Thebes was a city of ancient Greece, in Boeotia, north of Mount Cithaeron (now Kithairón), northwest of Athens. Its acropolis was called Cadmeia, from the legend that it was founded by a colony of Phoenicians under Cadmus. No city of ancient Greece was more celebrated in myth and legend. The cycles of myths include stories of the twin brothers Amphion and Zethus, who were said to have ruled Thebes and constructed its walls; the tragic fate of its king Oedipus and the rivalry of his two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, which culminated in the expedition of the Seven Against Thebes and the later capture and destruction of the city by the Epigoni; the return of the nature god Dionysus and the introduction of his worship at Thebes; and the birth and exploits of the famous hero Hercules.
Thebes in historical times was long an enemy of Athens, and in 479 B. C., during the Persian invasion under Xerxes I, the Thebans sided with the invaders and fought against the confederated Greeks at Plataea. When the Peloponnesian War broke out in 431 B. C., Thebes joined the side of Sparta and at the close of the war was eager for the destruction of Athens; it soon, however, began to dread the heightened power of its ally and joined (394 B. C.) the confederation against Sparta. Hence arose a bitter quarrelling between Thebes and Sparta, and a struggle ensued that resulted in a short period of Theban supremacy over all Greece, won by the victory of Epaminondas at Leuctra in 371 B. C., and brought to an end by the death of Epaminondas at Mantinea in 362 B. C.
The expressiveness of the Athenian orator Demosthenes induced the Thebans to form an alliance with the Athenians in opposition to the encroachments of King Philip II of Macedonia, but their combined forces were of no avail, and in 338 B. C., in the Battle of Chaeronea, the power of Greece was crushed. After the death of Philip, the Thebans made a fierce but unsuccessful attempt to regain their freedom. Their city was taken (335 B. C.) by Philip's son and successor, Alexander the Great, and leveled to the ground, and the entire surviving population was sold into slavery. Alexander is said to have spared only the temples and the house of the poet Pindar. Although the city was rebuilt (315 B. C.) by King Cassander of Macedonia and prospered for a time, it had dwindled to a wretched village by the first century B. C. At present, the site of the acropolis named after Cadmus is occupied by the town of Thívai (population in 1981, 18,712).