Ancient Rome was the birthplace of a great civilization, that, like us, had its own sexual predilections. Much like the modern-day humans, they too had a fondness for prostitutes and brothels, loved being in homosexual relationships, and enjoyed marital sex to the hilt. Sex, in their times, was not a dispassionate affair. Instead, Romans indulged in it for pure pleasure. In-fact they engaged in such debauchery that could make us loathe them at times. But, all said and done, Sex in ancient Rome was not always so lustful but had deeper complexities. Sex played a very fundamental role in the culture and it is because of Romans that the modern world knows about male and female sexuality in clear light.
Here is presenting before you the 17 interesting facts about Roman sex life that will definitely surprise you!
1. Incest was common in ancient Rome
When writing about Roman sexuality, the topic of incest has to be mentioned as it was quite common with ancient Romans who indulged in it often, if not always. However, incestuous union weren’t given any credibility, rather, they were treated with much disrespect. The Romans called such relationships ‘nefas’ meaning ‘against the laws of god and man’. Even though incest was not acceptable, but, it was practiced, specially among the royals such as Emperor Caligula who had incestuous relations with his three sisters-Drusilla, Julia Livilla and Agrippina the Younger. The commoners however refrained from committing incest.
In ancient Rome, most married folks maintained polysexual relations without affecting the family’s harmony. Most couples had relations with other gendered people but lived as one family unit. It was common for both royals as well as ordinary citizens of Rome. There is one example that ought to be written about, and it involves Emperor Hadrian. He had various polysexual relations that he never disclosed to his wife Vibia Sabina who was also the emperor’s second cousin. But, things started becoming serious and rather unhappy when Hadrian fell in love with Antinous, a teenage boy with whom he had sexual relations. However, as things got heated up, Antinous disappeared, and this devastated the emperor so much so that he declared Antinous a god. He also made worship of Antinous compulsory in whole of Rome.
We can say that Rome became what is now known as ‘The Great Roman Empire’ only after it expanded and became a hub of cultural revolution. But, do you know how it expanded so majestically? How it transformed from a Pre-Republic nation to a Republic that was the seat of all learning and art? Well, rape…yes…rape!! Rape was one of the factors that played quite a big role in finding the great Roman Empire.
The Romans expanded their territory by employing the tactic of rape. The Romans followed the process of sending troops in nearby territories and ordered men to plunder not just properties but also the women. The aim of the Romans was to expand as much as possible, even if it meant raping hundreds of women from nearby regions. One such incident relating to this is the rape of Sabine women. This infamous rape incident occurred in 750 BCE and resulted in mass rapes of Sabine women. However, this incident is only a myth and no records of it have ever been found.
If you were a male in ancient Rome, you could go on gallivanting in search of pleasure, and that included seeking pleasure from the same gender. Gay relationships were acceptable and not frowned over. Men had the freedom to form homosexual relations, but, they could do so only if they were the dominant partner in the relationship and not the subordinate. A man could go on having sex with actors and prostitutes if he pleased. But, for women, things were not easy or equal. Women were looked down upon if they were found indulging in lesbian relationships, specially if they assumed the dominant role.
5. Roman men could have sex with their slaves
Sex in ancient Rome was all about power play and passion. Men had the freedom to sleep with their slaves. Slaves, both men and women, were used not only for doing household chores but also for carnal activities. When a Roman husband returned to find an uninterested wife, he would simply go to his slave and get his carnal needs satisfied. The law didn’t forbid men to form any kind of sexual relations with their slaves, rather, it encouraged them.
But, there was one catch. A married man was forbidden to have any kind of sexual relations with any free born person. It was practiced no doubt, but, in those ancient times, such acts were considered scandalous as free born people were considered proper human beings unlike slaves.
Romans expanded wherever they went, and during their expansion campaigns, they went about plundering wealth, and people of neighboring places and territories. It was legal for soldiers of the Roman Empire to claim anything that came their way, and this included precious metals, household items, food, art and even women. The captured women of other tribes were often sold in the bigger slave market, or given to soldiers for satisfying their carnal desires. The imprisoned women slaves were raped rampantly without objection. However, soldiers could only go around raping slave women, but, not free born people. It was illegal to rape such people that weren’t slaves.
Rules were not the same for men and women in ancient Rome. While Roman men could take out their nut and gallivant here and there, a woman, could not. The Romans meted punishments to all such married women who cheated on their husbands. There were no punishments for philandering husbands, but, a woman being a servant to her spouse didn’t have the right to sleep outside her marriage. The role of women in ancient Rome was only to give birth and to look after the household. For cheating, a wife could get beaten, or worse, could also be executed or killed.
8. Ancient Romans loved porn
Porn is not an invention that can be associated with the modern times. It was invented way back and was rather loved by ancient Romans. They loved porn, anything and everything related to it, and that included soft as well as hardcore sexual acts. Don’t believe? Roman towns were decked up with statues bearing one predominant theme – sex. Most statues had an overtly sexual theme and were mostly chiseled to show the beauty of human body and the pleasures that one can seek from it.
All over Rome, one could spot naked statues of men and women in stone. Sexually inspired paintings were a common phenomenon on most Roman walls. Sex graffiti was commonly seen on many street walls and depicted a lot of sexual positions and acts. Even the private chambers of bedrooms of Roman people had sexually inspired wall art and showed all forms of hardcore sex. You would be surprised to know that these people also decorated their oil lamps with graphic paintings of sex.
