The Elite Gay Army of Ancient Greece
The Sacred Band was an elite military unit from Thebes comprising 150 gay couples. At the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, these 300 gay warriors led the Theban army against the Spartan army. The Thebans won and shattered the Spartan control of Greece.
The Greek view on gay warriors
The Thebans believed gay warriors fought better in order to impress and protect their lovers. If a lover fell during a battle, his partner would fight even harder to avenge his death.
Three thousand years ago in Ancient Greece, being gay or lesbian was not a crime. In fact, in certain situations, the Greeks even encouraged homosexual relationships.
Young boys exchanged romantic favors for the knowledge provided by their older tutors. Fathers would pray to the gods for their sons to be attractive because it meant a better mentor. Such relationships lasted until the young boys reached adulthood.
Soldiers would form romantic relationships with one another to boost their morale.
The Greek society differentiated between active and passive roles both genders took during sex. An active role, being a penetrator, meant masculinity, adulthood, and prestige. A passive role, being penetrated, represented feminity, youth, and shame.
For a receiving partner, anal sex was demeaning. Instead, they engaged in intercrural sex.
The members of the Sacred Band of Thebes were romantic partners. They called an older partner the erastes (‘lover’) and a younger one the eromenos (‘beloved’). Each pair exchanged sacred vows at the temple of Iolaus, the lover of Heracles.
Facts about the Sacred Band of Thebes
The Thebans established the Sacred Band of Thebes at the beginning of the 4th century BC. It was a unit of 300 gay warriors. Their leader handpicked members based on their skill and athletic ability.
They were full-time professionals. The city-state of Thebes would supply and train them. Each man had a cuirass, a helm, greaves, and a shield. Their primary weapons were a four meters long spear and a sword.
Their training included wrestling and dance. In battle, they served as shock troops, aiming to kill enemy leaders.
The battles involving the Sacred Band of Thebes
The city-state of Sparta was a winner of the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC). After the war, they dominated the Greek world. Thebes challenged the supremacy of Sparta, starting the Theban–Spartan War (378–362 BC). Because of brilliant military tactics and the Sacred Band, the Thebans were able to defeat Sparta.
During the conflict, two major battles happened. The Battle of Tegyra and the Battle of Leuctra. The Battle of Tegyra, in 375 BC, was the first time that the Spartans lost despite having a bigger army: 300 warriors of the Sacred Band routed 1.800 Spartan soldiers.
At the Battle of Leuctra, in 371 BC, Thebes fought with a force of 7.500 soldiers against 12.000 Spartans.
The Sacred Band hacked through the elite units of the Spartan army. They killed 1.000 of their most experienced soldiers, including the Spartan king: Sparta asked for a truce.
From then on, the Ancient Greeks considered these gay warriors invincible. The total Theban victory at the Battle of Leuctra led to the decline of Sparta and to the dominance of Thebes.
The Sacred Band of Thebes met its end at the Battle of Chaeronea, in 338 BC. Phillip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great invaded central Greece. The Greek city-states led by Athens and Thebes fought back, but the Greek hoplites were no match against the Macedonian phalanx.
At the end of the battle, the Greeks fled the battlefield. The Sacred Band continued to fight, despite being surrounded and outnumbered. All 300 men died fighting for each other. Their leader Theagenes fell last, trying to protect the body of his dead lover.
Philip II cried when he saw the dead bodies of these elite warriors.
He knew the Sacred Band very well. Thirty years before the Battle of Chaeronea, Philip II was a hostage in Thebes. During that time he became the eromenos (‘beloved’) of Pelopidas, the commander of the Sacred Band. The Sacred Band served as a model for the reformation of the Macedonian army.
The Macedonians destroyed the city of Thebes in 335 BC.
The famous philosopher Plato gave the idea to form an army from gay couples. He observed homosexual couples exhibiting total devotion to each other. They fought with ferocity and courage.
The modern ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on the military service by gay men didn’t apply to the Greeks.
After the destruction of the Sacred Band of Thebes, there was no other case of a gay army in history.