Although all the Greek cities were to be free by the treaty of Antalcidas, the Spartans kept the Messenians under their sway and, as they were still the most powerful people in Greece, they saw that the other cities did not infringe upon their rights in any way.
Under pretext of keeping all their neighbors in order, the Spartans were always under arms, and on one occasion even forced their way into the city of Thebes. The Thebans, who did not expect them, were not ready to make war, and were in holiday dress.
They were all in the temple, celebrating the festival of Demeter, the harvest goddess; and when the Spartans came thus upon them, they were forced to yield without striking a single blow, as they had no weapons at hand.
The Spartans were so afraid lest the best and richest citizens should try to make the people revolt, that they exiled them all from Thebes, allowing none but the poor and insignificant to remain.
To keep possession of the city which they had won by this trick, the Spartans put three thousand of their best warriors in the citadel, with orders to defend and hold it at any price.
Among the exiled Thebans there was a noble and wealthy man called Pelopidas. He had been sorely wounded in a battle some time before, and would have died had he not been saved by a fellow-citizen named Epaminondas, who risked his own life in the rescue.
This man, too, was of noble birth, and was said to be a descendant of the men who had sprung from the dragon teeth sown by Cadmus, the founder of Thebes. Epaminondas, however, was very poor; and wealth had no charms for him, for he was a disciple of Pythagoras, a philosopher who was almost as celebrated as Socrates.
Now, although Epaminondas was poor, quiet, and studious, and Pelopidas was particularly fond of noise and bustle, they became great friends and almost inseparable companions. Pelopidas, seeing how good and generous a man his friend was, did all he could to be like him, and even gave up all his luxurious ways to live plainly too.
He therefore had plenty of money to spare, and this he spent very freely for the good of the poor. When his former friends asked why he no longer cared for his riches, he pointed to a poor cripple near by, and said that money was of importance only to unhappy men like that one, who could do nothing for themselves.