Sacred Band of Thebes

The Sacred Band of Thebes (Ancient Greek: Ἱερὸς Λόχος, Hieròs Lókhos) 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. 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.

Band of Thebes. 2 Cornwall LGBT History Project 2016. Sculpted by Malcolm Lidbury
A modern statue depicting two soldiers of the band, by Malcolm Lidbury.


The ruins of ancient Theban citadel of Cadmea

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).[3][4]

Plutarch (46–120 AD), a native of the village of Chaeronea, is the source of the most substantial surviving account of the Sacred Band.[5][6] 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.[7] The 2nd century AD Macedonian author Polyaenus in his Stratagems in War also records Gorgidas as the founder of the Sacred Band.[8] However, Dio Chrysostom (c. 40–120 AD), Hieronymus of Rhodes (c. 290–230 BC), and Athenaeus of Naucratis (c. 200 AD) credit Epaminondas instead.[3][9][10]

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.[11] 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" (πρῶτοι καὶ ἄριστοι) among Thebans. Diodorus also records 300 picked men (ἄνδρες ἐπίλεκτοι) present in the Battle of Delium (424 BC), composed of heníochoi (ἡνίοχοι, "charioteers") and parabátai (παραβάται, "those who walk beside"). Though none of these mention the Sacred Band by name, these may have referred to the Sacred Band or at least its precursors.[7][12] Historian John Kinloch Anderson believes that the Sacred Band was indeed present in Delium, and that Gorgidas did not establish it, but merely reformed it.[13]

In the old debate surrounding Xenophon's and Plato's works, the Sacred Band has figured prominently as a possible way of dating which of the two wrote their version of Symposium first. Xenophon's Socrates in his Symposium disapprovingly mentions the practice of placing lovers beside each other in battle in the city-states of Thebes and Elis, arguing that while the practice was acceptable to them, it was shameful for Athenians (both Plato and Xenophon were Athenians). According to the British classical scholar Sir Kenneth Dover, this was a clear allusion to the Sacred Band, reflecting Xenophon's contemporary awareness of the Theban practice, albeit anachronistic as the dramatic date of the work itself is c. 421 BC.[14][15][16] However, it is the speech of the character Phaedrus in Plato's Symposium referring to an "army of lovers" that is most famously connected with the Sacred Band.[1][16][17] Dover argues Plato wrote his Symposium first since Plato's Phaedrus uses language that implies that the organization does not yet exist. He acknowledges, however, that Plato may have simply put the hypothesis in the mouth of Phaedrus according to the supposed earlier dramatic date of the work (c. 401 BC). It only shows that Plato was more mindful of his chronology in his Symposium than Xenophon, and proves that he was actually quite aware of the Sacred Band in his time.[15]


According to Plutarch, the 300 hand-picked men were chosen by Gorgidas purely for ability and merit, regardless of social class.[18] It was composed of 150 male couples,[16] each pair consisting of an older erastês (ἐραστής, "lover") and a younger erômenos (ἐρώμενος, "beloved").[19] 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",[10] while Polyaenus describes the Sacred Band as being composed of men "devoted to each other by mutual obligations of love".[8] 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 Hercules) at Thebes. He also tangentially mentions Plato's characterization of the lover as a "friend inspired of God".[18][19]

The Sacred Band was stationed in Cadmea as a standing force, likely as defense against future attempts by foreign forces to take the citadel.[7][20][21] 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.[7][19] 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.[18] The exact ages of the unit's members are not recorded in ancient testimonies. However, comparing them with the Spartan elite unit Hippeis (ἱππεῖς)[note 1] and the Athenian epheboi (ἔφηβοι) recruits, DeVoto estimates that trainees were inducted as full members to the Sacred Band at the ages of 20 to 21,[18] whereupon they were given a full set of armor by their erastai.[22] They likely ended their service at age 30.[18]

Military history

Ancient Greek southern regions
Map of ancient Greece showing the relative positions of the major regions of Boeotia (led by Thebes), Laconia (led by Sparta), and Attica (led by Athens)

According to Plutarch, Gorgidas originally distributed the members of the Sacred Band among the front ranks of the phalanxes of regular infantry.[23] In 375 BC, the command of the band was transferred to the younger boeotarch Pelopidas, one of the original Theban exiles who had led the forces who recaptured Cadmea.[19][20] Under Pelopidas, the Sacred Band was united as a single unit of shock troops. Their main function was to cripple the enemy by engaging and killing their best men and leaders in battle.[17][18]

Invasions of Agesilaus II

The Sacred Band first saw action in 378 BC, at the beginning of the Boeotian War. It was during the famous stand-off between the Athenian mercenary commander (and later strategos) Chabrias (d. 357 BC) and the Spartan King Agesilaus II (444 BC–360 BC).[18] Prior to the creation of the Sacred Band under Gorgidas, the Athenians had helped the Theban exiles retake control of Thebes and the citadel of Cadmea from Sparta. This was followed by Athens openly entering into an alliance with Thebes against Sparta. In the summer of 378 BC, Agesilaus led a Spartan expedition against Thebes from the Boeotian city of Thespiae (then still allied to Sparta).[24]

The Spartan forces were held up for several days by Theban forces manning the earthen stockades at the perimeter of Theban territory. The Spartans eventually breached the fortifications and entered the Theban countryside, devastating the Theban fields in their wake. Though the Athenians had by this time joined the Theban forces, they were still outnumbered by the Spartans. With the fall of the stockades, they were left with two choices, either to retreat back to the defensible walls of Thebes or to hold their ground and face the Spartans in the open. They chose the latter and arrayed their forces along the crest of a low sloping hill, opposite the Spartan forces. Gorgidas and the Sacred Band occupied the front ranks of the Theban forces on the right, while Chabrias and an experienced force of mercenary hoplites occupied the front ranks of the Athenian forces on the left.[24]

