Ancient Hoplites

Ancient Hoplites

Sunday, January 2, 2011

More about Thespia

On December 23, the entry "Thespian Catastrophe," was posted on the blog http://www.300spartanwarriors.com/. The short post pointed out both how over-looked and how significant Thespian losses at Thermopylae were. I was very heartened to see the article because I have long felt that the Thespian contribution in the Persian war has been unjustly neglected and that more attention and tribute to the Thespians is long over due. 

In fact, I'd like to make a contribution to drawing more attention to the Thespian role at Thermopylae by giving the Thespians a higher profile in my biographical novel of Leonidas. (The first book in the three-part biography, Leonidas of Sparta: A Boy of the Agoge was released last year.) To do so, however, I need to know more about Thespia. 

WIth this entry, therefore, I would like to appeal for assistance in finding out more about Thespia in the early 5th Century BC.  Most important, does anyone know more about the Thespian constitution? How democratic was Thespia?

Does anyone know about it's alliance systems? It appears from Herodotus that Thespia was a located near to Thebes - near enough for the Thebans to view Thespia as within their "sphere of influence." But this clearly did not stop the Thespians from joining the anti-Persian alliance while Thebes "medized." Does anyone know a reason why Thespia should have been such a determined opponent of Persia? Was it to spite Thebes - or was there some other reason?

Herodotus also gives the adult male population of Thespia as 1,800 - after the loss of 700 men at Thermopylae. Could anyone give me a rough idea of how a city with 2,500 male citizens of fighting age would compare to other cities of the period (other than Sparta and Athens)? I.e. is Thespia roughly the same size as Plataea? Smaller? Larger? How would it have compared to Corinth or Thebes at this time?

In short, given my level of ignorance I would welcome any hints, tips, or suggested reading that would help me understand Thespia and its role in the war against Persia (490-479) better.

Thank you!


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately info on Thespia is scarse. Much of the picture will have to be filled by imagination. I am really unaware of much of their history.

They took their name from the king of the Thespian Thespis , son of Erechtheus and hero of Thespians. The Erechtheus was, in mythology, son of Gaia ( Earth ) and the Vulcan and was king of Athens.Thespeians also claimed some heritage from Heracles.

Thespia was mentioned by Homer’s ship list,and was located in different place form Archaic town/city.

They were one of the major cities in Greece. The people of Ascra were overwhelmed by the Thespians some time after the death of Hesiod [between 700 and 650]. They fled to Orchomenus where they were kindly received. The bones of Hesiod were removed to Orchomenus with the refugees. The Thespians destroyed Ascra but then had trouble in adopting the hoplite phalanx and accepting the attendant social adjustment.
Thespiae enlarged her territories by the domination and absorption of smaller neighbours as well as by establishing new settlements. Thespiae destroyed Ascra and annexed its territory about 700.
The nobility was excluded from manual labour or trade in the laws of Thespiae. The result was to leave the nobility free for judging, governing and fighting. Hoplites were equipped at their own expense. The hoplites required estates large enough to provide surpluses that could be used to purchase and replace equipment, to maintain assistants, to provide such other items as were needful for those in the hoplite class and to produce the rations necessary for the usual short campaign. A maximum number of estates, each large enough to support one or more hoplites, was essential for the state.
he prosperous Thespian nobles were few. Their best land was concentrated in the hands of a small number. Most of the nobility were too poor to equip themselves as hoplites. In the earlier time the Thespian establishment relied on Thebes for protection. But 'the system of land tenure was changed so that more land was reassigned to the impoverished nobles, to the discomfort of the wealthy landowners.
By 600 – 550 the Thespians were able to reorganize themselves and ceased to rely unduly on Thebes. They were able to settle Eutresis.
Thespiae settled a new village on the abandoned Mycenaean site of Eutresis about 600
Thespiae became a member of the Boeotian League. 'The League came into existence because of an increasing suspicion of Thessalian intentions on Boeotia after the reduction of Phocis. Theban and Boeotian aggressiveness was favoured by reasonable prosperity. The Orchomenian defeat of Coronea created a fear of further troubles in Boeotia. Orchomenus stood apart from the Boeotian League for some time after the League was finally formed. It defeated, in the third quarter of the sixth century, Coronea, one of the first members of the new League. Orchomenus, in fear of a Theban dominated political federation, sought the aid of Thessaly to withstand its pressure. A Boeotia reduced to the status of a Phocis under Thessaly seemed infinitely preferable to the Orchomenian leaders, since Orchomenus would be in a premier position, as opposed to a Boeotia ruled by Thebes.
Among 'the Boeotian cities, Orchomenus had a long-standing, close and friendly relationship with Thessaly. The approach route to Boeotia from Thessaly by way of Thermopylae and Hyampolis led through friendly Orchomenian territory. An eager Thessaly, already concerned by Theban efforts to form a military league, readily seized upon a request for aid from Orchomenus as a pretext for invading Boeotia. Under their commander Lattamyas, some time around 520 BC, the Thessalians marched into eastern Boeotia.

