Gays in the Military: The Sacred Band Of Thebes

There is a big kerfluffle over repealing DADT. Republicans are against it, even though the military is for it. One is amused at the split in opinion between the two groups. At any rate, the Wall Street Journal is against it. Says Mackubin Ownes:

[T]he military stresses such martial virtues as courage, both physical and moral, a sense of honor and duty, discipline, a professional code of conduct, and loyalty. It places a premium on such factors as unit cohesion and morale. The glue of the military ethos is what the Greeks called philia-friendship, comradeship or brotherly love. Philia, the bond among disparate individuals who have nothing in common but facing death and misery together, is the source of the unit cohesion that most research has shown to be critical to battlefield success.

Philia depends on fairness and the absence of favoritism. Favoritism and double standards are deadly to philia and its associated
phenomena-cohesion, morale and discipline-are absolutely critical to the success of a military organization.

The presence of open homosexuals in the close confines of ships or military units opens the possibility that eros-which unlike philia is sexual, and therefore individual and exclusive-will be unleashed into the environment. Eros manifests itself as sexual competition, protectiveness and favoritism, all of which undermine the nonsexual bonding essential to unit cohesion, good order, discipline and morale.

Well, since you mentioned the Greeks in this context I feel compelled to mention the Sacred Band of Thebes:

The Sacred Band originally was formed of picked men in couples, each lover and beloved selected from the ranks of the existing Theban citizen-army. The pairs consisted of the older “heniochoi”, or charioteers, and the younger “paraibatai”, or companions, who were all housed and trained at the city’s expense. During their early engagements, in an attempt to bolster general morale, they were dispersed by Gorgidas throughout the front ranks of the Theban army.

After the Theban general Pelopidas recaptured the acropolis of Thebes in 379 BCE, he assumed command of the Sacred Band, in which he fought alongside his good friend Epaminondas. It was Pelopidas who formed these couples into a distinct unit: he “never separated or scattered them, but would stand [them with himself in] the brunt of battle, using them as one body.”[5] They became, in effect, the “special forces” of Greek soldiery[6], and the forty years of their known existence (378-338 BCE) marked the pre-eminence of Thebes as a military and political power in late-classical Greece.

The Sacred Band under Pelopidas fought the Spartans at Tegyra in 375 BCE, vanquishing an army that was at least three times its size. It was also responsible for the victory at Leuctra in 371 BCE, called by Pausanias the most decisive battle ever fought by Greeks against Greeks.

Rumour has it that Sparta also allowed gays in their military. Just sayin…

One Response

  1. You reminded me of something I read for my dissertation. Now every time I hear anything about gays in the army, I take it out and re-read it.

    “No doubt the boy-loving Hadrian also appreciated the nearby tomb: it commemorated Epaminondas’ boy-lover. Perhaps he also discovered that Epaminondas’ victories had been helped by a famous homoerotic unit, the Thebans’ ‘Sacred Band’ of 300 infantrymen who were bound together by homoerotic pairing. The merits of ‘gays in the army’ had been discussed by Greeks at least since the time of Socrates. They had also been exemplified individually in the Spartans’ own ranks. but the Sacred Band made sex between males a necessity.”

    RL Fox 2006, The Classical World, Penguin, p181

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