Homosexuality in Greek Society







In the ancient times, such philosophers as Plato, Herodotus, Athenaeus, and Xenophon explored elements of same-sex relationships in the ancient Greece. This form of sexual relations was evident between mature men and teenage boys, an aspect referred to as pederasty. Despite the existence of homosexuals in this society, some of these men defied the existing social principles by assuming an inactive sexual role. Nonetheless, there were minimal examples of homosexual relationships between females. Unlike the modern western communities, ancient Greeks did not perceive sexual orientation as an identifier in the society. As opposed to using the gender of the involved individuals to distinguish their sexual behaviors and desires, the Greek society focused on the participants’ roles in the sexual act by classifying them into active or passive parties (Osborne 35). The role of a dominant participator was linked to masculinity, adulthood, and high social status. In contrast, the passive sexual role was related to youth, low social status, and femininity.

Homosexuality among Ancient Greek Men

Pederasty, which referred to boy love, was the commonest form of homosexual relations between Greek men.  It involved mature men and teenage boys. In Athens, the mature male was referred to as an erastes and had the responsibility of protecting, educating, loving, and being a role model to his young lover. The reward from his eromenos, the teenage boy, was his promise, youthfulness, and beauty. Pederasty began prior to the establishment of the city-state as one of the divisions within Greece’s political framework. The encompassed tribal districts were classified into age groups. As part of the community’s rite of passage, the young men were placed under the care of older males for a significant period as a way of being enlightened on the acceptable societal principles and adulthood responsibilities (Osborne 39).

This practice evolved into pederasty. The young boys in the Greek society did not leave the community borders but rather intermingled with mature men within the city. These older males had an instructive and educational responsibility in the boys’ lives as part of their sexual relationship. Nonetheless, penetrative sex was considered humiliating for the inactive partner. It was one of the unacceptable societal norms (Neill 99). This is mainly because of the comprehensive social code that governed pederasty in the Greek community. To begin with, it was the responsibility of the older male to court the teenager he fancied although the young man had to hold back for a while before giving in to the sexual advances. This period enabled the young man in question to evaluate the intentions of his suitor. A suitable suitor not only showed his sexual intentions towards his subject but he also had to have genuine affection for him.  Although the age limit of the teenagers involved in the Greek pederasty was 12 years, no legal penalties were attached to the defiance of this social code. Ancient Greeks were the first group to consider pederasty as an educational and social institution (Osborne 50). It was a key aspect in the military, civil life, arts, and philosophy. However, analysts have differing arguments regarding the confinement of pederasty to upper societal crust as opposed to its expansion to different social classes.


the same-sex relationships between soldiers involved the Sacred Band of Thebes is one of the classic examples of pederasty in the ancient Greek society. It was a special military unit that only comprised of men and their lovers. This was perceived as a suitable approach to boost the troop’s fighting spirit. Such a bond is reflected in lliad through the epic relationship between Patroclus and Achilles (Osborne 49). These relations were perceived to enhance one’s bravery and morale owing to the soldiers’ desire to protect and impress their lovers. Similarly, during the Lelantine War, Chalcidians sought the help of Cleomachus before engaging in a battle with the Eretrians. This glorious warrior responded to the request and brought his lover to see the fight. Cleomachus led the Chalcidians to victory against their opponents at the expense of his life (Osborne 52). The society perceived the warrior’s disregard for his life in order to save his lover as the noblest act.

In addition, homosexuality was also evident between two mature men. However, relationships between mature males from similar social status were viewed as problematic. This is mainly because of the essence of masculinity among adult men and the observed feminizing effect among passive partners in the Greek society. Accordingly, same-sex relationships between adult males attracted social stigma. Nonetheless, this disgrace was only directed towards the passive partner in such a relationship. For this reason, Greek men who took the passive role in a sexual relationship even after entering adulthood were feminized. This is because, during this period of a man’s life, the young male was expected to take the active position in the pederastic relationship. Some of the recorded adult male couples in the ancient Greek society include Agathon, who was a poet, and Pausanias from Athens (Neill 81).  Similarly, the relationship between Hephaestion and Alexander the Great has been categorized into this group of relations.

Homosexuality among Ancient Greek Women

The initial occurrence of same-sex relationships between women was evident in Sappho’s texts. This is mainly because she wrote most of her poems to women. At times, the love encompassed in these texts appeared to be a way of seeking revenge. Some analysts identified 12,000 poetry lines that highlighted her affection for other females. Other than being a poet, Sappho was the leader of thiasos. This was a community of ancient Greek females where the members received some form of education (Osborne 126). Some girls in this community were involved in homosexual relations. This female group was suppressed following the portrayal of marriage as a key institution within the ancient Greek culture and the resultant confinement of women to the home setting. Throughout their lives, girls were required to show their love for their husbands. Accordingly, female homosexuality was discouraged in the established Greek society. In addition to females’ athletic nudity, there are certain erotic relationships recorded for Sparta.  Similarly, Plato’s Symposium highlights a group of women who had female attachments and had minimal regard for their husbands (Osborne 85).

Homosexuality in the Modern Greece Society

Despite the legalization of same-sex relationships in Greece, the lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) community faces certain challenges owing to societal stigma. On one hand, since 2006, male prostitution has been a legal practice in Greece. Nonetheless, lesbians are neither recognized nor mentioned in the nation’s Criminal Code. This is evident in Article 347, which stipulates the age limit for consensual sexual activities between partners of the same gender (Hubbard and Verstraete 128). In addition, the legalization of marriage between homosexuals is an attempt by the government to suppress societal discrimination that may be triggered by differences in the citizens’ sexual orientations. Although the government of former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis was against these relationships, various court cases have shown the legality of same-sex marriages and the essence of suppressing discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation. For instance, in 2013, the European Court Of Human Rights presented a verdict that favored homosexuals in a case between the Greece government and Valianatos and others. In his ruling, the judge expressed his disapproval of the centralized administration’s attempts to exempt homosexual couples from civil unions (Hubbard and Verstraete 130).

Similarly, promotion of the LGBT rights was evident in 2005 when discrimination of homosexuals in the workplace was illegalized (Hubbard and Verstraete 149). This proposed legislation aimed at protecting individuals from discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. Nonetheless, various religious denominations have highlighted their discontentment on the legalization of same-sex marriages. For instance, the Orthodox Church considers homosexuality as a sin against God and a flaw of humanity (Hubbard and Verstraete 152). In conclusion, there are certain similarities between homosexuality in the ancient and modern Greek societies. Various parties in both communities accept such relationships although there are some individuals who have shown their disapproval of such relations.




Works Cited

Hubbard, Thomas K, and Beert C. Verstraete. Censoring Sex Research: The Debate over Male Intergenerational Relations. , 2013. Print.

Neill, James. The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 2009. Print.

Osborne, Robin. Studies in Ancient Greek and Roman Society. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.