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Mary Macgregor

Pelopidas and Epaminondas

When Sparta heard that Artaxerxes had been able neither to force the ten thousand to surrender nor to slay them, she thought that his army could not be very powerful. So, confident in her own strength she went to war against the great king, dreaming that she would conquer Persia and add it to her dominions.

But instead of conquering the country, the Spartans were so often defeated that, in 387 b.c. , they were willing to make peace on any terms which Artaxerxes chose to make.

And the king saw to it that the terms were severe, for he demanded that the Greek cities in Asia, which had now been free for ninety years, should once again acknowledge him as their lord.

To those Greeks who loved their country truly, it seemed better to fight to death than to accept such terms. Nor will you wonder at this as you read the proud words in which the king couched his demands.

"King Artaxerxes thinks it just," he wrote, "that the Greek cities in Asia should belong to him. He also thinks it just to leave all the other Grecian cities both small and great independent, except three cities which are to belong to Athens as of old. Should any parties refuse to accept this peace I will make war upon them, along with those who are of the same mind, both by land and sea, with ships and with money."

The states of Greece accepted these terms, which were carved on stones and placed in their temples, so that it could be seen by all that Greece was no longer free.

Although Sparta had been defeated by the Persians, she was the most powerful state in Greece. Wishing to add to her possessions, she determined to seize the little town of Thebes, which at this time was friendly with Athens.

The two governors of Thebes, Leontiades and Ismenias, did not get on well together. Leontiades disliked his colleague so bitterly that he was ready even to betray his city, if by doing so he could injure Ismenias.

In September 382 b.c. a Spartan army, led by a general named Phoœbidas, chanced to be marching through Bœotia. Not far from the walls of Thebes the soldiers halted to rest.

Leontiades thought this was the opportunity for which he had been waiting. He would be able to get rid of Ismenias with the help of the Spartans. They had already determined to seize the town, but this the traitor did not know. He went secretly to the camp, asked for Phoœbidas, and was admitted to the general's tent. He at once offered to open the gates of Thebes to the Spartans on the following day.

It would be an easy matter to seize the citadel if the gates were opened, for on the morrow a festival kept by women alone was to be held there, while at noon the men would be in their houses dozing during the hottest part of the day.

The Spartan general was as eager to take the city as Leontiades could desire, and the traitor slipped back to the city thinking of nothing save that Ismenias would soon be out of his way.

At noon on the following day, the Spartans marched to the gates of Thebes, and there, according to his compact, was Leontiades waiting to admit them. Silently he drew the keys from under his cloak, unlocked the gates, and Phœbidas at the head of two thousand men entered the city. They made their way at once to the citadel, took possession of it, and made the women, who were keeping the festival, prisoners.

Before long the men of Thebes roused themselves from their noontide nap, to find, to their dismay, that their wives and daughters were in the hands of the Spartans.

Leontiades ordered his rival Ismenias to be arrested, and soon after the miserable governor was sent to Sparta and cruelly put to death.

Three hundred Thebans, who were determined not to submit to Sparta, succeeded in escaping from the city and reaching Athens. Many who wished to flee did not dare to do so, lest in their absence harm should befall their wives and daughters.

Leontiades was rewarded for his treachery by being still allowed to rule in Thebes, along with a Spartan general. So harshly did Leontiades use his power that the people hated him, but years passed before the tyrant's power was wrested from him.

During these years those who had fled to Athens often heard from the miserable Thebans of the hardships they suffered under the stern rule of Leontiades.

Among the exiles was a young nobleman named Pelopidas. Often he would tell his fellow exiles that it was dishonourable to dwell in comfort in Athens while their city was not free, and he would urge them to march against the Spartans, and banish them from Thebes.

Pelopidas had a great friend in Thebes named Epaminondas. And although the two friends did brave deeds not only for their city, but for Greece, they are remembered most of all for the great love they bore each to the other.

Both were of noble birth, but Pelopidas was rich, while Epaminondas was poor. Pelopidas had a generous nature, and used his money to help those who were not so well off as he was. Even among his friends many were quick to accept his kindnesses, but Epaminondas would never take from him either gold or gifts.

Pelopidas resolved that if Epaminondas would not share his wealth, he would share his friend's poverty. So he bade his slaves lay aside his soft, silk robes, that he might clad himself in garments as simple as those of Epaminondas. He would allow no rich dishes to be set before him at table, but he ordered that his food should be both plain and scanty. In the camp he endured hardships as a common soldier, in war he showed himself bold as a lion.

The friends were clever and well-trained, both in mind and body, but Pelopidas was often to be found in the fields, while Epaminondas was listening to lectures.

Each longed to serve his country well, but no touch of jealousy disturbed the beauty of their friendship. It was founded deep on reverence and love.

Some years before the treachery of Leontiades, when the Spartans were at war with Athens, the Thebans had sent a troop of soldiers to the aid of Sparta. Among the soldiers were the two friends Pelopidas and Epaminondas.

The company with which the Theban soldiers fought was beaten, and many fled from the field. But Pelopidas and Epaminondas joined their shields together and fought on bravely. Pelopidas was wounded seven times, and at length, faint with the loss of blood, he fell to the ground.

Epaminondas thought that his comrade was dead, but he resolved that the enemy should have neither the arms nor the body of his friend. So he stood over him with his shield, willing rather "to die than forsake his helpless Pelopidas."

Soon Epaminondas himself was so severely wounded that he was no longer able to defend the body of his friend. Had not the king of Sparta chanced to see his danger, and with a few followers dashed to his rescue, he would have been slain by the foe. But the king carried off both Epaminondas and Pelopidas, who was then found to be still alive.

Pelopidas recovered, although his wounds had been severe, and never did he forget that it was his friend who had saved his life.