Agesilaus first sent out skirmishers to test the combined Theban and Athenian lines.[25] These were easily dispatched by the Theban and Athenian forces, probably by their more numerous cavalry. Agesilaus then commanded the entire Spartan army to advance. He may have hoped that the sight of the massed Spartan forces resolutely moving forward would be enough to intimidate the Theban and Athenian forces into breaking ranks. The same tactic had worked for Agesilaus against Argive forces in the Battle of Coronea (394 BC).[24]

It was during this time that Chabrias gave his most famous command. With scarcely 200 m (660 ft) separating the two armies, Agesilaus was expecting the Theban and Athenian forces to charge at any moment.[24] Instead, Chabrias ordered his men to stand at ease.[26] In unison, his mercenary hoplites immediately assumed the resting posture—with the spear remaining pointing upwards instead of towards the enemy, and the shield propped against the left knee instead of being hoisted at the shoulders.[8][27] Gorgidas, on seeing this, also commanded the Sacred Band to follow suit, which they did with the same military drill precision and confidence.[13][24] The audacity of the maneuver and the discipline of the execution was such that Agesilaus halted the advance.[13][28] Seeing that his attempts to provoke the Theban and Athenian forces to fight on lower ground were unsuccessful, Agesilaus eventually thought it wiser to withdraw his forces back to Thespiae.[8][25]

Shortly after the stand-off in Thebes, Agesilaus disbanded his army in Thespiae and returned to Peloponnesos through Megara.[18][29] He left the general Phoebidas as his harmost (military governor) at Thespiae,[30] the same general responsible for the Spartan seizure of the citadel of Cadmea in 382 BC.[31][32][33] Phoebidas began making various raids into Theban territory using the Spartans under his command and Thespian conscripts.[29][34] These forays became so destructive that by the end of the summer, the Thebans went out in force against Thespiae under the command of Gorgidas.[24]

Phoebidas engaged the advancing Theban army with his peltasts. The harrying of the light infantry apparently proved too much for the Thebans and they started to retreat. Phoebidas, hoping for a rout, rashly pursued them closely. However, the Theban forces suddenly turned around and charged Phoebidas' forces. Phoebidas was killed by the Theban cavalry.[35] His peltasts broke ranks and fled back to Thespiae pursued by Theban forces.[18][24] Aside from Polyaenus, none of these accounts mention the Sacred Band by name, but given that they were under the command of Gorgidas, they are likely to have been part of Theban forces involved.[18]

Not long afterwards, Agesilaus mounted a second expedition against Thebes. After a series of skirmishes which he won with some difficulty, he was forced again to withdraw when the Theban army came out full force as he approached the city. Diodorus observes at this point that the Thebans thereafter faced the Spartans with confidence.[25] Gorgidas disappears from history between 377 and 375, during which the command of the Sacred Band was apparently transferred to Pelopidas.[18][note 2]

Battle of Tegyra

Boeotia ancient-en
Map of ancient Boeotia showing the location of the city of Orchomenus

As a single unit under Pelopidas, the first recorded victory of the Sacred Band was at the Battle of Tegyra (375 BC). It occurred near the Boeotian city of Orchomenus, then still an ally of Sparta. Hearing reports that the Spartan garrison in Orchomenus had left for Locris, Pelopidas quickly set out with the Sacred Band and a few cavalry, hoping to capture it in their absence. They approached the city through the northeastern route since the waters of Lake Copais were at their fullest during that season.[19][34] Upon reaching the city, they learned that a new mora had been sent from Sparta to reinforce Orchomenus. Unwilling to engage the new garrison, Pelopidas decided to retreat back to Thebes, retracing their northeastern route along Lake Copais. However, they only reached as far as the shrine of Apollo of Tegyra before encountering the returning Spartan forces from Locris.[36]

The Spartans were composed of two morai led by the polemarchoi Gorgoleon and Theopompus.[37][note 3] They outnumbered the Thebans at least two to one.[36] According to Plutarch, upon seeing the Spartans, one Theban allegedly told Pelopidas "We are fallen into our enemy's hands" to which Pelopidas replied, "And why not they into ours?" He then ordered his cavalry to ride up from the rear and charge while he reformed the Sacred Band into an abnormally dense formation, hoping to at least cut through the numerically superior Spartan lines. The Spartans advanced, confident in their numbers, only to have their leaders killed immediately in the opening clashes. Leaderless and encountering forces equal in discipline and training for the first time in the Sacred Band, the Spartans faltered and opened their ranks, expecting the Thebans to pass through and escape. Instead, Pelopidas surprised them by using the opening to flank the Spartans.[38] The Spartans were completely routed, with considerable loss of life.[19][39] The Thebans didn't pursue the fleeing survivors, mindful of the remaining Spartan mora stationed in Orchomenus less than 5 km (3.1 mi) away. They stripped the dead and set up a tropaion (τρόπαιον, a commemorative trophy left at the site of a battle victory) before continuing on to Thebes.[18] Having proven their worth, Pelopidas kept the Sacred Band as a separate tactical unit in all subsequent battles.[7][19]

An account of the battle was mentioned both by Diodorus and Plutarch, both based heavily on the report by Ephorus.[40] Xenophon conspicuously omits any mention of the Theban victory in his Hellenica,[34] though this has traditionally been ascribed to Xenophon's strong anti-Theban and pro-Spartan sentiments.[41][42] An obscure allusion to Orchomenus in Hellenica, however, implies that Xenophon was aware of the Spartan defeat.[34]

The exact number of the belligerents on each side varies by account. Diodorus puts the number of Thebans at 500 against the Spartans' 1,000 (each mora consisting of 500 men), apparently basing it on Ephorus' original figures. Plutarch puts the number of the Thebans at 300, and acknowledges three sources for the number of Spartans: 1000 by the account of Ephorus; 1,400 by Callisthenes (c. 360–328 BC); or 1,800 by Polybius (c. 200–118 BC). Some of these numbers may have been exaggerated due to the overall significance of the battle.[40][41] The battle, while minor, was remarkable for being the first time a Spartan force had been defeated in pitched battle, dispelling the myth of Spartan invincibility.[7] It left a deep impression in Greece and boosted the morale among Boeotians, foreshadowing the later Battle of Leuctra.[31][36][41] In Plutarch's own words:

