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History’s band of gay warriors

Meet The Sacred Band of Thebes

ON GUARD. The Lion of Chaeronea stands guard over the tomb of the Sacred Band of Thebes. Credit: Capital Xtra file photo

If a state or an army could be formed only of lovers and their beloved, how could any company hope for greater things than these, despising infamy and rivaling each other in honour? Even a few of them, fighting side by side, might well conquer the world.
-Plato, Symposium

The Sacred Band of Thebes, formed around 375 BC, was a group of 300 gay men who were chosen to form an elite military unit because it was thought their love for each other would provide incentives for victory that would make them invincible. It worked.

From 375 BC, the Sacred Band routinely routed larger and better equipped armies. Finally in 338 BC they were all killed in a single battle by the Macedonian king Philip II and his son Alexander the Great (another famous queer of antiquity).

The Scared Band were entombed together and a monument, the Lion of Chaeronea, still stands guard over them in Greece.

Our most complete analysis and account of the Sacred Band of Thebes comes to us from ancient Greek philosopher and historian Plutarch (45-125 AD) in his Life of Pelopidas.

“For men of the same tribe or family little value one another when dangers press; but a band cemented together by friendship grounded upon love is never to be broken, and invincible: since the lovers, ashamed to be base in sight of their beloved, and the beloved before their lovers, willingly rush into danger for the relief of one another. Nor can that be wondered at since they have more regard for their absent lovers than for others present; as in the instance of the man who, when his enemy was going to kill him, earnestly requested him to run him through the breast, that his lover might not blush to see him wounded in the back.

“It is a tradition likewise that Ioläus, who assisted Hercules in his labours and fought at his side, was beloved of him; and Aristotle observes that even in his time lovers plighted their faith at Ioläus’ tomb. It is likely, therefore, that this band was called sacred on this account; as Plato calls a lover a divine friend. It is stated that it was never beaten till the battle at Chaeronea; and when Philip after the fight took a view of the slain, and came to the place where the 300 that fought his phalanx lay dead together, he wondered, and understanding that it was the band of lovers, he shed tears and said, ‘Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything that was base.'”