Anonymous said...

Among 'the Boeotian cities, Orchomenus had a long-standing, close and friendly relationship with Thessaly. The approach route to Boeotia from Thessaly by way of Thermopylae and Hyampolis led through friendly Orchomenian territory. An eager Thessaly, already concerned by Theban efforts to form a military league, readily seized upon a request for aid from Orchomenus as a pretext for invading Boeotia. Under their commander Lattamyas, some time around 520 BC, the Thessalians marched into eastern Boeotia.

The invasion was opposed by the Boeotians, the members of the Theban-led military league. The membership consisted of the states that the Thebans thought of as “dwelling nearest” and “always fighting eagerly on their side”, namely those of Tanagra to the east, Coronea to the west, and Thespiae to the south (with Thebes itself being to the north). Haliartus, Acraephia and several minor places such as the Tetracomia, the villages north of Thebes, and towns like Aulis that were adjacent to the Euripus all fall within these limits of “those swelling nearest” and were included in the first core of members. These struck the earliest datable League coinage about 525-520. The Thessalians got as far as Ceressus, a locality in Thespian territory. It lay near the main route south of Lake Copaïs between east and west Boeotia. The Thessalians, striking from Phocis by way of Orchomenian territory, were proceeding towards Thebes, skirting Lake Copaïs and by-passing Haliartus to the south. The Boeotians concentrated their forces at a defensible spot close to the route, while the Thespians provided supplies and bivouacking materials. The Thessalians turned to deal with the enemy forces and were smartly repulsed, losing Lattamyas in the process. They withdrew from Boeotia, and the victory by the Boeotians marked a beginning of freedom for the Greeks.

In 520/519 Thebes and Thespiae were allies and 'the League’ put pressure on Plataea, but the Plataeans, on Spartan advice [Cleomenes was with an army in the vicinity of Plataea], reacted by allying themselves with [the Peisistratids of] Athens and with the aid of Athens defeated an attempt to enrol them by force. It was that that Spartan king Kleomenes fought and routed the Thessalian cavalry that aided Peisistratids,killing 40 horsemen.

The Thespians' attention during the sixth century turned south and south-west, towards Creusis, Siphae, Thisbe and Chorsiae. Thespiae gained control of these towns in the late sixth century. Thespiae gained control of Siphae and the adjacent coastal towns by 500.

Anonymous said...

The Thespians' attention during the sixth century turned south and south-west, towards Creusis, Siphae, Thisbe and Chorsiae. Thespiae gained control of these towns in the late sixth century. Thespiae gained control of Siphae and the adjacent coastal towns by 500.

Thespeian involvement int Persian wars could be just their character,not necessarily politics.But they had an active role in any case. They were with Plateians rare Beotians who did not ‘’medize’’ and were strong in their mind about it. It was probably when the animosity with Thebans started,since they did not wish to follow their example,which most Beotians did.

Thespia had also democratic spirit and strong opposition to the hegemonic Thebes,which possibly caused future hostilities.But their relationship in Classical age is not to be mixed up with that from Archaic.


Herodotus’s account says that Thespia sent 700 hoplites at Thermopylae and 1,800 light-armed troops at Plataea.

Most of the Thespians at Plataea probably came from Creusis – where the slain from this battle were interred beneath a lion monument – and other neighbouring villages.
There was political desperation among the surviving Thespians after the massacre of their hoplites at Thermopylae, and the loss of their town to the invaders. Their city was burned when Medes marched into Beotia,and Thespeian inhabitants had fled to the Peloponnese .
As Thespiae itself had already sacrificed the flower of its manhood, these men from the outer districts sent to Plataea were lightly armed and presumably intended to be kept out of the worst of the fighting, though a considerable number did die on the day.

Their quite famous symbol was Boeotian shield.Whether it was actually used or was it just a symbol with some meaning it is not known to me.

The most important place of worship of the Thespian was the Valley of the Muses, a large park on the slopes of Mount Helicon , which was dedicated to the Muses.They worshiped Eros as well.

Thespeia was fortified city by the late 5th century although I am not sure if that was the case in Archaic times.In my opinion,no. Since Thespia prospered greatly in late Classical age.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_8Edq7PlhxL0/S54G7PMcLvI/AAAAAAAAFo4/IwssdukqFWo/s1600-h/2-Πορεία+τείχους+ΘΕΣΠΙΏΝ.jpg

I hope it helps Helena,

All best and Happy New Year