The period was characterized by the on-going rivalry between Athens and Sparta as well as between Thebes and Athens. Thebes emerged weakened from the
Persian Wars, but rapidly recovered and went on to lead the Koinon of the Boeotians. Almost a century after the humiliation of the Persian Wars it became the head of Greece as a whole (the Theban Hegemony, 371-364 BC). Soon, however, the city was defeated in the battle of Chaironeia by Philip II, and in 335 BC, the city was laid waste by Alexander III, the Great.
Despite the frequent military events, the classical period is characterized by the incomparably high level of its art. Pottery, sculpture and architecture, as well as philosophy, literature and scientific reasoning flourished.
During the classical period, Boeotian pottery and terracotta figurines (coroplastic) workshops were remarkable for their productivity. Oddly enough – and despite the political rivalry – the artistic influence of Athens was very strong, and there was no lack of imported Attic pottery, which was regarded as a luxury item.
Vases of the Kabirian type were locally inspired, as were the grave stelai of dark stone and incised representations of known hoplites, such as Saugenos, Rynchon and Mnason. In Thespies, a city usually loyal to Athens, a number of works were produced strongly influenced by Attic art.
The tour of section 8 starts with a sculpture from the mature classical period on stand 48 and a dedication to the state organization of Boeotia, on which the basic symbols of the state are displayed such as coins, public weights (stathma) (showcase 128) and the Resolution of the Koinon of the Boetians on stand 49. There, too, we see interpolated the votive stand of the bronze statue from Thespies bearing the signature of the Athenian Praxiteles (stand 50).
The troubled political and military dimension of the classical period is presented through the epigraphs that have been preserved. Of special interest are the stelai with the names of those who fell in the battle of Delion in 424 BC (stands 52 and 53-55) and the cuboid grave stele of warriors lost in the battle of Leuktra (371 BC), as well as that of the Theban Boeotarch Xenokrates and his fellow warriors Theopompos and Mnasilaos, with the epigram that praises their bravery (stand 56).
The thematic unit of worship follows (showcase 132). Finds from Boeotian sanctuaries of local or broader range are presented in showcases 133-138; on stands 57-59, votive offerings of all kinds are displayed. Outstanding among them are the black-figure vases with satirical scenes, offerings to the Cabiri (showcase 132) and terracotta wreaths from the rural sanctuary of female deities on the west edge of Orchomenos (showcase 138).
Showcases 135-137 contain representative samples from Boeotian pottery workshops, such as the kylikes with palmette decoration), figurines and the red - figure kalyx krater), works by a group of potters from the mid-4th c. BC showing strong Attic influences.
In contrast with the development of bronze work, terracotta figurines and vase
painting, there was nothing comparable in Boeotian sculpture, perhaps because of the lack of stone appropriate for carving. Typical local works include black grave stelai, a technique that is more closely associated with painting. The most characteristic are those of Rynchon and Mnason from Thebes (stands 61-62).
Stands 60, 63-65 display relief funeral stelai (5th-4th c. BC) mainly from Thespies and Thebes, some in a marked Attic style. In showcase 139, a bronze mirror from Akraiphnio displays the skill of Boeotian bronze workshops around the mid-5th c. BC.
In showcase 140, vases are exhibited bearing scenes from a symposium and a hunt and objects from men’s daily lives, among which the strigils (athletes’ accessories to clean the sweat and oil from their skin after exercise) are noteworthy, as well as the knuckle-bones (children’s game and object for predicting the future) from the cave of the Leibethrid Nymphs, Agia Triada).
In showcase 141 is a lovely marble kalyx krater from Akraiphnio which may have been imported from Attica. In showcase 142 are objects related to women’s lives, such as a pyxis with a wedding procession scene, rattles, feeding bottles, jewellery and containers for toiletries. Here, too, are images of ideal female beauty, such as the terracotta head of a woman in strong, well-preserved colours.
In showcase 143, dedicated to music and dance, one can distinguish a red-figure lekythos decorated with the scene of a woman dancing the pyrrichion (war-dance), a Boeotian imitation of the Athenian “Achilles Painter” vases, with scenes of dancing and figurines of actors, dancers and musicians.
The last section concerns funeral customs and occupies showcases 144-151 until the stairs leading to the balcony. Of particular interest is the grave stele of Philotera holding her baby (stand 68) from Ancient Siphai and the reconstruction of a female funeral pyre and its grave goods from Thebes (showcase 145). In showcase 147 are typical grave goods from burials in Aliartos, Thebes, Eleon and Chaironeia.
Τhe visitor has an opportunity to compare grave goods from a Theban boy’s grave with those of a girl’s (showcase 149-150). And finally showcase 151 features white-ground lekythoi from Akraiphnio and Thebes, most of which were imported from Attica.