For in all the great wars there had ever been against Greeks or barbarians, the Spartans were never before beaten by a smaller company than their own; nor, indeed, in a set battle, when their number was equal. Hence their courage was thought irresistible, and their high repute before the battle made a conquest already of enemies, who thought themselves no match for the men of Sparta even on equal terms. But this battle first taught the other Greeks, that not only Eurotas, or the country between Babyce and Cnacion,[note 4] breeds men of courage and resolution; but that where the youth are ashamed of baseness, and ready to venture in a good cause, where they fly disgrace more than danger, there, wherever it be, are found the bravest and most formidable opponents.

— Plutarch, Pelopidas 17[19]

Shortly after this, the Athenians initiated the Common Peace of 375 BC (Κοινὴ Εἰρήνη, Koine Eirene) among Greek city-states. According to Xenophon, they were alarmed at the growing power of Thebes and weary of fending off Spartan fleets alone as the Thebans were not contributing any money to maintaining the Athenian fleet.[7] However this broke down soon after in 374 BC, when Athens and Sparta resumed hostilities over Korkyra (modern Corfu).[31] During this time period, Athens also gradually became hostile to Thebes.[18] While Athens and Sparta were busy fighting each other, Thebes resumed her campaigns against the autonomous pro-Spartan Boeotian poleis. Thespiae and Tanagra were subjugated and formally became part of the reestablished democratic Boeotian confederacy.[36] In 373 BC, Thebans under the command of the boeotarch Neocles attacked and razed its traditional rival, the Boeotian city of Plataea.[43] The Plataean citizens were allowed to leave alive, but they were reduced to being refugees and sought sanctuary in Athens.[25][44] Of the pro-Spartan Boeotian poleis, only Orchomenus remained.[36]

By this time, Thebes had also started attacking Phocian poleis allied to Sparta.[45] Pelopidas is again mentioned as the commander of the abortive Theban siege of the Phocian city of Elateia (c. 372 BC). In response to the Theban army outside the city's walls, the Phocian general Onomarchus brought out all the inhabitants of the city (including the elderly, women, and children) and locked the gates. He then placed the non-combatants directly behind the defenders of Elateia. On seeing this, Pelopidas withdrew his forces, recognizing that the Phocians would fight to the death to protect their loved ones.[8][18]

By 371 BC, there was another attempt to revive the King's Peace to curb the rise of Thebes. It was initiated by either the Athenians or the Persians (perhaps at the prompting of the Spartans). The Spartans also sent a large force led by King Cleombrotus I (Sparta having two kings simultaneously for most of its history) to Phocis, ready to invade Boeotia if the Thebans refuse to attend the peace conference or accept its terms.[45][note 5]

Battle of Leuctra

Epaminondas' refusal to accept the terms of the peace conference of 371 BC excluded Thebes from the peace treaty and provided Sparta with the excuse to declare war.[45]

Shortly thereafter the army of Cleombrotus was ordered to invade Boeotia.[46] Cleombrotus' army crossed the Phocian-Boeotian border into Chaeronea then halted, perhaps hoping that the Thebans might change their mind. The Thebans however were committed to a fight. Cleombrotus then moved inland, following the eastward road towards Thebes, until he reached the Boeotian village of Leuctra (modern Lefktra, Plataies) near the southwestern end of the Theban plain. There they were met by the main Theban army.[47] The two armies pitched their camps opposite each other on two low ridges respectively. The battleground between them was about 900 m (3,000 ft) wide.[48]

Battle of Leuctra, 371 BC - Decisive action
A reconstruction of the Battle of Leuctra. The Theban forces are in blue, while the Spartan forces are in red. The Sacred Band under Pelopidas is the smaller phalanx at the bottom right corner, beside the largest concentration of infantry in the Theban left wing.

The Spartan army numbered about 10,000 hoplites, 1,000 light infantry, and 1,000 cavalry.[49] However, only about 700 hoplites of the Spartan army were composed of spartiates (Spartan citizens), the rest were conscripted troops from Spartan subject states (the perioeci) forced to fight.[50][note 6] They were arrayed traditionally, in which the hoplites were formed into phalanxes about eight to twelve men deep.[48][51] Cleombrotus positioned himself and the spartiate hoplites (including the elite royal guard of 300 Hippeis) in the Spartan right wing, the traditional position of honor in Greek armies.[52] Cleombrotus' only tactical innovation was the placing of his cavalry in front of his troops.[47]

The Theban army was outnumbered by the Spartans, being composed of only about 6,000 hoplites (including the Sacred Band), 1,500 light infantry, and 1,000 cavalry.[49] Anticipating the standard Spartan tactic of flanking enemy armies with their right wing, Epaminondas concentrated his forces on his own left wing, directly opposite the strongest Spartiate phalanx, led by Cleombrotus. Here, the massed Theban phalanx was arrayed into a highly unconventional depth of fifty men.[51] The rest of the Theban lines were reduced to depths of only four to at most eight men because of this.[52] Epaminondas also copied Cleombrotus by placing his cavalry in front of the Theban lines.[49] The original position of the Sacred Band being led by Pelopidas is unknown.[52] Some military historians believe Epaminondas placed Pelopidas and the Sacred Band behind the main hoplite phalanx,[51] others believe he put it in front of the main hoplite phalanx and behind the cavalry,[52] while others put it on the front left corner of the main hoplite phalanx (the most likely).[42][49] Either way, the Sacred Band is definitely known to have been on the left wing, close to the main Theban forces and detached enough to be able to maneuver freely.[52][53]

A statue of the boeotarch Epaminondas, who was widely hailed for his brilliant and revolutionary tactics in the Battle of Leuctra.

