1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Boeotia

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BOEOTIA, a district of central Greece, stretching from Phocis and Locris in the W. and N. to Attica and Megaris in the S. between the strait of Euboea and the Corinthian Gulf. This area, amounting in all to 1100 sq. m., naturally falls into two main divisions. In the north the basin of the Cephissus and Lake Copaïs lies between parallel mountain-walls continuing eastward the line of Parnassus in the extensive ridge of Helicon, the “Mountain of the Muses” (5470 ft.) and the east Locrian range in Mts. Ptoüm, Messapium and other smaller peaks. These ranges, which mostly lie close to the seaboard, form by their projecting spurs a narrow defile on the Phocian frontier, near the famous battlefield of Chaeroneia, and shut in Copaïs closely on the south between Coronea and Haliartus. The north-east barrier was pierced by underground passages (katavothra) which carried off the overflow from Copaïs. The southern portion of the land forms a plateau which slopes to Mt. Cithaeron, the frontier range between Boeotia and Attica. Within this territory the low ridge of Teumessus separates the plain of Ismenus and Dirce, commanded by the citadel of Thebes, from the upland plain of the Asopus, the only Boeotian river that finds the eastern sea. Though the Boeotian climate suffered from the exhalations of Copaïs, which produced a heavy atmosphere with foggy winters and sultry summers, its rich soil was suited alike for crops, plantations and pasture; the Copaïs plain, though able to turn into marsh when the choking of the katavothra caused the lake to encroach, being among the most fertile in Greece. The central position of Boeotia between two seas, the strategic strength of its frontiers and the ease of communication within its extensive area were calculated to enhance its political importance. On the other hand the lack of good harbours hindered its maritime development; and the Boeotian nation, although it produced great men like Pindar, Epaminondas, Pelopidas and Plutarch, was proverbially as dull as its native air. But credit should be given to the people for their splendid military qualities: both their cavalry and heavy infantry achieved a glorious record.

In the mythical days Boeotia played a prominent part. Of the two great centres of legends, Thebes with its Cadmean population figures as a military stronghold, and Orchomenus, the home of the Minyae, as an enterprising commercial city. The latter’s prosperity is still attested by its archaeological remains (notably the “Treasury of Minyas”) and the traces of artificial conduits by which its engineers supplemented the natural outlets. The “Boeotian” population seems to have entered the land from the north at a date probably anterior to the Dorian invasion. With the exception of the Minyae, the original peoples were soon absorbed by these immigrants, and the Boeotians henceforth appear as a homogeneous nation. In historical times the leading city of Boeotia was Thebes, whose central position and military strength made it a suitable capital. It was the constant ambition of the Thebans to absorb the other townships into a single state, just as Athens had annexed the Attic communities. But the outlying cities successfully resisted this policy, and only allowed the formation of a loose federation which in early times seems to have possessed a merely religious character. While the Boeotians, unlike the Arcadians, generally acted as a united whole against foreign enemies, the constant struggle between the forces of centralization and disruption perhaps went further than any other cause to check their development into a really powerful nation. Boeotia hardly figures in history before the late 6th century. Previous to this its people is chiefly known as the producer of a type of geometric pottery similar to the Dipylon ware of Athens. About 519 the resistance of Plataea to the federating policy of Thebes led to the interference of Athens on behalf of the former; on this occasion, and again in 507, the Athenians defeated the Boeotian levy. During the Persian invasion of 480, while some of the cities fought whole-heartedly in the ranks of the patriots, Thebes assisted the invaders. For a time the presidency of the Boeotian League was taken away from Thebes, but in 457 the Spartans reinstated that city as a bulwark against Athenian aggression. Athens retaliated by a sudden advance upon Boeotia, and after the victory of Oenophyta brought under its power the whole country excepting the capital. For ten years the land remained under Athenian control, which was exercised through the newly installed democracies; but in 447 the oligarchic majority raised an insurrection, and after a victory at Coronea regained their freedom and restored the old constitutions. In the Peloponnesian War the Boeotians, embittered by the early conflicts round Plataea, fought zealously against Athens. Though slightly estranged from Sparta after the peace of Nicias, they never abated their enmity against their neighbours. They rendered good service at Syracuse and Arginusae; but their greatest achievement was the decisive victory at Delium over the flower of the Athenian army (424), in which both their heavy infantry and their cavalry displayed unusual efficiency.

