Posted by Admin on November 27 2012 05:56:47



IpaminondasEpaminondas, one of the greatest and noblest characters recorded in ancient history, was a native of Thebes, in Boeotia. Though born and reared in poverty, he was educated by the best masters in Greece. From one of them, Lysis, the Pythagorean, he probably acquired that elevation of mind and austerity of morals which characterized him throughout his career. He was never married. His indifference to riches rendered him inaccessible to corruption of every kind and though he was susceptible to glory, yet, like a true philosopher, he made the consciousness of rectitude, and not fame, the great object of his life. To the qualities of an exalted mind he added a serene and amiable disposition, wisdom and sincerity. By the general agreement of writers, he exhibited beyond almost any ancient personality the appearance of a perfect character.


The Spartans, Having obtained possession of Thebes in 383 B.C., expelled Pelopidas, a friend of Epaminondas, for his attachment to liberty. But Epaminondas, being considered as of no political weight, was permitted to remain. Pelopidas and other exiles, four years later, by bold stratagem entered and mastered the city, amid much bloodshed. 'When his friends had succeeded, Epaminondas, abhorring civil strife, energetically interfered to stop the slaughter of the vanquished. The two friends now formed the design of arousing in their Theban countrymen an enduring sense of the benefit of virtue and liberty, exhorting them to frugality in living, and contempt of pleasure.


As one of the delegates to a convention of the Grecian States, held at Sparta, to treat of a general peace, Epaminondas showed such independence of conduct as to exasperate the Spartan king, Agesilaus. The Thebans were therefore excluded from the peace, and war was declared against them. Twenty days afterwards the Thebans defeated the Spartans with great slaughter on the battle-field of Leuctra. The Thebans, now formidable, were joined by allies, formerly much oppressed by Sparta, and the Peloponnesus was invaded, but without any advantage, as Epaminondas was too prudent to hazard an assault on the city of Sparta. The next year, however, he again marched into the Peloponnesus, laying waste the country and taking some towns, but was thwarted in capturing Corinth. The change of public favor caused him upon his return to be deprived of his command, and reduced to a private condition. But when an expedition to Pherre was saved from utter destruction by his ability, the people of Thebes restored him to supreme command.


Epaminondas, taking advantage of new commotions in the Peloponnesus, marched thither with a powerful army. The combined forces of the allies, Spartans, Athenians, Arcadians, etc., commanded by King Agesilaus, were attacked by the Thebans at Mantinea, and completely routed. Unhappily, Epaminondas at the close received a mortal wound. When he was told that his death would immediately follow the extraction of the javelin, he would not allow this to be done until he had been assured that his shield was safe, and that the victory was with his countrymen. Seeing his friends' tears, he said, cheerfully, This day is not the end of my life but the beginning of my happiness and completion of my glory. As they mourned for his death, unmarried and childless he said, "Leuctra and Mantinea are children enough to keep my name alive." Then while others faltered and evaded the sad work of extracting the dart, he himself drew it forth and expired.


The saddened Thebans buried him where he had died, and raised on the spot a column, bearing the figure of a dragon, in tohn of his lineage from one of the followers of Cadmus. They never prospered after the grand fifteen years of the influence of their great Pythagorean soldier. With the death of this true hero, the power of Thebes declined as rapidly as it had formerly risen.




The field of Leuctra is. well marked to the present day by a tumulus on the summit of the ridge which borders the southern side of tile valley of Thespire. This isolated ridge was the position of Cleombrotus, the Spartan. The height, on which the Thebans were encamped, was evidently a spur of the ridge of hills forming the southern wall of the valley of the Kanavari river, which it separates from the plain of Leuctra. This plain does not exceed a mile in width from north to sonth, except at tile eastern end, where there occurs a gap between the ridge of Leuctra and the foot of the downs, On the summit of which stands the city of Thebes. Here, in earlier times Pausanias had finally proved the superiority of Hellenic to Persian anus. From east to west it runs nearly five miles, and is an admirably chosen spot for a pitched battle, since the face of the country is perfectly open without any natural obstructions to impede the shock of combatants, and the hills are wide sheep-walks to the top, of no great altitude,that of Leuctra more cspecially and perfectly adapted to military movements, though perhaps scarcely accessible to charging cavalry.


