A Theban Statesman And General Epaminondas, born about 418 B. 0 , died on the battle field of Mantinea in 362. He was the son of Polymnis, a Theban who, though poor, was a member of one of the noble families. In his youth he was an earnest student of philosophy, and, while receiving an exceptional education in all respects, devoted himself especially to this study under the tutorship of the Pythagorean Lysis, to whose influence his contemporaries attributed many of his best characteristics. With Pelopidas, a man of congenial virtue, he was early connected by the ties of tried friendship, though the date of the battle in which he saved the life of his friend cannot be fixed. When the Spartans gained possession of the Theban citadel, the Cadmea, in 382, Epaminondas for a time refused to join in the plan for its recapture, through fear of useless bloodshed, to which the teachings of his philosophy made him particularly averse; but when the first decisive step had been taken, Archias and Leontiades, the Spartan tyrants, had been killed, and the affair had assumed the aspect of a revolution rather than a conspiracy, he at once came forward as a leader, and was among the foremost in the attack which induced the Spartan surrender (379). In 371 he acted as the ambassador for Thebes when the envoys from all parts of Greece came together at Sparta to negotiate treaties.
Here he greatly distinguished himself by his eloquence in advocating against Agesilaus of Sparta the claim of Thebes to represent all Bceotia. This was disallowed by the assembled envoys. Thebes was excluded from the treaty altogether, and war between Thebes and Sparta was at once declared. Less than a month afterward the armies met at Leuctra, the Spartans being under the command of Cleombrotus. The Thebans, commanded by Epaminondas, assisted by Pelopidas, gave battle at once, by the advice of the former, and after a brief struggle won a complete victory. The triumph of the Thebans was clearly due to the new tactics invented by Epaminondas. The results of the victory were further secured by the union of Arcadia and the founding of Megalopolis; these measures, suggested by Lycomedes, but vigorously urged and in great part carried out by Epaminondas, at once opposed a strong obstacle to any further schemes of Spartan dominion.
This accomplished, Epaminondas and Pelopidas invaded the Peloponnesus (369), ravaged Laconia, freed Messenia from the Spartan yoke, founding a new capital for it on the site of the ancient Ithome, and appeared before Sparta, which escaped capture through the wise provisions of Agesilaus. To continue these conquests both Epaminondas and Pelopidas had retained their commands longer than the Theban law allowed; and on their return they were tried for this, but both were acquitted, with the enthusiastic approval of the people. In 368 Epaminondas again invaded the Peloponnesus, compelled Sicyon and Pellene to abandon their alliance with Sparta, and made an unsuccessful attack on Corinth. He returned home, it appears, without having pushed his advantage sufficiently to satisfy the Thebans; and this is given as the reason for his receiving no command in the expedition sent into Thessaly the same year to rescue Pelopidas from Alexander of Pherae, into whose hands he had fallen. This undertaking failed, and the historians attribute the saving of the army from utter ruin to the efforts of Epaminondas. A year later he led a force organized for the same purpose, and this time achieved the delivery of his friend, without, it is said, engaging in a single battle.
In 366 he again invaded the Peloponnesus, but without noteworthy military results. In the mean time the overbearing conduct of Thebes in all international matters, which Epaminondas had endeavored to restrain, produced a great defection among the Arcadians; this was increased by the cruel punishment of the revolted Orchomenus during the absence of Epaminondas in Thessaly, and by many acts of oppression toward the Boeotians and other allies and subject states. The long existing discontent and spirit of revolt was brought to a crisis by the arbitrary refusal of the Theban commander at Tegea to carry out his promised compliance in the ratification of a treaty between the Arcadians and Elis. When the Mantineans sent to Thebes a protest against some oppressive measures taken in connection with this act, Epaminondas defended the commander, and expressed himself in favor of the immediate war which he saw could alone preserve Theban supremacy. Acting against a formidable coalition of Grecian states, which both Athens and Sparta had joined, he for the fourth time invaded the Peloponnesus. The enemy concentrated his force at Mantinea. This was composed mainly of Achseans, Eleans, and Arcadians, while the old Agesilaus was approaching from Sparta, and the Athenian contingent was expected.
Having vainly tried to provoke the allies to action before the arrival of the Spartans and Athenians, Epaminondas, aware of the circuitous route of Agesilaus, made a rapid night march from Tegea to surprise Sparta, which was saved by Agesilaus being apprised of the danger in time, and by the bravery of his son Archidamus and other youths. Epaminondas now turned to surprise Mantinea while the enemy marched to the rescue of Sparta, but the arrival of the Athenians frustrated this attempt also. He finally determined on a pitched battle, which was fought on the plain between Mantinea and Tegea. The plan of the The ban general was similar to that adopted at Leuctra, and the issue would probably have been the same had not his advance been interrupted by a javelin wound. He fell with the point of the broken spear sticking in his breast. He was still alive, but the extraction of the spear head would have terminated his pain with his life. Having been assured that his shield was not lost and that the Thebans were victorious, he inquired for two of his generals, but was told that they were dead. "Then let Thebes make peace with the enemy," said he, and drew out the weapon with his own hand.
In reply to his friends, who regretted that he died childless, he said: "I leave two fair daughters, Leuctra and Mantinea." He was buried on the field, and a column, bearing a shield with the device of a dragon, was erected on his grave.