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

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From classicist James Romm comes a thrilling deep dive into the last decades of ancient Greek freedom leading up to Alexander the Great’s destruction of Thebes—and the saga of the greatest military corps of the age, the Theban Sacred Band, a unit composed of 150 pairs of male lovers. The story of the Sacred Band, an elite 300-man corps recruited from pairs of lovers, highli From classicist James Romm comes a thrilling deep dive into the last decades of ancient Greek freedom leading up to Alexander the Great’s destruction of Thebes—and the saga of the greatest military corps of the age, the Theban Sacred Band, a unit composed of 150 pairs of male lovers. The story of the Sacred Band, an elite 300-man corps recruited from pairs of lovers, highlights a chaotic era of ancient Greek history, four decades marked by battles, ideological disputes, and the rise of vicious strongmen. At stake was freedom, democracy, and the fate of Thebes, at this time the leading power of the Greek world. The tale begins in 379 BC, with a group of Theban patriots sneaking into occupied Thebes. Disguised in women’s clothing, they cut down the agents of Sparta, the state that had cowed much of Greece with its military might. To counter the Spartans, this group of patriots would form the Sacred Band, a corps whose history plays out against a backdrop of Theban democracy, of desperate power struggles between leading city-states, and the new prominence of eros, sexual love, in Greek public life. After four decades without a defeat, the Sacred Band was annihilated by the forces of Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander in the Battle of Chaeronea—extinguishing Greek liberty for two thousand years. Buried on the battlefield where they fell, they were rediscovered in 1880—some skeletons still in pairs, with arms linked together. From violent combat in city streets to massive clashes on open ground, from ruthless tyrants to bold women who held their era in thrall, The Sacred Band follows the twists and turns of a crucial historical moment: the end of the treasured freedom of ancient Greece.


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From classicist James Romm comes a thrilling deep dive into the last decades of ancient Greek freedom leading up to Alexander the Great’s destruction of Thebes—and the saga of the greatest military corps of the age, the Theban Sacred Band, a unit composed of 150 pairs of male lovers. The story of the Sacred Band, an elite 300-man corps recruited from pairs of lovers, highli From classicist James Romm comes a thrilling deep dive into the last decades of ancient Greek freedom leading up to Alexander the Great’s destruction of Thebes—and the saga of the greatest military corps of the age, the Theban Sacred Band, a unit composed of 150 pairs of male lovers. The story of the Sacred Band, an elite 300-man corps recruited from pairs of lovers, highlights a chaotic era of ancient Greek history, four decades marked by battles, ideological disputes, and the rise of vicious strongmen. At stake was freedom, democracy, and the fate of Thebes, at this time the leading power of the Greek world. The tale begins in 379 BC, with a group of Theban patriots sneaking into occupied Thebes. Disguised in women’s clothing, they cut down the agents of Sparta, the state that had cowed much of Greece with its military might. To counter the Spartans, this group of patriots would form the Sacred Band, a corps whose history plays out against a backdrop of Theban democracy, of desperate power struggles between leading city-states, and the new prominence of eros, sexual love, in Greek public life. After four decades without a defeat, the Sacred Band was annihilated by the forces of Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander in the Battle of Chaeronea—extinguishing Greek liberty for two thousand years. Buried on the battlefield where they fell, they were rediscovered in 1880—some skeletons still in pairs, with arms linked together. From violent combat in city streets to massive clashes on open ground, from ruthless tyrants to bold women who held their era in thrall, The Sacred Band follows the twists and turns of a crucial historical moment: the end of the treasured freedom of ancient Greece.

30 review for The Sacred Band: Three Hundred Theban Lovers Fighting to Save Greek Freedom

  1. 5 out of 5

    Teal

    How excited am I about this book? Let's just say I'm making a note to myself to be sure not to die before it releases in June 2021. I guess that makes it a bucket list book. How excited am I about this book? Let's just say I'm making a note to myself to be sure not to die before it releases in June 2021. I guess that makes it a bucket list book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    William2

