Return to Epameinondas (person)

Epameinondas was an aristocrat from Thebes who lived in the fourth century before Christ. We know he died in 362 b.C., but cannot tell for sure how old he was exactly at that time.

Epameinondas was a friend of Thebes' leader Pelopidas, who struggled to avoid the pressure of the Spartans. City state Sparta dominated the region we now know as Greece in that fourth century b.C. In the battle against the Spartans near Leuktra, Epameinondas led the Thebes army to a glorious victory. With a large number of infanterists he managed to invade Spartan territory, thanks to a new cunning strategy. The so-called oblique phalanx made the mind overcome brute strength. The fact that Epameinondas' men battled side by side in couples, proved to be too much for the otherwise stronger Spartans.

Wealthy and especially famous the general returned to Thebes. But there he was accused of breaking the law, which stated that no Thebes citizen would be allowed to exercise full power over the army - and thus the country - for more than a month.

Epameinondas himself pleaded guilty. He did ask his judges for a grave with an inscription however. The text would tell the story of a man who saved his country from the imminent decline and fall of the state. Then the judges decided not to sentence Epameinondas to death and instead even restore his power over the army.

A few years later Thebes had to fight another war with Sparta, this time near Mantineia in 362. Epameinondas was struck by a spear and immediately realised that it could not be removed without taking his last gasp of air. He waited with the removal until he heard his army overcome the enemy again, so that he could die while knowing that he had never lost a single battle in his life.

Unfortunately his passing away meant the end of Thebes' short spell. The city's former rivals had managed to build up their armies and strategies, while Thebes' unions with its allies started to slowly disintegrate.

By his contemporaries, Epameinondas was pictured as a common man, who proved unsensitive to bribes. The Persian king Artaxerxes tried to buy his favours once through Epameinondas' close friend Mikythos, but the aristocrat refused. He was also known as a good dancer and musician, which were qualities highly esteemed in Thebes. Some looked upon him with disdain because he did not want to start a family - to which others cleverly answered that Leuktra and Mantineia were his children.

Plutarch wrote a biography which got lost over time. Nepos' history about Epameinondas still exists though, a true tribute to his life and achievements. Fellow biographer Diodoros called Epameinondas an ever better general than the more famous Themistocles and Pericles.

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