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

Scribner. Jun. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9781501198014. $28. HIST
In this excellent work, Romm (classics, Bard Coll.; Ghost on the Throne) convincingly argues that Thebes was as important as Athens and Sparta during the last century of its history (400–330 BCE). The title gives first billing to the Sacred Band, a warrior group of 300 paired male lovers, but most of the author’s attention is deservedly given over to Thebes’s dynamic leaders Pelopidas and Epaminondas, whose efforts propelled the Egyptian city to prominence. Their deaths immediately preceded—and likely precipitated—Theban decline and the city’s ultimate destruction at the hands of Alexander the Great. Excellent vignettes of contemporary non-Thebans (particularly Xenophon, an Athenian student of Socrates who was an unabashed partisan for Sparta) enhance the narrative. In fascinating asides, Romm also recounts classicists’ confrontation, from the 19th century onward, of the history of the Sacred Band, which meant wrestling with their own attitudes towards gay love; some classicists denied its existence outright, while others secretly yearned to embrace it.
VERDICT Interest in Thebes among general readers of popular classics is rising; as such, this book is highly recommended and will appeal to fans of Thebes, by Paul Cartledge, as well as readers of LGBTQ+ history.
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