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Epaminondas

(d. 362 bc)


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(d. 362 bc),

Theban general, victor at the battles of Leuctra and Mantinea. By 371 he was one of the Boeotarchs (Boeotian federal officials), and, as such, represented Thebes at the peace conference in Sparta, walking out when Agesilaus II refused to allow him to take the oath on behalf of the Boeotians as a whole.

Although all seven Boeotarchs were at Leuctra, Epaminondas was clearly regarded as the architect of victory, and was re‐elected for 370. Late in the year he went to the aid of the Arcadians (of central Peloponnese), and was largely responsible for the crucial decision to press on with the invasion of the Spartan homeland—the first in historical times—and, above all, to free Messenia. In the summer of 369 he led a second invasion of Peloponnese, which succeeded in further eroding Spartan influence, without quite matching previous triumphs. But his successes and, possibly, high‐handed behaviour, aroused jealousy, and he was not re‐elected Boeotarch for 368. Re‐elected for 367, his third invasion of Peloponnese finally put an end to Sparta's 300‐year‐old Peloponnesian League. The removal of the fear of Sparta, however, aroused old antagonisms, and by 362 Thebes found herself fighting many of her erstwhile allies in alliance with Sparta. At the battle of Mantinea, Epaminondas was killed in the moment of victory.

Though an innovative tactician, Epaminondas' strategic and political sense may be questioned. But his traditional nobility of character presumably reflects how he appeared to contemporaries, and he possibly lacked the ruthlessness necessary to impose Thebes' will on her quarrelsome allies, once they had ceased to fear Sparta. He may honestly have wanted to create an alliance of independent states in which Thebes would be no more than first among equals.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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