Page images
PDF
EPUB

They built themselves a city, which from the ancient name was. called Messene.

60. After performing such signal exploits, Pelopidas and Epaminondas, the Theban generals, once more returned home; not to share the triumph and acclamations of their fellow-citizens, but to answer the accusations that were laid against them : they were now both summoned as criminals against the state, for having retained their posts four months beyond the time limited by law.

61. This offence was capital by the law of Thebes; and those who stood up for the constitution were very earnest in having it observed with punctuality. Pelopidas was the first cited before the tribunal : he defended himself with less force and greatness of mind than was expected from a man of his character, by nature warm and fiery. That valour, haughty and intrepid in fight, forsook him before his judges. His air and discourse, which had something timid and creeping in it, denoted a man who was afraid of death, and did not in the least incline the judges in his favour, who acquitted him, not without difficulty.

62. Epaminondas, on the contrary, appeared with all the confidence of conscious innocence: instead of justifying himself, he enumerated his actions : he repeated, in haughty terms, in what manner he had ravaged Laconia, re-established Messenia, and re-united Arcadia in one body. He concluded with saying, that he should die with pleasure, if the Thebans would renounce the sole glory of those actions to him, and declare that he had done them by his own authority, and without their participation. All the voices were in his favour, and he returned from his trial, as he used to return from battle, with glory and universal applause.

63. Such dignity has true valour, that it in a manner seizes the admiration of mankind by force. This manner of reproaching them had so good an effect, that his enemies declined any further prosecution; and he, with his colleague, were honourably acquitted. His enemies, however, jealous of his glory, with a design to affront him, caused him to be elected city scavenger ; he accepted the place with thanks, and asserted, that instead of deriving honour from the office, he would give it dignity in his turn.

64. In the mean time, the Spartans, struck with consternation at their late defeats, applied to the Athenians for succour, who, after some hesitation, determined to assist them with all their forces; and a slight advantage the Spartans had gained over the Arcadians, in which they did not lose a man, gave a promising dawn of success. The Persian king was also applied to for assistance in the confederacy against Thebes; but Pelopidas, undertaking an embassy to that court, frustrated their purpose, and induced that great monarch to stand neuter.

65. Thebes being thus rid of so powerful an enemy, had less fears of withstanding the confederacy of Sparta and Athens; but a new and unexpected power was now growing up against them; a power which was one day about to swallow up the liberties of Greece, and give laws to all mankind.

66. Some years before this, Jason, the king of Pheræ, was chosen general of the Thessalians by the consent of the people; he was at the head of an army of about eight thousand horse, and twenty thousand heavy armed foot, without reckoning light infantry, and might have undertaken any thing with such a body of disciplined and intrepid troops, who had an entire confidence in the valour and conduct of their commander. - Death prevented his designs; he was assassinated by persons who had conspired his destruction.

67. His two brothers, Polydorus and Poliphron, were substituted in his place. Against them Pelopidas was sent: the latter of whom killed the other for the sake of reigning alone, and was soon after killed himself by Alexander of Pheræ, who seized the government, under the pretence of revenging the death of Polydorus his father. The Theban general soon compelled Alexander to make submission to him, and attempted by mild usage to change the natural brutality of his disposition. But Alexander, long addicted to a debauched life, and possessed of insatiable avarice, secretly withdrew from all constraint, and resolved to seize an opportunity of revenge.

68. It was not till some time after that this offered : for Pelopidas being appointed ambassador to Alexander, who was at that time at the head of a powerful army, he was seized upon, and made prisoner, contrary to all the laws of nations and humanity. It was in vain that the Thebans complained of this infraction; it was in vain that they sent a powerful army, but headed by indifferent generals, to revenge the insult : their army returned without effect, and Alexander treated his prisoners with the utmost severity. It was left for Epaminondas only to bring the tyrant to reason. Entering Thessalia at the head of a powerful army, his name spread such a terror, that the tyrant offered terms of submission, and delivered up Pelopidas from prison.

69. Pelopidas was scarce freed from confinement when he resolved to punish the tyrant for his perfidy and breach of faith. He led a body of troops against Alexander, to a place called Cynocephalus, where a bloody battle ensued, in which the Thebans were victorious; but Pelopidas was unfortunately slain : his countrymen considered their successes very dearly earned which they had obtained by his death. The lamentations for him were general; his funeral was magnificent, and his praises boundless.

70. Alexander himself soon after was killed by Theba his wife, and her three brothers; who, long shocked at his cruelties, resolved to rid the world of such a monster. The account has it, that he slept every night guarded by a dog, in a chamber which was ascended by a ladder. Theba allured away the dog, and covered the steps of the ladder with wool to prevent noise ; and then, with the assistance of her brothers, stabbed him in several parts of the body.

71. In the mean time, the war between the Thebans and the Spartans proceeded with unabated vigour. The Thebans were - headed by their favourite general, Epaminondas; those of Sparta by Agesilaus, the only man in Greece that was then able to oppose him.

72. The first attempt of Epaminondas in this campaign, marked his great abilities, and his skill in the art of war. Being informed that Agesilaus had begun his march with his army, and liad left but few citizens to defend Sparta at home, he marched directly thither by night, with a design to take the city by surprise, as it had neither walls nor troops to defend it; but luckily, Agesilaus was apprised of his design, and despatched one of his horse to advise the city of its danger; soon after, arriving with a powerful succour in person, he had scarce entered the town, when the Thebans were seen passing the Eurotas, and coming on against the city.

