The battle and destruction of Thebes in 335 BC by Alexander the Great, destroyed the strongest city-state in Greece at that time and allowed him to control all of Greece. Thebes was, if not geographically, then strategically in the center of Greece. From the north, the Thermopylae Pass, the so-called gate to Greece, separated the Possessions of Thebes from the plains of Thessaly. The warlike Aetolians lived to the west of Thebes along with other mountainous Greek tribes. The southeast of Thebes bordered on the land of Attica, the possessions of Athens, and on the southwest began the isthmus on the peninsula Peloponnese, inhabited by many famous cities, the most famous of which was Sparta. Whoever controlled Thebes, could control the whole of Greece. Therefore, Alexander’s father, King Philip II, tried to weaken the influential city. After the victory in the battle of the Chaeronea in 338 BC, many Thebans were expelled, and Philip stationed a Macedonian garrison in Cadmeia, a fortress on the southern outskirts of Thebes.
When a rumor spread in Greece that Alexander was killed somewhere in the barbarous lands of Illyria, many exiles returned to Thebes. They found many sympathizers, and then an uprising broke out. The Thebans killed two Macedonian generals from the garrison in Cadmeia, and the fortress was blocked. The assembly of Thebes appealed to all Greeks for help. The rebels found sympathy and understanding, but no military help. Among Greeks, there was no unity, and they preferred to wait. Only Athens sent weapons to Thebes. Upon learning of the events in Greece, Alexander made a swift march from Thrace with his entire army before any other city had the opportunity to support the insurgent Thebes. After two weeks of marching, he camped near Thebes.
Siege and Assault
Alexander had 30,000 infantry and 3,000 horsemen. He was joined by the Boeotians, inhabitants of the settlements around Thebes, for whom Thebes had become a sworn enemy. Thebes could manage to assemble about 7,000 hoplites and up to a thousand horsemen. In any case, the strength of Alexander’s army was approaching the number of the entire population of residents of the city; including women, the elderly and children.
Contrary to his usual impatience, Alexander did not hurry, expecting the voluntary surrender of the city. He wanted to leave Greece in peace before his campaign in Persia. He suggested the Thebans turn over the two main instigators, and he wouldn’t touch the city. However, the inhabitants of Thebes, mindful of their former glory, decided to resist, and were the first to attack the Macedonians, who easily repulsed them. Alexander’s camp was located on the southern side of the city, near the besieged fortress Cadmei. Judging by the description of the battle, Thebes was surrounded by a low wall, on which were placed slaves and other non-citizens of the city. The military detachments of Thebes were located outside the walls under the protection of light field fortifications and a double palisade.
Alexander prepared for the assault for three days. Storming the city began spontaneously, without Alexander’s order. Soldiers from the phalanx of Perdiccas broke into the palisade on the south side of the city. Unexpectedly, the Thebans retreated. Then Alexander sent the whole army to support Perdiccas regiment, who was seriously wounded and carried away from the battlefield. The battle was long, with little movement in either direction. The Macedonian phalanx had strength and experience. Alexander introduced fresh reinforcements, replacing tired soldiers. The Thebans rushed to defend the walls, but in the crush and turmoil they did not have time to close the gate, and the Macedonians who pursued them penetrated into Thebes. Theban cavalry crushed many of Macedonian infantrymen. Since the Theban detachments were located outside the city, and on the walls remained defenseless people, the Macedonians easily moved over the walls. From Cadmei, a Macedonian garrison broke into the streets of Thebes, and the resistance of the inhabitants was broken. Some continued to struggle desperately, but many Thebans fled the city.
Results of the siege
In this battle, 6,000 Thebans were killed, and 30,000 were captured. The fierce resistance of the Thebans on the day of the assault is evidenced by the number of dead Macedonians: 500. Even during the seven-month siege of the city Tyre, fewer Macedonian soldiers had been killed. The allies from Boeotia, who Alexander had commissioned to dispose of Thebes, decided to place the garrison in Cadmeia, to dig the city to its foundations, and to divide the land. Thebans who survived, except for priests, priestesses, friends of Philip and Alexander and Macedonian proxies, were sold into slavery. From the sale of Theban slaves, Alexander rescued 440 talents. The head price averaged 88 drachmas, half of a typical price for a slave. According to other sources, this sum was all prey captured in Thebes.
Greek cities, formerly applauding anti-Macedonian speakers, now bowed in allegiance to Alexander. He demanded from Athens to extradite the main opponents of the Macedonians, and as a result of the negotiations, they agreed that Athens would expel the military leaders disliked by the Macedonians. Alexander did not punish his opponents in Greece and, satisfied with the destruction of Thebes, returned to Macedonia. He was preparing for a great campaign in Asia that would shape the history of the world. This battle showed the potential of this great young leader that will be remembered as Alexander the Great.
- Diodorus (17.8-14); Arrian (1.7-10); Plutarch (“Alexander”, 11-13, “Demosthenes”, 23); Justin (11.3-4)
- Arrian , The Journey of Alexander, – M .: MYTH, 1993
- Diodorus Siculus , Book XVII, from the Perseus project website