    It surprising how continuous author Romm is able to make his story, considering he worked from so many fragmented sources. Told with alacrity and wit, the tale positively hurtles along. I knew nothing before reading this book about the long-suffering Peloponnesian city-states’ bloody revolt against Spartan tyrrany, ca. 380 BC, and the role Thebes played in it. It’s deeply satisfying to read about. But it’s just part of the story of the Sacred Band, whose engine was erôs. The theory goes that a fi It surprising how continuous author Romm is able to make his story, considering he worked from so many fragmented sources. Told with alacrity and wit, the tale positively hurtles along. I knew nothing before reading this book about the long-suffering Peloponnesian city-states’ bloody revolt against Spartan tyrrany, ca. 380 BC, and the role Thebes played in it. It’s deeply satisfying to read about. But it’s just part of the story of the Sacred Band, whose engine was erôs. The theory goes that a fighting force made of male couples would possess a keener impulse to win at war than other fighters, because lovers would not want to disappoint each other. The idea was discussed by Xenophon in his Hellenica—he was a booster of Sparta who thought male erôs could only be weakness, never virtue. Plato, however, in both Symposium and Phaedrus, suggested the motivation of same-sex lovers might be greater than that of ordinary unattached soldiers. “Pammenes understood the Sacred Band, for it was he, according to one account, who first thought to station its lovers side by side. Plutarch explains the rationale, in words that perhaps came from Pammenes himself: ‘Men abandon their clansman and kinsman, even—by Zeus!— their parents and children; but no enemy ever came between an erastês and his erômenos.’ Significantly, Plutarch here calls Pammenes an erôtikos anêr, a term of high praise in this context: a man devoted to matters of erôs.” (p. 209) Coincident with the formation of the Theban Sacred Band was the discovery of a new style of fighting. Instead of the rigid Greek phalanx, one of the Sacred Band’s leader, Pelopidas—the other was Epaminondas—saw how an attack focused at a single point of enemy weakness could be radically advantageous. This is how the Thebans fought Sparta at both Tegyra and Leuctra which helped precipitate the aforementioned Spartan collapse. There are so many narrative satisfactions here that I cannot begin to summarize them. Please read this wonderful book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    In The Sacred Band James Romm transports readers back to 379 B.C. to the rise of Thebes and the fight for Greek freedom. In 379 B.C. Spartan troops - and their autocratic allies in Thebes - had decimated Thebean democracy and turned its city into a puppet. Out of exile in Athens, a group of soldiers - the Sacred Band - would rise up and take back their city. This band, formed of male lovers who fought side-by-side with each other would, for a period of decades, be the most feared military force In The Sacred Band James Romm transports readers back to 379 B.C. to the rise of Thebes and the fight for Greek freedom. In 379 B.C. Spartan troops - and their autocratic allies in Thebes - had decimated Thebean democracy and turned its city into a puppet. Out of exile in Athens, a group of soldiers - the Sacred Band - would rise up and take back their city. This band, formed of male lovers who fought side-by-side with each other would, for a period of decades, be the most feared military force in all of Greece. The success of the Sacred Band proved that male-to-male love was more than just a symbol and more than just hedonistic: it could be used to fight for and protect Greek's greatest gift to man kind: freedom and democracy. Romm's voice is unparalleled; reading The Sacred Band is not like reading most accounts of Greek literature. Though technically a work of historical scholarship, this book has the voice of literary fiction and the storytelling makes it nearly impossible to put down. My only qualm? That sadly the Sacred Band is only tangential to the story the book actually tells, which is more a story of the waning years of Greek democracy. But the moral of the story shines through: queerness - even in the Greek sense - was a bastion of freedom in the face of tyranny.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Juliew.

    I thought this was a very fitting tribute to the Sacred Band which was an army of 300 Theban lovers united to take on all of Greece.They were at first conceived to combat Spartan supremacy and with their eventual win over them they soon discovered themselves pitted against their former allies of Athens and Macedonia.The book goes on to detail how this happened,what actually befell them and the very moving drawings of their final resting place on the plains of Chaeronea.Highly recommend if you en I thought this was a very fitting tribute to the Sacred Band which was an army of 300 Theban lovers united to take on all of Greece.They were at first conceived to combat Spartan supremacy and with their eventual win over them they soon discovered themselves pitted against their former allies of Athens and Macedonia.The book goes on to detail how this happened,what actually befell them and the very moving drawings of their final resting place on the plains of Chaeronea.Highly recommend if you enjoy Greek history. Much thanks to Netgalley for providing me a copy in exchange for my honest review.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kevin B. Jennings

    So this book wasn’t what I expected. While there is content on The Sacred Band specifically (and attitudes towards same-sex relationships in Ancient Greece in general), this book is really a history of Ancient Greece in the 4th century BC, centered on the city-state of Thebes, before it fell under the sway of Philip of Macedonia — very interesting, but not really what the title advertises. I will give the author credit for working with what I am sure was scant material to do the best he could, b So this book wasn’t what I expected. While there is content on The Sacred Band specifically (and attitudes towards same-sex relationships in Ancient Greece in general), this book is really a history of Ancient Greece in the 4th century BC, centered on the city-state of Thebes, before it fell under the sway of Philip of Macedonia — very interesting, but not really what the title advertises. I will give the author credit for working with what I am sure was scant material to do the best he could, but readers expecting a detailed book about The Sacred Band (which I was) will most likely be disappointed.

  6. 4 out of 5

    T.R. Preston

    Cool, just passed by this and read the first few sentences of the description. Best book of all time already. Give it to me now.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Charles Stephen

