), 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. Pel. 3
, de Gen. Soc.
8, &c.; Ael. VH 2.43
; Paus. 4.31
; C. Nep. Epam.
1, 2; comp. Fabric. Bibl. Graec.
vol. i. p. 851, 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. Pel. 4
; Xen. Hell. 5.2.1
, &c.; Diod. 15.5
; Paus. 8.8
.) 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. Pel. 5
, de Gen. Soc.
3; Polyaen. 2.2
; Xen. Hell. 5.4.2
, &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. 6.3
. §§ 18-20, 4. §§ 1-15; Diod. 15.33
; Plut. Ages. 27
, Pelop. 20-23, Cam. 19, Reg. et Imp. Apoph.
p. 58, ed. Tauchn., De seips. cit. inv. land. 16, De San. Tuend. Prace.
23; Paus. 8.27
; Polyaen. 2.2
; C. Nep. Epam.
6; Cic. Tusc. Disp.
1.46, de Off.
1.24; Suid. s. v. Ἐπαμινώνδας
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. 6.5.6
, &c.; Paus. 8.27
; Diod. 15.59
; Aristot. Pol. 2.2
, 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. [ARISTOMENES] 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. 6.5.22
, &c., 33-52. 7.1.27; Arist. Polit.
2.9, ed. Bekk.; Plut. Pel. 24
31-34 ; Diod. 15.62
; Paus. 4.26
; Plb. 4.33
; 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. Pel. 25
, De seips. cit. inv. laud. 4, Reg. et Imp. Apoph.
p. 60, ed. Tauchn. ; Paus. 9.14
; Ael. VH 13.42
; C. Nep. Epam.
7, 8.) [PELOPIDAS; MENECLEIDAS.]
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. 7.1
. §§ 15-22; Diod. 15.68
; Paus. 9.15
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. 15.71
; Plut. Pel. 28
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. 15.57
; Paus 9.15; Thirlwall's Greece,
vol. v. pp. 120, 121.)
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. 7.1
. §§ 41-43; Diod. 15.75
.) 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. 7.4
. §§ 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. [ARCHIDAMUS III.] 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 Σπαρτοί
, the children of the dragon's teeth. (Xen. Hell. 7.5
; Isocr. Ep. ad Arch.
§ 5; Diod. 15.82
; Plut. Ages. 34
24; Paus. 8.11
; Just. 6.7
; Cic. Fam. 5.12
, de Fin.
2.30 ; Suid. s. v. Ἐπαμινώνδας
; C. Nep. Epam.
9; Plb. 4.33
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. VH 7.14
; Cic. de Orat. 3.34
, de Fin.
13, Tusc. Disp,.
1.2; Plb. 6.43
, Fragm. Hist.
15; C. Nep. Epam.
10; Aesch. de Fals. Leg.