Friday, July 30, 2021

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


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 interested in military history, classics, and ancient history.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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