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FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board  |  Numismatic and History Discussions  |  History and Archeology (Moderator: David Atherton)  |  Topic: Sex and Ancient Rome 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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Dk0311USMC
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« on: March 03, 2012, 08:17:39 pm »

From a lot of the shows I have seen on various channels, reading I have done and other general depictions of Rome, there is the sense that there was a lot of Sex, orgies, and prostitution throughout Ancient Rome.  Just tonight I was reading a book on Rome titled Ancient Rome by Nigel Rodgers. It is a large reference type book but it describes the amount of sex and debauchery as basically overblown. 

I quote "The Roman reputation for widespread sexual debauchery is hardly merited. It derives more from Suetonius racy portraits of the 12 Caesars, reinforced by Hollywood films and discoveries of "shocking" pictures at Pompeii, than from the reality of life for most people in the Roman world, who seldom had the opportunity for sexual depravity."

Thoughts about the debauchery of ancient Rome, overblown, or more on par with today's society than many might think??
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Andrew McCabe
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« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2012, 01:58:27 am »

From a lot of the shows I have seen on various channels, reading I have done and other general depictions of Rome, there is the sense that there was a lot of Sex, orgies, and prostitution throughout Ancient Rome.  Just tonight I was reading a book on Rome titled Ancient Rome by Nigel Rodgers. It is a large reference type book but it describes the amount of sex and debauchery as basically overblown. 

I quote "The Roman reputation for widespread sexual debauchery is hardly merited. It derives more from Suetonius racy portraits of the 12 Caesars, reinforced by Hollywood films and discoveries of "shocking" pictures at Pompeii, than from the reality of life for most people in the Roman world, who seldom had the opportunity for sexual depravity."

Thoughts about the debauchery of ancient Rome, overblown, or more on par with today's society than many might think??

Thoughts at several levels -

1. Much of the written material that has come down to us from ancient Rome was intended as defamatory. For example Suetonius' 12 Caesars or Cicero's prosecutions. That means their bias was intended to cast goings-on's in a less good light. But usually it wasn't the sex per-se that was cast in a negative light but related bad behaviour.

2. The Romans were more relaxed about matters of desire. And why not? The puritan-ship of the early 21st century is the real anomaly. So what's wrong with the Pompeii wall paintings? They depict cuddling and other stuff many of us would really like to be involved in. It might do us some good. And what's wrong with that? Nothing.

3. Much of current puritan attitudes is shaped by religious influences. I was intrigued recently to visit a country that is at the same time highly religious and highly relaxed about cuddling: Thailand. There's absolute reverence paid to monks and a temple on every corner, with sacrifices at all sorts of small shrines. And there's also absolute reverence to libertarian attitudes: be free and enjoy yourself and each other in whatever ways are possible. I think some of this comes close to Roman attitudes to religion and sex.

4. Th institution of marriage in Rome was as much a political act as anything else. For that reason the alliance between families required on the surface, no cheating with other upper-class women and no cheating by the political wife. But this was nothing to do with sex - just about managing party alliances. It didn't stop one fondling one's slaves.

I wish I had a slave to fondle. Or at least to cook my dinner. (NB don't let my partner know I wrote this  Wink )
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Syltorian
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« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2012, 02:54:07 am »

It's interesting that so much is made of Roman sexual orgies as an excuse to sell the movies/depictions/etc in the modern world.

The ideal of Rome was one of chastity. Tombstones and eulogies emphasise chastity. Pudicia is part of the catalog of virtues. Augustus' legislation sought to enforce this ideal, albeit largely in the upper classes where, as Andrew has noted, marriages tended to be political, but the Julian Laws carry a large cultural baggage on what is considered to be right morally. Sexual excesses and perversions were frowned upon and actively fustigated, which is where so much of the remaining literature survives, be they attacks against specific people (Cicero against Clodia, Suetonius against the 12 Caesars, Martial and Juvenal against society in general).

That literature has survived because then, as now, and even during the christian middle ages (were it not for the monks, little would have survived) sex sells. Few people are interested in a lengthy description of a virtuous life. That's why Dante's Inferno is more famous and more read than his Paradiso, and why hardly anyone touches Milton's Paradise Regain'd. That's also why modern TV shows (Rome, Spartacus, etc) prefer to include largely gratuitous sex scenes rather than other elements of Roman society - how many people would listen to a philosophic evening at Fronto's place, or an antiquarian debate at Varro's, or - worst of all - an in-depth discussion about archaic Latin grammar as you find in Aulus Gellius (the man who once amused himself on a journey by listing the synonyms or near-synonyms for "ship" he knew)? Somehow, these Roman entertainments don't make it into too many shows - though the opening scene of I, Claudius comes close.

