Why Did Alexander Burn Thebes to the Ground?

February 15, 2024

When the Greek city-state of Thebes revolted against Macedonian rule, Alexander decided to crush it. According to historian Arrian, he slaughtered all of the male residents and enslaved the women and children. This brutal punishment was meant to send a message that he would not tolerate dissent. It was also intended to discourage other Greek states from trying to throw off the Macedonian yoke.

It's impossible to know for sure what drove Alexander to destroy Thebes with such ruthlessness. Perhaps it was a desire to solidify his position as ruler of the Greek world and prepare for his next campaign against the Persian Empire. Or maybe it was a combination of factors.

One thing is for sure, the destruction of Thebes shook other city-states in Greece and made it harder for them to break free from the Macedonian yoke. It may have even inspired the demagogues who had encouraged the Thebans to revolt in the first place.

Thebes had been under Macedonian control since the battle of Chaeronea. A teenaged Alexander fought alongside his father Philip's army during this decisive victory. After the battle, Philip forced Thebes to renounce its alliance with Athens and become part of the League of Corinth. The Thebans reluctantly agreed to this.

Normally, after defeating an opponent, Alexander would move on, perhaps leaving behind some of his forces or installing a local leader as ruler. But this was not the case in Thebes. Instead, he decided to burn the city and slaughter or enslave almost all of its inhabitants.

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