17 June 2009

Places you've never heard of: Chaeronea

Chaeronea is a municipality in the Boeotia Prefecture, Greece and north west of Thebes. It is here that an elite force of soldiers, reknowned and famous for being 300 men comprised entirely of 150 pairs of lovers were wiped out. The Sacred Band of Thebes was the undefeated band of the Theban army, formed in 378 BC by the Theban commander Gorgidas who rationalised that men fighting side by side with thier lovers would fight more fiercly than ordinary men.
And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour, and emulating one another in honour; and when fighting at each other's side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger? -- Plato - Symposium
In 338 BC Philip of Macedonia (Alexander the Great's father) failed to achieve an alliance of the Boeotians, and decided to fight the Athenians and Boeotians together. Philip marched into Boeotia, with more than 30,000 infantry and no less than 2,000 cavalry.

Alexander himself led the charge against the Sacred Band, which broke, for the first time ever, being unable to withstand the new long spears of the Macedonians. Broken, but refusing to surrender, they fought on, and were annihilated, and it was thought, to the very last man.

Philip himself, so impressed by the loyalty and bravery of the Band of lovers, acknowledged their valour:

"Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything unseemly"
A few years later, around 300 BC the town of Thebes erected a monument at the battlesite, and early in the 20th century the monument was rediscovered and re-erected -- and it still stands today. A lasting reminder through history for men who loved so much to die for each other and their country.

It seems the Band was not entirely wiped out, however--excavation was done in 1890, and the Band was found buried - 254 bodies, side by side in seven neat rows.