Genie of Thebes

A scholarly book traces the emancipation of Thebes from Sparta, the exploits of sacred battalion where lovers fought, then the destruction of the city by Alexander. Rise and decline of a Greek city in the IVe century before our era.

This new publication by James Romm is a continuation of a series of publications dedicated to the great historical figures of ancient Greece. Let us immediately salute the pedagogy and the clarity with which the author makes available to the general public the history of an unfairly overlooked Greek city: that of Thebes in Botia.

Thebes’ strategic audacity

Christophe Beslon's excellent translation gives the presentation a dynamism that will captivate the reader. Certainly, the title of the work hardly reflects the richness of the content, but it is a happy surprise: James Romm in fact describes the great political picture of Greece in the first three decades of the IVe century before our era, a very eventful period, but rendered with fluidity.

like the cover of the book, focus shifted from the painting Lonidas at Thermopylae of David, the author focuses his interest on a nonetheless decisive background element in history: the sacred battalion of Thebes, these three hundred elite infantrymen made up of male couples united by the bonds of love and renowned for being unwavering in combat.

The history of the sacred battalion is of course inseparable from Plopidas and Paminondas, the great Theban political and military strategists who made the occasional fortune of their city by charting a path to glory for it in these times of intrigue and pro-Spartan or pro-Spartan factions. Athenians.

The author begins by reproducing with great life the events of -379 which announced the meteoric rise in power of Thebes: its citizens had the audacity to expel from their walls the pro-Spartan faction which had seized the city, a time when Sparta was entirely -powerful in the aftermath of the Ploponnese War. The sacred battalion was then created and quartered on the acropolis of Thebes, Cadema, where this regiment became the guarantor of the interests of the city (chapter 1). If thepink male was ancient and accepted in Greece, it was never raised to the rank of a battle order until then.

This strategic audacity echoed a particularly uncertain historical context, the complexity of which is finally exposed by James Romm in chapter 2. The history of Botie is more broadly put into perspective with the wanderings and international diplomatic crises which have characterized the Greek world since the 1990s. -390.

Indeed, it was tossed between the aggressive and cunning expansionism of Sparta, the coups alternated with the hard cash dispensed by the Great Persian King, a distant but active political actor, and the attempts at resistance from other cities.

From the intimate soldier

Plopidas and paminondas gradually emerge in these intertwining of abundant and complex intrigues and events (chapter 3). Events at the end of which the battle of Leuctra (-371) emerged as a decisive outcome, like a sword of Damocles which finally fell and which restructured the political balance in Greece (chapter 4).

The role of the sacred battalion was obviously crucial, victorious thanks to the help of the military strategy of Paminondas, whose Pythagorean principles had been noted by the historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet. The philosopher general of Thebes is also shown in a sympathetic light according to the literary productions of the time. Well-known subject by James Romm, who highlights the importance of the Battle of Leuctra both from a political perspective, establishing for the first time the international hegemony of Thebes, as well as from a cultural and philosophical perspective.

However commonplace homosexuality was in Greece, sensitivities changed and, with them, the realm of the intimate, whose expressions Kenneth J. Dover showed in the realm of art. There was, with the sacred battalion, this something salvific, admirable, a wave of old Greek heroism, but renewed, restructuring in a virtuous light the way of doing politics, sweeping away the cowardice and corruption of the times.

Is it a coincidence thatpink masculine then acquired an unprecedented preminence in the intellectual debates of Xenophon Plato?

Hating Dionysius of Syracuse

In this second third of IVe century, the emergence of a new world was therefore announced (chapter 5), an outbreak very close, but not of the nature of that hoped for. Certainly, the power of Sparta, undisputed throughout the Peloponnese since the Archaic era, finally cracked, but it was only to give rise to even more violent political centers: the tyrannies of Syracuse and Thessaly or the conquering kingship of Macedonia.

paminondas and Plopidas nourished in the shadow of the regional prestige of Thebes technological and military innovations which soon made Philip's fortune II, political hostage of Theban strategists at the same time. The fluidity with which the work presents this period in an almost romantic manner takes the reader on a journey into the world of Greek intimacy and that of the turpitudes of the human soul, beyond the mountains of the Peloponnese or the waves of the age, to Susa where Persian political opportunism reshuffles the diplomatic cards to better destructure the already decaying Greece.

And it is with an almost amused curiosity that we begin to detest Agsilaus of Sparta, Dionysius of Syracuse or Alexander of Pheras.; or understand that the Greek cities of the years -360, incapable of creating, under the aegis of Thebes or even without it, a political balance however brief it may be, were navigating seen for their own interests, without any vision of the future, immobilized in their hesitations clumsy or their destructive inertia.

Having become ineffective on the diplomatic level, the ancient Greek cities were sinking, turning against themselves the weapons of perverted rhetoric to better serve the weapons of sterile revenge.

The dreams of imperialism of the Second Athenian Confederation proved as illusory as those of fallen Sparta, while the hegemony of Thebes itself crumbled in quick succession with the Cadmenian victories of Cynocephales and Mantinea. Plopidas and Paminondas died there and made their political success orphaned (chapters 6 and 7).

The impossible unity of Greece under the aegis of Thebes was sealed by the disappearance of the sacred battalion three decades later, during the battle of Chronicles where Alexander of Macedonia, young prince of these new times now closed, exercised his military talents with unprecedented violence . This brutality marked all contemporaries of the year -336. Thebes, which dared to resist, was razed stone by stone.

The Athenian prism

The pages of the work are embellished with unpublished drawings from the excavation notebook of the archaeologist Stamatakis, who exhumed the bodies of the sacred battalion killed Chrones. They are also enriched by the memories left by the sacred battalion in the memory of English writers of the XIXe century and in that of university scholars who, for a long time, could not convince themselves of the reality of Greek homosexual practices that the Hellist Franois Chamoux still described as vice.

The Hellist historian will not lack reservations regarding the consideration of certain sources. Certainly, the author does not fail to be critical of the texts, particularly of Xenophon and his anti-Theban approach. But the Hellist familiar with the reception of Theban culture among the Greeks is reluctant to admit, in the absence of a Theban point of view on the events, the sole responsibility of Xenophon.

An Athenian, Xnophon manifested an almost natural antipathy for Thebes like the other intellectuals of his time whose writings have come down to us. It is therefore appropriate to consider the historical vagaries of the transmission of documents, which give the Athenian tradition disproportionate and entirely subjective importance, and also the choices made by the intellectuals of the Hellenistic era. It is therefore a set of historical, political and literary factors which explain the vacuity of the Theban point of view on history.

In the same way, the archaeological sources would have benefited from being better considered, to qualify certain analyzes of male homorotism in Greece. Qualified for chaste vis-à-vis these sexual walls and this, once again, on the basis of the subjective words of Xenophon, Sparta in no way responded to this epinal image. observing Laconian vase painting is quite the opposite.

Let us be wary of the idealization of Sparta, cultivated since Antiquity, among others by Xnophon and Plutarch. James Romm also uses a rudimentary Anglo-Saxon bibliography on the history and walls of this period, without always citing the decisive contribution of other scholars, such as Pierre Vidal-Naquet who, in THE Dark Hunterdecisively clarified the link between Depaminondas Pythagoreanism and his strategic innovations.

The work does not, however, fall within these objectives, and it is to its full merit that it gives free rein to the pleasure of a pleasant and very rudimentary reading. A great publication, then.