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Biographies (6)



420 - 362
A Theban statesman and soldier, son of Polymnis, and in whose praise, for both talents and rectitude, there is a remarkable concurrence of ancient writers. Nepos observes that before Epaminondas was born and after his death Thebes was always in subjection to some other power; while he directed her councils she was at the head of Greece. His public life extends from the restoration of democracy by Pelopidas and the other exiles, B.C. 379, to the battle of Mantinea, B.C. 362. In the conspiracy by which that revolution was effected he took no part, but thenceforward he became the prime mover of the Theban State. His policy was first directed to assert the right and to secure the power to Thebes of controlling the other cities of Boeotia, several of which claimed to be independent. In this cause he ventured to engage his country, single-handed, in war with the Spartans, who marched into Boeotia, B.C. 371, with a force superior to any which could be brought against them. The Theban generals were divided in opinion whether a battle should be risked, for to encounter the Lacedaemonians with inferior numbers was universally esteemed hopeless. Epaminondas prevailed upon his colleagues to venture it, and devised on this occasion a new method of attack. Instead of joining battle along the whole line he concentrated an overwhelming force on one point, directing the weaker part of his line to keep back. The Spartan right being broken and their king slain, the rest of the army found it necessary to abandon the field. This memorable battle was fought at Leuctra (B.C. 371). The moral effect of it was much more important than the mere loss inflicted upon Sparta, for it overthrew the prescriptive superiority in arms claimed by that State ever since its reformation by Lycurgus.
This brilliant success led Epaminondas to the second object of his policy, the overthrow of the supremacy of Sparta and the substitution of Thebes as the leader of Greece in the democratic interest. In this hope a Theban army, under his command, marched into the Peloponnesus early in the winter, B.C. 369, and, in conjunction with the Eleans, Arcadians, and Argives, invaded and laid waste a large part of Laconia. Numbers of the Helots took that opportunity to shake off a most oppressive slavery; and Epaminondas struck a deadly blow at the power of Sparta by establishing these descendants of the old Messenians on Mount Ithome in Messenia, as an independent State, and inviting their countrymen, scattered through Italy and Sicily, to return to their ancient patrimony. Numbers obeyed the call. This memorable event is known in history as the return of the Messenians, and two hundred years had elapsed since their expulsion. In B.C. 368, Epaminondas again led an army into the Peloponnesus; but, not fulfilling the expectations of the people, he was disgraced and, according to Diodorus, was ordered to serve in the ranks: In that capacity he is said to have saved the army in Thessaly when entangled in dangers which threatened it with destruction, being required by the general voice to assume the command. He is not again heard of in a public capacity till B.C. 366, when he was sent to support the democratic interest in Achaia, and by his moderation and judgment brought that whole confederation over to the Theban alliance without bloodshed or banishment. It soon became plain, however, that a mere change of masters--Thebes instead of Sparta--would be of no service to the Grecian States. Achaia first, then Elis, then Mantinea and a great part of Arcadia, returned to the Lacedaemonian alliance. To check this defection, Epaminondas led an army into the Peloponnesus for the fourth time, in B.C. 362. Joined by the Argives, Messenians, and part of the Arcadians, he entered Laconia and endeavoured to take Sparta by surprise; but the vigilance of Agesilaus just frustrated his scheme. Epaminondas then marched against Mantinea, near which was fought the celebrated battle in which he fell. The disposition of his troops on this occasion was an improvement on that by which he had gained the battle of Leuctra, and would have had the same decisive success, but that, in the critical moment, when the Lacedaemonian line was just broken, he received a mortal wound, said to have been inflicted by Gryllus, the son of Xenophon. The Theban army was paralyzed by this misfortune; nothing was done to profit by a victory which might have been made certain; and this battle, on which the expectation of all Greece waited, led to no important result.
Whether Epaminondas could much longer have upheld Thebes in the rank to which he had raised her is very doubtful; without him she fell at once to her former obscurity. His character is certainly one of the noblest recorded in Greek history. His private life was moral and refined, his public conduct uninfluenced by personal ambition or by personal hatred. He was a sincere lover of his country; and if, in his schemes for her advancement, he was indifferent to the injury done to other members of the Grecian family, this is a fault from which, perhaps, no Greek statesman except Aristides was free.

