THE HUMILIATION OF SPARTA
 THEBES was free! But would she stay free? Sparta was against her,—Sparta, the lord of Greece. Could a single city,
however liberty-loving and devoted its people, maintain itself against that engine of war which had humbled
mighty Athens and now lorded it over the world of Greece? This is the question we have to answer; how in a
brief space the dominion of Sparta was lost, and Thebes, so long insignificant and almost despised, rose to
take the foremost place in Greece.
Two men did this work. As seven men had restored Thebes to freedom, two men lifted her almost into empire. One
of these was Pelopidas, the leading spirit of the seven. The other was Epaminondas, whose name was simply
mentioned in the tale of the patriotic seven, yet who in the coming years was to prove himself one of the
greatest men Greece ever produced.
Pelopidas belonged to one of the richest and highest families of Thebes. He was one of the youngest of the
exiles, yet a man of earnest patriotism and unbounded daring. It was his ardent spirit that gave life to the
conspiracy, and his boldness and enterprise that led it forward to success. And it was the death of Leontiades
by his hand that freed Thebes.
 Epaminondas was a man of different character and position. Though of ancient and honorable family, he was poor,
while Pelopidas was very rich; middle-aged, while Pelopidas was young; quiet, patient, and thoughtful, while
Pelopidas was bold, active, and energetic. In the wars that followed he was the brain, while Pelopidas was the
right hand, of Thebes. Epaminondas had been an earnest student of philosophy and music, and was an adept in
gymnastic training. He was a listener, not a talker, yet no Theban equaled him in eloquence in time when speech
was needful. He loved knowledge, yet he cared little for power, and nothing for money, and he remained
contentedly poor till the end of his days, not leaving enough wealth to pay his funeral expenses. He did not
love bloodshed, even to gain liberty. He had objected to the conspiracy, since freedom was to be gained through
murder. Yet this was the man who was to save Thebes and degrade her great enemy, Sparta.
Like Socrates and Alcibiades, these two men were the warmest friends. Their friendship, like that of the two
great Athenians, had been cemented in battle. Standing side by side as hoplites (or heavy armed soldiers), on
an embattled field, Pelopidas had fallen wounded, and Epaminondas had saved his life at the greatest danger to
himself, receiving several wounds while bearing his helpless friend to a place of safety. To the end of their
lives they continued intimate friends, each recognizing the peculiar powers of the other, and the two working
like one man for Theban independence.
 Epaminondas proved himself a thinker of the highest military genius, Pelopidas a leader of the greatest
military vigor. The work of the latter was largely performed with the Sacred Band, a warlike association of
three hundred youthful Thebans, sworn to defend the citadel until death, bound by bonds of warm friendship, and
trained into the highest military efficiency. Pelopidas was the captain of this noble band, which was never
overcome until the fatal battle of Chæronéa, and then only by death, the Three Hundred lying dead in their
ranks as they had stood.
For the events with which we have now to deal we must leap over seven years from the freeing of Thebes. It will
suffice to say that for two years of that time Sparta fought fiercely against that city, but could not bring it
under subjection again. Then wars arose elsewhere and drew her armies away. Thebes now took the opportunity to
extend her power over the other cities of Botia, and of one of these cities there is something of interest to
We have told in an earlier tale how Sparta and Thebes captured Platæa and swept it from the face of the earth.
Recently Sparta had rebuilt the city, recalled its exiled citizens, and placed it as a Spartan outpost against
Thebes. But now, when the armies of Sparta had withdrawn, the Thebans deemed it a good opportunity to conquer
it again. One day, when the Platæan men were at work in their fields, and unbroken peace prevailed, a Theban
force suddenly took the city by surprise, and forced the Platæans to surrender at discretion. Poor Platæa
 was again levelled with the ground, her people were once more sent into exile, and her soil was added to that
of Thebes. It may be well to say here that most of the Grecian cities consisted of the walled town and
sufficient surrounding land to raise food for the inhabitants within, and that the farmers went out each
morning to cultivate their fields, and returned each night within the shelter of their walls. It was this habit
that gave Thebes its treacherous opportunity.
During the seven years mentioned we hear nothing of Epaminondas, yet we know that he made himself felt within
the walls of Thebes; for when, in 371 B.C., the cities of Greece, satisfied that it was high time to stop
cutting each other's throats, held a congress at Sparta to conclude peace, we find him there as the
representative of Thebes.
The terms of peace demanded by Athens, and agreed to by most of the delegates, were that each city, small or
large, should possess autonomy, or self-government. Sparta and Athens were to become mutual guarantees,
dividing the headship of Greece between them. As for Thebes and her claim to the headship of Botia, her demand
was set aside.
This conclusion reached, the cities one after another took oath to keep the terms of peace, each city swearing
for itself except Sparta, which took the oath for itself and its allies. When it came to the turn of Thebes
there was a break in this love-feast. Sparta had sworn for all the cities of Laconia; Epaminondas, as the
representative of Thebes, insisted on swearing not for Thebes alone, but for
 Thebes as president of all Botia. He made a vigorous speech, asking why Sparta was granted rights from which
other leading cities were debarred.