    Having completed The Sacred Band, I can say that my gay fantasy of finding personal fulfillment in being transported back to the time of these Theban lovers has been totally discarded. Not for me to bear arms in combat, with or without a boyfriend by my side. Not for me a belief system with anthropomorphized gods and goddesses. Not for me to be carried off as chattel to work the fields of another polis. Not for me the life of a mercenary. Thank you, James Romm, I needed this book. Romm acknowled Having completed The Sacred Band, I can say that my gay fantasy of finding personal fulfillment in being transported back to the time of these Theban lovers has been totally discarded. Not for me to bear arms in combat, with or without a boyfriend by my side. Not for me a belief system with anthropomorphized gods and goddesses. Not for me to be carried off as chattel to work the fields of another polis. Not for me the life of a mercenary. Thank you, James Romm, I needed this book. Romm acknowledged that, from the uncovering of their mass grave at Chaeronea in 1880, men attracted to men were mesmerized by the very idea of The Sacred Band. Our craving to understand them has been quenched. Information about these military lovers is so contextualized in the life of ancient Thebes, that their sexual attractions recede to the level that sexual attractions play for us moderns: they are just a part of the whole person we aspire to be. The best books, in my opinion, are the ones that have me pondering and questioning for days afterwards, and The Sacred Band is certainly one. I have deepest respect for historians who write engagingly about the past and still make subtle commentary on 21st century events. If I could interview Romm, I would question him about his perceived similarities between our time and Greece in the 4th century B.C.E. By all means pick up this book and read it. You will be as delighted with it as you were as a teen with myths about Greek gods and tales of mortal heroes. This review is not an endorsement of amazon.com or any business owned by Jeff Bezos. Books for my reviews were checked out from a public library, purchased from a local brick-and-mortar book shop, or ordered from my favorite website for rare and out-of-print books.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gabriele | QueerBookdom

    DRC provided by Scribner via Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review. Content Warning: exhumation, death, war, incest, violence, homophobia, slavery, rape, torture. The Sacred Band: Three Hundred Theban Lovers Fighting to Save Greek Freedom by James Romm is a non-fiction, historical novel about the one-hundred-and-fifty fearless queer couples of soldiers of Thebes, depicting their origin, the years in which they remained triumphant against their enemies, included Athens and Sparta, and ultimat DRC provided by Scribner via Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review. Content Warning: exhumation, death, war, incest, violence, homophobia, slavery, rape, torture. The Sacred Band: Three Hundred Theban Lovers Fighting to Save Greek Freedom by James Romm is a non-fiction, historical novel about the one-hundred-and-fifty fearless queer couples of soldiers of Thebes, depicting their origin, the years in which they remained triumphant against their enemies, included Athens and Sparta, and ultimately their defeat brought about by the legendary Macedonian king, Alexander The Great. I really appreciated this book and all the information it recollected about Thebes and its brave queer warriors. Facts, which many historians tried to disparage, deny or delete. An event that has happened again and again. One only needs to think about Stith Thompson, a homophobic academic from the twentieth century who erased numerous queer fairy tales and folkloristic stories from an index he was participating in creating because of his own bigoted bias. My heart weeps at the thought of everything we lost because of ignorance and hatred.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Anneke

    Book Review: The Sacred Band - Three Hundred Theban Lovers Fighting to Save Greek Freedom Author: James Romm Publisher: Scribner Publication Date: June 8, 2021 Review Date: February 17, 2021 I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the blurb: “From classicist James Romm comes a thrilling deep dive into the last decades of ancient Greek freedom leading up to Alexander the Great’s destruction of Thebes—and the saga of the greatest military corps of the age Book Review: The Sacred Band - Three Hundred Theban Lovers Fighting to Save Greek Freedom Author: James Romm Publisher: Scribner Publication Date: June 8, 2021 Review Date: February 17, 2021 I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the blurb: “From classicist James Romm comes a thrilling deep dive into the last decades of ancient Greek freedom leading up to Alexander the Great’s destruction of Thebes—and the saga of the greatest military corps of the age, the Theban Sacred Band, a unit composed of 150 pairs of male lovers. The story of the Sacred Band, an elite 300-man corps recruited from pairs of lovers, highlights a chaotic era of ancient Greek history, four decades marked by battles, ideological disputes, and the rise of vicious strongmen. At stake was freedom, democracy, and the fate of Thebes, at this time the leading power of the Greek world. The tale begins in 379 BC, with a group of Theban patriots sneaking into occupied Thebes. Disguised in women’s clothing, they cut down the agents of Sparta, the state that had cowed much of Greece with its military might. To counter the Spartans, this group of patriots would form the Sacred Band, a corps whose history plays out against a backdrop of Theban democracy, of desperate power struggles between leading city-states, and the new prominence of eros, sexual love, in Greek public life. After four decades without a defeat, the Sacred Band was annihilated by the forces of Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander in the Battle of Chaeronea—extinguishing Greek liberty for two thousand years. Buried on the battlefield where they fell, they were rediscovered in 1880—some skeletons still in pairs, with arms linked together. From violent combat in city streets to massive clashes on open ground, from ruthless tyrants to bold women who held their era in thrall, The Sacred Band follows the twists and turns of a crucial historical moment: the end of the treasured freedom of ancient Greece.” —— In another life, I very well might have chosen to be an academic, a tenured professor in Greek and Roman Classic Literature and History. Alas, that is not the path I chose, but I still retain a keen interest in Classic literature and history. This is a very well written book about the history of Thebes, and more importantly, the constant fight between the city-states Athens and Sparta. This was the same fight we are still fighting today: democracy versus autocracy. Athens being the beginning and center of democracy, and Sparta, the autocratic state. Some things never change. This was some complex history that was described, but Romm’s writing style is smooth and very easy to read. Though much of what was written about was very detailed and specific history, I never felt bogged down. For those who love to read history or are fans of the Classical Greece, this is a must-read book. Thank you to Scribner for giving me early access to this fantastic history book. Best of luck to Dr. Romm with his continued research and writing. This review will be posted on NetGalley and Goodreads. #netgalley #thesacredband #jamesromm #scribner #thebes

