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Was Homosexuality Responsible for Rise of Greece and Rome?

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 3:00 pm - February 20, 2010.
Filed under: History,Random Thoughts

Yesterday, while reviewing countless scholarly articles for my dissertation, I frequently encountered references to homosexual liaisons in ancient Greece, most of these taking place in the Archaic and early Classical Age, just as Greece was preparing to defeat the Persians and “define” Western Civilization.

These references reminded me how regularly I came across such homosexual hanky-panky in studying Roman history in the era preceding its imperial greatness. And I thought of all the times I had read or heard certain extreme social conservatives attribute social acceptance of homosexuality as signaling the fall of these great civilizations.

So, I wondered, I mean, if homosexuality was the cause of their decline, why didn’t these civilizations fall sooner when homosexuality was more prevalent. And how the heck did they rise in the first place if they had been so accepting of homosexuality?

By their (extreme social conservatives’) logic then, homosexuality contributed to the rise of these civilizations . Now, I don’t think homosexuality alone led to the rise of Greece and Rome, but do find it interesting that they rose to greatness while tolerant of expressions of homosexuality even if they didn’t accord same-sex relationships the same status as they accorded to different-sex ones.

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19 Comments

  1. Note that the homosexuality of Greece and Rome was not gender-bending, queer, omnisexual exhibitionism which flouted tradition and undermined morality. Greek and Roman sexuality was about masculine loving masculine. It was about strength, loyalty, faithfulness, fierce monogamy, and the building up of a social order.

    The Stonewall version of homosexuality is an aberration and undoes the real meaning and worth of what it means to be homosexual. If we turned to Greece and Rome for our models, rather than Adam Lambert and Elton John, we’d be much stronger and healthier.

    Comment by Ashpenaz — February 20, 2010 @ 3:51 pm - February 20, 2010

  2. hi dan,
    i think you are onto something many in the natural sciences (evolutionary biology, behavioral sciences, etc) have claimed about the evolutionary implications of homosexual behavior. if i find links of journal articles i read i’ll share them so you don’t just take my word.
    in short, one theory is that before the rise of monotheistic cultures in general, and in particular judeo-christian tradition (because of its sheer impact on world history), non-condemned homosexual behavior allowed for stronger social bonds and thus stronger societies: not only in the military, but in other aspects of civil life. of note is the fact that this homosexual behavior did not exclude concurrent heterosexual behavior, quite the opposite.

    Comment by daftpunkydavid — February 20, 2010 @ 4:30 pm - February 20, 2010

  3. Perhaps it had less to do with the acceptance of homosexuality and more to do with the fact that the more freedom the people in a society have, the greater they become. Maybe the acceptance of homosexuality was just one aspect of that greater freedom.

    Comment by John — February 20, 2010 @ 5:05 pm - February 20, 2010

  4. If you read Tacitus, just for one example, I think you’d have a hard time arguing that homosexuality was accepted as a general rule in Rome. In my opinion, it was more a matter of expression of the ultimate right of the male to unlimited sexual gratification that seems to be a common thread in Roman society; in that, it can be seen as a parallel to adultery in terms of its wider or narrower acceptability.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — February 20, 2010 @ 5:08 pm - February 20, 2010

  5. John, I like the way you think!

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — February 20, 2010 @ 5:19 pm - February 20, 2010

  6. Well said John.

    Comment by Nathan — February 20, 2010 @ 6:19 pm - February 20, 2010

  7. hmm… rome is known for many things, but i doubt they had as much freedom as (or greater freedom than) what you and i enjoy today…

    Comment by daftpunkydavid — February 20, 2010 @ 6:25 pm - February 20, 2010

  8. No, Rome had nowhere the amount of freedom we have, and we are greater than them. But during the republic, did they have more than in the past? Or did they have more than their neighbors? Those are real questions. I don’t know the answer.

    Comment by John — February 20, 2010 @ 7:05 pm - February 20, 2010

  9. 4: Heck, read Seutonius. Sort of the National Enquirer of ancient Rome! ;) I disagree that homosexuality was a problem for the Romans, it was males accepting a passive role that was frowned upon. Those in the more…giving role I suppose you could say could have fun with whomever they pleased.

    Comment by John — February 20, 2010 @ 7:41 pm - February 20, 2010

  10. “Acceptance of homosexuality” is not the same as “Acceptance of gender-bending, queer, omnisexual, exhibitionist behavior which is meant to undermine tradition.” Homosexuality in ancient times was part of the social order. The relationships were about building masculinity, not tearing it down. The relationships were loyal and monogamous–see Achilles and Patroclus, Jonathan and David, Sergius and Bacchus, Damon and Pythias, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, etc. etc. Society accepted and lauded these couples because they set good examples for what it means to be a man. Society has never accepted effeminate, promiscuous, exotic behavior as contributing anything worthwhile to the good of society.

