The Sacred Band: Three Hundred Theban Lovers Fighting to Save Greek Freedom

James Romm. Scribner, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5011-9801-4
Bard College classics professor Romm (Dying Every Day) delivers a brisk account of the city-state of Thebes focused on the Sacred Band, an elite fighting force made up of 150 “male couples, stationed in pairs such that each man fought beside his beloved.” Often overshadowed in historical accounts by its rivals, Sparta and Athens, Thebes was unique in ancient Greece for its acceptance of homosexuality (men were allowed to exchange vows and live together as couples). Founded to protect Thebes after a coup attempt (likely orchestrated by Spartan leader Agesilaus), was defeated, the Sacred Band helped serve Sparta its first battlefield loss in centuries at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BCE, rattling Greece’s power structures. Thebes then set up a series of walled cities and federations, creating a network of allies that extended Theban power in the region and isolated enemies. But those alliances shifted in the decades that followed, setting the stage for Alexander the Great’s annihilation of the Sacred Band in 338 BCE. Though short on specifics about the Sacred Band itself, Romm lucidly describes the era’s complex power struggles and explains how the pro-Sparta bias of Xenophon, who wrote the only surviving contemporaneous account of “the era of Theban greatness,” has colored modern perceptions of Thebes. This is an eye-opening and immersive portrait of a little-known aspect of ancient history. (June)
Reviewed on : 03/18/2021
Release date: 06/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-7971-2921-1
Compact Disc - 978-1-7971-2923-5
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