CHAPTER XVI. THE SUPREMACY OF SPARTA, B.C. 404-371.
That city had been for three years in the hands of Leontiades and the Spartan party. During this time great discontent had grown up among the resident citizens; and there was also the party of exasperated exiles, who had taken refuge at Athens. Among these exiles was Pelopidas, a young man of birth and fortune, who had already distinguished himself by his disinterested patriotism and ardent character. He now took the lead in the plans formed the the liberation of his country, and was the heart and soul of the enterprise. His warm and generous heart was irresistibly attracted by everything great and noble; and hence he was led to form a close and intimate friendship with Epaminondas, who was several years older than himself and of a still loftier character. Their friendship is said to have originated in a campaign in which they served together, when, Pelopidas having fallen in battle apparently dead, Epaminondas protected his body at the imminent risk of his own life. Pelopidas afterwards endeavoured to persuade Epaminondas to share his riches with him; and when he did not succeed, he resolved to live on the same frugal fare as his great friend. A secret correspondence was opened with his friends at Thebes, the chief of whom were Phyllidas, secretary to the polemarchs, and Charon. The dominant faction, besides the advantage of the actual possession of power, was supported by a garrison of 1500 Lacedaemonians. The enterprise, therefore, was one of considerable difficulty and danger. In the execution of it Phyllidas took a leading part. It was arranged that he should give a supper to Archias and Philippus, the two polemarchs, and after they had partaken freely of wine the conspirators were to be introduced, disguised as women, and to complete their work by the assassination of the polemarchs. On the day before the banquet, Pelopidas, with six other exiles, arrived at Thebes from Athens, and, straggling through the gates towards dusk in the disguise of rustics and huntsmen, arrived safely at the house of Charon, where they remained concealed till the appointed hour. While the polemarchs were at table a messenger arrived from Athens with a letter for Archias, in which the whole plot was accurately detailed. The messenger, in accordance with his instructions, informed Archias that the letter related to matters of serious importance. But the polemarch, completely engrossed by the pleasures of the table, thrust the letter under the pillow of his couch, exclaiming, "Serious matters to-morrow."
The hour of their fate was now ripe. The conspirators, disguised with veils, and in the ample folds of female attire, were ushered into the room. For men in the state of the revelers the deception was complete; but when they attempted to lift the veils from the women, their passion was rewarded by the mortal thrust of a dagger. After thus slaying the two polemarchs, the conspirators went to the house of Leontiades whom they also despatched.
The news of the revolution soon spread abroad. Proclamations were issued announcing that Thebes was free, and calling upon all citizens who valued their liberty to muster in the market-place. As soon as day dawned, and the citizens became aware that they were summoned to vindicate their liberty, their joy and enthusiasm were unbounded. For the first time since the seizure of their citadel they met in public assembly; the conspirators, being introduced, were crowned by the priests with wreaths, and thanked in the name of their country's gods; whilst the assembly, with grateful acclamation, unanimously nominated Pelopidas, Charon, and Mellon as the first restored Boeotarchs.
Meanwhile the remainder of the Theban exiles, accompanied by a body of Athenian volunteers, assembled on the frontiers of Boeotia; and, at the first news of the success of the conspiracy, hastened to Thebes to complete the revolution. The Thebans, under their new Boeotarchs, were already mounting to the assault of the Cadmea, when the Lacedaemonians capitulated, and were allowed to march out with the honours of war. The Athenians formed an alliance with the Thebans, and declared war against Sparta.
From this time must be dated the era of a new political combination in Greece. Athens strained every nerve to organize a fresh confederacy. Thebes did not scruple to enrol herself as one of its earliest members. The basis on which the confederacy was formed closely resembled that of Delos. The cities composing it were to be independent, and to send deputies to a congress at Athens, for the purpose of raising a common fund for the support of a naval force. Care was taken to banish all recollections connected with the former unpopularity of the Athenian empire. The name of the tribute was no longer PHOROS, but SYNTAXIS, or "contribution." The confederacy, which ultimately numbered 70 cities, was chiefly organised through the exertions of Chabrias, and of Timotheus the son of Conon. Nor were the Thebans less zealous, amongst whom the Spartan government had left a lively feeling of antipathy. The military force was put in the best training, and the famous "Sacred Band" was now for the first time instituted. This band was a regiment of 300 hoplites. It was supported at the public expense and kept constantly under arms. It was composed of young and chosen citizens of the best families, and organized in such a manner that each man had at his side a dear and intimate friend. Its special duty was the defence of the Cadmea.