  10. 5 out of 5

    Olivia

    I received this book in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. I would like to start out and say that this is well researched, and James Romm knows his stuff. My main issues lies in the reliability of primary sources, some sketchy interpretation of osteology, and overall accessibility. I think non academics will struggle to finish this, and feel like the military history could be more concise. James Romm attempts to tackle a topic mentioned by Xenophon, a contemporary, and in Plato's Sympo I received this book in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. I would like to start out and say that this is well researched, and James Romm knows his stuff. My main issues lies in the reliability of primary sources, some sketchy interpretation of osteology, and overall accessibility. I think non academics will struggle to finish this, and feel like the military history could be more concise. James Romm attempts to tackle a topic mentioned by Xenophon, a contemporary, and in Plato's Symposium that is rarely talked about in the Classical word. There is so little on it mentioned, that, in retrospect, makes complete sense that this is a book mostly about the conflict between Thebes and Sparta, and less about the Band themselves. I will admit I had to skim a lot after the 1st half of the book to look for discussions on the Sacred Band specifically. As one who has training in Classical Archaeology, I was not convinced by this book. Not to say it wasn't as enjoyable or interesting at times, but it's a bit sensationalistic (to me). What I thought would be a more in depth look at the Band itself, arguments and evidence from a variety of scholars, was a military history of the aegean. I do not doubt the remains at Chaeronea were Thebans who were killed at Chaeronea, but using osteological data to support the nature of the soldier's relationship - the courageous unwillingness to die despite the brutality of the wounds inflicted (the insinuation being because of the romantic nature of the sacred band) is odd and very unscientific and again, sensationalist. That was the nail in the coffin for me towards the end (pun intended). That they were lovers bound together in this romanticized way feels almost mythological- a product popularized by Plato who was no doubt read by these later sources. The grouping of 300 (why is it always 300 with these legendary forces?) is almost a trope in the classics world, and the key sources such as Plutarch who. is heavily relied upon, writing about the Band themselves were writing hundreds of years after the fact, making it even more likely it may have been more romantic myth than fact. That is a fact that is not emphasized enough by the author in my opinion. I think most classical archaeologists would be extremely skeptical of this book. If you're actually wanting to learn more about the sacred band itself, it's worth skimming the chapters, and looking at various sources with a critical eye. If you're thinking this will be a book to learn more about homoeroticism in the Greek world, this is definitely not the book. On that end, it's worth considering that if homoeroticism was as prevalent in the Greek world as we believe and it appears to be, than this "band of lovers" dynamic in the military setting likely was not as unique to just the Theban forces. If you enjoy Greek military history, you'll probably like this because that's largely what this book is.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    I enjoyed this book immensely. The Sacred Band was an ancient Theban military unit, as legend has it, comprised of 150 pairs of male lovers. The book covered the band's inception, main military feat and final demise at the hands Philip and Alexander of Macedon during the 4th century BCE. The author also had passages of perception of warrior homoeroticism through the ages, which was interesting. But I agree with other reviewers that this book wasn't so much about the Band itself, but a thorough hi I enjoyed this book immensely. The Sacred Band was an ancient Theban military unit, as legend has it, comprised of 150 pairs of male lovers. The book covered the band's inception, main military feat and final demise at the hands Philip and Alexander of Macedon during the 4th century BCE. The author also had passages of perception of warrior homoeroticism through the ages, which was interesting. But I agree with other reviewers that this book wasn't so much about the Band itself, but a thorough history of the half century of Greek interstate history - from the end of the Peloponnesian war to the rise of Macedonia - though for me this was a plus. Romm used Plutarch(liberally) and Xenephon(critically) as his main sources and some Diodorus and presented the less covered classical Boetian history in a new light. Although I found the title and narrative of Thebans trying to save Greek freedom a bit propaganda'ish(not unlike Horodotus), I was very much engrossed by the rise and fall of Thebes, and the vivid characters of Epaminondas and Pelopidas. I've had the luxury to travel to both Chaeronea and Messene. As Romm mentioned there were hardly any tourists. It's strange how some histories get immortalized while others are mostly forgotten. In the archeological museum of Chaeronea are the artifacts excavated from the mass grave attributed to the Band. The strigils and drinking cups were very moving. With this book I hope we'll hear more untold stories.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Keith

    Well I was hoping for more about the Sacred Band. But what I got was a deep dive into the many wars of Sparta, Athens, Thebes and Persia. Also the politicians and their pawns involved in the games they play when their pride is hurt and the egos are inflamed and enlarged. But what about who the Sacred Band is? who are they? where is their intimate stories, accounts and histories? That’s what I wanted from this book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alisa