This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

Epaminondas, (Epameinondas), the Theban general and statesman, son of Polymnis, was born and reared in poverty, though his blood was noble. In his early years he is said to have enjoyed the instructions of Lysis of Tarentum, the Pythagorean, and we seem to trace the practical influence of this philosophy in several passages of his later life. (Plut. Pelop. 3, de Gen. Soc. 8, &c.; Ael. V. H. ii. 43, iii. 17, v. 5, xii. 43; Paus. iv. 31, viii. 52, ix. 13; C. Nep. Epam. 1, 2; comp. Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. i., and the works of Dodwell and Bentley there referred to.) His close and enduring friendship with Pelopidas, unbroken as it was through a long series of years, and amidst all the military and civil offices which they held together, strikingly illustrates the tendency which contrast of character has to cement attachments, when they have for their foundation some essential point of similarity and sympathy. According to some, their friendship originated in the campaign in which they served together on the Spartan side against Mantineia, where Pelopidas having fallen in a battle, apparently dead, Epaminondas protected his body at the imminent risk of his own life, B. C. 385. (Plut. Pelop. 4; Xen. Hell. v. 2.1, &c.; Diod. xv. 5, 12; Paus. viii. 8.) When the Theban patriots engaged in their enterprise for the recovery of the Cadmeia, in B. C. 379, Epaminondas held aloof from it at first, from a fear, traceable to his Pythagorean religion, lest innocent blood should be shed in the tumult. To the object of the attempt, however,--the delivers of Thebes from Spartan domination,--he was of course favourable. He had studiously exerted himself already to raise the spirit and confidence of the Theban youths, urging them to match themselves in gymnastic exercises with the Lacedaemonians of the citadel, and rebuking them, when successful in these, for the tameness of their submission to the invaders ; and, when the first step in the enterprise had been taken, ard Archias and Leontiades were slain, he came forward and took part decisively with Pelopidas and his confederates. (Plut. Pelop. 5, 12, de Gen. Soc. 3; Polyaen. ii. 2; Xen. Hell. v. 4. 2, &c.) In B. C. 371, when the Athenian envoys went to Sparta to negotiate peace, Epaminondas also came thither, as an ambassador, to look after the interests of Thebes, and highly distinguished himself by his eloquence and ready wit in the debate which ensued on the question whether Thebes should be allowed to ratify the treaty in the name of all Boeotia, thus obtaining a recognition of her claim to supremacy over the Boeotian towns. This being refused by the Spartans, the Thebans were excluded from the treaty altogether, and Cleombrotus was sent to invade Bocotia. The result was the battle of Leuctra, so fatal to the Lacedaemonians, in which the success of Thebes is said to have been owing mainly to the tactics of Epaminondas. He it was, indeed, who most strongly urged the giving battle, while he employed all the means in his power to raise the courage of his countrymen, not excluding even omens and oracles, for which, when unfavourable, he had but recently expressed his contempt. (Xen. Hell. vi. 3.18-20, 4.1-15; Diod. xv. 33, 51-56; Plut. Ages. 27, 28, Pelop. 20-23, Cam. 19, Reg. et Imp. Apoph., ed. Tauchn., De seips. cit. inv. land. 16, De San. Tuend. Prace. 23; Paus. viii. 27, ix. 13; Polyaen. ii. 2; C. Nep. Epam. 6; Cic. Tusc. Disp. i. 46, de Off. i. 24; Suid. s. v. Epaminondas.) The project of Lycomedes for the founding of Megalopolis and the union of Arcadia was vigorously encouraged and forwarded by Epaminondas, B. C. 370, as a barrier against Spartan dominion, though we need not suppose with Pausanias that the plan originated with him. (Xen. Hell. vi. 5.6, &c.; Paus. viii. 27, ix. 14; Diod. xv. 59; Aristot. Polit. ii. 2, ed. Bekk.) In the next year, B. C. 369, the first invasion of the Peloponnesus by the Thebans took place, and when the rest of their generals were anxious to return home, as the term of their command was drawing to a close, Epaminondas and Pelopidas persuaded them to remain and to advance against Sparta. The country was ravaged as far as the coast, and the city itself, thrown into the utmost consternation by the unprecedented sight of an enemy's fires, and endangered also by treachery within, was saved only by the calm firmness and the wisdom of Agesilaus. Epaminondas, however, did not leave the Peloponnesus before he had inflicted a most serious blow on Sparta, and planted a permanent thorn in her side by the restoration of the Messenians to their country and the establishment of a new city, named Messene, on the site of the ancient Ithome,--a work which was carried into effect with the utmost solemnity, and, as Epaminondas wished to have it believed, not without the special interposition of gods and heroes. Meanwhile the Lacedaemtonians had applied successfully for aid to Athens; but the Athenian general, Iphicrates, seems to have acted on this occasion with less than his usual energy and ability, and the Theban army made its way back in safety through an unguarded pass of the Isthmus. Pausanias tells us that Epaminondas advanced to the walls of Athens, and that Iphicrates restrained his countrymen from marching out against him; but the several accounts of these movements are by no means clear. (Xen. Hell. vi. 5.22, &c., 33-52. vii. 1.27; Arist. Polit. ii. 9, ed. Bekk.; Plut. Pel. 24, Ages. 31-34 ; Diod. xv. 62-67; Paus. iv. 26, 27, ix. 14 ; Polyb. iv. 33; C. Nep. Iph. 21.) On their return home Epaminondas and Pelopidas were impeached by their enemies on a capital charge of having retained their command beyond the legal term. The fact itself was true enough, but they were both honourably acquitted, Epaminondas having expressed his willingness to die if the Thebans would record that he had been put to death because he had humbled Sparta and taught his countrymen to face and to conquer her armies. Against his accusers he was philosophical and magnanimous enough, unlike Pelopidas, to take no measures of retaliation. (Plut. Pelop. 25, De seips. cit. inv. laud. 4, Reg. et Imp. Apoph., ed. Tauchn. ; Paus. ix. 14; Ael. V. H. xiii. 42; C. Nep. Epam. 7, 8.)
