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, vol. 86, pp. 40–50.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece
- Stylianou, P.J. (1998). A Historical Commentary on Diodorus Siculus, Book 15. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-815239-2.
- Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War
- Xenophon, Hellenica
- What the Thespian Hoplites' looked like? - a small peer-reviewed article discussing the Thespian hoplite in 450 to 420 B.C.E
- The Cult of Eros - discusses the cult and has of pictures of Roman marble copies of the bronze Eros of Thespeia by Lysippos
- Love as Suffering: The Eros of Thespiae of Praxiteles
- The Thespians