The Order of Chaeronea
The battle of Chaeronea was fought in Beoetia in 338 BCE between Philip of Macedon and an alliance of some Greek cities led by Thebes and Athens. It proved to be a decisive victory for Alexander the Great’s dad and re-established Macedonian control of Greece. The battle, said to be the bloodiest in ancient times, saw the annihilation of the Sacred Band of Thebes, a troop of hand-picked soldiers, consisting of 150 soldiers and their male lovers.
Until what we like to call these more enlightened times homosexuality was illegal and whilst undoubtedly a gay community always existed it was very much in the closet. In 1893 George Cecil Ives formed a secret society known as the Order of Chaeronea in honour of the Sacred Band. The battle was their year zero and all their correspondence and documentation used a dating system taking 338 BCE as the starting point.
Whilst the ostensible purpose of the order was political, to be effectively a lobbying voice for the gay community, the Rules of Purpose proclaimed that it was to be a religion, a theory of life and Ideal of Duty. Elaborate rituals and ceremonies were devised and seals, codes and passwords were used. There was a service of initiation at which the initiate had to swear that they would never vex or persecute lovers and that all real love shall be to them as sanctuary. The elect as members were called probably numbered two to three hundred at its peak, although for obvious reasons no membership records were kept. It is almost certain that Oscar Wilde and his paramour, Lord Alfred Douglas, were members.
The order was open to both men and women but the majority of the membership was undoubtedly male. Ives was keen to stress that the primary driver for the Order was not a forum for gays to meet but recognised, probably sensibly, that a degree of passionate sensuality could develop. Ives also believed that love and sex between men was a true form of democracy and would help to loosen the rigid stays of Victorian and Edwardian society.
The order spread around the world and gave Ives a stage from which he could espouse gay rights through speeches and book. Ives was forthright in his beliefs, writing “We believe in the glory of passion. We believe in the inspiration of emotion. We believe in the holiness of love….Scoffers there be, to whom we need not reply, and foolish ones to whom our words would convey no meaning. For what are words? Symbols of kindred comprehended conceptions, and like makes appeal to like”.
In 1914 Ives together with Magnus Hirschfield and others formed the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology which promoted the scientific study of sex and a more rational attitude towards sexual conduct. In 1931 it became the British Sexological Society. He was also thought to be the real life character upon the gentleman thief Raffles was based.
Ives died in 1950 and the Order rather lost steam after that. But the genie was out of the closet and within a couple of decades homosexuality was legalised in England and Wales.