  In the spring of 368 he again led a Theban army into the Peloponnesus, and having been vainly opposed at the Isthmus by the forces of Sparta and her allies, including Athens, he advanced against Sicyon and Pellene, and obliged them to relinquish their alliance with the Lacedaemonians; but on his return, he was repulsed by Chabrias in an attack which he made on Corinth. It seems doubtful whether his early departure home was owing to the rising jealousy of the Arcadians towards Thebes, or to the arrival of a force, chiefly of Celts and Iberians, sent by Dionysius I. to the aid of the Spartans. (Xen. Hell. vii. 1.15-22; Diod. xv. 68-70; Paus. ix. 15.) In the same year we find him serving, but not as general, in the Theban army which was sent into Thessaly to rescue Pelopidas from Alexander of Pherae, and which Diodorus tells us was saved from utter destruction only by the ability of Epaminondas. According to the same author, he held no command in the expedition in question because the Thebans thought he had not pursued as vigorously as he might his advantage over the Spartans at the Isthmus in the last campaign. The disaster in Thessaly, however, proved to Thebes his value, and in the next year (367) he was sent at the head of another force to release Pelopidas, and accomplished his object, according to Plutarch, without even striking a blow, and by the mere prestige of his name. (Diod. xv. 71, 72, 75; Plut. Pelop. 28, 29.) It would appear--and if so, it is a noble testimony to his virtue--that the Thebans took advantage of his absence on this expedition to destroy their old rival Orchomenus,--a design which they had formed immediately after their victory at Leuctra, and which had been then prevented only by his remonstrances. Diod. xv. 57, 79; Paus ix. 15; Thirlwall's Greece, vol. v.) In the spring of 366 he invaded the Peloponnesus for the third time, with the view chiefly of strengthening the influence of Thebes in Achaia, and so indirectly with the Arcadians as well, who sere now more than half alienated from their former ally. Having obtained assurances of fidelity from the chief men in the several states, he did not deem it necessary to put down the oligarchical governments which had been established under Spartan protection ; but the Arcadians made this moderation a ground of complaint against him to the Thebans, and the latter then sent harmosts to the different Achaean cities, and set up democracy in all of them, which, however, was soon overthrown every-where by a counter-revolution. (Xen. Hell. vii. 1.41-43; Diod. xv. 75.) In B. C. 363, when the oligarchical party in Arcadia had succeeded in bringing about a treaty of peace with Elis, the Theban officer in command at Tegea at first joined in the ratification of it; but afterwards, at the instigation of the chiefs of the democratic party, he ordered the gates of Tegea to be closed, and arrested many of the higher class. The Mantineians protested strongly against this act of violence, and prepared to resent it, and the Theban then released the prisoners, and apologized for his conduct. The Mantineians, however, sent to Thebes to demand that he should be capitally punished; but Epaminondas defended his conduct, saying, that he had acted more properly in arresting the prisoners than in releasing them, and expressed a determination of entering the Peloponnesus to carry on the war in conjunction with those Arcadians who still sided with Thebes. (Xen. Hell. vii. 4.12-40.) The alarm caused by this answer as symptomatic of an overbearing spirit of aggression on the part of Thebes, withdrew from her most of the Peloponnesians, though Argos, Messenia, Tegea, and Megalopolis still retained their connexion with her. It was then against formidable coalition of states, including Athens and Sparta, that Epaminondas invaded the Peloponnesus, for the fourth time, in B. C. 362. The difficulties of his situation were great, but his energy and genius were fully equal to the crisis, and perhaps at no period of his life were they so remarkably displayed as at its glorious close. Advancing to Tegea, he took up his quarters there; but the time for which he held his command was drawing to an end, and it was necessary for the credit and interest of Thebes that the expedition should not be ineffectual. When then he ascertained that Agesilaus was on his march against him, he set out from Tegtea in the evening, and marched straight on Sparta, hoping to find it undefended; but Agesilaus received intelligence of his design, and hastened back before his arrival, and the attempt of the Thebans on the city was baffled. They returned accordingly to Tegea, and thence marched on to Mantineia, whither their cavalry had preceded them. In the battle which ensued at this place, and in which the peculiar tactics of Epaminondas were brilliantly and successfully displayed, he himself, in the full career of victory, received a mortal wound, and was borne away from the throng. He was told that his death would follow directly on the javelin being extracted from the wound; but he would not allow this to be done till he had been assured that his shield was safe, and that the victory was with his countrymen. It was a disputed point by whose hand he fell : among others, the honour was assigned to Gryllus, the son of Xenophon. He was buried where he died, and his tomb was surmounted by a column, on which a shield was suspended, emblazoned with the device of a dragon--symbolical (says Pausanias) of his descent from the blood of the Spartoi, the children of the dragon's teeth. (Xen. Hell. vii. 5 ; Isocr. Ep. ad Arch. § 5; Diod. xv. 82-87; Plut. Ages. 34, 35, Apoph. 24; Paus. viii. 11, ix. 15 ; Just. vi. 7, 8; Cic. ad Fam. v. 12, de Fin. ii. 30 ; Suid. s. v. Epaminondas; C. Nep. Epam. 9; Polyb. iv. 33.) The circumstances of ancient Greece supplied little or no scope for any but the narrowest patriotism, and this evil is perhaps never more apparent than when we think of it in connexion with the noble mind of one like Epaminondas. We do indeed find him rising above it, as, for instance, in his preservation of Orchomenus; but this was in spite of the system under which he lived, and which, while it checked throughout the full expansion of his character, sometimes (as in his vindication of the outrage at Tegea) seduced him into positive injustice. At the best, amidst all our admiration of his genius and his many splendid qualities, we cannot forget that they were directed, after all, to the one petty object of the aggrandizement of Thebes. In the ordinary characters of Grecian history we look for no more than this ;--it comes before us painfully in the case of Epaminondas. (Ael. V. H. vii. 14; Cic. de Orat. iii. 34, de Fin. ii. 19, Brut. 13, Tusc. Disp,. i. 2; Polyb. vi. 43, ix. 8, xxxii. 8, Fragm. Hist. 15; C. Nep. Epam. 10; Aesch. de Fals. Leg.)

