Today I wanted to preface my post with a brief bit of ancient Greek history: the Sacred Band.
The Sacred Band were an elite force of the Theban army around the 4th century BCE. Along with the strategic leadership of Epaminondas, they were a major reason why the army was incredibly successful. At the Battle of Leuctra (371 BCE) they led the charge that defeated the Spartans, who had been the indisputably invincible land fighting force up until that point. (I don’t count the Battle of Tegyra, in which a small force of Spartan hoplites was defeated by lightly armed troops. Leuctra was a full Spartan hoplite army against an advanced phalanx formation on the Theban/Boeotian side, and ended in a decisive Theban victory.)
The Sacred Band was organized in 150 pairs. Each of these was a pair of lovers, both male: in other words, the Sacred Band was made up of 150 male homosexual couples.
Why do I think this is interesting? (And, hopefully, why should you think this is interesting?) Well, first of all I want to say that I’m not trying to go after Philip II of Macedon for the brutal slaughter of these 300 gay men a few years later in the Battle of Chaeronea.* Yes, okay, it wasn’t a very progressive thing to do, but it’s not like he only killed them. In fact, he and Alexander quite equalist about who got to get impaled by the eighteen-foot pikes** of the Macedonian infantry. (GREECE gets a sarissa! And EGYPT gets a sarissa! And PERSIA gets a sarissa! etc.)
What really interests me is the general ancient Greek acceptance of some forms of homosexuality. They didn’t really have a problem with it in a bunch of cases, including the Sacred Band and teacher-student relations; granted, the latter is probably not an ideal thing to be promoting, but the fact remains that in a good deal of the modern world homosexuality is, for lack of a better word, shunned, whereas in this ancient civilization it was a pretty okay thing to do. (I seem to recall that the United States had a slightly less progressive approach to gay men in the military than the Thebans had, at least up until a few years ago.)
Let’s look at the logic in this. Ancient Greece was always a fairly small civilization; relatively, the modern world has a massive population, and is probably more in need of population reduction than population growth. In a small civilization, population growth is desirable; therefore, it’s more logical from an evolutionary/societal standpoint to outlaw anything that might challenge population growth, such as homosexuality. And yet the Greeks found the humanity to say, “Eh, whatever, that’s cool. As long as you’re not committing any other crimes, and it won’t interfere with your military service to your city-state or anything, go right ahead.”
Now let’s look at, say, the United States, when homosexuality is still frowned upon in both a stigmatic sense (“That’s so gay!” is in decline, but that and slurs are certainly not gone from our vocabulary of hate phrases) and a legal sense (33 states have not legalized gay marriage). In a country like this, there’s unemployment and certainly no need for major population expansion. So is there any problem, really, with accepting homosexuality?
The short answer: no. Unfortunately, “moral values” prevent us from accepting it (please, PLEASE recognize my sarcasm here) which is probably an argument for another day. In any case, it seems that somehow, as society has progressed, we’ve picked up an ironically anti-progressive policy on the acceptability of homosexuality.
Things you should take away from this discussion:
- Gay men are better soldiers, except against Macedonians.
- If you have a “population logic,” argument against homosexuality, it definitely doesn’t apply today if the ancient Greeks didn’t use it in their tiny little civilization.
- In my opinion, from a standpoint that excludes religion, there is no reason to have any sort of societal or legal limitation on non-straight sexualities.
As always, thanks for reading!
P.S. Going with the theme of this post and the oncoming Sochi Olympics, watch this video.