On the Road to Delphi (Part 4)

6 September 2022. Chaeronrea to Delphi.

From Thebes we headed west on Route 3. The magnificent massif of Mount Parnassos loomed on the distant horizon as we drove towards the village of Chaeronea (photo above). As I noted in my previous post, Chaeronea was the site of a significant battle between the forces of the Roman Republic under Lucius Cornelius Sulla against those of King Mithridates VI in the First Mithridatic War in 86 BCE. Chaeronea itself was strategically important because it guarded a ravine that led into the heart of central Greece.

Many years before Mithridates, Chaeronea was the scene of another significant battle. This was where in 338 BCE the forces of Athens and Thebes were arrayed against those of King Philip II of Macedon in his efforts to consolidate his hold over Greece. A mainstay of the Theban Army was a contingent known historically as the Sacred Band. The Sacred Band of Thebes reportedly comprised 150 pairs of male lovers who had sworn an oath upon the altar of the shrine of Iolaus, a lover of Herakles, in Thebes. It was an elite force which had taken on and beaten even the formidable Spartans, and allegedly remained undefeated for 40 years. The Sacred Band was wiped out by the Macedonian forces at the Battle of Chaeronea under the leadership of Philip’s son, Alexandros (who would come to be known as Alexander the Great). Philip II was said to have been distraught when he laid eyes upon their bodies.

“He burst into tears and said: ‘If anyone who thinks that these men did anything disgraceful, may they perish miserably.’”

Plutarch, writing about the moment after the battle, when King Philip found their bodies and learned that this was the band of lovers (eromenoi) and beloveds (erastai).

A monumental commemorative lion statue was erected by the Thebans near the place of the battle, standing guard over a kerbed quadrangle within which the remains of the Sacred Band were buried. Nearby a great tumulus was raised containing the cremated remains of the Macedonian dead. After the battle, Philip went on to gain hegemony over nearly all of Greece, forming the League of Corinth to preside over the allied city-states in his build-up to a war with the Persians. Plutarch, Herodotus, Thucydides, Pausanias, Strabo, and Xenophon recorded details of the Battle of Chaeronea, the monument itself, and/or the Sacred Band.

The monument itself eventually fell into ruin and its exact location was largely forgotten. The ruins were rediscovered in 1809 by Lord Byron when he visited the area. They were found again in 1818 by visiting British tourists. An archaeological excavation was conducted of the site in 1879–1880 under the auspices of the Archaeological Society, and the bodies of 254 males were unearthed. The bones showed damage consistent with warfare, and some of the bodies were also linked arm in arm. An 1897 article on the site may be found here. In 1902, the Archaeological Society rebuilt the statue with funds provided by a British gay rights group called The Order of Chaeronea.

Illustration made by Panagiotis Stamatakis of his excavation of the burial site of the Sacred Band of Thebes.
It was sobering to visit the actual gravesite of an army of homosexual warriors. It’s a reminder that men who love men were not always treated with contempt by every society. And that some were venerated for their service to their home countries.

The gravesite, and the rebuilt Lion of Chaeronea as it stands today.

The Order of Chaeronea was founded by British writer, poet, and gay rights advocate George Cecil Ives as a secret society to promote communication amongst gay rights advocates in Victorian, and later Edwardian, England. A modern revival of Ive’s group is called The Order.  The Sacred Band continues to be honored by modern Greeks for their sacrifice.

If you are interested in reading more about this topic, I highly recommend The Sacred Band by James Romm.

After we paid our respects to the fallen, we headed back the way we came south on Route 3 until it intersected with Route 48, then headed west towards Delphi. We passed through the lovely mountain ski resort of Arachova. Just outside of Delphi, we pulled off onto a scenic overlook to take some photos (below).

The trip to Delphi took us on a scenic route up into the Parnassos Mountain range.

The sun was rapidly westering and we needed to hustle in order to check in to our lodgings for the night. A few minutes after hopping back into the SUV found us in the village of Delphi, yet another lovely locale. After a short drive, we pulled up next to our Airbnb where we were met by the avuncular father of the owner who showed us the property. The view from the balcony was stunning. We could see all of the way to the village of Itea and the Gulf of Corinth.

We took some time to get settled & to watch the sun set, and then headed down into the village for dinner. On our short hike downhill, we passed a model of the bronze Tripod of the Plataeans which once occupied the Sanctuary of Delphi.

This is a miniature replica of the Tripod of the Plataeans. When we returned from dinner, some village kids were using it as a makeshift soccer goal post.

We originally wanted to eat at Taberna Βάκχος, one of two restaurants recommended by our host’s father. It looked beautiful, but it was full and the waiter was – simply put – rude. So we ended up at the other restaurant he recommended – Taberna Dion.

We were ravenous, and the food and the service at Taberna Dion was excellent. I highly recommend it. I was touched that both places recommended by our host were named after Dionysos. Perhaps we’ll get to try Taberna Βάκχος next time.

After very satisfying dinner out on the patio in the fresh mountain air, we wandered through the few shops that were still open. I purchased a beautiful ceramic plaque of the Titan Prometheus and a jar of Delphic mountain honey (which will figure in a later post). A curious but friendly female village dog who looked to have recently had pups accompanied us on our walk. She didn’t want any food; just the company, apparently. We parted ways with her at our door and headed off to bed. The next day promised to be another long and full one, starting with the Museum and Sanctuary of Delphi. Καληνύχτα.

Yes, it really is that dark outside of the village lights. It’s amazing.

— Να εχεις μια ωραια μερα. —

One response to “On the Road to Delphi (Part 4)”

  1. […] 48 (EO Livadias Amfissas) back towards the upscale skiing village of Arachova. As I mentioned in a previous post, Arachova is a lovely community. It has a beautiful view of the Pleistos River valley, with […]

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