The idea of having a relationship with someone of the same gender was almost nonexistent during ancient times. Some allowed same-sex union, like in Ancient Mesopotamia, some regions of China, and ancient Greece and Rome. Being openly homosexual (and all the other gender identities we have now) was not accepted until recent times.

The military was even more unaccepting. For instance, same-sex relationships were criminalized and could be a reason for being discharged. In the 1940s, it was even considered a mental illness, thus a reason to be not accepted in the army. In 1982, gay men and lesbians were explicitly banned from holding ranks. To think that these years were not too far away from now, you would be surprised to know that same-sex relationships in ancient Thebes were permitted and valued in the 4th century BC.

Forming The Sacred Band of Thebes

The Sacred Band of Thebes members were professional fighters trained, housed, and paid for by Thebes’ Greek city-state. They were considered professional fighters, which was not common in ancient Greece. Before they were formed, there was only the Theban army. However, after the Spartan garrison managed to occupy the Theban citadel of Cadmea and the Thebans had to ask for the Athenians’ help to expel them, they realized they had to form an elite fighting division to prevent the same thing from happening again. Led by Gorgidas, the Sacred Band was created as a branch of the Theban army.

Gordigas handpicked 300 men. He selected them not only because of their physical attributes and military merit but also because they were all same-sex lovers, thus forming 150 pairs. There were some debates among historians on whether the idea was inspired by the writing of the Greek philosopher Plato in his The Symposium. In his book, he said,