Plutarch chronicled their exploits. Gorgidas, around 378 BC, first established the Sacred Band by choosing couples from his army. Plutarch in his Life of Pelopidas said this was Gorgidas' inspiration: "Since the lovers, ashamed to be base in sight of their beloved, and the beloved before their lovers, willingly rush into danger for the relief of one another."
The Sacred Band was at first dispersed throughout the front ranks of the regular infantry, with the idea that they would inspire valour, but they were later arrayed as a unit in order to make their gallantry more conspicuous.
After Thebes contributed to a Peloponnesian League victory in the Peloponnesian War in 404 BC, they allied themselves with Corinth, Argos, and Athens in the Corinthian War, fighting with Spartan troops, and becoming fierce warriors. Pelopidas recaptured the Theban Cadmea in 379 BC after a Spartan takeover in 381, and he assumed the command of the Sacred Band in which he fought alongside his good friend, General Epaminondas.
The Sacred Band under Pelopidas fought the Spartans in Tegyra, vanquishing an army that was at least three times their number.
The Sacred Band was also responsible for the victory of Leuctra in 371 BC, called by Pausanias the most decisive battle ever fought by Greeks against Greeks. Leuctra established Theban independence from Spartan rule, and laid the groundwork for the expansion of Theban power, though possibly also for Philip II's eventual victory.
The Sacred Band was eventually destroyed by Philip II of Macedon, who had been held as a hostage in Thebes, and had learned his military tactics there. The remainder of the Theban army fled when faced with the overwhelming forces of Philip and his son Alexander, but the Sacred Band, surrounded, held their ground and many died where they stood. Philip buried their bodies with honor, setting up the Lion of Chaeronea over them. The grave was excavated in 1890, confirming Plutarch's account, though only 254 skeletons were unearthed.
In the Thieves' World shared universe, Janet Morris introduced The Sacred Band of Stepsons, a mythical ancient fighting unit of couples interspersed with unpaired hoplites in the same way that Gorgidas used the Sacred Band of Thebes.
- "The Theban Sacred Band". The Ancient World, XXIII.2, (1992), pp. 3-19.