    [Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.] “Groups of three hundred, in the Greek mind at least, possessed a special cohesion and mutual strength.” The Sacred Band recalls a fascinating part of history – the conflict-filled world of the ancient Greeks. Romm traces the origins and reasons behind the formation of the Theban sacred band; in broad terms, Thebes needed a mighty army to defend the state against constantly fluctuating allegiances. Indeed, alliances shift so much throughout the book (Athens again [Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.] “Groups of three hundred, in the Greek mind at least, possessed a special cohesion and mutual strength.” The Sacred Band recalls a fascinating part of history – the conflict-filled world of the ancient Greeks. Romm traces the origins and reasons behind the formation of the Theban sacred band; in broad terms, Thebes needed a mighty army to defend the state against constantly fluctuating allegiances. Indeed, alliances shift so much throughout the book (Athens against Thebes, Thebes against Sparta, Arcadia against Sparta, Philip against everyone) that it was challenging keeping track of who hated who at any given moment. Nevertheless, Romm expertly weaves each historical event in a style that is compelling to read. Though the Sacred Band is the focus of the narrative, Romm introduces the reader to plenty of key figures and offers many interesting side stories (such as the rivalry of Persian kings Darius and Artaxerxes, father and son, over a Greek woman). I was also really interested in all the warlords, despots, and tyrants that sprang up during this time, making ancient Greece seem like a tumultuous land where one’s city could be completely overtaken or wiped out within a day. Thebes’ unique acceptance of male “eros” (a focus of debate in the ancient world) gave life to the Sacred Band, which was composed of 300 male lovers fighting beside their partners. I liked the fact that Romm sticks to history without over-romanticizing the Sacred Band, ultimately illustrating the devastation of warfare. I came away from this book with a lot of appreciation for this heroic army, and for the men who gave their lives fighting for one of the highest principles: freedom.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    This was an excellent book. It was very well researched, and (from my non-expert perspective) did its best to offer both sides of a story (if there was more than one side available). The format was great: it followed the story of the Sacred Band chronologically, and provided very thorough context. This book is probably more about Thebes vs Greek than the Sacred Band, but given how the creation and success of that force affected Thebes’ success, it’s still fair to name the subject of the book aft This was an excellent book. It was very well researched, and (from my non-expert perspective) did its best to offer both sides of a story (if there was more than one side available). The format was great: it followed the story of the Sacred Band chronologically, and provided very thorough context. This book is probably more about Thebes vs Greek than the Sacred Band, but given how the creation and success of that force affected Thebes’ success, it’s still fair to name the subject of the book after them. I liked that the author stayed on topic. Occasionally a person or event would come up, but if it took place in the future the author waited to tell their story until it made sense chronologically. I don’t recall reading any part of this book that felt superfluous, which can sometimes happen in non fiction if an author feels the need for filler. But this book stayed on topic (which was, admittedly, wide ranging) very well. The writing was also good. It was clear and concise, but it could also be very moving. Several of the passages about various couples were quite sweet, and I appreciated that the author honored the love shared by those men. And the author did a good job of defining terms that might not be familiar to the reader, including some Greek words that you may be familiar with but having the refresher right there was convenient. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It told a sweeping tale of Ancient Greece. It had fighting, covert ops, honor, glory, and love. “Perish all those who suggest that these men did or endured anything shameful.”