The battle opened with a cavalry charge by both armies. The Spartan cavalry were quickly defeated by the superior Theban cavalry and were chased back to their own side. Their disorderly retreat disrupted the battle lines of the Spartan heavy infantry and, because of the resulting chaos and the dust stirred up, the Spartans were unable to observe the highly unusual advance of the Theban army until the very last moment.[46] Epaminondas had ordered his troops to advance diagonally, such that the left wing of the Theban army (with its concentration of forces) would impact with the right wing of the Spartan army well before the other weaker phalanxes.[47] The furthest right wing of the Theban phalanx was even retreating to make this possible.[48] This is the first recorded instance of the military formation later known as the oblique order.[54][note 7] The Theban cavalry also helped by continuing to carry out intermittent attacks along the Spartan battle lines, holding their advance back.[37]

By the time the Spartans realized that something unusual was happening it was already too late. Shortly before the Theban left wing made contact, the Spartans hastily stretched out their right wing in an attempt to outflank and engulf the rapidly approaching Thebans. This was a traditional tactic and, once the Thebans were in range, the stretched wing would then be brought back in an encircling movement. Acting under his own initiative, Pelopidas quickly led the Sacred Band ahead of the Theban left wing to intercept the Spartan maneuver before it could be completed.[42][note 8] They succeeded in fixing the Spartans in place until the rest of the Theban heavy infantry finally smashed into the Spartan right wing. The sheer number of Thebans overwhelmed the Spartan right wing quickly. The number of Spartan casualties amounted to about 1,000 dead, among whom were 400 Spartiates and their own king. The Spartan right flank were forced to retreat (after retrieving the body of Cleombrotus). Seeing the spartiates fleeing in disarray, the perioeci phalanxes also broke ranks and retreated. Although some Spartans were in favor of resuming the battle in order to recover the bodies of their dead, the allied perioeci of the Spartan left wing were less than willing to continue fighting (indeed some of them were quite pleased at the turn of events). The remaining polemarchoi eventually decided to request a truce, which the Thebans readily granted. The Spartan dead were returned and a tropaion was set up on the battlefield by the Thebans to commemorate their victory.[47]

According to Pausanias (c. 2nd century AD), the Battle of Leuctra was the most decisive battle ever fought by Greeks against Greeks. Leuctra established Theban independence from Spartan rule and laid the groundwork for the expansion of Theban power, but possibly also for the eventual supremacy of Philip II of Macedon.

Battle of Chaeronea

Defeat came at the Battle of Chaeronea (338 BC), the decisive contest in which Philip II of Macedon, with his son Alexander, extinguished Theban hegemony.[18] The battle is the culmination of Philip's campaign into central Greece in preparation for a war against Persia. It was fought between the Macedonians and their allies and an alliance of Greek city-states led by Athens and Thebes. Diodorus records that the numbers involved for the two armies were more or less equal, both having around 30,000 men and 2,000 cavalry.[55]

The traditional hoplite infantry was no match for the novel long-speared Macedonian phalanx: the Theban army and its allies broke and fled, but the Sacred Band, although surrounded and overwhelmed, refused to surrender. The Thebans of the Sacred Band held their ground and Plutarch records that all 300 fell where they stood beside their last commander, Theagenes. 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. Plutarch records that Philip II, on encountering the corpses "heaped one upon another", understanding who they were, wept and exclaimed,

Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything unseemly.

— Plutarch, Pelopidas 18[19]

Though the significance of the battle was well-documented by ancient scholars, there is little surviving information on the deployment of the armies involved. Most modern scholars (including N. G. L. Hammond and George Cawkwell) credit Alexander as having led a cavalry wing.[55] James G. DeVoto, likewise, says in The Theban Sacred Band that Alexander had deployed his cavalry behind the Macedonian hoplites, apparently permitting "a Theban break-through in order to effect a cavalry assault while his hoplites regrouped".[18] Other historians however argue that Alexander actually commanded hoplites armed with sarissas (pikes), rather than cavalry, especially since Plutarch also mentions that the Sacred Band fell to "lances of the Macedonian phalanx". Plutarch and Diodorus both credit Alexander as being the first to engage the Sacred Band.[55]


Lion of Chaeronea

Lion of Chaeronea 1914
The Lion of Chaeronea as it appeared circa 1914 (note person in foreground for scale). It was erected by the Thebans in memory of their dead after the battle of Chaeronea.
Chaironeia lion
The Lion of Chaeronea in 2009. Excavation of the quadrangular enclosure brought to light 254 skeletons, laid out in seven rows.

Pausanias in his Description of Greece mentions that the Thebans had erected a gigantic statue of a lion near the village of Chaeronea, surmounting the polyandrion (πολυάνδριον, common tomb) of the Thebans killed in battle against Philip.[56] The Greek historian Strabo (c. 64 BC–24 AD) also mentions "tombs of those who fell in the battle" erected at public expense in Chaeronea.[57]

In 1818, a British architect named George Ledwell Taylor spent a summer in Greece with two friends at Livadeia. On June 3, they decided to go horseback riding to the nearby village of Chaeronea using Pausanias' Description of Greece as a guidebook. Two hours away from the village, Taylor's horse momentarily stumbled on a piece of marble jutting from the ground. Looking back at the rock, he was struck by its appearance of being sculpted and called for their party to stop. They dismounted and dug at it with their riding-whips, ascertaining that it was indeed sculpture. They enlisted the help of some nearby farmers until they finally uncovered the massive head of a stone lion which they recognized as the same lion mentioned by Pausanias. Parts of the statue had broken off and a good deal of it still remained buried. They immediately reported their discovery when they returned to Athens.[58][59] However, during the Greek War of Independence (1821–1832), a Greek general damaged the monument by ordering that the pedestal be smashed, perhaps looking for treasure. He found nothing but spears and shields, some of which with names still inscribed in them.[17][60] As a result of the incident, the original design of the pedestal is now unknown.[61] Offers in the late 19th century by the British archeologist Cecil Harcourt Smith to fund the restoration of Lion of Chaeronea was initially refused by the Greeks.[62] In 1902, however, permission was granted and the monument was pieced back together with funding by the Order of Chaeronea.[17] The lion, which stands about 12.5 ft (3.8 m) high, was mounted on a reconstructed pedestal about 10 ft (3.0 m) high.[60]