This was a new question. No Greek had ever asked it openly before. To Sparta it seemed the extreme of insolence
and insult. What daring stranger was this who presumed to question her right to absolute control of Laconia? No
speech was made in her defence. Spartans never made speeches. They prided themselves on their few words and
quick deeds,—laconic utterances, as they have since been called. The Spartan king sprang
indignantly from his seat.
"Speak plainly," he scornfully demanded. "Will you, or will you not, leave to each of the Botian cities its
"Will you leave each of the Laconian towns its separate autonomy?" demanded Epaminondas.
Not another word was said. Agesilaus, the Spartan king, who was also president of the congress, caused the name
of Thebes to be stricken from the roll, and proclaimed that city to be excluded from the treaty of peace.
It was a bold move on the part of Epaminondas, for it meant war with all the power of Sparta, relieved of all
other enemies by the peace. Sparta had conquered and humbled Athens. It had conquered many other cities,
forcing some of them to throw down their walls and go back again to their old state of villages. What upstart
was this that dared defy its wrath and power? Thebes could hope
 for no allies, and seemed feeble against Spartan strength. How dared, then, this insolent delegate to fling
defiance in the teeth of the lord of Greece?
Fortunately Thebes needed no allies. It had two men of warlike genius, Epaminondas and Pelopidas. These were to
prove in themselves worth a host of allies. The citizens were with them. Great as was the danger, the Thebans
sustained Epaminondas in his bold action, and made him general of their army. He at once marched to occupy a
pass by which it was expected the Spartans would come. Sparta at that moment had a strong army under
Cleombrotus, one of its two kings, in Phocis, on the frontier of Botia. This was at once ordered to march
against defiant Thebes.
Cleombrotus lost no time, and with a military skill which Spartans rarely showed he evaded the pass which
Epaminondas held, followed a narrow mountain-track, captured Creusis, the port of Thebes, with twelve war-ships
in the harbor, and then marched to a place called Leuctra, within an easy march of Thebes, yet which left open
communication with Sparta by sea, by means of the captured port.
The Thebans had been outgeneralled, and were dismayed by the result. The Spartans and their king were full of
confidence and joy. All the eloquence of Epaminondas and the boldness of Pelopidas were needed to keep the
courage of their countrymen alive and induce them to march against their foes. And it was with much more of
despair than of hope that they took up at length a position on the hilly ground opposite the Spartan camp.
 The two armies were not long in coming to blows. The Spartans and their allies much exceeded the Thebans in
numbers. But Epaminondas prepared to make the most of his small force by drawing it up in a new array, never
before seen in Greece.
Instead of forming the narrow line of battle always before the rule in Greek armies, he placed in front of his
left wing Pelopidas and the Sacred Band, and behind them arranged a mass of men fifty shields deep, a
prodigious depth for a Grecian host. The centre and right were drawn up in the usual thin lines, but were kept
back on the defensive, so that the deep column might join battle first.
Thus arrayed, the army of Thebes marched to meet its foe, in the valley between the two declivities on which
the hostile camps were placed. The cavalry met first, and the Theban horsemen soon put the Spartan troop to
flight. Then the footmen came together with a terrible shock. Pelopidas and his Sacred Band, and behind them
the weight of the fifty shields, proved more than the Spartans, with all their courage and discipline, could
endure. Both sides fought bravely, hand to hand; but soon Cleombrotus fell, mortally hurt, and was with
difficulty carried off alive. Around him fell others of the Spartan leaders. The resistance was obstinate, the
slaughter terrible; but at last the Spartan right wing, overborne by the heavy Theban mass and utterly beaten,
was driven back to its camp on the hill-side above. Meanwhile the left wing, made up of allies, did little
fighting, and quickly followed the Spartans back to the camp.
 It was a crushing defeat. Of seven hundred Spartans who had marched in confidence from the camp, only three
hundred returned thither in dismay. A thousand and more Lacedæmonians besides were left dead upon the field.
Not since the day of Thermopylæ had Sparta lost a king in battle. The loss of the Theban army was not more than
three hundred men. Only twenty days had elapsed since Epaminondas left Sparta, spurned by the scorn of one of
her kings; and now he stood victor over Sparta at Leuctra, with her second king dead in his camp of refuge. It
is not surprising that to Greece, which had felt sure of the speedy overthrow of Thebes, these tidings came
like a thunderbolt. Sparta on land had been thought irresistible. But here on equal ground, and with nearly
double force, she had been beaten by insignificant Thebes.
We must hasten to the end of this campaign. Sparta, wrought to desperation by her defeat, sent all the men she
could spare in reinforcement. Thebes, too, sought allies, and found a powerful one in Jason of Pheræ, a city of
Thessaly. The Theban leaders, flushed with victory, were eager to attack the enemy in his camp, but Jason gave
them wiser advice.
