Ancient History & Civilisation

The Peoples and Places of Fourth-Century B.C. Greece*

Attika: the territory surrounding the city of Athens, and, with the polis proper, comprising the city-state of the Athenians on the southern border of the Boiotians.

Boiotia: a geographical region in central Greece whose capital city was Thebes. Its rich farmlands, cities, and hamlets were federated into a political union in the late sixth century B.C. and were made democratic in the fourth.

Doric: the dialect of Greek that the Spartans and most in the southern and eastern Peloponnesos spoke—supposedly derived from the mythical Dorians who swept from the north into the Peloponnesos.

Epaminondas: the Theban hero and victor at the battle of Leuktra (371 B.C.) who subsequently led Boiotian armies on four invasions of the Peloponnesos before dying at the second battle of Mantineia (362 B.C.).

Ephoros: a fourth-century-B.C. student of Isokrates who wrote a universal history of the Greeks, from mythical times to the advent of Philip of Makedon. Now lost, many books of Ephoros’s history survive in part through the extant work of the Roman-era compiler Diodorus Siculus.

Helikon: the prominent mountain of Boiotia, almost 6,000 feet in elevation, birthplace of the poet Hesiod and said to be the home of the Muses.

Hellas: what the Greeks (or Hellenes) called their own country.

helots: (heilôtai, “those taken”) indentured Greek serfs who were obligated to raise food for the Spartan state. Although there were thousands of helots in Lakonia surrounding Sparta, the great worry was instead the far more numerous thousands of Messenian helots who lived on the other side of Mt. Taygetos, and who for centuries revolted both frequently and unsuccessfully.

hoplites: the class of Greek small farmers who, as middling citizens of the polis, fought as heavily armed infantry soldiers in the phalanx, with spear, body armor, and round shield.

Lakonia: a geographical region in the southern Peloponnesos surrounding Sparta, and thus along with the city comprising the Spartan state, which in turn was also known as Lakedaimon.

Lokrians: inhabitants of two regions in central Greece, to the west on the Korinthian Gulf north of Boiotia and to the east south of Thermopylai. They usually joined the Boiotian horse in battle.

Messenia: large territory in the southwestern Peloponnesos, home to thousands of helots and controlled by Sparta—not to be confused with Messenê, the capital city of a free Messenia.

Pelopidas: Theban general and political leader, partner with Epaminondas in spreading democratic fervor beyond the borders of Boiotia. He died in 364 B.C., two years before Epaminondas, while fighting in Thessaly.

Peloponnesos: the southern and largely mountainous peninsula of Greece connected to the northern mainland by the Isthmos at Korinthos.

Philip II: famous fourth-century B.C. king of Makedon who united its warring tribes and then moved south to end the freedom of the Greek city-states. His dream of leading a panhellenic army into Asia was to be completed by his son Alexander the Great.

Phokians: inhabitants of Phokis in central Greece, near and to the north of Boiotia. They were often distrusted as robbers of the temples at Delphi and fickle neighbors.

Phrynê: “Toad,” the nickname given to the famous courtesan Mnesaretê and model of the sculptor Praxiteles.

Plataia: a Boiotian city at the southern frontier, nestled on the slopes of Mt. Kithairon, usually an ally of Athens and so often at war with the Thebans.

Polis: the Greek city-state, of which at the time of Epaminondas there were some 1,000 to 1,500 on the Greek mainland and the islands in the Aegean and west to Sikily. The concept of a polis included both the urban center (astu) and the surrounding countryside (chôra).

Pythagoras: the famous philosopher, mathematician, and mystic of the sixth century B.C. whose followers believed in one divinity, the reincarnation of souls, and a reality explicable by mathematics and music. Cult members were chastised for embracing vegetarianism, the nobility of the left hand, the equality of the sexes, voluntary poverty, and communalism.

Sparta: both the city on the Eurotas River and the state that encompassed most of Lakonia, and, through alliance and conquest, controlled much of the southern Peloponnesos. Lakedaimon is probably the closest synonym.

Taygetos: the large mountain wall between Lakonia and Messenia, ranging some 60 to 70 miles in extent and rising nearly 8,000 feet at its peak.

Thebes: the largest city and capital of the federated region of Boiotia in central Greece. Not to be confused with Egyptian Thebes. On occasion Thebes and Boiotia were used, if inexactly, interchangeably.

Thespiai: a city-state in Boiotia, in the foothills of Mt. Helikon, and nearly always at odds with the larger capital Thebes a few miles away. Thespians were residents of Thespiai but bore no relation to Thespis, the legendary sixth-century-B.C. founder of tragic drama, from whom derives the modern notion of “thespians” as actors.

Xenophon: famous Greek historian of fourth-century-B.C. Greece and veteran of the retreat of the Ten Thousand from Asia, as well as author of treatises on topics as diverse as horsemanship and the economics of household management. He was exiled from Athens, lived in Triphylia as a friend of the Spartans, and was banished after the invasion of Epaminondas.

* Ease of recognition and pronunciation, rather than absolute consistency, has guided the spellings of Greek names. Some less well known Greek names and places are transliterated rather than Latinized—for example, Korinthos for Corinth, Leuktra for Leuctra, and Thespiai for Thespiae—while more common names like Epaminondas and Thebes seemed preferable to Epameinôndas and Thêbai. I use Hellas for Greece, which derives from Roman nomenclature for Hellas.

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