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Epaminondas(ĭpămĭnŏn`dəs), d. 362 B.C., Greek general of Thebes. He was a pupil of Lysias the Pythagorean, but his early life is otherwise obscure. As the Theban delegate to the peace conference of 371 B.C. he refused to surrender his claim to represent all Boeotia. Agesilaus II of Sparta therefore excluded Thebes from the peace. In the resulting war Epaminondas commanded the Boeotian troops. His thorough victory over the Spartans at Leuctra (371 B.C.) proved the effectiveness of his military innovations and earned him a reputation as one of the greatest tacticians of ancient times. Later he bolstered Boeotian power by building up Messenian independence from Sparta. In 367 B.C. he forced Alexander of Pherae to release the Theban general Pelopidas. In 362 B.C. he again commanded the Boeotians against the Spartans and was victorious at Mantinea, but he died in battle. His brilliant tactics in war were studied by both Philip II and Alexander the Great.
Born circa 418 B.C. in Thebes; died 362 B.C. at Mantinea. Greek general and political figure.
Epaminondas came from an impoverished noble family. He received a good education under the Pythagorean philosopher Lysis of Tarentum and was an accomplished orator. In 379 B.C, together with Pelopidas, he led a democratic coup in Thebes against the Spartans.
During the Boeotian wars (378–362), in which the Boeotian League, headed by Thebes, and the Peloponnesian League, headed by Sparta, contended for hegemony in Greece, Epaminondas was repeatedly elected boeotarch (one of the seven chief magistrates of the Boeotian League) and commander in chief of the army. His victory at Leuctra in 371 and his three invasions of the Peloponnesus, in 370, 369, and 367, weakened Sparta and brought about the fall of the Peloponnesian League. The Theban fleet, which was was created by Epaminondas, conquered the islands of Chios and Rhodes and the city of Byzantium.
Epaminondas owed his military successes to his talent as a general and the good combat training of the Theban troops. Before Epaminondas, troops were deployed in a single line of heavily armed infantry, the phalanx, drawn up in an equal number of ranks over the whole front; the troops moved forward to engage a similarly deployed enemy force, the two fronts forming parallel lines. At the battle of Leuctra, Epaminondas faced superior enemy forces, and the large Spartan phalanx, in an attack involving parallel lines of troops, would have overwhelmed the Thebans. Epaminondas abandoned the equal deployment of forces along the front and concentrated his spearhead, an elite corps known as the Sacred Band, on the axis of the main strike. He achieved complete victory through a slanting attack, whereby the opposing forces approached one another at an acute angle.
In evaluating Epaminondas’ contribution to the development of tactics, F. Engels wrote, “Epaminondas was the first to discover the great tactical principle that to this day determines the outcome of nearly every decisive battle: troops should be unevenly distributed along the front in order to concentrate one’s forces in the decisive sector for the main strike” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 14, p. 355).
At the battle of Mantinea in 362, Epaminondas improved on his new tactic by closely coordinating the movements of the attacking column with those of the cavalry and light infantry; he was fatally wounded in the battle.
R. A. SAVUSHKIN