73. Epaminondas, who perceived that his design was discovered, thought it incumbent on him not to retire without some attempt. He therefore made his troops advance; and making use of valour instead of stratagem, he attacked the city at several quarters, penetrated as far as the public place, and seized that part of Sparta which lay on the hither side of the river. Agesia laus made head every where, and defended himself with much more valour than could be expected from his years.

74. He saw well that it was not now a time, as before, to spare himself, and to act only upon the defensive, but that he had need of all his courage and daring, and to fight with all the vigour of despair. His son Archidamus, at the head of the Spartan youth, behaved with incredible valour wherever the danger was greatest; and with his small troop, stopped the enemy, and made head against them on all sides.

75. A young Spartan, named Isadas, distinguished himself particularly in this action. He was very handsome in the face, perfectly well shaped, of an advantageous stature, and in the flower of his youth; he had neither armour nor clothes úpon his body, which shone with oil: he held a spear in one hand, and a sword in the other. In this condition he quitted his house with

the utmost eagerness; and breaking through the press of the Spartans that fought, he threw himself upon the enemy; gave mortal wounds at every blow, and laid all at his feet who opposed him, without receiving any hurt himself.

76. Whether the enemy were dismayed at so astonishing a sight, or, says Plutarch, the gods took pleasure in preserving him upon account of his extraordinary valour; it is said, the ephori decreed him a crown after the battle in honour of his exploits; but afterwards fined him a thousand drachms, for hay. ing exposed himself to so great a danger without arms.

77. Epaminondas, thus failing in his designs, was resolved before he laid down his command, which was near expiring, to give the Lacedæmonians and Athenians battle, as they followed him close in the rear. The Greeks had never fought among themselves with more numerous armies. The Lacedæmonians consisted of more than twenty thousand foot, and two thousand horse : the Thebans of thirty thousand foot, and three thousand horse.

78. Upon the right wing of the former, the Mantineans, Arcadians, and Lacedæmonians, were posted in one line; the Eleans and Achæans, who were the weakest of their troops, had the centre; and the Athenians alone composed the left wing. In the other army, the Thebans and Arcadians, were on the left, the Argives on the right, and the other allies in the centre. The cavalry on each side were disposed in the wings.

79. The Theban general marched in order of battle, that he might not be obliged, when he came up with the enemy, to lose in the disposition of his army a time which cannot be recovered when lost in great enterprises. He did not march directly, and with his front to the enemy, but in a column upon the hills, with his left wing foremost; as if he did not intend to fight that day.

80. When he was over against them, at a quarter of a league's distance, he made the troops halt, and lay down their arms, as if he designed to encamp there. The enemy, in effect, were deceived by his stand; and reckoning no longer upon a battle, they quitted their arms, dispersed themselves about the camp, and suffered that ardour to be extinguished which a near approach of battle is wont to kindle in the hearts of the soldiers.

81. Epaminondas, however, by suddenly wheeling his troops, changed his column into a line, and having drawn out the choice troops, whom he had expressly posted in front upon his march, he made them double their files upon the front of his left wing, to add to its strength, and to put it into a condition to attack in a point the Lacedæmonian phalanx, which by the movement he had made, faced it directly. He ordered the centre and right wing of his army to move very slow, and to halt before they came

up with the enemy, that he might not hazard the event of the battle upon the troops of which he had no great opinion.

82. He expected to decide the victory by that body of chosen troops which he commanded in person, and which he had formed into a column to attack the enemy in a wedge-like point. He assured himself, that if he could penetrate the Lacedæmonian phalanx, in which the enemy's principal force consisted, he should not find it difficult to rout the rest of the army, by charging upon the right and left with his victorious troops.

83. But that he might prevent the Athenians in the left wing from coming to the support of their right against his intended attack, he made a detachment of his horse and foot advance out of the line, and posted them upon a rising ground in readiness to flank the Athenians, as well to cover his right as to alarm them, and give them reason to apprehend being taken in flank and rear themselves, if they advanced to sustain their right.

84. After having disposed his whole army in this manner, he moved on to charge the enemy with the whole weight of his column. They were strangely surprised when they saw Epaminondas advance towards them in this order ; and resumed their arms, bridled their horses, and made all the haste they could to their ranks.

85. Whilst Epaminondas marched against the enemy, the cavalry that covered his flank on the left, the best at that time in Greece, entirely composed of Thebans and Thessalians, had orders to attack the enemy's horse. The Theban general, whom nothing escaped, had artfully bestowed bow-men, slingers, and dart-men in the intervals of his horse, in order to begin the disorders of the enemy's cavalry, by a previous discharge of a shower of arrows, stones, and javelins upon them.

86. The other army had neglected to take the same precaution ; and made another fault not less considerable in giving as much depth to the squadrons as if they had been a phalanx. By this means their horse were incapable of supporting long the charge of the Thebans. After having made several ineffectual attacks with great loss, they were obliged to retire behind their infantry.

87. In the mean time, Epaminondas with his body of foot, had charged the Lacedæmonian phalanx. The troops fought on both sides with incredible ardour, both the Thebans and Lacedæmonians being resolved to perish rather than yield the glory of arms to their rivals. They began with fighting with the spear; and those first arms being soon broken in the fury of the combat, they charged each other sword in hand. The resistance was equally obstinate; and the slaughtor very great on both sides.

« PreviousContinue »