In the late 19th century, excavations in the area revealed that the monument stood at the edge of a quadrangular enclosure.[60] The skeletons of 254 men laid out in seven rows were found buried within it.[17] A tumulus near the monument was also tentatively identified as the site of the Macedonian polyandrion where the Macedonian dead were cremated. Excavation of the tumulus between 1902 and 1903 by the archeologist Georgios Soteriades confirmed this. At the center of the mound, about 22 ft (6.7 m) deep, was a layer of ashes, charred logs, and bones about 0.75 m (2.5 ft) thick. Recovered among these were vases and coins dated to the 4th century BC. Swords and remarkably long spearheads measuring about 15 in (38 cm) were also discovered, which Soteriades identified as the Macedonian sarissas.[63][64][65]

The skeletons within the enclosure of the lion monument are generally accepted to be the remains of the Sacred Band,[65][66] as the number given by Plutarch was probably an approximation.[note 9] However, historians such as Nicholas Geoffrey Lemprière Hammond, Karl Julius Beloch, and Vincenzo Costanzi do not believe that the lion monument marks the location of the Sacred Band dead. Hammond claims it was the place where Philip turned his army around during the Battle of Chaeronea and believes that it contains the members of the Macedonian right flank who perished. He argues that it is highly improbable that the Thebans would be able to commemorate their dead within Philip's lifetime with such a massive and obviously expensive monument.[63]

The historian William Kendrick Pritchett criticizes Hammond's rationale as "subjective" and counters it with a passage from Historiarum Philippicarum Libri XLIV of the 3rd-century AD Roman historian Justin. In addition to Pausanias and Strabo, Justin also clearly says that Philip forced the Thebans to pay for the privilege of burying (not cremating) their dead. Therefore, the cremated remains are likely to be Macedonian, while the remains around the lion were the Sacred Band. Philip, after all, was known for his ability to inflict unnecessary cruelty when it served a greater purpose. He further points out that questioning the honesty of Pausanias is unwarranted, as any well-informed Greek then would probably know the ascription of the monument even centuries after the battle; Pausanias' knowledge of topography was not second-hand and his testimony was echoed independently by other ancient sources such as Strabo and Justin.[63][66] Indeed, Pausanias' Description of Greece has proved to be an accurate and important guide to modern archeologists in rediscovering the locations of other ancient Greek monuments and buildings.[67][68][69]

Trophy of the Battle of Leuktra

After the defeat of Cleombrotus' forces in the Battle of Leuktra, a tropaion was set up on the battlefield by the Thebans to commemorate their victory.[47] The tropaion was later replaced by a permanent monument, an unprecedented move by the Thebans as tropaia were designed to be ephemeral. The original appearance of the monument is attested by contemporary coins of the period and showed that it took the form of a tree trunk mounted upon a cylindrical pedestal carved with metopes, triglyphs, and a series of stone shields. On the tree trunk itself is affixed the shields, weapons, and armor of the defeated Spartans. The base of the monument still survives to this day.[70][71]


Plutarchs Lives Vol the Third 1727
Plutarch's Lives (pictured: the 1727 edition of the English translation by André Dacier) is the main source for the most substantial surviving account of the Sacred Band. It is believed to be mostly based on the works of the Sacred Band contemporaries Callisthenes and Ephorus. Unfortunately the works of the latter two have been lost to history.

The historicity of the Sacred Band is largely accepted by historians; it is detailed in the writings of numerous classical authors, especially Plutarch. Noted classical historians like John Kinloch Anderson and George Cawkwell accept Plutarch's Life of Pelopidas, which contains the most detailed account of the Sacred Band, as a highly reliable account of the events, in contrast to Xenophon's patchy treatment of Theban history.[13][72] Other noted classical scholars like Frank William Walbank and Felix Jacoby have also defended Callisthenes' descriptions of land battles in the past. Walbank commented that his depictions of the Battle of the Eurymedon, Gaugamela, and Tegyra (all surviving through Plutarch) are quite adequate. While Jacoby, responding to claims that Callisthenes was unreliable in accounts of land battles in contrast to Xenophon, pointed out that Callisthenes did accurately describe the details on the Battle of Tegyra. He summarized his opinion of Callisthenes' account with "Sie ist panegyrisch gehalten, aber sachlich nicht unrichtig. [It is panegyrical, but it is not factually incorrect.]"[34] This is echoed by the historians John Buckler and Hans Beck who conclude that "In sum, Plutarch's description of the battle of Tegyra does justice both to the terrain of Polygyra and to the information gleaned from his fourth-century sources. There is nothing implausible or unusual in Plutarch's account, and every reason to consider it one of the best of his battle pieces." They also had the same opinion of his account on Leuctra, dismissing assertions that his accounts were confused or rhetorical.[42]

