Anyone who has seen movies like 300 or Alexander must know their Greek history, right? After all, doesn’t everyone learn in high school world history class that Athens and Sparta led a Pan-Hellenic alliance to hold back a Persian invasion – the Spartan ground forces holding back the Persian army at Thermopylae while the Athenians logistically ending the war by the naval victory at Salamis – only to turn on each other, thus paving the way to a Macedonian invasion under Phillip II and his son Alexander?
This is certainly the narrative I was raised with. Indeed, the modern student of history is often left with the impression that Spartans stood alongside Athenians once more – this time against Phillip’s Macedonian army – at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC and that the Greeks fell together under the weight of the Macedonian machine.
But this is simply not the case.
In his book, The Soul of Battle, Victor Davis Hanson corrects our history by telling the story of Thebes and their greatest leader: Epaminondas. As it turns out, the once utterly defeated Athens was present at Chaeronea while the renowned Spartans could no longer field a sizeable army. More surprising was the fact that the key ally of Athens at Chaeronea was Thebes, not Sparta. Somehow in the short 66 years between Athens’ capitulation to Sparta in 404 BC and the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC, the Thebans under Epaminondas had achieved something that Athens never accomplished in almost thirty years of war with Sparta.
And it only took Epaminondas three months to do it.
To find out how he vanquished tyranny, helped to establish the first Greek nation, and launched the most daring invasion in Greek history, read my full essay over at the Essays of Orate Fratres site.