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bethany

    2 stars This review is based on an ARC ebook received for free from NetGalley. I am not being paid to review this book and what I write here is my own opinion. My rating scale is below. review The cover description and subtitle do an acceptable job detailing the topic of the book, but in brief, it claims to cover a period of approximately forty years (in this it fails, because there is a lot of material included which exceeds that era), from the Sacred Band’s establishment to its first and last def 2 stars This review is based on an ARC ebook received for free from NetGalley. I am not being paid to review this book and what I write here is my own opinion. My rating scale is below. review The cover description and subtitle do an acceptable job detailing the topic of the book, but in brief, it claims to cover a period of approximately forty years (in this it fails, because there is a lot of material included which exceeds that era), from the Sacred Band’s establishment to its first and last defeat at the hands of Alexander the Great. The Sacred Band was a Theban unit of soldiers made up of pairs of male lovers during a period of struggle between Athens, Sparta, and Thebes. The idea was that the love between the partners would spur them to greater courageous feats in battle. Since they have a nearly perfect winning record, the tactic seems to have been sound. I have to admit, imagining the recruitment posters has entertained me. What would they say? “Are you a gay man in a happy relationship that just needs a little excitement? Get a signing bonus if you and your partner join the Sacred Band. Previous military experience is desired but not required.” And what about the couples who answered it? “Honey, this is it! This is what our relationship has been missing! Sleeping rough with no real privacy and the constant possibility of violent death! Can we join?” It’s great to see LGBTQ+ historical figures with actual proof of their LGBTQ+ status (as opposed to speculation based on modern sensibilities) brought to light, though efforts at erasure were certainly made, contemporaneously as well as in later eras. For instance, some of the detailed drawings from the dig where the Sacred Band were found, made by Panagiotis Stamatakis, are being published for the first time in this volume. This is significant because no photographs were taken when the gravesite was unearthed, which does have a hint of erasure about it, to my mind. Following the main text there are extensive notes for further reading and works cited. Obviously Romm did a great deal of research in composing this book, based on this and the mountains of background information included, but most of his writing feels off-topic. Heaps of information detailing the animosity between Thebes, Sparta, Athens, and even Persia fills the text, to the point where a reader wonders when the Sacred Band will come in, and whether this might have been better as a paper than a book. There’s not really much written specifically about the Sacred Band except for its violent end. Romm includes an interesting, though not-quite-relevant discussion of late nineteenth century attitudes toward sexual love between men at the opening of the third chapter, and the ways in which classicists of the time attempted to remove or reinterpret classical writings on the subject. Equally interesting, and potentially irrelevant, was the story of Aspasia, concubine to the Persian king Artaxerxes, which appears in the sixth chapter. Each chapter (except for the final chapter) has a portion of the sketch of the Band’s gravesite with the number of soldiers shown equal to the chapter number. It’s a nice touch. rating scale 1 star - I was barely able to finish it. I didn't like it. 2 stars - It was okay. I didn't dislike it. 3 stars - It was interesting. I liked it. 4 stars - It was excellent. I really liked it. 5 stars - It was extraordinary. I really hope the author wrote more things.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    Originally posted on my blog: Nonstop Reader. The Sacred Band is a well written, deeply researched monograph by Dr. James Romm on the Theban special army unit who fought for Greek freedom from tyranny (from pretty much everyone else) in ancient Thebes. Released 8th June 2021 by Simon & Schuster on their Scribner imprint, it's 320 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interacti Originally posted on my blog: Nonstop Reader. The Sacred Band is a well written, deeply researched monograph by Dr. James Romm on the Theban special army unit who fought for Greek freedom from tyranny (from pretty much everyone else) in ancient Thebes. Released 8th June 2021 by Simon & Schuster on their Scribner imprint, it's 320 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. It makes searching for info so much easier with the search function. This is a book where I spent a fair bit of time flipping back and forth to gain context and check names. Modern readers interested in ancient Greece will find the available reading material heavily weighted to Athens and Sparta. There's relatively little on Thebes, yet for decades in the 4th century BCE, a small elite Theban strike force kept both Athens -and- Sparta at bay. One of the fundamental philosophies of this small band was that it was made up of bonded same sex male couples, who, it turned out, fought furiously to protect one another. It worked remarkably well and they remained successful until a final catastrophic defeat at the hands of Philip II (and son Alexander) at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE. Although the material could (easily) have been very dry and academic, the author does a wonderful job of telling the story in a fascinating and accessible fashion for the average layperson. The book is bountifully and carefully annotated and there are numerous resources, including a solid bibliography, listed which are available for further reading. There are also contemporary photographs scattered throughout the text as well as facsimile illustrations, maps, and other aids to assist the reader with historical context. I found the line drawing taken from the original excavation notes (1880) at the discovery of the mass burial of these men to be particularly poignant. They were buried with fearsome battle injuries, a few of them still arm in arm with their compatriots and partners. Five stars. This would be a superlative selection for public library acquisition as well as of interest to readers who are fans of military history, classics, and ancient history. Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Erini Allen

    James Romm’s The Sacred Band (thank you, NetGalley, for the review copy) is an engaging blend of 4th century BC Greek military history and anecdotes about notable public figures. The content revolves around the rivalries among Athens, Sparta, and Thebes (which has tended to be overlooked in favor of its flashier siblings) as they jockey for power and supremacy, bringing readers up to 335 BC and the ascension of Alexander of Macedon. Between tracking the dizzying volley of alliances, counter-alli James Romm’s The Sacred Band (thank you, NetGalley, for the review copy) is an engaging blend of 4th century BC Greek military history and anecdotes about notable public figures. The content revolves around the rivalries among Athens, Sparta, and Thebes (which has tended to be overlooked in favor of its flashier siblings) as they jockey for power and supremacy, bringing readers up to 335 BC and the ascension of Alexander of Macedon. Between tracking the dizzying volley of alliances, counter-alliances, intrigues, and battles, readers learn about such legends as: * Phocaean Aspasia (not to be confused with Peracles’ Aspasia), lover of two Persian kings * Thessalian strongman Jason of Pherae, who ransomed his mother’s favorite servants to swindle her of cash, staged fake sacrifices to the gods to collect the offerings, and accidentally (and helpfully) had a boil lanced in battle * Alexander of Pherae, who deified the spear he used to kill his uncle, who had killed his father, crowning it with garlands and offering it sacrifices. * Philoxenus, poet at the court of Syracusan tyrant Dionysius, who was sent to the quarries after judging the tyrant’s poetry harshly. Brought back to listen again, Philoxenus replied in despair, “Take me back to the quarries.” * Aeneas of Stymphalos, likely the author of a text called How to Survive Under Siege, and his ingenious methods for sneaking messages past enemies. * The summer 364 Olympic Games, when battle broke out between the Eleans and the Arcadians as festival onlookers cheered as they would for wrestling matches. * Praxiteles’ famous sculpture of Aphrodite bathing—inspired by his lover and muse Phrynê’s au naturel dip in the sea during the Eleusinia festival—and what became of it. Woven through the military history and anecdotes, Romm shares the little that is known from ancient sources about the Sacred Band, an elite warrior group of 150 pairs of lovers. Romm also discusses the largest mass grave from antiquity uncovered in 1880 at Charonea. Chief excavator Panagiotis Stamatakis apparently made detailed drawings of each skeleton and its injuries as well as of the layout of the grave, which had never been previously published. Photos of Stamatakis’ notes are included in the book, along with a digital illustrator’s reconstruction of the grave. The book’s subtitle, “Three Hundred Theban Lovers Fighting to Save Greek Freedom,” may set unrealistic expectations for readers expecting an in-depth study of Thebes’ Sacred Band, and at times, Romm seems to stretch his evidence to justify the title. That aside, if you’re interested in learning more about Thebes, its role, and its contributions, this is an absorbing and accessible read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nephele

