Boeotian Wars

B.C. 379 to 362
Thebes — versus — Sparta

Theban Rebellion — 379 B.C.     Fall of Sparta — 373-362 B.C.     
Death of Pelopidas and Epaminondas — 364-362 B.C.     

The Boeotian Wars were a series of battles, primarily between Thebes and Sparta which grew out of their long hostility to each other, dating from the time of the Corinthian War. They were notable because they all occurred during the era when Thebes was under the leadership of Epaminondas and Pelopidas, unquestionably the two most capable men who ever assumed the leadership of that city. These wars were fought during a period when, for the first and only time in Greek History, Thebes, the dominant city in the region of Boeotia, became the master of all Greece. The Theban Hegemony began with the career of these to men, and ended with their death in battle, but it was very significant, because during the Boeotian Wars Sparta lost, and never regained, its pre-eminence among Greek cities.

Theban Rebellion : B.C. 379

The Corinthian War of 395-394 BC had sown the seeds of hostility between Sparta and Thebes. In 382 BC the Spartans, with the help of Theban traitors, was able to take over the garrison within the walled town of Thebes, and appointed a puppet government which was finally overthrown in 379 BC by a conspiracy of seven patriots. Pelopidas was one of the seven conspirators who, dressing as women, attacked the leaders of the Spartan dominated government and drove the garrison out of town.

Short Biography
Pelopidas Helped to liberate Thebes. Leader of the "Sacred Band" of Theban Warriors.
Leontiades Head of the Spartan appointed Theban government. Primary target of conspirators.
Charon Theban patriot who hosted the conspirators.

Story Links
Book Links
Valiant Helper  in  Tales of the Greeks: The Children's Plutarch  by  F. J. Gould
Pelopidas  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Seven Conspirators  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Rescue of Thebes  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris

The Fall of Sparta : B.C. 373-362

Having destroyed Sparta's influence within Thebes, Pelopidas along with his friend Epaminondas, set about reforming the army. The two heroes worked to bring most cities within Boeotia into an alliance with Thebes, but this was strongly opposed by Sparta, whose policy was to break up alliances between cities of which it was not a part. Sparta went so far as to rebuild and repopulate the Boeotian city of Plataea and put it under the command of leaders sympathetic with Sparta but it was quickly retaken by Thebes.

Finally only one city in Boeotia was still in an alliance with Sparta. Thebes attacked it but was repelled, and unexpectedly met a Spartan garrison on its way back to Tegyra. Although the Thebans were outnumbered, they routed the Spartans. This victory gave them great confidence, and in their dealings with Sparta over the next year they refused to back down from their insistence on maintaining the Boeotian League.

Sparta finally marched on the Thebans and met them on the field of Leuctra. Again, the Spartan forces outnumbered the Thebans, but due to the brilliant generalship of Epaminondas, the Thebans dealt the Spartans a crushing defeat, killing over 1000 Spartans including their king. Over the next few years Epaminondas followed up this victory by marching into Spartan territory, freeing Spartan slaves, releasing her neighbors from their alliances to her, and building up two walled cities at Messenia and Megalopolis. Although her enemies encroached on Spartan territory, and turned her former allies against her, even the brave Epaminondas did not attack the city of Sparta itself, knowing that any victory there would be won only at a tremendous cost. The only bright spot for Sparta in this period, was an incursion into Arcadia, known as the Tearless battle, in which she repulsed a force of Arcadians without a single loss.

DateBattle Summary
373 BC  
Battle of Tegyra   Thebes victory
Fought B.C. 373, when Pelopidas, with the Sacred Band of 300 Thebans, routed a large force of Spartans in a narrow pass near Orchomenus, slaying 600, including their two generals.
371 BC  
Battle of Leuctra   Thebes victory
Fought July, 371 B.C., between 11,000 Spartans, under Cleombrotus, and 6,000 Thebans, under Epaminondas. The principal fighting took place on the Theban left, where Epaminondas had massed his best troops, and after a fierce encounter the Spartans were driven back, leaving 1,000 dead, including Cleombrotus, on the field. As a result of this defeat, the Spartans evacuated Boeotia.
368 BC  
Battle of The Tearless Battle   Spartans victory
Fought B.C. 368, when a force of Arcadians endeavoured to cut off a Spartan army, under Archidamus, in a narrow defile in Laconia. They were repulsed with heavy loss, and not a single Spartan was killed, whence the engagement came to be called the Tearless Battle.

Short Biography
Epaminondas Greatest General of his age. Defeated the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra, and made Thebes predominant.
Pelopidas Helped to liberate Thebes. Leader of the "Sacred Band" of Theban Warriors.
Archidamus III Son of Agesilaus, Spartan Prince who fought against Thebes during the Boeotian Wars.
Cleombrotus Spartan king who was killed at the battle of Leuctra.

Story Links
Book Links
One Hero of Thebes  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Battle of Leuctra  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
Battle of Leuctra  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Humiliation of Sparta  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris
When Thebes Was in Power  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan

Death of Pelopidas and Epaminondas : B.C. 364-362

Battle of Mantinea
The Theban hegemony came to an end with the death of Pelopidas and Epaminondas at the battles of Cynoscephalae and Mantinea respectively. Pelopidas was killed in the battle of Cynoscephalae when he helped to lead the Thessalians against Alexander of Pherae, a despotic tyrant. Two years later, Sparta allied itself with several states who had broken away from the Theban controlled Arcadian league and tried to reassert her domination of the Peloponnese. Epaminondas met the Spartans at Mantinea, and defeated them there but was killed in battle. Unfortunately, with Sparta weakened by another defeat, and Thebes weakened by the death of its hero, there was no longer a coalition in Greece strong enough to resist the forthcoming Macedonian encroachment.

DateBattle Summary
362 BC  
Battle of Mantinea   Thebes victory
Fought B.C. 362, between the Boeotians, under Epaminondas, and the combined forces of Athens, Sparta, and Mantineia. Epaminondas attacked strongly with his left, holding back his right in reserve, and after the driving back of the Mantineians, routed the Spartans in the centre. The Athenians were hardly engaged, but the Boeotian victory was complete. In the pursuit Epaminondas, fell and the loss of the great leader so disheartened the Boeotians that they did not further press their victory.
364 BC  
Battle of Cynoscephalae   Thebes victory
Fought July 364 B.C., between the Thebans and Thessalians under Pelopidas, and the forces of Alexander, Despot of Phera. Both armies made a forced march to seize the heights of Cynoscephalae, and reached the spot almost simultaneously. The Theban cavalry drove back Alexander's horse, but lost time in the pursuit, and his infantry made good their position on the heights. However, after very hard fighting, they were dislodged, and Alexander completely routed, though Pelopidas fell in the battle.

Short Biography
Epaminondas Greatest General of his age. Defeated the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra, and made Thebes predominant.
Pelopidas Helped to liberate Thebes. Leader of the "Sacred Band" of Theban Warriors.
Alexander of Pherae Vicious despot of the town of Pherae in Thessaly.
Agesilaus Leader of Sparta after the Peloponnesian War. Campaigned in Asia Minor and warred with Thebes.

Story Links
Book Links
Death of Pelopidas  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Battle of Mantinea  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Death of Epaminondas  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor

Image Links

Avenge yourselves by killing my only child.'
 in The Story of the Greeks

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

Plan of the Battle of Leuctra (The Spartan King was on the right of the Spartan line.)
 in The Story of the Greek People

Pelopidas setting out for Thebes
 in Plutarch's Lives W. H. Weston

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