Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Spartan Myths - Spartan Warriors Embraced Homosexuality

I run across this photo or something similar every so often and want to say, "That's the Thebans!"

The Sacred Band of Thebes, consisting of paired erastês and erômenos, was founded by commander Gorgidas in 378 BC and fell to Philip of Macedon in 338 BC.

Greece in general, and Sparta specifically, was not the haven of homosexuality that many people wish to portray it as.

Crete, Athens, Corinth and Thebes practiced pederasty. A homosocial institute that encouraged love in a myriad of forms between an older man (erastês) and a youth (erômenos). The terms carry certain connotations that directly or indirectly influence modern views on this relationship.

The mentor, or erastês, is intended to be an older man who guides the youth through the upper echelons of society. This was a form of social networking. Erastês means "lover". This has been taken to imply a sexual relationship. Especially as erômenos means "beloved". These are not so much descriptions of the individuals as titles for their place in the relationship.

Were all pederastic relationships sexual? I doubt that was the case, as the majority of men now, and likely then, identify as straight/heterosexual. That's nothing more than statistics. Were there bisexuals and bi-curious individuals? Without a doubt, but once again not to the exclusion of straight individuals.

In ancient Greece, men, regardless of their sexual identity, were expected to marry and produce offspring. They married her and got their heirs. Then they had mistresses, went to brothels, and of course boys were an option.

Even then, there were strict rules on who, when and how. Who: Young men of the upper classes. Wouldn't do to have commoners hobnobbing with their betters. When: The youths must be beardless. Once he grew facial hair, he was no longer acceptable. He was now an equal and if the relationship continued, he lost that standing and became "womanish". How: Intercrural, where the older man places his penis between the thighs (literally, not figuratively) and rubs off on the youth. Penetration was only for inferiors, i.e. women and slaves.

So that is pederasty in the Hellenic world.

Sparta was always a bit different, but they really began to march to their own drum under Lycurgus the Lawgiver. He set up their entire social order to make them the best warriors the Hellenes ever knew.

The two kings were usurped by his ephors, becoming primarily generals and priests. All children underwent the agōgē, a strict method of schooling that produced elite warriors and strong-minded women. He changed pederasty to more of a foster father/son relationship, the titles employed to "inspirer" and "hearer", and made sexual love between the man and youth punishable by exile or suicide.

Xenophon of Athens, the only contemporary source, sent his sons to participate in the Spartan agōgē. He categorically denied any sexual aspects to the relationship in Sparta.

Aristotle further claims that the lack of homosexuality in Sparta was responsible for the deplorable way the Spartan women acted. They were literate and schooled in mathematics, song and dance, and participated in athletics. All purviews of men. Thus they were considered outrageously outspoken by the rest of the Greek world.

I'm not saying that homosexual relationships didn't occur in Sparta, I'm sure they did--after all, I've just written a series of novels based on the idea of a forbidden love set in Sparta--just not out in the open like elsewhere in Greece. And look at my previous post about Apollo and Hyacinth, a Spartan prince. Just remember that is a "survival" of an older system that was supplanted by the Spartan view of themselves.

I suspect that the more prevalent form of pederasty may have been practiced in Sparta until someone who later came to power had a very negative experience and chose to stamp it out of their society.


  1. Always love your historical tidbits!

  2. Thank you!
    While The Sacred Band did exist, the Spartans and Thebans would be upset with the incorrect attribution.

  3. Awesome history lesson on a subject you clearly love, considering you write about it. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I hope you read the previous posts as well. I still have at least one more to go.