Saturday, June 18, 2022

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


James Romm's The Sacred Band: Three Hundred Theban Lovers Fighting to Save Greek Freedom is a well written history of an important period of Greek and political history, roughly 382-335 BC. Readers looking for an emphasis on the Sacred Band of Thebes, however, will be disappointed. Romm tells us what is known about the fighting unit composed of what today would be termed gay lovers. But not much is known. If you expect this history to center on the elite force, you will be disappointed. It really doesn't, although it is centered on Thebes the city, and its fragile democracy.

The greatest lesson here is not the undoubted heroism of The Sacred Band, but the seemingly eternal struggle between freedom and autocracy. Thebes, like many Greek cites of the time, flipped back and forth several times in the 47 years covered here. This history shows how little the mass of the people had to do with these somersaults between democracy and dictatorship. It had to do with the wealth of the upper class who wanted oligarchical rule and the military strength of opposing cities who looked for Thebes' downfall. Sadly, both Thebes and its Sacred Band ended by annihilation. Literally although at different times.

The Book is worth reading, but ignore the title, it is just bait. I fell for it, and I'm still glad I read the book, although I might have felt better about it had the title been an honest portrayal of the contents instead of an attractive lure.

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