The historian Gordon S. Shrimpton further provides an explanation for Xenophon's silence on much of Theban history. He notes that all the surviving contemporary accounts of Thebes during the period of Theban hegemony between 371 and 341 BC were often highly critical; with their failures ridiculed and their accomplishments usually being downplayed or omitted altogether. For instance, the Athenian Isocrates (436–338 BC) in his Plataicus (which details the destruction of Plataea by the Thebans), makes no mention of the Theban victory in Leuctra, and harshly reviles Thebes throughout. His later work Archidamus mention Leuctra briefly, and only to criticize Thebans as being incompetent and incapable of capitalizing on their rise to power. The same sentiments are echoed by the Athenians Demosthenes (384–322 BC) and Antisthenes (c. 445–365 BC). Xenophon, another Athenian, is the only contemporary who grudgingly notes some Theban accomplishments, and even then, never in-depth and with numerous omissions. His only mentions of Pelopidas and Epaminondas by name, for example, were very brief and shed no light on their previous accomplishments.[3] Indeed, the historians Bruce LaForse and John Buckler have noted that the character and accomplishments of Epaminondas were so unassailable that there is no known hostile account of him in ancient sources. The most unfriendly writers like Xenophon and Isocrates could do was omit his accomplishments in their work altogether.[73]

Shrimpton believes that the apparent indifference of earlier authors was due to the general hatred by other Greeks against the Thebans who had medized (i.e. allied with the Persians) in the second Persian invasion in 480 BC and again in 368 BC. Athenians, in particular, held a special contempt for Thebes due to the latter's actions in the Peloponnesian War; as well as the Thebans' destruction of Plataea in 373 BC, and the invasion of the Athenian-allied Boeotian city of Oropus in 366 BC. Demosthenes records this sentiment very clearly in a disclaimer in his speech On the Navy (354 BC): "It is difficult to speak to you about [Thebans], because you have such a hearty dislike of them that you would not care to hear any good of them, even if it were true."[3][74]

This sentiment changed in 339 BC, when Thebes abruptly severed its alliance with Philip II (after being convinced by a speech from Demosthenes) and joined the Athenian-led Pan-Hellenic alliance against Macedonia. The result being the annihilation of the Sacred Band in Chaeronea and the destruction of the city of Thebes itself in 335 BC by the Macedonians. In light of these actions, Athenians eventually changed their opinions on Thebes, now regarding it in a sympathetic light as a fallen ally. It was during this period that much of the accounts favorable to Thebans were at last written. Works by authors like Anaximenes of Lampsacus, Aristoxenus, Callisthenes, Daimachus, Dinarchus, and Ephorus are believed to have been written between 330 and 310 BC. Except for Dinarchus, almost all of them have been lost to history or survive only in fragments. Among them are Ephorus and Callisthenes who were contemporaries of the Theban hegemony and the Sacred Band.[3] The works of the latter two, however, survived long enough for later authors like Plutarch, Diodorus, and Polyaenus to base their works on.[13][42][45]

See also


  1. ^ Hippeis, literally meaning "cavalry", is also the generic name for Greek elite units between 300 to 1000 men. Although they initially fought as horsemen, during the 4th century BC they primarily fought as hoplite heavy infantry. Compare with Knight. (DeVoto, 1992)
  2. ^ The historian Louis Crompton presumes that Gorgidas died in a skirmish in 378 BC. (Crompton, 2006)
  3. ^ The historian P.J. Stylianou believes that only one Spartan mora was defeated in the battle, and that accounts of two morai is a result of the inadvertent inclusion of the second mora in Orchomenus which might have moved out to intercept Pelopidas after he defeated the first one, though they never met in battle. (Stylianou, 1998)
  4. ^ Places where the Spartan Assembly met.
  5. ^ Other historians believe that Cleombrotus was already in Phocis during this period, having been sent earlier in 375 BC to reinforce it during the early Theban attacks. (Rhodes, 2006)
  6. ^ Paul Cartledge and other historians believe that the exceedingly tiny proportion of spartiates dominating a force of about 10,000 allied troops (not all of them fully loyal) may have contributed to the defeat. The number of spartiates have been falling catastrophically for over a century, numbering at perhaps not more than 1,500 by the time of the Battle of Leuctra. At the Battle of Nemea (394 BC), for example, spartiates still constituted 6,000 hoplites of an army 19,000 strong. (Cartledge, 2002)
  7. ^ See also the German military tactic Schwerpunkt.
  8. ^ Some historians believe that Epaminondas explicitly ordered Pelopidas to intercept the Spartan right wing. (Chrissanthos, 2008; Gabriel, 2001) Others believe that this action was pre-planned (perhaps even rehearsed) and independently performed as part of the Sacred Band's role in the battle. (Jones, 2000)
  9. ^ Other historians who accept the figure of 300 as literal instead assume that 46 members of the Sacred Band survived. (Ashley, 2004)


  1. ^ a b Plato (trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1939) (c. 360 BC). Symposium. And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their beloved, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour, and emulating one another in honour; 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? Check date values in: |year= (help)
  2. ^ Footnote 23, p. 182
  3. ^ a b c d e G. S. Shrimpton (1971). "The Theban Supremacy in Fourth-Century Literature". Phoenix. Classical Association of Canada. 25 (4): 310–318. JSTOR 1088061.
  4. ^ Dinarchus. Against Demosthenes.
  5. ^ Louis Crompton (2006). Homosexuality and Civilization. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674022331.
  6. ^ Plutarch (trans. Bernadotte Perrin, 1917) (75 AD). The Life of Pelopidas. Loeb Classical Library edition. Check date values in: |year= (help)
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Nicholas Ryan Rockwell (2008). The Boeotian Army: The Convergence of Warfare, Politics, Society, and Culture in the Classical Age of Greece. University of California. ISBN 9781109021257.
  8. ^ a b c d e Polyaenus (trans. R. Shepherd, 1793). "Book II". Στρατηγήματα [Stratagems in War].
  9. ^ Dio Chrysostom (trans. J. W. Cohoon, 1939). "22: Concerning Peace and War". Discourses. Loeb Classical Library.
  10. ^ a b Athenaeus of Naucratis (trans. C.D. Yonge, 1854) (c. 200 AD). "XIII: About Women". Deipnosophistae. p. 602. Check date values in: |year= (help)
  11. ^ William Armstrong Percy, III (2005). "Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity". In Beert C. Verstraete; Vernon Provencal (eds.). Same-Sex Desire And Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity And in the Classical Tradition of the West. Routledge. pp. 36–39. ISBN 9781560236047.
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1879 in archaeology

The year 1879 in archaeology involved some significant events.

