Plataea is an ancient city, located in Greece in southeastern Boeotia, south of Thebes. It was the location of the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC, in which an alliance of Greek city-states defeated the Persians and ended the Persian Wars. Plataea was destroyed in the Peloponnesian War by Thebes and Sparta in 427 BC and rebuilt in 386 BC.
Peloponnesian War and Plataea
Thucydides tells that in April 431 BC, a fifth column of 300 Thebans infiltrated Plataea with the aid of local traitors: pro-Spartan aristocrats and wealthy oligarchs. They attempted to persuade the citizens of Plataea to join with Thebes' allies, the Spartans, to allow Thebes to move on its enemy, Athens, unhindered. The plot was uncovered and the Plataeans captured the infiltrators before the main body of the Theban force could arrive.
Seeing that the plan was foiled, the Theban army formed a plan to capture any Plataen citizen they could find outside the city gates in order to have leverage for an exchange of prisoners. The Plataeans, however, being wise to the Theban plan sent a herald to Thebes denouncing them for their unprovoked attack and threatening to kill the prisoners unless they withdrew their troops.
Thebes complied, yet the Plataeans "hastily got in whatever they had in the country and immediately put the men to death". The number of the slain was 180, and Thucydides tells us that Eurymachus the traitor was among them. The Plataeans immediately sent to Athens for assistance in the siege that was certain to come, and Athens brought them provisions and soldiers, even though they disagreed with the Plataean's decision to execute the Theban prisoners.
Thucydides tells us that "the treaty had now been broken by an overt act after the affair at Plataea" and that "Athens and Lacedaemon now resolved to send embassies to the King and to such other of the barbarian powers as either party could look to for assistance." Up to this point hopes could still be entertained of salvaging the peace, but now "so general was the indignation felt against Athens" that war was inevitable.
During the summer two years after these events occurred Archidamus II finally led the Peloponnesian force against Plataea and began to raze their crops. The Plataeans, in response, dispatched a herald reminding the Spartans of the glorious deeds the Plataeans performed during the Greco-Persian War and of the oath the Spartans swore to protect them and keep them independent - in 479 BC Pausanias, the Spartan general had decreed that Plataea was on holy ground, and it should never be attacked. The Spartans responded by demanding Plataean neutrality in return for their protection. After consulting Athens, Plataea rejected the Spartan proposals and began in earnest to prepare a defence. The Spartans then quickly invested the city, and employed several innovative, yet unsuccessful tactics to bypass the Plataean defenses. Failing in these undertakings the Spartans built a wall of circumvallation, left enough troops to guard the walls, then retired.
The winter of the next year found the Plataeans in a desperate situation. They were besieged by the Spartans and Boeotians with Athenian help doubtful in arriving. Their stores were running dangerously low, and only a brilliant stroke of luck could salvage their position. The Plataeans therefore devised a plan to break past the Spartan defenses and escape; originally all the men were to join the attempt, but the danger being great, only 220 ultimately agreed to go. They accordingly waited for a dark, stormy night, and implemented the plan. Catching the guards by surprise, 212 men managed to evade capture, yet Thucydides writes, "it was mainly the violence of the storm that enabled them to effect their escape at all."
The remaining Plataeans finally surrendered to the Spartans the summer of the next year, as all supplies they had were exhausted, and no hope of help remained. They had trusted the Spartans to a fair trial, as the Lacedaemonians (Spartans) had promised to "judge them all fairly", and that "only the guilty should be punished." if they yielded.
Yet, when the Plataean prisoners were brought before the judges, no trial was held; no chance for apology was offered. The Spartans simply asked each of the prisoners if they had done the Lacedaemonians and allies any service in the war, to which the prisoners, after a heated debate, ultimately had to answer "no.".
Thus the Spartans killed over 200 of the Plataean defenders "among which were 25 Athenians" according to Thucydides. The Thebans ultimately razed the entire town, and
- "built on to the precinct of Hera an inn two hundred feet square, with rooms all round above and below, making use for this purpose of the roofs and doors of the Plataeans: of the rest of the materials in the wall, the brass and the iron, they made couches which they dedicated to Hera, for whom they also built a stone chapel of a hundred feet square."