Urban Warfare in the Classical Greek World
JOHN W. I. LEE
ON A RAINY, almost moonless night in early summer 431 BC, a Theban assault force of three hundred men entered the small town of Plataea in central Greece. They were let in by a Plataean, part of an oligarchic faction hoping to seize power with Theban support. In the sodden darkness the Thebans hurried to Plataea's marketplace. There they issued a proclamation: Plataea was occupied, and the sensible thing to do was to accept the fact. Plataea and Thebes, after all, had once been allies; they could be so again. At first the Plataeans, panicked at the enemy presence in the heart of town, agreed to terms. Soon, though, they realized how few Thebans there were. Digging passages through the earthen walls of their houses and placing wagons in the streets as barricades, the Plataeans surrounded the invaders. In the predawn twilight, they struck. Plataean soldiers rushed down the streets, while women and slaves threw stones and tiles from the rooftops. The surprised Thebans withstood several onslaughts but at last broke and fled, with the Plataeans in pursuit. Unfamiliar with the twisting streets of the town, hindered by mud and darkness, the Thebans scattered in desperation. One group, thinking it had found an exit, stumbled into a warehouse by the city wall, only to be trapped there. A few men made it to the gates; others were cut down in the streets. By daybreak it was all over. One hundred twenty Theban corpses lay scattered in the streets and houses of Plataea. The Plataeans took 180 prisoners; fearing further Theban treachery, they executed all of them.
Thanks to the Athenian writer Thucydides, the vicious fight at Plataea has passed into history as the opening act of the Peloponnesian War