The ancient Theban Sacred Band — an elite military unit allegedly composed of 150 pairs of male lovers — was an innovation of the fourth century BCE likely spurred by the Theban city-state’s desire to find a way to defeat the then-dominant Spartan hoplite phalanx. But in addition to tactical advantage, the Sacred Band could also be seen as a response to the reputation of Spartan soldiers, and in particular their sexual mores.
Eric W. Robinson is Professor of History and Adjunct Professor of Classical Studies at Indiana University. He has published extensively on ancient Greek politics, including Democracy Beyond Athens: Popular Government in the Greek Classical Age (Cambridge, 2011). He is currently writing a monograph on Sparta’s military reputation.