This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited Oct 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

Epaminondas (c.418-362 BC)

  Born in Thebes, Epaminondas is known as a great tactic, general and statesman.
  He was a very severe person and did not stand any kind of lies, not even in jokes. As a young man he had trained himself in ascetic ways, and had studied music and philosophy according to Pythagoras.
  After the liberation of Thebes from the Spartans, Epaminondas was elected representative at the peace meeting in Sparta. He had no success there, and left the meeting after an argument with the Spartan king Agesilaus.
  As a military leader, Epaminondas invented the ingenious strategy of putting the emphasis of the phalanx to the left, as well as making it attack sideways instead of straight on, which made the enemy's left held shields weak. He defeated the Spartans at Leuctra, which gave Thebes a leading position among the Greek city-states. He also liberated Messenia from the Spartans, and founded Megalopolis as capital of the Arcadian Laegue. These victories were to end Spartas leading role.
  On his return to Thebes, Epaminondas was charged and sentenced to death for having kept his high office for much longer than the given month. The sentence was soon revoked though, after Epamindondas had held a speech about how he had saved Thebes. Epaminondas died during a campaign against the Spartan League, hit by a spear. Dying he asked the Thebans to ask for peace with the enemies, which happened, forever crushing Thebes' aspirations of becoming the leading state of Greece.

This text is cited Sept 2003 from the In2Greece URL below.


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