Ancient Boeotia and its city-states.
Many modern scholars and historians (with prominent the Canadian historian Back) believe that the pro-Persian policy (calling “medizing” in ancient Greece) of Thebes and most cities of the rest of Boeotia during the 2nd Persian war (480-479 BC), was not as extensive as the ancient historian Herodotus (the main source for the Greek-Persian wars) tried to indicate. It is evident from the writings of Herodotus, that he discriminated in favor of Athens and Sparta (and against their rival city-states of Thebes, Argos etc.). It is recognized that the pro-Persian policy of Macedonia, Thessaly and Argos (other Greek states also “blamed” for “medizing” at the same time) was not really extensive. The Boeotian city-states (mainly Thebes) bear the “burden” of the blame of “medizing” , because of Herodotus. The ancient historian probably distorted the historical truth by noting inordinately their pro-Persian policy, which was not more intense than that of the aforementioned states. It is true that the Thebans and the Boeotians desired a Persian victory, only because of their hostility to their neighboring Athenians. So they possibly did not join the Greek Alliance, because its leaders were the city-states of Athens and Sparta. Argos did the same because of its hostility to Sparta.
A beautiful original Boeotian helmet. This type was originally used by the Boeotian infantry and cavalry, but later it became popular to all the Greek cavalrymen ( comitatus.net).
Back believes that Herodotus “moved” on purpose, the time of the Boeotian “medizing” upwards, in order to give a negative role to the Thebans and the other Boeotians. The Boeotians rather gave “earth and water” το the Persian envoys (an official act of surrender to the Persian Great King) before the battle of Thermopylae (480 BC), but it was a diplomatic action in order to be safeguarded in case of defeat, just as the people of Aegina gave also “earth and water” to the Persians before the battle of Marathon (490 BC), even though they were a member of the Peloponnesian Alliance. And the Peloponnesian Alliance had decided from the very beginning to fight the Persian invaders. On the other hand, there are clear indications that the Boeotians intentionally assisted military the Greek Alliance and that they were possibly officially its members. The vengeful fury of the Persians was not directed in Boeotia but in Athens and Attica, because of their defeat at Marathon by the Athenians (490 BC). Boeotia and Attica (the land of the Athenians) are located north of the Peloponnesian Isthmus and the Corinthian Gulf, and thus they were exposed to the Persian army. However Attica was foredoomed by the Persians, but Boeotia was not. So it was very easy for the Athenians to blame the Thebans and Boeotians for “treason” and call themselves “patriots”, once their fight was a matter of life and death for them – a situation that did not apply to the Boeotians.
Likewise the Boetian city-state of Plataea was foredoomed by the Persians, because the Plataeans had reinforced the Athenians at Marathon. This was a key reason for Plataea to remain firmly a member of the Greek Alliance, after the official “medizing” of the rest of Boeotia.
Boeotia followed officially a pro-Persian policy only after the battle of Thermopylae and the decision of the Greek allies to retreat to the Isthmus, which exposed the Boeotian lands to the Persian invaders. Unlike the Boeotians, the Athenians had many ships and ports facing Peloponnesus in order to transfer rapidly and rescue their women, children and elders, and did not depend on the agricultural economy as the Boeotians did. The Boeotians, the Macedonians and the Thessalians, essentially rural peoples of Greece, had to save in every way their crops from the Asiatic invaders, or else they would starve to death. We must also note the reprehensible aspect of the Athenians and other Greeks, that the Boeotians, the Macedonians, the Thessalians and the Cretans were bearers of a low-quality rural culture that had no place in Greece, sometimes resulting even in the taunt of these peoples. Because of that behavior, these agricultural Greek peoples did not feel passionate about the Greek nationwide struggle against the Persians (the Thessalians eventually became pro-Persian, while the Cretans ignored the war effort remaining neutral. The Macedonians were already subjects of the Persians).
The Boeotians, using their diplomatic actions before Thermopylae and their official Pro-Persian policy after their abandonment by the other Greek allies, managed to save their families and their country from the Persian army, excluding the cities of Thespiae and Plataea that were destroyed. As it has been noted correctly by modern scholars, the Boeotians were a realistic people. When they realized that they had no hope of escape from the Persian “avalanche”, they “medized” and were forced to fight in the Persian side against the Greek allies at the great battle of Plataea (479 BC). Their decision is not reprehensible because there were many similar decisions in World History, by states and personalities respectively. The pro-Athenian and pro-Spartan Herodotus distorted the role of the Thebans and Boeotians in 480-479 BC. There is strong evidence that “medizing” was not generally desirable in Thebes and the other Boeotian city-states, but necessary. This situation was recognized by the Greek allies after their overwhelming victory at Plataea, because of the ‘lightweight’ punishment they have given the Boeotians. They executed only the leaders of the pro-Persian faction of Thebes, a fact that indicates that the pro-Persian role actually concerned only a limited part of the population.
A reconstruction of Greek Hoplite swords (Hoplite Association).
Two Boeotian cities, Thespiae and Plataea, did not “medize”. The usual explanation (by the historians) for their decision, is the traditional hostility of the two city-states to Thebes, the dominant city-state of Boeotia, and their sympathy for Athens. However, this fact does not fully explain their anti-Persian policy, because most Boeotian cities were hostile to Thebes (e.g. the second in strength city-state Orchomenos was the most hostile, but it “medized” siding with Thebes). Nor it would be correct to assume that Thespiae and Plataea were more patriotic Greek than the other Boeotian city-states.
Of course, as mentioned before, Plataea was facing its inevitable destruction by the Persian army, because of the battle of Marathon.
In my opinion, the main reason for the sustained commitment of Plataea and Thespiae in standing out against the Persians, lies in their ethnology. Although their citizens spoke the Boeotian dialect, the majority of their population had Ionic origins, i.e. the same origins with the Athenians. This was also probably a key reason that led the Plataeans in reinforcing the Athenians at Marathon.
(1) Herodotus HISTORY
(2) Diodorus of Sicily: HISTORICAL LIBRARY
(3) Cartledge Ρ. : SPARTA AND LAKONIA. A REGIONAL HISTORY 1300-362 B.C., 2nd edition, London 2001
(4) THE CAMBRIDGE ANCIENT HISTORY- First edition, Cambridge 1925-1930