THE DEATH OF EPAMINONDAS
 THEBES was now the most powerful city in Greece. But
Epaminondas was not yet content. He wished to invade
In November 370 B.C. he marched with his army into
Arcadia, which lay to the north of Laconia. Here he
was joined by all those who wished to throw off the
Spartan yoke. His army soon numbered forty thousand,
some even say it was seventy thousand strong.
Sparta could hardly believe that any one had dared to
invade her territory. She was used to fighting in
other states of Greece or in other countries, but it
would be a new experience if she was forced to fight
for her own homes. Yet there was Epaminondas and his
army encamped within sight of the city.
The Spartan women had never before seen the smoke of an
enemy's fire camp, and they gave way to despair, in
spite of their stern training in self-control.
But the Theban general was too wise to attack the city.
He knew that the Spartans had gathered together a large
army, and that they would fight to the death for their
homes. So, satisfied that he had encamped in sight of
Sparta, he turned away, destroying the land through
which he passed. The Spartans were eager to follow and
fight with the enemy who had defied them, but their
king refused to lead them to battle.
Epaminondas was not yet ready to leave Spartan
territory. He led his army to the country of Messenia,
 Spartans had conquered many centuries before, banishing
or making slaves of the people.
The Theban general roused the descendants of these
slaves, and encouraged them to build a new city on
Mount Ithomé, where Aristomenes had made his gallant
stand against the Spartans.
While the first stones of the new city were being laid,
the sound of flutes was heard. When it was finished it
was named Messenia. A large piece of ground which
belonged to Sparta was given by Epaminondas to the
citizens of the new town. Those who had been slaves or
Helots were now free men.
The army then marched back to Thebes, which it reached
four months after the time for which Epaminondas had
been appointed commander.
In spite of all that he had done for his country, his
enemies wished him to be punished, because he had not
laid down his command on the proper day. But he
appealed to the people, and they gladly made him, along
with Pelopidas, general for another year.
When the year had passed, Epaminondas was treated
coldly, not only by his enemies but by the people also,
because he had failed to surprise and take the city of
In Thessaly at this time there was a cruel king named
Alexander. So badly did he treat his subjects, that
they begged the Thebans to come to their help.
Pelopidas was sent to Thessaly to punish Alexander,
unless he promised to treat his people less harshly.
The king was forced to listen to the Theban general,
but he was angry because Pelopidas had dared to
interfere with him and he resolved to punish him.
For some time the king found no opportunity to reach
his enemy, but at length Pelopidas was foolish enough
to go through Thessaly with only a few followers.
Alexander was overjoyed to have the general in his
 power, and he at once sent a band of men to capture him
and throw him into prison.
But the Thebans were very angry when they heard that
their favourite general was a prisoner, and they
determined to set him free. So they sent a large army
into Thessaly to rescue Pelopidas.
Epaminondas went with the army as an ordinary soldier,
and you can imagine how he must have longed to be at
its head, so that he might himself deliver his friend.
The Theban generals were not clever, and though they
did all they could to conquer the army that Alexander
sent against them, they soon saw that the battle was
going against them.
Then they showed that if they were not clever they were
wise, for they went to Epaminondas, and begged him to
take command of the army.
But it was too late for even a clever general to rescue
Pelopidas, and all Epaminondas could do was to save the
Theban army from being destroyed.
The Thebans were so grateful to Epaminondas for his
help that they made him general once more, and sent him
back to Thessaly with a larger army that he might save
Alexander knew that he need not hope to conquer the
great Theban general, and a few days after Epaminondas
entered Thessaly, the king set Pelopidas free. He then
asked the Thebans to make peace with him.
Three years later, in 364 B.C., Pelopidas was ordered
to go at the head of an army against his old enemy.
As he was ready to leave Thebes, the sun was eclipsed
and the soothsayers did not hesitate to say that this
was a bad omen. Many of the soldiers were afraid to
march, and Pelopidas was too angry to wait to force
them to go with him, so he set out with only a few men.
When he reached Thessaly he bade all those who hated
the tyrant to join him.
 Thousands who had groaned under the cruelty of the king
flocked to his side, but even then the army of
Alexander was twice as large as his.
The two forces met at a place called Cynoscephalæ,
where a great battle was fought.
Pelopidas led his men well, and himself fought so
bravely that the battle was all but won in spite of the
greater strength of the enemy. Suddenly Pelopidas
caught sight of Alexander, and forgetting everything
save his desire to avenge his imprisonment, he sprang
forward to slay the tyrant. Ere his followers could
reach him, he himself was struck down and killed.
Alexander was defeated and his kingdom was taken from
him. But the Thessalians could not rejoice, because
Pelopidas, to whom they owed their deliverance, had
been slain. They buried him with great pomp on the
field where he had fallen.
Epaminondas was filled with grief at the loss of his
dear friend. He tried to forget his sorrow in serving
In 362 B.C. he fought at Mantinea against the Spartans,
on the field where long before he had saved the life of
Never had Epaminondas fought more bravely than on this
day, leading the Bœotians against the foe "as a
war-galley ploughs through the waves with its beak."
The victory was well-nigh gained, when a Spartan thrust
his pike through the breast of Epaminondas. He fell,
and his men carried him off the field to a little hill,
from which the battle could be seen.
For a short time the great general lay unconscious, but
at length he opened his eyes and asked if his shield
was safe. He was told that it was safe and that the
battle was won.
Then he begged to see his two chief officers. They had
fallen on the field, and when the news was broken to
him, the dying man said,
 "Then you had better make peace."
The head of the spear that had struck the general was
still in the wound. As it was withdrawn he breathed
It was Epaminondas who had made Thebes great. After
his death she slowly slipped back into her old