THE BATTLE OF LEUCTRA
 THEBES had always been a dull, unambitious, little town, but
now her ambition awoke. She was not content only to be
free, she wished to become the most important town in
And there was one of her citizens who was so great a
soldier and so wise a statesman, that he was able to do
for Thebes more than she dreamed. Epaminondas not only
made Thebes the chief city in Bœotia, but several
years later, he conquered the Spartans, and so made her
the most important town in Greece.
Pelopidas, too, fought for the glory of his country.
He became the captain of a band of three hundred young
Thebans, who had sworn to defend their city with their
These three hundred soldiers, more strictly trained
than other youths, were named the Sacred Band, because
each member was a friend to the other. As they had
sworn to defend their city so they had promised to
stand by one another unto death.
After many victories, of which you will read, the
Sacred Band fell on the battle-field. Even their
conqueror, as he looked upon them shed tears, saying,
"Perish any man who suspects that these men either did
or suffered anything that was base!"
For two years after Thebes won back her freedom, Sparta
never ceased to try to wrench it from her. But at the
end of two years she was forced to leave the Thebans
alone, for all her soldiers were needed to fight
against the Athenians, who had once more declared war
against their ancient foe.
 While the Spartans and the Athenians waged war one
against the other Epaminondas was not idle, for he
subdued the Bœotian cities which had dared to help
Sparta while Thebes was in her power.
Pelopidas, too, won a great victory in 375 B.C. against
the Spartans at Orchomenus. He had with him only the
Sacred Band and a small company of cavalry when he
found himself unawares facing a large Spartan army.
"We are fallen into the midst of the enemy," cried one
of the Band. "Why so, more than they into the midst of
us?" said Pelopidas.
The rare confidence of their captain inspired the Band
to fight even more valiantly than usual, and to win a
great victory over the large army of the Spartans.
This victory encouraged the Thebans so much that in the
following year they succeeded in banishing the Spartans
Thebes was now at the head of the Bœotian Confederacy,
just as Sparta was ruler of the Laconian Confederacy.
Four years later, in 371 B.C., the Greek States met to
arrange terms of peace among themselves.
It was agreed that each city should be treated as
independent. But when Agesilaus, king of Sparta, rose
to take the oath, he took it not alone for his own
city, but for the cities that belonged to her allies as
Epaminondas sprang to his feet to remonstrate, saying
that if Agesilaus was allowed to take the oath for the
allied cities, he too must be permitted to take it for
all the cities of Bœotia.
The Spartan king, angry with the bold demand of the
Theban, taunted him with taking away the liberty of the
"And what do you do with the liberty of the cities of
Laconia?" retorted Epaminondas.
Agesilaus was astonished at what he considered the
insolence of the Theban. In a rage he snatched up the
 treaty of peace, struck out the name of Thebes, crying
that if the Thebans wished war they should have it.
The other cities signed the treaty, so Sparta and
Thebes were left to settle their quarrel alone.
Epaminondas hastened back to Thebes, where he was at
once chosen general of the Theban army.
Without delay he set out to secure a pass by which he
thought the Spartans would attempt to enter Bœotia.
But the Spartans, led by Cleombrotus, one of their
kings, did not try to enter by the pass. Finding a
narrow mountain track, they succeeded in eluding
Epaminondas, and marching within eight miles of Thebes.
Here, on the plain of Leuctra, the Spartans encamped in
Near to Leuctra were the tombs of two Bœotian maidens.
Many years ago they had slain themselves, because of
the cruelty with which the Spartans had treated them.
An old prophecy said that some day the Spartans would
be defeated at the tombs of the maidens. Epaminondas,
although he did not greatly believe in soothsayers,
encouraged his captains to fight by reminding them of
this old saying.
Before the battle Pelopidas had a strange dream. In
his dream he saw the two maidens of Leuctra alive and
wandering about the plain. Their father, too, was
there, and Pelopidas heard him say that if the Thebans
wished for victory, they must sacrifice to the gods a
maiden with chestnut hair.
When he awoke, Pelopidas told his dream to the other
captains, and as they were wondering what to do, a colt
of a bright chestnut colour ran through the camp.
"So," cried a soothsayer, "the sacrifice is come.
Expect no other, but use that which the gods have
Then the colt was solemnly offered in sacrifice at the
tombs of the maidens. And the army was content, for
the gods, they were sure, would give them the victory.
Until now a Greek army had always been drawn out in a
 long, narrow line. But Epaminondas arranged his men in
a new way. His left wing was only a few men wide, but
it was fifty men deep, which made it unusually strong.
Pelopidas with his Sacred Band was placed in front of
the heavy left wing, while the rest of the army was
arranged as usual.
The Spartan cavalry attacked the Theban horse, but it
was soon driven from the field. Cleombrotus was with
his right wing and he now led it against the strong
left wing of the enemy.
Bravely as the Spartans fought, they could not
withstand the onslaught of the left wing, led by the
Cleombrotus fell and was carried from the field,
wounded to death. The Spartans still struggled
bravely, although their king was slain. But when
Epaminondas called to his men, "Give me a step more and
the day is ours," the Thebans spurred on to one more
effort, broke the Spartan line and put it to flight.
The Thebans had won the day, with but little loss of
life, while four hundred Spartans had been slain.
Cleombrotus was the first Spartan king who had fallen
on a battlefield since the fatal day of Thermopylæ.
The terrible news of the defeat of Leuctra was sent to
Sparta, but the citizens were too well disciplined to
show the dismay which they must have felt.
They had been beaten by the inhabitants of the dull
little town of Thebes, yet no sound of grief was heard
in their streets, nor was any sign of mourning to be
It was on a festive day that the fateful tidings
reached the city, and sacrifices were offered and games
held as though nothing had happened to interrupt the
Those whose friends had fled looked sullen and ashamed,
for it was counted a disgrace to leave a lost
battlefield alive. Those whose friends had fought to
the death were to be seen in the streets the following
day, with faces that were calm and content. Of such
stern stuff were the Spartans made.