370s BC

This article concerns the period 379 BC – 370 BC.

Army of Lovers

Army of Lovers is a Swedish dance music group which formed in 1987 and had a number of hits in Europe throughout the 1990s with songs such as "Crucified", which was big hit Europe charting 31 weeks in Eurochart peaking number 14 early 1992. It remains their best known song internationally. Their second international hit "Obsession" charted 32 weeks and peaked number 36.

The name of the band alludes to a documentary Armee der Liebenden oder Revolte der Perversen of the German gay rights activist Rosa von Praunheim, the title of which in turn alludes to the Sacred Band of Thebes.

Army of Lovers reformed with Alexander Bard, Camilla Henemark and Jean-Pierre Barda in late 2012 to enter the Melodifestivalen 2013 with the song "Rockin' the Ride" in hopes of representing Sweden in the Eurovision Song Contest 2013 in Malmö. They failed to progress to the final and a few days later issued a press release to announce that Henemark would be replaced by former member Dominika Peczynski for the remainder of their on-going reunion.

Caledonian Thebans RFC

Caledonian Thebans Rugby Football Club is Scotland's leading inclusive rugby club and represents Scotland in international rugby union tournaments for inclusive teams.

Established in 2002, the Thebans are based at Edinburgh's Murrayfield Stadium and have over 50 registered players. The club supports its players and supporters - whether gay or straight, experienced or new to the game - to enjoy rugby at a competitive level.

Through twice-weekly coaching sessions and regular matches against both mainstream and inclusive clubs (whose members are often drawn from the LGBT community), the Thebans aim to develop confident players and encourage participation in rugby union from groups who may have been under-represented in the sport.


Chabrias (Greek: Χαβρίας) was an Athenian general of the 4th century BC.

In 388 BC he defeated the Spartans and Aeginetans under Gorgopas at Aegina and commanded the fleet sent to assist Evagoras, king of Cyprus, against the Persians.In 378 BC, when Athens entered into an alliance with Thebes against Sparta, he successfully held off the more numerous forces led by the Spartan king Agesilaus II near Thebes. With the advance of Agesilaus' forces, instead of giving the order to charge, Chabrias ordered his men to stand at ease, with their spears remaining pointing upwards instead of towards the enemy, and their shields leaning against their left knees instead of being hoisted against their shoulders.

As related by Cornelius Nepos (110-25 BC) in Book XII of his "Lives of the Excellent Commanders"<>:

...he forbad the rest of the phalanx to quit their ground, and taught them to receive the enemy's attack, with their knee rested against their shield, and their spears held out...This was so much celebrated in Greece, that Chabrias had a fancy to have the statue made for him in that posture, which was erected for him at the public charge by the Athenians in the forum. From whence it was, that afterwards wrestlers, and other artists, in the erecting of their statues, made use of those postures in which they had gotten a victory.

Chabrias' command was followed immediately and without question by the mercenaries under his command, to be copied by their counterparts beside them, the elite Sacred Band of Thebes under the command of Gorgidas. It was said that this "show of contempt" stopped the advancing Spartan forces, and shortly afterwards Agesilaus withdrew.In 376 BC he gained a decisive victory over the Spartan fleet off Naxos, but, when he might have destroyed the Spartan fleet, remembering the fate of the generals at Arginusae, he delayed further action against the Spartans so that his forces could pick up the bodies of his dead. Later, when the Athenians changed sides and joined the Spartans, he repulsed Epaminondas before the walls of Corinth.

In 376–375 BC the Triballi under the command of king Hales crossed Mount Haemus and advanced as far as Abdera, nearly destroying the city until Chabrias negotiated a peace between the Triballi and the king of Maronea, winning over the Triballi to the Athenian side.In 373 BC, Chabrias won the four-horse chariot race at the Pythian Games, and held a feast in celebration.In 366 BC, he and Callistratus were accused of treachery in advising the surrender of Oropus to the Thebans. He was acquitted, and soon after, he accepted a command under Teos, king of Egypt, who was defending his country against Persian reconquest. But on the outbreak of the Social War (357 BC), he joined Chares in commanding the Athenian fleet. He lost his life in an attack on the island of Chios.


Chaeronea ( or ; Greek: Χαιρώνεια Khaironeia, Ancient Greek: [kʰai̯rɔ̌ːneːa]) is a village and a former municipality in Boeotia, Greece, located about 80 kilometers east of Delphi. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Livadeia, of which it is a municipal unit. The municipal unit has an area of 111.445 km2, the community 26.995 km2. Population 1,382 (2011). It is located by the mountain Thourion and in the Kifisós river valley, NW of Thebes.

Charles Kains Jackson

Charles Philip Castle Kains Jackson (1857–1933) was an English poet closely associated with the Uranian school.

Cycladic culture

Cycladic culture (also known as Cycladic civilisation or, chronologically, as Cycladic chronology) was a Bronze Age culture (c. 3200–c. 1050 BC) found throughout the islands of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea. In chronological terms, it is a relative dating system for artefacts which broadly complements Helladic chronology (mainland Greece) and Minoan chronology (Crete) during the same period of time.


Gorgidas (Ancient Greek: Γοργίδας) was the first known Theban military leader of the Sacred Band of Thebes around 378 BC.

Plutarch in his Life of Pelopidas credits Gorgidas with the creation of the Sacred Band, which he dispersed at first throughout the front ranks of the regular infantry, with the idea that they would inspire valour. However, they were later arrayed by Pelopidas as a unit in order to make their gallantry more conspicuous.