"Be content," he said, "with the great victory you have gained. Do not risk its loss by attacking the
Lacedæmonians driven to despair in their camp. You yourselves were in despair a few days ago. Remember that the
gods take pleasure in bringing about sudden changes of fortune."
This advice taken, Jason offered the enemy the opportunity to retreat in safety from their
danger-  ous position. This they gladly accepted, and marched in haste away. On their journey home they met a second
army coming to their relief. This was no longer needed, and the whole baffled force returned home.
The military prestige held by Sparta met with a serious blow from this signal defeat. The prestige of Thebes
suddenly rose into supremacy, and her control of Botia became complete. But the humiliation of Sparta was not
yet near its end. Epaminondas was not the man to do things by halves. In November of 370 B.C. he marched an
army into Arcadia (a country adjoining Laconia on the north), probably the largest hostile force that had ever
been seen in the Peloponnesus. With its Arcadian and other allies it amounted to forty thousand, or, as some
say, to seventy thousand, men, and among these the Thebans formed a body of splendidly drilled and disciplined
troops, not surpassed by those of Sparta herself. The enthusiasm arising from victory, the ardor of Pelopidas,
and the military genius of Epaminondas had made a wonderful change in the hoplites of Thebes in a year's time.
And now a new event in the history of the Spartan commonwealth was seen. For centuries the Spartans had done
their fighting abroad, marching at will through all parts of Greece. They were now obliged to fight on their
own soil, in defence of their own hearths and homes. Dividing his army into four portions, Epaminondas marched
into rock-bounded Laconia by four passes.
The Arcadians had often felt the hard hand of
 their warlike neighbors. Only a short time before one of their principal cities, Mantinea, had been robbed of
its walls and converted into open villages. Since the battle of Leuctra the villagers had rebuilt their walls
and defied a Spartan army. Now the Arcadians proved even more daring than the Thebans. They met a Spartan force
and annihilated it.
Into the country of Laconia pushed the invaders. The city of Sellasia was taken and burned. The river Eurotas
was forded. Sparta lay before Epaminondas and his men.
It lay before them without a wall or tower. Through its whole history no foreign army had come so near it. It
trusted for defence not to walls, but to Spartan hearts and hands. Yet now consternation reigned. Sparta the
inviolate, Sparta the unassailable, was in imminent peril of suffering the same fate it had often meted out
freely to its foes.
But the Spartans had not been idle. Allies had sent aid in all haste to the city. Even six thousand of the
Helots were armed as hoplites, though to see such a body of their slaves in heavy armor alarmed the Spartans
almost as much as to behold their foes so near at hand. In fact, many of the Helots and country people joined
the Theban army, while others refused to come to the aid of the imperilled city.
Epaminondas marched on until he was in sight of the city. He did not attempt to storm it. Though without
walls, Sparta had strong natural defences, and heaps of earth and stones had been hastily thrown up on the
most open roads. A strong army had been gathered. The Spartans would fight to
 death for their homes. To attack them in their stronghold might be to lose all that had been gained. Repulse
here would be ruin. Content with having faced the lion in his den, Epaminondas turned and marched down the
Eurotas, his army wasting, plundering, and burning as it went, while the Spartans, though in an agony of shame
and wounded honor, were held back by their king from the peril of meeting their enemy in the field.
In the end, his supplies growing scarce, his soldiers loaded with plunder, Epaminondas led his army back to
Arcadia, having accomplished far more than any foe of Sparta had ever done before, and destroyed the warlike
reputation of Sparta throughout Greece.
But the great Theban did not end here. He had two other important objects in view. One was to consolidate the
Arcadians by building them a great central city, to be called Megalopolis (Great City), and inhabited by people
from all parts of the state. This was done, thick and lofty walls, more than five miles and a half in
circumference, being built round the new stronghold.
His other purpose was to restore the country of Messenia. We have already told how this country had been
conquered by the Spartans centuries before, and its people exiled or enslaved. Their descendants were now to
regain their liberty and their homes. A new city, to be named Messenia, was ordered by Epaminondas to be built,
and this, at the request of the Messenians, was erected on Mount Ithome, where the gallant hero Aristomenes had
made his last stand against his country's invaders.
 The city was built, the walls rising to the music of Argeian and Botian flutes. The best architects and masons
of Greece were invited to lay out the plans of streets and houses and of the sacred edifices. The walls were
made so strong and solid that they became the admiration of after-ages. The surrounding people, who had been
slaves of Sparta, were made freemen and citizens of the reorganized state. A wide area of land was taken from
Laconia and given to the new communities which Epaminondas had formed. Then, in triumph, he marched back to
Thebes, having utterly destroyed the power and prestige of Sparta in Greece.
Reaching home, he was put on trial by certain enemies. He had broken the law by keeping command of the army
four months beyond the allotted time. He appealed to the people, with what result we can readily understand. He
was acquitted by acclamation, and he and Pelopidas were immediately re-elected Botarchs (or generals) for the
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