About this time the Boeotian League comprised eleven groups of sovereign cities and associated townships, each of which elected one Boeotarch or minister of war and foreign affairs, contributed sixty delegates to the federal council at Thebes, and supplied a contingent of about a thousand foot and a hundred horse to the federal army. A safeguard against undue encroachment on the part of the central government was provided in the councils of the individual cities, to which all important questions of policy had to be submitted for ratification. These local councils, to which the propertied classes alone were eligible, were subdivided into four sections, resembling the prytaneis of the Athenian council, which took it in turns to take previous cognizance of all new measures.[1]

Boeotia took a prominent part in the war of the Corinthian League against Sparta, especially at Haliartus and Coronea (395–394). This change of policy seems due mainly to the national resentment against foreign interference. Yet disaffection against Thebes was now growing rife, and Sparta fostered this feeling by stipulating for the complete independence of all the cities in the peace of Antalcidas (387). In 374 Pelopidas restored the Theban dominion. Boeotian contingents fought in all the campaigns of Epaminondas, and in the later wars against Phocis (356–346); while in the dealings with Philip of Macedon the federal cities appear merely as the tools of Thebes. The federal constitution was also brought into accord with the democratic governments now prevalent throughout the land. The sovereign power was vested in the popular assembly, which elected the Boeotarchs (between seven and twelve in number), and sanctioned all laws. After the battle of Chaeroneia, in which the Boeotian heavy infantry once again distinguished itself, the land never rose again to prosperity. The destruction of Thebes by Alexander (335) seems to have paralysed the political energy of the Boeotians, though it led to an improvement in the federal constitution, by which each city received an equal vote. Henceforth they never pursued an independent policy, but followed the lead of protecting powers. Though the old military training and organization continued, the people proved unable to defend the frontiers, and the land became more than ever the “dancing-ground of Ares.” Though enrolled for a short time in the Aetolian League (about 245 B.C.) Boeotia was generally loyal to Macedonia, and supported its later kings against Rome. In return for the excesses of the democracies Rome dissolved the league, which, however, was allowed to revive under Augustus, and merged with the other central Greek federations in the Achaean synod. The death-blow to the country’s prosperity was given by the devastations during the first Mithradatic War.

Save for a short period of prosperity under the Frankish rulers of Athens (1205–1310), who repaired the katavothra and fostered agriculture, Boeotia long continued in a state of decay, aggravated by occasional barbarian incursions. The first step towards the country’s recovery was not until 1895, when the outlets of Copaïs were again put into working order. Since then the northern plain has been largely reclaimed for agriculture, and the natural riches of the whole land are likely to develop under the influence of the railway to Athens. Boeotia is at present a Nomos with Livadia (the old Turkish capital) for its centre; the other surviving townships are quite unimportant. The population (65,816 in 1907) is largely Albanian.

Authorities.—Thuc. iv. 76-101; Xenophon, Hellenica, iii.-vii.; Strabo, pp. 400-412; Pausanias ix.; Theopompus (or Cratippus) in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vol. v. (London, 1908), No. 842, col. 12; W. M. Leake, Travels in Northern Greece, chs. xi.-xix. (London, 1835); H. F. Tozer, Geography of Greece (London, 1873), pp. 233–238; W. Rhys Roberts, The Ancient Boeotians (Cambridge, 1895); E. A. Freeman. Federal Government (ed. 1893, London), ch. iv. § 2; B. V. Head, Historia Numorum, pp. 291 sqq. (Oxford, 1887); W. Larfeld, Sylloge Inscriptionum Boeoticarum (Berlin, 1883). (See also Thebes.)

  1. Thucydides (v. 38), in speaking of the “four councils of the Boeotians,” is referring to the plenary bodies in the various states.