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date: 30 March 2023

Boeotia and Boeotian Confederacyfree

Boeotia and Boeotian Confederacyfree

  • John Buckler
  •  and Antony Spawforth


  • Greek History and Historiography

Boeotia was a region in central Greece, bounded in the north by Phocis and Opuntian Locris. The east faces the Euboean Gulf, and Mts. Parnes and Cithaeron form the southern boundary with Attica. On the west Mt. Helicon and some lower heights separate a narrow coastline from the interior. Lake Copais divided the region into a smaller northern part, the major city of which was Orchomenus (1), and a larger southern part dominated by Thebes (1). Geography and the fertility of the soil encouraged the growth of many prosperous and populous cities and villages. Although now there is indication of palaeolithic and mesolithic habitation, numerous findings prove a dense neolithic population. Thucydides (1. 12) states that the region was originally named Cadmeis, but that the Boiotoi gave it its present name 60 years after the Trojan War. Yet the Catalogue of Ships (Homer, Il. 2) knows of Boeotians already living in Boeotia before the war. Archaeology also proves both continuity of culture before the putative Trojan War and the decline of population during LH III, probably owing to mass migrations to the east. This late Helladic period was none the less prosperous enough to sustain Mycenaean palaces at Thebes, Orchomenus, and Gla.

Boeotia enters history only with Hesiod of Ascra, whose Works and Days indicates an agricultural society of smallholdings. In his time several basileis in Thespiae possessed the judicial power to settle inheritances. Evidence also indicates that other large cities exercised power over their smaller neighbours, Plataea, Tanagra, and Thebes among them. The result was the development of well-defined political units that formed the basis of an early federal government. The union of these cities in a broader political system was aided by their common culture, ethnicity, language, and religion. By the last quarter of the 6th cent. bce some of these cities formed the Boeotian Confederacy, doubtless under the hegemony of Thebes (see federal states). The Boeotians, as a people, not as a confederacy, were early members of the Delphic amphictiony.

From the outset of the Persian Wars until the Pax Romana, Boeotia was the ‘dancing-floor of war’ in Greece. Boeotian reaction to the Persian invasion was mixed. Plataea, Thespiae, and some elements in Thebes originally favoured the Greeks, but after the battle of Thermopylae only Plataea remained loyal to the Greek cause. The Persian defeat entailed the devastation of Boeotia. A truncated confederacy may have survived, but the region was politically unimportant. In 457 bce Boeotia allied itself with Sparta, which resulted in the battles of Tanagra and Oenophyta, the latter a major Boeotian defeat. Afterwards, Athens held control of Boeotia until the battle of Coronea in 447 bce. Thereafter, Boeotia rebuilt its confederacy, and remodelled its federal government along the lines described by the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia (see oxyrhynchus, the historian from).

Boeotia supported Sparta in the Peloponnesian War, with Thebes helping to inflame it by its siege of Plataea. Boeotia defeated Athens at the battle of Delion in 424 bce, and contributed substantially to its eventual defeat. After the peace treaty of 404 bce relations between Boeotia and Sparta cooled to the point where they broke in 395 bce, when Boeotia joined Athens, Corinth, and Argos (1) to oppose Sparta in the Corinthian War. Sparta's victory and the King's Peace resulted in the political fragmentation of the region. A Spartan attack on Thebes in 382 bce further weakened Boeotia, until 378 bce, when Thebes revolted and re-established the Boeotian Confederacy, which ultimately led to confrontation at the battle of Leuctra. There the Boeotian army under Epaminondas defeated Sparta and created a period of Theban ascendancy that lasted until the Third Sacred War. Weakened by the devastation of that war, Boeotia allied itself with Philip (1) II. The alliance, always uneasy, ended with its decision to join Athens to oppose him at Chaeronea in 338 bce. During the Hellenistic period the region was often the battleground of monarchs and leagues alike. Only with Sulla's victory at Chaeronea in 86 bce did Boeotia enjoy peace under Rome. Forming part of Achaia from 27 bce, Roman Boeotia is evoked, with much convincing detail (F. Millar, JRS1981, 63 ff.), in Apuleius' Golden Ass (mid-2nd cent. ce). Although Thebes had declined, Lebadea (see trophonius) and Thespiae hosted Panhellenic cults and festivals; and the family and circle of Plutarch reveal men of culture among Boeotia's landowners. Archaeological survey shows a strong recovery from earlier depopulation in the 4th-6th cents. ce, when Thebes re-emerged as Boeotia's natural centre.


  • R. Buck, History of Boeotia (1979).
  • R. Buck, Boiotia and the Boiotian League 423–371 bc (1994).
  • P. Roesch, Études béotiennes (1982).
  • O. Rackham, Annual of the British School at Athens 1983, 291 ff. (historical ecology).
  • O. Rackham, La Béotie antique (1985).
  • J. Fossey, Topography and Population of Ancient Boeotia (1988).
  • H. Beister and J. Buckler (eds.), Boiotika (1989).
  • J. Bintliff, in G. Barker and J. Lloyd (eds.), Roman Landscapes (1991).
  • H. Beck, Polis und Koinon (1997), 83–106.
  • M. H. Hansen, Introduction to an Inventory of Poleis (1996), 73–116.
  • M. H. Hansen and T. H. Nielsen (eds.), An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis (2004), 431–461.