    I really enjoyed this book. James Romm tells the story of Thebes' rise and fall in the 4th century BCE in a very engaging and entertaining way, so it almost reads like a novel at times. Of course, in order to do that, he relies heavily on anecdotes, mainly from Xenophon and Plutarch and those have to be taken with (at least) a grain of salt, especially when it comes to anything concerning the Persians. I don't mind that, though. As he says in the Acknowledgments, he wants to "narrow the gap betw I really enjoyed this book. James Romm tells the story of Thebes' rise and fall in the 4th century BCE in a very engaging and entertaining way, so it almost reads like a novel at times. Of course, in order to do that, he relies heavily on anecdotes, mainly from Xenophon and Plutarch and those have to be taken with (at least) a grain of salt, especially when it comes to anything concerning the Persians. I don't mind that, though. As he says in the Acknowledgments, he wants to "narrow the gap between academic researchers and the reading public" and I think he did a very good job. If he only stuck with what we know for sure, this would be a very dry read and I think it's also important to bring the people who lived during these times to life even if that means drawing on anecdotes that can't be verified. The reason I don't give this 5 stars, though, is (as others have already pointed out) that the title of this book is somewhat of a misnomer. Romm does begin and end this book with the Sacred Band and I especially like how each chapter starts with a drawing of the skeletons that were excavated in the 19th century and that have been identified as the fallen soldiers of the Sacred Band. But, with a few exceptions, this book is mainly about the history of ancient Greece in the first half of the 4th century BCE with a focus on Thebes. It is very well told and I enjoyed it a lot but not what I expected from the title.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Serge

    The first half of this book is extraordinary. Over the first four chapter, Romm make an impressive case for re-evaluating the achievements of the Theban Sacred Band. He challenges the prejudices of Xenophon who downplayed the valor and martial might of Pelopidas and Epaminondas and the three hundred Theban lovers that they led. Xenophon preferred the self-mastery of the Spartans (for whom he fought) to the eros of the Thebans. The starting point for this more accurate assessment is two paragraph The first half of this book is extraordinary. Over the first four chapter, Romm make an impressive case for re-evaluating the achievements of the Theban Sacred Band. He challenges the prejudices of Xenophon who downplayed the valor and martial might of Pelopidas and Epaminondas and the three hundred Theban lovers that they led. Xenophon preferred the self-mastery of the Spartans (for whom he fought) to the eros of the Thebans. The starting point for this more accurate assessment is two paragraphs in Plutarch's Parallel Lives which "describe the Band and trace its origin to 378 BC, the start of Thebes’s rise to superpower status. For forty years thereafter, Plutarch claimed, the Band remained undefeated in combat, until in 338 it faced an implacable foe, Alexander the Great." Most subtle is Romm's use of classic Greek literature to contextualize widespread Greek disdain for the tragic Thebans. He also mines Plato's Symposium skillfully and makes persuasive inferences about the nineteenth century reception of homoeroticism by homophobes in Benjamin Jowett's circle. Romm also connects the dots between the mythological lovers Heracles and Iolaus to the shared thumos of a band of lovers that Plutarch celebrates in Parallel Lives. The description of the victory at Leuctra is riveting. The second half of the book appears to be a set-up for a future book on Alexander the Great.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    1) This book is very interesting and full of military history. So, if you're interested in how things went down in battles and wars around 300AD, this is a great read and easy to follow. It has pics ;) 2) I loved the resources this guy used... it was great to cross reference occurrences in time with literature of the time. E.g. The Symposium, Xenophon's work, Socrates... etc. 3) I am reminded with each delve into classical literature and history that history never changes, most men suck (and I mea 1) This book is very interesting and full of military history. So, if you're interested in how things went down in battles and wars around 300AD, this is a great read and easy to follow. It has pics ;) 2) I loved the resources this guy used... it was great to cross reference occurrences in time with literature of the time. E.g. The Symposium, Xenophon's work, Socrates... etc. 3) I am reminded with each delve into classical literature and history that history never changes, most men suck (and I mean the men "in power", not you readers of my "review"), and well, I was reminded via historical records that most of our issues in the world and the wars that have been fought and are fought are due to such men and their egos. Sigh... 4) I love the Sacred Band. I love queer love in the classical past. I love that there is a record of their love and that their very existence goes against current stereotypes of "homosexuality". I realize this isn't much of a review... The book itself got me thinking about the present and I sort of need to sit with that for a moment. In reality, I didn't "enjoy" reading it so much as I enjoyed reflecting on it. So, on an enjoyment scale (which is the only reason I rate anything here), I'd give it 3.8 stars.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Helliondeadwoman

