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Thespiæ (Greek: Θεσπιαί, Thespiaí) was an ancient Greekmarker city in Boeotia. It stood on level ground commanded by the low range of hills which runs eastward from the foot of Mount Heliconmarker to Thebesmarker. According to Pausanias, the deity most worshipped at Thespiae was Eros, whose primitive image was an unwrought stone. The city contained many works of art, among them the Eros of Praxiteles, one of the most famous statues in the ancient world; it drew crowds of people to Thespiae. It was carried off to Romemarker by Caligula, restored by Claudius, and again carried off by Nero. There was also a bronze statue of Eros by Lysippos. The Thespians also worshiped the Muses, honored by a shrine in the Valley of the Muses and celebrated in a festival in the sacred grove on Mount Helicon. Remains of what was probably the ancient citadel are still to be seen, consisting of an oblong or oval line of fortification, solidly and regularly built. The adjacent ground to the east and south is covered with foundations, bearing witness to the extent of the ancient city. In 1882, the remains of a tombmarker, including a colossal stone lion, were discovered on the road to Leuctra. The tomb dates from the fifth century BC, and is probably that of the Thespians who fell at the Battle of Plataea, as those who fell at the Battle of Thermopylaemarker were buried on the battlefield.

Historically, Thespiae figures chiefly as an enemy of Thebes. Like Plataeamarker, the other Boeotian city that always considered nearby Thebes as bullying threat, Thespiae tried to safeguard their independence by allying themselves with other major cities, like Athens or Sparta, that could protect them from Theban power. During the Persian invasion of 480 BC it was one of the few cities in Boeotia to reject the example set by the Thebans, sending seven hundred men with Leonidas to Thermopylae. After the city was burned down by Xerxes I, the remaining inhabitants furnished a force of 1800 men to the confederate Greek army at Plataea. During the Athenianmarker invasion of Boeotia in 424, the Thespian contingent of the Boeotian army sustained heavy losses at the battle of Delium, and in the next year the Thebans took advantage of this temporary enfeeblement to accuse their neighbors of friendship towards Athens and to dismantle their walls. In 414 they interfered again to suppress a democratic rising. In the Corinthian war Thespiae sided with Spartamarker, and between 379 and 372 repeatedly served the Spartans as a base against Thebes. In the latter year they were reduced by the Thebans and compelled to send a contingent to the Battle of Leuctra in 371. It was probably shortly after this battle that the Thebans used their new predominance to destroy Thespiae and drive its people into exile. The town was rebuilt at some later time. In 171, true to its policy of opposing Thebes, it sought the friendship of Rome. It is subsequently mentioned by Strabo as a place of some size, and by Pliny as a free city.

Although citizens of Thespiae are called Thespians, the common word thespian meaning an actor comes not from this city but from the legendary first actor, Thespis. Both Thespis and Thespiæ are cognate with the verb θεσπίζειν, thespízein, to institute; they as well as the related word θεσμός, thesmós, an institution, and θέσις, thésis, a position, are ultimately derived from the verb τιθέναι, tithénai, to put in place.


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