We are a people who's history is largly untold. Our stories lost to the homophobia and violence of the past. We not only share in the history of the world at large but was also have our own tale to tell...and its sad that we still live under so much persecution that we don't get to learn it. Its a tale of love and tragedy, power and corruption, perseverance and triumph, and ultimately the end has not yet been written. It is, in fact, a tale too large to tell in one piece so I have broken it into installments. Today I will cover samplings of events from our ancient past. From our nacent beginnings lost to the mists of time, to our decent into the dark ages and beyond. I'm sure I will miss mentioning many famous gays along the way but I simply can not fit everything here.
Take a walk with me into days long past....
25th/24th century BCE:
- Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum's tomb is built in Egypt during the fifth dynasty.
*this is the oldest example of a same-sex couple, at least according to the wiki. Its amusing that they shared the title
Overseer of the Manicurist. Even in acient times we were trying to make the world look better....lol.
7th century BCE:
- 630 BCE - Marriage between men in Greece was not legally recognized, although life-long relationships between adult men were not uncommon. The partnerships between two men in Greece were similar to heterosexual marriages in that generally there was about a generation difference in age and the older person served as the educator or mentor.
- 600 BCE – Sappho of Lesbos writes her famous love poems to young women, providing the eventual inspiration for the word lesbian.
4th century BCE:
- 338 BCE The Sacred Band of Thebes, an undefeated elite battalion made up of one hundred and fifty gay couples, is destroyed by the forces of Philip II of Macedon who bemoans their loss and praises their honor.
*Theirs is a wonderfull, if tragic story on a scale with King David and Johnathan. They give GLBTQ people one more reason to hold there heads high and I fully recommend reading about them.
1st century BCE:
- 27 BCE – The Roman Empire begins with the reign of Augustus. The first recorded same-sex marriages occur during this period.
The Roman Empire is a time in which art and literature depict homosexual love in a positive light. Romans, like the Greeks, celebrated love and sex amongst men. Two Roman Emperors publicly married men, some had gay lovers themselves, and homosexual prostitution was taxed. However, like the Greeks, passivity and effeminacy were not tolerated, and an adult male freeborn Roman could lose his citizen status if caught performing fellatio or being penetrated.
*And here we have the universal, basic objection to homosexuality defined: "its o.k. to have sex with men, just don't be passive or feminine". This is a sentiment that continues to echo through history today, much to our detriment.
- 54 – Nero becomes Emperor of Rome. Nero married two men in legal ceremonies, with at least one spouse accorded the same honours as a Caesar's wife.
*Gay history is littered with famous individuals. Some of them are more infamous than famous, like Nero. Some famous GLBTQ people encourage us...some give us pause and remind us of the failings of humanity. Nero is just such a person. His actions are a warning against having a life of power and no limits to guide it.
- 98 – Trajan, one of the most beloved of Roman emperors, begins his reign. Trajan was well known for his homosexuality and fondness for young males.
*Trajan is far from the most blatent example of how Roman Emporers got away with not suffering the same stigmas that the mob did. Emporer Hadrian and his lover Antinous are a classic example of this...and a fantastic love story from the past.
Moving into the 4th century we see the rise of the Christian church and specifically the Bizantine Empire. While I identify myself Christian, there is no denying that these were the beginnings of dark times.
- 305- 306 Council of Elvira (now Granada, Spain). This council was representative of the Western European Church and among other things, it barred homosexuals the right to Communion.
*Strike one against equality and the first step in oppression. Exclusion from religion. We have yet to fully recover from thise precedent.
- 342 – The first law against homosexual marriage was promulgated by the Christian emperors Constantius II and Constans.
*Strike two, exclusion from civil institutions. I bet Constantius was a member of the National Organization for Marriage. This is our modern day place on the continuum of regaining human dignity as we work to undo the deeds done by men like these.
- 390 – In the year 390, the Christian emperors Valentinian II, Theodosius I and Arcadius declared homosexual sex to be illegal and those who were guilty of it were condemned to be burned alive in front of the public.
*Strike three, we're out. This was litterly the death blow to Gays and Lesbians in the ancient world. If progress on gay rights is reversed today, as many anti-gay groups hope, acts like these are the ultimate, if extreme, outcome.
- 1250–1300 – "Between 1250 and 1300, homosexual activity passed from being completely legal in most of Europe to incurring the death penalty in all but a few contemporary legal compilations." — John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980) p. 293. Other historians dispute Boswell's claim, however.
*Disputed or no, most Christianized countries rushed to enact legislation to criminalize homosexuality. This spread like the plague and with much the same effect...as the next entry demonstates.
- 1260 In France, 1st offending sodomites lost their testicles, 2nd offenders lost their member, and 3rd offenders were burned. Women caught in same-sex acts could be mutilated and executed as well.
*YIKES!...and I thought Califoria's three strikes law was tough! Of Course, As usual..if you were royalty you totally got away with it.
- 1265 Thomas Aquinas argues that sodomy is second only to murder in the ranking of sins.
- 1283 French Civil Code dictated that convicted sodomites not only were burned but that their property was forfeited.
*Wow..Social stigma, Mutilation, possible death, AND we got to lose everything we owned...Whats not to love? Its only sad that this still goes on in some countries around the world.
- 1483 The Spanish Inquisition begins. Sodomites were stoned, castrated, and burned. Between 1540 and 1700, more than 1,600 people were prosecuted for sodomy.
*No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!
The intervening time was really repition of the same types of abuses. This is a dark time in history for everyone, not only gays. But, as with all long nights, eventually a little sun must shine. Unfortunatly for us, things continued on as they were...
- 1779 – USA- In 1779 Thomas Jefferson prepared a draft of Virginia’s criminal statute, envisaging that the punishment for sodomy should be castration. The bill read:
Whosoever shall be guilty of rape, polygamy, or sodomy with a man or woman, shall be punished; if a man, by castration, a woman, by boring through the cartilage of her nose a hole of one half inch in diameter at the least.(Virginia Bill number 64; authored by Jefferson; June 18, 1779).
*You would think that the age of reason would have brought about a fairer view of treatment of others, especially in men who had such a dim view of the role of religion themselves. I am only thankfull that the Declaration of Independance and U.S. Constitution were created by more than one individuall.
As abuse against GLBTQ people continues on unabated, the world begins to change from the inside of humanity...out. As the dawn of a new age began...so it was some time, before we could feel its light. In future installments we will move on, into the 19th and 20th centuries and witness the the tragedies and triumphs of GLBTQ people on the backddrop of a changing world.
To read more about any of these people or events Please visit the Wikipedia and explore a rich tapestry of GLBTQ history.
*All notes are the addition of this author and represent my opinion only.