    James Romm delivers another fascinating look at an often ignored piece of history. Very well researched but not written in a way that will bore the reader or give you flashbacks to high school history classes. I didn't notice any filler material at all and I greatly appreciate the way Mr. Romm introduces individuals, instead of giving you all their back story as soon as they arrive on scene and muddying up the waters he waits and introduces them in a different spot which seems much more natural. James Romm delivers another fascinating look at an often ignored piece of history. Very well researched but not written in a way that will bore the reader or give you flashbacks to high school history classes. I didn't notice any filler material at all and I greatly appreciate the way Mr. Romm introduces individuals, instead of giving you all their back story as soon as they arrive on scene and muddying up the waters he waits and introduces them in a different spot which seems much more natural. James Romm doesn't just focus on the military aspect of these men, but also provides heart warming and often tear inducing information in regards to the relationships these individuals had with each other. Book Review: The Sacred Band - Three Hundred Theban Lovers Fighting to Save Greek Freedom Author: James Romm Publisher: Scribner Publication Date: June 8, 2021 Review Date: May 28, 2021 I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ernest Spoon

    Whenever I read history, I learn how much I did not know. I think author Romm has really given the story of the ancient Greek city-state, more correctly polis, of Thebes justice. In other books on this era Thebes seems a second-rate power that took advantage of Peloponnesian War vanquished Athens and victor Sparta´s demographic erosion. That was not the case, totally. The Thebes that is the focus of this book fostered inspired leaders every bit the measure of those of the more renown Athens and S Whenever I read history, I learn how much I did not know. I think author Romm has really given the story of the ancient Greek city-state, more correctly polis, of Thebes justice. In other books on this era Thebes seems a second-rate power that took advantage of Peloponnesian War vanquished Athens and victor Sparta´s demographic erosion. That was not the case, totally. The Thebes that is the focus of this book fostered inspired leaders every bit the measure of those of the more renown Athens and Sparta. Theban leader Epaminondas was every bit the statesman and political innovator as was Pericles, maybe better. He was also the leading military innovator and tactician before Philip of Macedon came on the scene. Recommended for anyone interested in ancient Greek history.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dr. Ruya

    I am already half way through and I enjoy this book immensely. His prose is very clear and the book is packed with little gems of information. I had read his other book on Seneca, and enjoyed it as well. However, my only comment would be on the title; This book is about the events around the time when Spartan expansionism peaked. In my humble opinion it could have been (jokingly): Greeks, stop killing each other, you are too precious. Anyway, it is refreshing to read about Thebes as Spartans and I am already half way through and I enjoy this book immensely. His prose is very clear and the book is packed with little gems of information. I had read his other book on Seneca, and enjoyed it as well. However, my only comment would be on the title; This book is about the events around the time when Spartan expansionism peaked. In my humble opinion it could have been (jokingly): Greeks, stop killing each other, you are too precious. Anyway, it is refreshing to read about Thebes as Spartans and Athenians have been receiving well-earned coverage for ages. Hope you all enjoy the book. The part about Pythagoras is delicious.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alex Hardin

    I’d put this book at 5% about the Sacred Band, 5% about 19th century LGBTQ history, 70% retelling of Xenophon’s Hellenika, 10% Philip and Alexander, and 10% Greek city state domestic relations outside of Xenophon’s works. If most of that interests you it is well worth reading through the parts that don’t. The sparse covering of the Sacred Band has little to do with the desire of the Author to cover it, but more so of the lack of sources for it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Vasile Corjan

    "If by some contrivance a city, or an army, of lovers and their young loves could come into being... then, fighting alongside one another, such men, though few in number, could defeat practically all humankind. For a man in love would rather have anyone other than his lover see him leave his place in the line or toss away his weapons, and often would rather die on behalf of the one he loves." "If by some contrivance a city, or an army, of lovers and their young loves could come into being... then, fighting alongside one another, such men, though few in number, could defeat practically all humankind. For a man in love would rather have anyone other than his lover see him leave his place in the line or toss away his weapons, and often would rather die on behalf of the one he loves."

  26. 5 out of 5

    Audra

    A great history of the shifting alliances between (mainly) Sparta, Athens, and Thebes, but not terribly as much regarding details about the Sacred Band except to say which battles they were involved in.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Leonard Mokos

    James Romm is BACK! If you STILL haven't read his masterwork, "GHOST ON THE THRONE", do you even deserve this much excellence? And if you have, here's the almost as good, James-Romm-is-fabulous follow through. James Romm is BACK! If you STILL haven't read his masterwork, "GHOST ON THE THRONE", do you even deserve this much excellence? And if you have, here's the almost as good, James-Romm-is-fabulous follow through.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Macke

    Though the book provides an, at times, engaging slice of Greek history, my sole purpose in picking it up was to learn how the Scared Band lived and fought - very little of that here

  29. 5 out of 5

    Yvette

    3.5

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    Right on, Thebes. Boo, Sparta. Booooo, Macedonia.

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