Boiotians: Ephoros on the superiority of Boiotia and on a Phoenician connection (mid-fourth century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Boiotians: Ephoros on the superiority of Boiotia and on a Phoenician connection (mid-fourth century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 11, 2024,

Ancient authors: Ephoros of Kyme = FGrHist 70 F119 (link to FGrHist), as cited by Strabo, Geography 9.2.2-4 (link).

Comments: Ephoros (or: Ephorus) of Kyme’s works (ca. 340 BCE) survive only in brief citations by others, and in this case Strabo (before 18 CE) cites Ephoros’ views on the superiority of Boiotia and on the role of Phoenician settlers. Boiotians were among the Greek peoples that other Athenian Greeks would tend to view as inferior or uncivilized, so this is another case where Ephoros takes a diverging ethnographic approach. In critiquing Ephoros’ notion that Boiotians were suited to hegemony, Strabo takes the opportunity to assert the supremacy of the Romans.


Book 9

[Environmental reasons for Boiotia’s superiority]

2 (2) Ephoros declares that Boiotia is superior to the countries of the bordering tribes, not only in fertility of soil, but also because it alone has three seas and has a large number of good harbours. In the Krisaian and Corinthian gulfs it receives the products of Italy, Sicily, and Libya, while in the part which faces Euboia, since its seaboard branches off on either side of the Euripos (on one side towards Aulis and the territory of Tanagra and on the other towards Salganeus and Anthedon), the sea stretches non-stop​ in the one direction towards Egypt, Kypros and the islands, and in the other direction it stretches towards Macedonia and the regions of the Propontis and the Hellespont. Ephoros adds that Euboia has, in a way, been made a part of Boiotia by the Euripos, since the Euripos is so narrow and is spanned by a bridge to Euripos only two plethra​ long.

[Boiotia well suited to hegemony]

Now Ephoros praises the country on account of these things. He says that it is naturally well suited to hegemony, but that those who were from time to time its leaders neglected careful training and education. Therefore, although they at times achieved success, they maintained it only for a short time, as is shown in the case of Epameinondas. For after he died, the Thebans immediately lost the hegemony, having had only a taste of it. The cause of this was the fact that they underestimated the value of learning and interaction with the rest of humankind, and they cared about the military virtues alone.

[Strabo’s disagreements with Ephoros and assertion of Roman supremacy]

Ephoros should have added that these things are particularly useful in dealing with Greeks, although force is stronger than reason in dealing with the barbarians. Also, in ancient times, when the Romans were carrying on war with savage peoples (ethnē), they needed no training of this kind. But from the time that the Romans began to have dealings with more civilized peoples and tribes (phylē), they applied themselves to this training also, and so established themselves as lords of all.

[Phoenicians in Boiotia]

(3) Be that as it may, Boiotia in earlier times was inhabited by barbarians, the Aonians and the Temmikians, who wandered there from Sunion, and by the Lelegians and the Hyantians. Then the Phoenicians occupied it, I mean the Phoenicians with Kadmos, the man who fortified the Kadmeia and left the dominion to his descendants. Those Phoenicians founded Thebes in addition to the Kadmeia, and preserved their dominion, commanding most of the Boiotians until the expedition of the Epigonians. On this occasion they left Thebes for a short time, but came back again. In the same way, when they were ejected by the Thracians and the Pelasgians, they established their government in Thessaly along with the Arnaians for a long time, so that they were all called Boiotians.

Then they returned to the homeland, at the time when the Aiolian fleet, near Aulis in Boiotia, was now ready to set sail, I mean the fleet which the sons of Orestes were despatching to Asia. After adding the Orchomenian country to Boiotia (for in earlier times the Orchomenians were not a part of the Boiotian community, nor did Homer enumerate them among Boiotians, but as a separate people, for he called them “Minyaians”), they, with the Orchomenians, drove out the Pelasgians to Athens (it was after these that a part of the city was named “Pelasgikon,” though they took up their abode below Hymettus) and drove out the Thracians to Parnassos. The Hyantians founded a city called Hyas in Phokis.

(4) Ephoros says that the Thracians, after making a treaty with the Boiotians, attacked them by night when they, thinking that peace had been made, were encamping rather carelessly. When the Boiotians frustrated the Thracians and at the same time made the charge that they were breaking the treaty, the Thracians asserted that they had not broken it, for the treaty said “during the day” but they had made the attack at night. This is where the proverb, “Thracian pretense” comes from.

The Pelasgians, when the war was still going on, went to consult the oracle, as the Boiotians did also. Now Ephoros says he is unable to relate the oracular response that was given to the Pelasgians, but the prophetess replied to the Boiotians that they would prosper if they committed sacrilege. The messengers who were sent to consult the oracle, suspecting that the prophetess responded in this way out of favour for the Pelasgians (because of her kinship with them, for in fact the temple was also Pelasgian from the outset), seized the woman and threw her upon a burning pile. They considered that, whether she had acted falsely or had not, they were right in either case, since, if she uttered a false oracle, she had her punishment, but if she did not act falsely, they had only obeyed the order of the oracle. Now those in charge of the temple, he says, did not approve of putting to death without trial – and that too in the temple – the men who did this. Therefore they brought them to trial, and summoned them before the priestesses, who were also the prophetesses, being the two survivors of the three. But when the Boiotians said that it was nowhere lawful for women to act as judges, they chose an equal number of men in addition to the women. Now the men, he says, voted for acquittal, but the women for conviction. Since the votes cast were equal, those for acquittal prevailed. As a result, prophecies are uttered at Dodona by men to Boiotians only. The prophetesses, however, explain the oracle to mean that the god ordered the Boiotians to steal the tripods​ and take one of them to Dodona every year. They actually do this, for they always​ take down one of the dedicated tripods by night and cover it up with garments, and secretly, as it were, carry it to Dodona.


Source of the translation: H.L. Jones, Strabo, 8 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1917-28), public domain (passed away in 1932), adapted by Harland.

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