Homosexuality in the militaries of ancient Greece

Homosexuality in the militaries of ancient Greece was regarded as contributing to morale. Although the primary example is the Sacred Band of Thebes, a unit said to have been formed of same-sex couples, the Spartan tradition of military heroism has also been explained in light of strong emotional bonds resulting from homosexual relationships. Various ancient Greek sources record incidents of courage in battle and interpret them as motivated by homoerotic bonds.

List of LGBT military and veteran organizations

The following is a list of existing and defunct organizations concerned with the advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender servicemembers and veterans of national armed forces.


A lochos, plural lochoi (Greek: λόχος lokhos, pl. λόχοι lokhoi), is a tactical sub unit of Classical Greece and of the modern Greek army. The term derived from the ancient Greek for ambush and the men carrying out the ambush, but in practice, its meaning was essentially that of "war-band", a body of armed men. This translation has been used traditionally, e.g. for the Sacred Band of Thebes.

Order of Chaeronea

The Order of Chaeronea was a secret society for the cultivation of a homosexual moral, ethical, cultural and spiritual ethos. It was founded by George Cecil Ives in 1897, as a result of his belief that homosexuals would not be accepted openly in society and must therefore have a means of underground communication.The society is named after the location of the battle where the Sacred Band of Thebes was finally annihilated in 338 BC.


In the culture of ancient Greece, the term paideia (also spelled paedeia) (; Greek: παιδεία, paideía) referred to the rearing and education of the ideal member of the polis. It incorporated both practical, subject-based schooling and a focus upon the socialization of individuals within the aristocratic order of the polis. The practical aspects of this education included subjects subsumed under the modern designation of the liberal arts (rhetoric, grammar, and philosophy are examples), as well as scientific disciplines like arithmetic and medicine. An ideal and successful member of the polis would possess intellectual, moral and physical refinement, so training in gymnastics and wrestling was valued for its effect on the body alongside the moral education which the Greeks believed was imparted by the study of music, poetry, and philosophy. This approach to the rearing of a well-rounded Greek male was common to the Greek-speaking world, with the exception of Sparta where a rigid and militaristic form of education known as the agoge was practiced.

Sacred Band (1821)

The Sacred Band (Greek: Ἱερὸς Λόχος) was a military force founded by Alexander Ypsilantis at the beginning of the Greek War of Independence, in the middle of March 1821 in Wallachia, now part of Romania. It was formed by volunteers students of the Greek communities of Moldavia, Wallachia and Odessa. It was the first organized military unit of the Greek War of Independence (1821) and of the Greek army in general. Ypsilantis thought that these young people could become the soul of his army. That was the reason that he borrowed the name of the Sacred Band of Thebes.

Sacred band

The term Sacred Band, also Sacred Company or Sacred Squadron (from Ancient Greek: Ἱερὸς Λόχος, Modern Greek: Ιερός Λόχος) can refer to one of the following military units:

In the ancient world:

Sacred Band of Thebes

Sacred Band of CarthageIn modern Greek history, the name has been used to denote several military units:

Sacred Band (1821) of the Greek War of Independence

Cretan Sacred Band during the Cretan Revolt of 1866–1869

Cretan Student's Sacred Band, which participated in the Balkan Wars as a part of the Hellenic Army

Epirote Sacred Band (1914), formed during the establishment of the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus.

Sacred Band (World War II), a special forces unit composed entirely of officersIn fiction:

the Sacred Band of Stepsons is a mythical Sacred Band of ancient cavalry fighters that eventually unites with the survivors of the Sacred Band of Thebes in a seven-novel saga

Tempus (novel)

Tempus With His Right Side Companion Niko is a novelized collection of fourteen previously-published short stories in the Sacred Band series by Janet Morris. Originally published in 1987 by Baen, it was reissued in 2011 by Paradise Publishing.

The Sacred Band of Stepsons

The Sacred Band of Stepsons is a fictional ancient cavalry unit created by Janet Morris and based on the historical Sacred Band of Thebes, an elite strike force of paired lovers and friends that flourished during the fourth century BC in ancient Greece, where sexuality was a behavior, not an identity. The Sacred Band of Stepsons series of fantasy novels and stories take place in a myth-like milieu that mixes historical places such as Nisibis, Mygdonia and Chaeronea; warriors such as Theagenes (commander of the Theban Sacred Band at Chaeronea); gods such as Enlil, Maat and Harmonia; philosophers such as Heraclitus and Thales; cavalry tactics and customs such as homosexuality in the militaries of ancient Greece with those that exist only in fantasy. The exploits of the Stepsons are chronicled in eleven short stories and nine novels (as of 2012). In a fantasy context, this series explores the difficulties facing war-fighters in personal relationships and the enduring questions surrounding the military's historical mixing of homosexuals and heterosexuals in combat.

Thebes, Greece

Thebes (; Greek: Θήβα, Thíva [ˈθiva]; Ancient Greek: Θῆβαι, Thêbai [tʰɛ̂ːbai̯]) is a city in Boeotia, central Greece. It played an important role in Greek myths, as the site of the stories of Cadmus, Oedipus, Dionysus, Heracles and others. Archaeological excavations in and around Thebes have revealed a Mycenaean settlement and clay tablets written in the Linear B script, indicating the importance of the site in the Bronze Age.

Thebes was the largest city of the ancient region of Boeotia and was the leader of the Boeotian confederacy. It was a major rival of ancient Athens, and sided with the Persians during the 480 BC invasion under Xerxes. Theban forces under the command of Epaminondas ended the power of Sparta at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC. The Sacred Band of Thebes (an elite military unit) famously fell at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC against Philip II and Alexander the Great. Prior to its destruction by Alexander in 335 BC, Thebes was a major force in Greek history, and was the most dominant city-state at the time of the Macedonian conquest of Greece. During the Byzantine period, the city was famous for its silks.

The modern city contains an Archaeological Museum, the remains of the Cadmea (Bronze Age and forward citadel), and scattered ancient remains. Modern Thebes is the largest town of the regional unit of Boeotia.

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