    Comment by Ashpenaz — February 20, 2010 @ 8:17 pm - February 20, 2010

  11. “…extreme social conservatives attribute social acceptance of homosexuality as signaling the fall of these great civilizations”

    The Empire’s decline was preceded and hastened by its inflationary monetary policy in the 2nd and 3rd policy…to feed an ever expanding military and bureaucratic payroll.

    Read up here + and you might say Deja Vu.

    Comment by Thomas — February 21, 2010 @ 1:04 am - February 21, 2010

  12. Thomas, did you mean, 2nd and 3rd century?

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — February 21, 2010 @ 2:33 am - February 21, 2010

  13. Interesting arguement. Amusing in that I don’t think it had much to do with the rise or the fall of the nations. I’m pretty sure you don’t either.

    Though I guess the Sacred Band of Thebes was pretty intimidating, well until it met Phillip and Alexander…

    Comment by The_Livewire — February 21, 2010 @ 10:33 am - February 21, 2010

  14. Interesting arguement. Amusing in that I don’t think it had much to do with the rise or the fall of the nations. I’m pretty sure you don’t either.

    Though I guess the Sacred Band of Thebes was pretty intimidating, well until it met Phillip and Alexander…

    Comment by The_Livewire — February 21, 2010 @ 10:33 am - February 21, 2010

  15. whoops, might be a lot of dupe comments.

    Comment by The_Livewire — February 21, 2010 @ 10:34 am - February 21, 2010

  16. I concur with the comment Ashpenaz made in the1st thread….. however, I’d like to take it one step further by attributing mentorship as the primary force behind the Golden Age of Greece…. and the demise of the same State with the lack there of. I too submit, the Greeks elevated homosexuality far more than most people today can imagine. I think if you were to compare the relationship between AA sponsor and sponsee to that of ancient Greek man/boy relationship, you will find them (minus the sex of course) much the same..

    Comment by Spartann — February 21, 2010 @ 3:51 pm - February 21, 2010

  17. As Ashpenaz and Spartann note, a major difference between our contemporary forms of homosexuality, especially as gayness, and the various forms in the ancient Mediterranean is that the honored (and often highly regulated) ancient forms were anxious to maintain rather than to subvert the societal codes of masculinity. Male-male sex or love that dishonored those codes was condemned as effeminacy or degeneracy. In our current culture, gayness defends and celebrates effeminacy precisely against societal codes of so-called “patriarchal” masculinity. Quite different animals, it seems to me.

    Comment by EssEm — February 22, 2010 @ 1:03 am - February 22, 2010

  18. What makes a civilization rise or fall is the relative degree (i.e., relative to its neighbors and predecessors) to which it relies on Reason and, yes, individual freedom. Freedom not in the sense of irrationality or license, but rather, freedom subject to the dictates of reality, rationality, responsibility, etc., as understood in Greece during its rise and by our own Founding Fathers.

    You can show civilizations which had very little Reason and freedom by Enlightenment-era standards, e.g., pharonic Egypt, classical China, etc. I have no problem conceding that. But note that they still had a *little* more Reason (and freedom for a few people) than the even-more-barbaric tribes which surrounded them.

    It is no accident that the fall of Rome was marked not only by license, but by the rise of fundamentally irrational philosophies and cults. Christianity in its Dark Ages was marked by irrational philosophy, and Christianity in its High Medieval, Renaissance and Enlightenment phases was marked by the return of slightly-more-rational philosophies (e.g., Aristotelian epistemology).

    The state of homosexuality in a culture is merely a barometer of the state of the whole culture. Where the culture is comparatively rational and heroic, homosexuality will be also. Where the culture is comparatively irrational and degenerate, homosexuality will be also. Likewise with heterosexuality.

    I conclude that homosexuality per se had nothing in particular to do with the rise of Greece or Rome. Nothing in particular to do with their rise… and… nothing in particular to do with their fall.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — February 22, 2010 @ 1:20 am - February 22, 2010

  19. P.S. Not to start a flame war about AA, but if anyone would like out of it – that is, to really recover from their addiction and not be stuck in endless “recoveryism” – this website can tell you how: http://www.rational.org

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — February 22, 2010 @ 1:24 am - February 22, 2010

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