‘’THE SACRED BAND of THEBES’’
Military Unit Made Up for Pairs of Male Lovers
The Sacred Band of Thebes was a troop of select soldiers, consisting of 150 pairs of male lovers which formed the elite force of the Theban army in the 4th century BC, ending Spartan domination. Its predominance began with its crucial role in the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC. It was annihilated by Philip II of Macedon in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC.
The earliest surviving record of the Sacred Band by name was in 324 BC, in the oration Against Demosthenes by the Athenian logographer Dinarchus. He mentions the Sacred Band as being led by the general Pelopidas and, alongside Epaminondas who commanded the army of Thebes (Boeotia), were responsible for the defeat of the Spartans at the decisive Battle of Leuctra (371 BC).
Plutarch (46–120 AD), a native of the village of Chaeronea, is the source of the most substantial surviving account of the Sacred Band. He records that the Sacred Band was originally formed by the boeotarch Gorgidas, shortly after the expulsion of the Spartan garrison occupying the Theban citadel of Cadmea. The 2nd century AD Macedonian author Polyaenus in his Stratagems in War also records Gorgidas as the founder of the Sacred Band. However, Dio Chrysostom (c. 40–120 AD), Hieronymus of Rhodes (c. 290–230 BC), and Athenaeus of Naucratis (c. 200 AD) credit Epaminondas instead.
The exact date of the Sacred Band's creation, and whether it was created before or after the Symposium of Plato (c. 424–347 BC) and the similarly titled Symposium by his rival Xenophon (c. 430–354 BC), has also long been debated. The generally accepted date of the Sacred Band's creation is between 379 and 378 BC. Prior to this, there were references to elite Theban forces also numbering 300. Herodotus (c.484–425 BC) and Thucydides (c. 460–395 BC) both record an elite force of 300 Thebans allied with the Persians, who were annihilated by Athenians in the Battle of Plataea (479 BC). Herodotus describes them as "the first and the finest" among Thebans. Diodorus also records 300 picked men present in the Battle of Delium (424 BC), composed of heníochoi and parabátai (παραβάται, "those who walk beside"). it.
According to Plutarch, the 300 hand-picked men were chosen by Gorgidas purely for ability and merit, regardless of social class.It was composed of 150 male couples, each pair consisting of an older erastês (ἐραστής, "lover") and a younger erômenos (ἐρώμενος, "beloved"). Athenaeus of Naucratis also records the Sacred Band as being composed of "lovers and their favorites, thus indicating the dignity of the god Eros in that they embrace a glorious death in preference to a dishonorable and reprehensible life", while Polyaenus describes the Sacred Band as being composed of men "devoted to each other by mutual obligations of love". The origin of the "sacred" appellation of the Sacred Band is unexplained by Dinarchus and other historians. But Plutarch claims that it was due to an exchange of sacred vows between lover and beloved at the shrine of Iolaus (one of the lovers of Heracles) at Thebes. He also tangentially mentions Plato's characterization of the lover as a "friend inspired of God".
The Sacred Band was stationed in Cadmea as a standing force, likely as defense against future attempts by foreign forces to take the citadel. It was occasionally referred to as the "City Band" (ἐκ πόλεως λόχος), due to their military training and housing being provided at the expense of the Boeotian polis. Their regular training included wrestling and dance. The historian James G. DeVoto points out that Gorgidas previously served as a hipparch (cavalry officer), therefore equestrian training was also likely provided.
The Sacred Band were first deployed during the Boeotian War in 378 BC, but gained a legendary reputation for their participation in the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, in which the Sacred Band fought at the head of the Theban column against the Spartans.
They remained undefeated until the battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC, in which a Macedonian army under the command of Phillip II and his son Alexander, crushed an alliance of Greek city-states led by Athens and Thebes.
In Plutarch’s accounts of the battle: “It is said, moreover, that the band was never beaten, until the battle of Chaeroneia; and when, after the battle, Philip was surveying the dead, and stopped at the place where the three hundred were lying, all where they had faced the long spears of his phalanx, with their armour, and mingled one with another, he was amazed, and on learning that this was the band of lovers and beloved, burst into tears and said: Perish miserably they who think that these men did or suffered aught disgraceful.”
The Greek geographer Pausanias (AD 110-180) in his “Description of Greece”, mentions that the Thebans had erected a lion statue near Chaeronea to commemorate the Thebans killed in the battle.
During the 19th century, pieces of a large stone lion were rediscovered, along with a quadrangular enclosure containing the remains of 254 men, that many historians argue is the final resting place of the fallen soldiers from the Sacred Band of Thebes.
In Symposium, the character Phaedrus claims that a troop of male lovers could conquer the world:
Numerous are the witnesses who acknowledge Love to be the eldest of the gods. And not only is he the eldest, he is also the source of the greatest benefits to us. For I know not any greater blessing to a young man who is beginning life than a virtuous lover or to the lover than a beloved youth. For the principle which ought to be the guide of men who would nobly live at principle, I say, neither kindred, nor honor, nor wealth, nor any other motive is able to implant so well as love. Of what am I speaking? Of the sense of honor and dishonor, without which neither states nor individuals ever do any good or great work. And I say that a lover who is detected in doing any dishonorable act or submitting through cowardice when any dishonor is done to him by another, will be more pained at being detected by his beloved than at being seen by his father, or by his companions, or by anyone else. The beloved too, when he is found in any disgraceful situation, has the same feeling about his lover. And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonor, and emulating one another in honor; and when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms. He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger? The verist coward would become an inspired hero, equal to the bravest, at such a time; Love would inspire him. That courage which, as Homer says, the god breathes into the souls of some heroes, Love of his own nature infuses into the lover. Love will make men dare to die for their beloved-love alone; and women as well as men.
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