9. Some Roman emperors committed depraved sexual acts
If you think you have the power to conjure up the most unthinkable sexual acts in your mind, then you are wrong! Some Roman emperors invented the most depraved or deviant sexual practices or acts that will put you all to shame. One such Roman emperor was Tiberius, who was one of the craziest men ever to live on this planet. He lived for sex and breathed sex. He had a depraved mind that could conjure things that ordinary mind cannot do. For example, Tiberius was fond of pederasty. And believe it or not, he actually trained little boys called tiddlers to lick and nibble his organ when he went swimming. A freak!!
Other emperors like Caligula too were obsessed with sex. He was a woman snatcher and indulged in orgies where he committed every kind of unfathomable act. He had sexual relations with his own sisters.
10. Gladiators were in huge demand for sex
The gladiators of ancient Rome performed not only in the arena, but also in the beds of many upper class women. Rome had sections in the society in which the slaves featured last. But, apart from the slaves, there was a class that was considered even lower and that was the class of entertainers. Gladiators too formed a part of this section. They were in huge demand with wives of prominent men who had a liking for the muscled bodies of these fighter men.
The gladiators were often used for sexual gratification by high class women who paid these men for sessions of lewd acts. One such example can be given of Marcus Aurelius’s wife Faustina who was obsessed with gladiators. She went on to have sex with a gladiator and as per the guidance of the Oracle, when the gladiator was on top of her, he was killed. After this, Faustina had sex with her husband.
Were orgies like a ritual in ancient Roman sex life? Orgies existed back then, but, its not how we have always visualized them to be. Most of us have had insane ideas about orgies that were practiced in Rome, but, the truth is that they were not frequently hosted during feasts and gala affairs. It was Rome’s elite class like emperors that often engaged in orgies that were highly unsafe and unpredictable.
Most rich and famous personalities threw gala parties and feasts that seldom culminated into orgies. But, emperors like Caligula and Elagabalus had orgy sessions in their palaces that often resulted in deaths and killings, given the unpredictable nature of these personalities.
12. The Imperial Palace turned into a whorehouse
It was not once but several times that The Imperial palace turned into a brothel by various Roman emperors who couldn’t just stay away from sex. These depraved men went far by transforming their own palace into a whorehouse. Caligula once turned a wing of his palace into a brothel in order to earn back public funds that he had spent on his own lascivious activities. He also allowed Roman men to visit the whorehouse and pay later. This way, Caligula made lust a business venture.
The believers of Stoicism, a Hellenistic Philosophy were known as Stoics who believed in equality of all people and regarded no one lesser in the society. This included slaves as well as women who were treated as second class citizens in ancient Rome. They also preferred social stability over sex and other lustful acts. To them, pleasure seeking activities were not the basis of human life and regarded sex as an activity that bonded people together with bond and affection. The Stoics were not anti sex but regarded it an unnecessary desire that needed to be approached with a rational mind.
14. Prostitution was a legal profession
Prostitution was very pivotal to sex in ancient Rome. It attracted hoards of men, both commoners as well as elite that found their lusts satisfied by visiting brothels. The Romans loved sex in every form and prostitution was a legalized activity. No one seemed to be bothered about the prevalence of prostitution, not even the Roman wives. It were usually the freed women or slaves that worked as prostitutes. But, it wasn’t uncommon to find high class women indulging in it just for pleasure. It was a legitimate business in 40 CE and income from it was taxable. Under the reign of Augustus, sex workers were exempted from giving moral penalties, whereas, the usual Roman citizens had to follow very strict moral codes of sexual conduct.
15. The tradition of kissing was spread by Romans
Roman sexuality was not only about lascivious dalliances like those of Caligula and Tiberius. It also included acts of love and passion. One such act was kissing that was considered to spread love and affection between two people. Kissing was an act that Romans loved to indulge in, and they actually helped spread this tradition of kissing all around the world. In fact Roman men were believed to be obsessed with kissing. In their obsession, they would often be found showcasing their kissing prowess in public. It was the Romans that started the tradition of kissing at the time of marriage when the couple would exchange vows and then kiss in front of all.
Male sexuality in ancient Rome included all forms of sex as Roman men were fond of lustful activities to the core. They had no inhibitions visiting brothels or having multiple sexual partners. Anal or butt sex was considered okay in Rome but was seen as a lowly act during Biblical times. Anal sex was predominantly practiced by the general Roman man who would hump his partner, either a man or a woman from the back. But, in no circumstance, he were to get humped. Then it would be a case of scandal. Its believed that when Tiberius retired to Capri, he, being a lustful manic, hired ‘analists’, experts in butt sex. These experts would copulate in front of him by forming triple unions so as to arouse him.
17. The divine virgins of Rome were off limits
Image Credit: byronsmuse
Its rather surprising when you come to know that in ancient Rome, a group of women were off limits for men! Yes, we are talking about a group of women that were considered to be Vestal Virgins that offered themselves to the worship of Vesta, the Goddess of hearth. These women were the divine virgins no one could touch, and were regarded as the overseers of Rome's security. They lived at the Temple of Vesta and tended to it. The temple had six of these virgins at all times and they continued their services for 30 years.
Being divine virgins, no one could have sex with them, but, with the exception of Elagabalus, who, in his attempt to produce a divine child, married one of the Vestal Virgins.
Though, its very natural to assume that sex in ancient Rome was all about giant orgies and over the top affairs, reality was pretty different. Romans, no doubt, were masters of sexual acts, but there were many types of moral codes that regulated their acts and dalliances. From being lovers of porn, to being great kissers, Romans did it all!