Gay Soldiers in Ancient Greece

April 3, 2007 at 11:10 AM | Posted in History | 7 Comments

While I was researching for an article about Greece, I came across this interesting piece of trivia. Apparently during ancient times, there was a group of Greek soldiers called the Sacred Band of Thebes, which was formed by Theban commander Gorgidas in 4th century BC.
The Sacred Band of Thebes was composed of 150 pairs of male lovers (300 in total, which was coincidentally the number of soldiers led by King Leonidas I in the Battle of Thermopylae as depicted in the movie 300). It was believed then that lovers in battle would fight more fiercely and therefore invincible than soldiers who didn’t have a bond. This concept was according to Plato’s Symposium.

It is interesting to note and kind of surprising that homosexuality already existed in ancient times, and that ancient Greeks practiced pederasty and celebrated love between males in symposia. I could hardly imagine Greek warriors fighting side by side with their male lovers. In recent years, films about Greek battles like Troy and 300 show us a different depiction. Audiences are led to believe that these Greek soldiers were heterosexual males who had wives and children. Now I’m wondering whether Achilles’ love for his cousin Patroclus was just brotherly love or not; or whether King Leonidas had homosexual tendencies towards his 300 men. Hmm, What do you think?

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  1. that was an interesting article.

    “It was believed then that lovers in battle would fight more fiercely and therefore invincible than soldiers who didn’t have a bond.” – this might be true because lovers in general tend to do everything to protect each other… isn’t that sweeet ^_^

  2. Patroklos wasn’t Achilles’ brother at all, it’s just the movie Troy that made them family, because in reality, they were indeed lovers.
    (You should read the original Ilias, he’s not the only one)

  3. Oh really? I have this vague recollection of my English class in high school that Patroclus was Achilles’ cousin. Hm, I might be wrong then. Thanks for pointing that out 😉

    • He was his cousin but they also had feelings involved with each other

  4. I think you definatly need to read more about the situation.
    First of all, it’s not called “homosexuality”, they’re not gay. It’s called “pederasty”, the relationship between an older man and a younger man. When a young man first started to grow a beard he was no longer attractive to older men, that gives you an idea of how old the young men were. The whole world does not fall into gay, straight or bisexual.
    Troy was wildy innaccurate, but in the text the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus can be interpreted either way. At the time when pederasty was acceptable, their relationship was pederastic. Interpreted now, they’re just good friends.
    In the movie 300, the King mocks the Greeks for pederasty, so it can be assumed that in the highly inaccurate movie that the King at least does not approve of this behaviour, although it probably took place.

  5. Well its hard to say. The ancient Greeks did have pederasty. They believed it played an important role in their society for a younger male to be guided by his elder. In turn for wisdom, hunting, farming and fighting knowledge, the younger male would submit to the older. It was important that the men were married to women for procreation and took responsibility for his family, but sexual pleasure came from homosexuality. It was looked down upon for two older males to copulate and especially frowned upon for the receiver. It was believed in Greek mythology that Zeus took a boy named Ganymede to Olympus with a golden eagle to be his lover. Since Herra could not harm the boy, her vengeance was by starting the Trojan war to punish the Greeks. There is no mention of Leonidis or the 300 ever being lovers in history, but with the structure of society at this time, they may have had male lovers that werent soldiers and thus made them fight harder for his land and people. Greek society frowned on two grown men being lovers, so I doubt the soldiers engaged with each other.

  6. Actually the real patroclus wasn’t Achilles’ cousin it was his gay lover but the movie changed it


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