The Sacred Band of Thebes – the fierce warriors who were also lovers
As we continue our celebration of queer people in history, let’s take a look at the intriguing story of The Sacred Band of Thebes.
Who were The Sacred Band of Thebes?
Thebes was one of the powerful city-states that in the 4th century controlled modern-day Greece. Thebes was one of the main rivals to the empire of Athens.
The Sacred Band were an elite troop of warriors within the Theban army. Formed by the Theban general Gorgidas, The Sacred Band consisted of 150 pairs of male lovers.
The generally accepted date of the Sacred Band’s creation is around 378 BC.
Who was chosen to be part of The Sacred Band?
General Gorgidas selected men to be part of The Sacred Band purely for ability and merit, regardless of social class.
Each of the 150 pairs consisted of an older erastês and a younger erômenos.
The reason that this elite force was described as “sacred” was because of the exchange of sacred vows between the two men that formed each pair. These vows were exchanged at the Theban shrine of Iolaus – one of the lovers of Hercules.
The age range of The Sacred Band is believed to have been between 20 and 30 years of age.
How did The Sacred Band fight?
General Gorgidas entrusted leadership of The Sacred Band to Pelopidas. Pelopidas trained The Sacred Band to fight in battle united as a single unit of shock troops. Their main function was to cripple the enemy by engaging and killing their foe’s best men and leaders in battle.
The Sacred Band lived together and trained together. They were a distinct and unique force within the Theban military.
How successful were The Sacred Band?
The military strength of The Sacred Band helped ensure the independence of Thebes and establish it as an equal of its powerful adversaries, Athens and Sparta.
The Sacred Band is best remembered for its role in the battle of Leuctra, when the forces of Thebes were outnumbered by the army of Sparta, but the Sacred Band led Thebes to a decisive victory.
Who defeated The Sacred Band?
It was Philip II of Macedon – the father of Alexander the Great – who defeated Thebes and destroyed The Sacred Band.
This was the Battle of Chaeronea in the year 338 BC. The Macedonian army was superior to the Thebans, but the Sacred Band – although surrounded and overwhelmed – refused to surrender.
Their defeat at the battle was a significant victory for Philip, since until then, the Sacred Band was regarded as invincible throughout all of Ancient Greece.