418–362 BC

Epaminondas was a Theban general and statesman, born about 418 B.C. of a noble but impoverished family. For his education he was chiefly indebted to Lysis of Tarentum, a Pythagorean exile who had found refuge with his father Polymnis. He first comes into notice in the attack upon Mantinea in 385, when he fought on the Spartan side and saved the life of his future colleague Pelopidas. In his youth Epaminondas took little part in public affairs; he held aloof from the political assassinations which preceded the Theban insurrection of 379. But in the following campaigns against Sparta he rendered good service in organizing the Theban defence.

In 371 he represented Thebes at the congress in Sparta, and by his refusal to surrender the Boeotian cities under Theban control prevented the conclusion of a general peace. In the ensuing campaign he commanded the Boeotian army which met the Peloponnesian levy at Leuctra, and by a brilliant victory on this site, due mainly to his daring innovations in the tactics of the heavy infantry, established at once the predominance of Thebes among the land-powers of Greece and his own fame as the greatest and most original of Greek generals. At the instigation of the Peloponnesian states which armed against Sparta in consequence of this battle, Epaminondas in 370 led a large host into Laconia; though unable to capture Sparta he ravaged its territory and dealt a lasting blow at Sparta's predominance in Peloponnesus by liberating the Messenians and rebuilding their capital at Messene. Accused on his return to Thebes of having exceeded the term of his command, he made good his defence and was re-elected boeotarch.

In 369 he forced the Isthmus lines and secured Sicyon for Thebes, but gained no considerable successes. In the following year he served as a common soldier in Thessaly, and upon being reinstated in command contrived the safe retreat of the Theban army from a difficult position. Returning to Thessaly next year at the head of an army he procured the liberation of Pelopidas from the tyrant Alexander of Pherae without striking a blow. In his third expedition (366) to Peloponnesus, Epaminondas again eluded the Isthmus garrison and won over the Achaeans to the Theban alliance. Turning his attention to the growing maritime power of Athens, Epaminondas next equipped a fleet of 100 triremes, and during a cruise to the Propontis detached several states from the Athenian confederacy. When subsequent complications threatened the position of Thebes in Peloponnesus he again mustered a large army in order to crush the newly formed Spartan league (362). After some masterly operations between Sparta and Mantinea, by which he nearly captured both these towns, he engaged in a decisive battle on the latter site, and by his vigorous shock tactics gained a complete victory over his opponents. Epaminondas himself received a severe wound during the combat, and died soon after the issue was decided.

His title to fame rests mainly on his brilliant qualities both as a strategist and as a tactician; his influence on military art in Greece was of the greatest. For the purity and uprightness of his character he likewise stood in high repute; his culture and eloquence equalled the highest Attic standard. In politics his chief achievement was the final overthrow of Sparta's predominance in the Peloponnese; as a constructive statesman he displayed no special talent, and the lofty pan-Hellenic ambitions which are imputed to him at any rate never found a practical expression.

—Excerpted from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Key events during the life of Epaminondas:

418 BC
Born in Thebes.
385 BC
Saved the life of Pelopidas during an attack on Mantinea.
382 BC
Due to treachery, Spartans took over the garrison at Thebes.
379 BC
Theban rebels toss out Spartan garrison and liberate the city.
  With Pelopidas, drove Sparta out of most of Boeotia, and made Thebes predominant.
371 BC
Refused to surrender control of Boeotian cities.
371 BC
Defeated Sparta at the Battle of Leuctra.
370 BC
Led a large force into Laconia, and liberated Messenians, founded Megalopolis.
366 BC
Let another expedition into the Peloponnese.
362 BC
Killed at the battle of Mantinea.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
One Hero of Thebes  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Theban Friends  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Battle of Leuctra  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Battle of Mantinea  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Epaminondas and Pelopidas  in  Famous Men of Greece  by  John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland
How Epaminondas Made Thebes Free  in  Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men  by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Pelopidas and Epaminondas in  Stories from Greek History  by  Ethelwyn Lemon
Pelopidas and Epaminondas  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Battle of Leuctra  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Death of Epaminondas  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Humiliation of Sparta  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris
The Theban Pair  in  Stories of the Ancient Greeks  by  Charles D. Shaw
When Thebes Was in Power  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan

Image Links

Epaminondas rescues Pelopidas, Vogel
 in Famous Men of Greece

Epaminondas Saves the Life of Pelopidas
 in Greatest Nations - Greece

Pelopidas and Epimanondas
 in Stories from Greek History

Epaminonas defending Pelopidas
 in Plutarch's Lives W. H. Weston

Short Biography
Pelopidas Helped to liberate Thebes. Leader of the "Sacred Band" of Theban Warriors.
Agesilaus Leader of Sparta after the Peloponnesian War. Campaigned in Asia Minor and warred with Thebes.
Cleombrotus Spartan King who was killed at the battle of Leuctra.
Philip of Macedonia Used statesmanship as well as military force to bring Greece under sway of Macedonia.