Epaminondas depended much on the superiority of his cavalry; but he neglected no precautions to ensure the victory against his formidable opponent. Cleombrotus July 20, B. C. 371 descended into the plain with his cavalry in front of his heavy.armed infantry, who were drawn up in line, each company having three shields in rank and twelve in file, he himself commanding the right wing, consisting of Spartans. Perceiving this disposition, and knowing, from the immovable valor of the Spartans, that a general attack along the front would probably cause the defeat of his numerically inferior force, Epaminondas formed his men on an entirely new principle. Selecting his best warriors and especially his best file-leaders, he drew them to extreme left, where he arranged them, considerably in advance of the centre, and this centre itself considerably in advance of the right, thus fonning in echelon-under his own command, no less than fifty shields in depth, intending by this extraordinary weight of his column to cut in two the Spartan right, and break it up. His own right and centre were drawn up in much shallower order, probably not exceeding the usual depth of eight shields, for it was his object, if possible, to induce the enemy to extend their own left unduly. Being actually inferior in numbers, while he had reduced his general strength yet farther by the extraordinary concentration of his masses all the left, he was obliged to make his right shallow, even to feebleness, in order to keep up the semblance of an even front. It appears, from Plutarch's statement, that Epaminondas had strengthened his centre, so as in some degree to compensate for its numerical weakness, by the three hundred known as the Sacred Band, who were never beaten until they fell to a man, and lay as they fell.


" With their back to tile field and their feet to the roe, And leaving in battle no blot on their name,Looked proudly to heaven froUl the death-bed or fame."


But that day of disaster had not yet arrived; and in this furious hand to hand encounter, they, with their gallant leader, did their duty well yet, but for the new and strange formation in which they fought, they must almost to a cetainty have suffered a terrible defeat. From that day forth, this oblique method was lhe constant array and order of the Thebans. It was adopted by Philip of Macedon, and became the favorite Manceuver of his son, Alexander the Great. No sooner were the two armies in the plain, the Thebans with their left advanced so as almost to feel the enemy's right, while their own right was still far retired from tile Spartan left  the cavalry trumpets sounded, and the horse on both sides encountered between the main bodies in full career. The Theban cavalry were much superior and quickly scattered the Spartan horse, who, falling back into the lines of their own heavy foot, threw them somewhat into disorder before the encounter of the main hattle. This must have occurred toward the Theban right, where the interval was the widest between the opposing armies, and the space between the hills the narrowest. For since the signal for the onset of the infantry seems to have been given as soon as the cavalry were no longer interposed, if the Spartan right, which first came into contact with the Beoeotians, had been much shaken, -as they must have been, had their broken horse disordered them in that quarter,-they could never have made such a resistance as they did to the terrible onset of Epaminondas, with his column of fifty shields. The cavalry on both sides, therefore, of which we hear no more during the action, must have been swept away, the Spartans in full flight, and the Thebans in inconsiderate pursuit, down the plain toward Thespire eastward.


So soon as the trumpets sounded, the Spartans led forth at charging pace along the whole front; their left hurrying their advance, in order to close with the Theban right, which rather fell back than advanced, though still preserving their connection with the centre, which met the Spartan right with leveled pikes, at a full run. There the battle raged fiercely, hand to hand, and was for a long time undecided, since there Epaminondas met the chosen Spartans, with Cleombrotus, their king, who would not yield a step, but sustained the shock of his deep column with their linked shields, until their spears were broken, and it came to the closest single combat with their short stabbing swords. In the mean while, their left, which had been disordered somewhat by its own flying horse, endeavored to extend still farther to the left, in order to outflank and surround the The ball right, with which it was not yet fairly engaged. All manceuvering with so heavy and unwieldy a body as the phalanx, in the face of an enemy, was difficult; and if attacked in the act of deploying or changing its front, that array, at other times so formidable, was the most defenceless and helpless of masses. Precisely at such a moment, and in the middle of such a movement, Pidas rusbed headlong with his three hundred of the Sacred Band, serried in the closest combination, upon their centre, giving them neither time to extend as they desired, nor to contract their files in order to meet his shock, so that they began to waver and fall into confusion.


By this time, however, the extraordinary depth, and can. sequent weight and impetus of the terrible column of Epaminondas began to tell, the pressure of the rearmost files bearing the foremost bodily onward, and if the front men fell, others succeeded at once to their places. And now Cleomhrotus had fallen, and all the adjutauts; and four hundred of the seven hundred Spartans. As the head of the assailing column met less resistance, it fell in with a more fiery impetus, and broke the Spartan right into fragments, out. flanking it, moreover, and thereby turning the right of the whole array. But no sooner did the Spartan centre, already shaken, and their left, which had scarcely felt the enemy, see the defeat of their right wing, than they turned also; and the forces opposed to them assuming the offensive, gave them no time to rally. The confusion and rout became general along the whole front. The loss of the Spartans was prodigious, considering that there was no long flight or fierce pursuit. Diodoms states the loss of the Spartans at four thousand, and that of the Thebans about three hundred; but these numbers cannot be exactly relied all. At all events it was the severest defeat ever as yet inflicted by one Hellenic nation on another. Sparta never again recovered from the moral consequences of that overwhelming defeat, or recovered its station among the Hellenic nations, although it struggled stoutly for pre-eminence, and long maintained its independence.-H. W. HERBERT.