(Greek Θεσπιαι, Thespiai) was an ancient Greek city in Boeotia.
It stood on level ground commanded by the low range of hills which
eastward from the foot of Mount Helicon to Thebes. According to
Pausanias, the deity most worshipped at Thespiae was Eros, whose
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. There was also a bronze statue of Eros by Lysippos.
The Thespians also worshipped the Muses, and celebrated a festival
in their honor in the sacred grove on Mount Helicon. Remains of
was probably the ancient citadel 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 tomb, including a colossal stone lion,
discovered on the road to Leuctra. The tomb dates from the fifth
century BC, and is probably that of the Thespians whom fell at
the Battle of Plataea, as those who fell at the Battle of Thermopylae
were buried on the battlefield.
Historically, Thespiae figures chiefly as an enemy of Thebes.
During the Persian invasion of 480 BC it was one of the few cities
in Boeotia to reject the example set by the Thebans, sending seven
hundred men with Leonidas to Thermopylae. After the city was burned
down by Xerxes I, the remaining inhabitants furnished a force of
1800 men to the confederate Greek army at Plataea.
During the Athenian
invasion of Boeotia in 424, 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. In 171, true to its policy of opposing
Thebes, it sought the friendship of Rome. It is subsequently mentioned
by Strabo as a place of some size, and by Pliny as a free city.
Although citizens of Thespiae are called Thespians, the common
word thespian meaning an actor comes not from this city but from
the legendary first actor, Thespis.
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