Add to this the major discoveries of apparently sexual objects in Pompeii. This was a time when antiquity was being seriously rediscovered, and it shocked people to find so many scenes of erotica and, largely, so many representations of phalli. If archaeologists discovered a large quantity of Playboy issues in 2000 years time or got access to some of the stuff on the internet, they'd also see our culture as hopelessly orgiastic and you can imagine what 30th century mass entertainment will show of our society. True: Romans had a tendency to put erotic scenes on everyday objects, but for many we don't have the actual context, and for others we know that phalli on a stone plaque in front of a house or as an elaborate tintinnabulum, for instance, indicate not that this was a house of ill repute (some people have assumed this, and came up with staggering ratios of brothels:inhabitants), but were in fact a luck charm designed to bring growth and wealth on the house and ward of the evil eye. Many of the items which were hidden in the "Secret Cabinet" in Naples were not sexual in nature.

That's not to say that Rome was averse to sexuality. Not even the Victorian Age was, in that you did have red-light districts, after all. I'd say that their attitude to sexuality was "healthy" (apart from the helplessness against sexual diseases, of course - and some issues, such as age at marriage or slave-prostitutes, would be considered absolutely abject today), neither excessively shunned nor overly indulged in. There were notorious cases, or allegedly notorious cases (Clodia, Messalina, Julia Augusti, Theodora), but you'd find them in any culture and have to strip them (if I'm allowed the pun) of their political baggage. Most people in Rome would probably be too occupied looking where the next meal came from (in the lower and middle classes) and who was about to stab them in the back (actually or figuratively, in politics) to spent their days in nothing but orgies. The opportunities were there, but no more and no less than at other times in history, including today. It just sells better to include them in modern entertainment, which says as much, if not more, about us than it does about the Romans.  

Anyway, that's my take on this.

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Taras
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« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2012, 06:47:10 am »

I try to explain something about this issue, hopin my english will be not too rough  Grin


The secret cabinet, rooms 62 and 63 of the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.

“Secret Cabinet” is the name that the Bourbon kings gave to the private rooms (which "had allowed entry only for people of mature age and respected morals") in which were collected the erotic and sexual finds came to light in the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Over the centuries, the collection has been called the "Cabinet of the reserved objects" or "obscene" or "pornographic". After the Revolution of 1848 the S.C. became a symbol of civil liberties and expression, thus becoming censored, because it was considered politically dangerous. It was even proposed to destroy the objects (as "monuments of the infamous gentilician license" and "lascivissimi") in order to safeguard the good reputation of the Royal House, but the director of the Royal Bourbon Museum was able to get that collection was closed to visitors: in fact the entrance door was provided with three locks with three different keys in the hands of three different persons: one himself, one the “controloro”, and one to the Royal House.
The culmination of censorship occurred in 1851, when the collection was finally sealed by walling the doors.
When, in September 1860, Garibaldi (national hero unifying the nation) arrived in Naples, he immediately gave the order to make available the S.C. to the public. Of the three keys, not finding the one that came to the Royal House, Garibaldi did not hesitate - despite the general bewilderment – to command to "break open the door" (the original document that verbalizes the event is displayed in a glass case at the entrance of the collection). Over the following decades, the freedom given back by Garibaldi gradually took over the objection of the Kingdom of Italy, this saw its peak during the Fascist period, when to visit the S.C. needed the permission of the Minister of National Education in Rome.
Censorship persisted after the war until 1967, abating only after 1971.
Completely set up again a few years ago with new criteria, the collection was finally opened to the public in April 2000.






The Secret Cabinet and the different contents of ancient sexuality.


1 – Religious content

a- Ancient sexuality was part of the Dionysian rites, as in the splendid Roman sarcophagus with bacchanalian scene in relief.
b- Statue of the god Priapus, he is the god of fertility and vegetation, he protects the borders of the fields, and used to punish fruit thieves with anal penetration (see Carmina Priapea).
c- Anatomical votive terracotta (penises, breasts, uterus, half of IV – II BC)found in a Samnite sanctuary in Cales. After recovery from an illness people brought to the temple these objects.





2 – cultural content

Many of the artifacts and paintings in the S.C. show scenes from ancient mythology, a way to teach people the cultural roots of their own country.





3- Burlesque content

a -Small bronze statuettes of characters rendered in a caricatured look(pygmies dancing; a poet or orator, half naked; a warrior-cock) designed merely to decorate the table.
b- Ceramic bearded character, seated, with anenormous phallus, reading a roll of papyrus, has been recognized by scholars of Judaism as a caricature of a rabbi.
c- A fresco found in an alley of Pompeii shows a donkey penetrating a lion. The donkey is declared the winner by the Winged Victory, which gives him the crown and the palm of victory. Over the appearance of caricature, in this fresco there is probably a hidden allegorical message, interpreted as the patient (the donkey) is superior to brute force (the lion), or in a political sense, that a poor man of the road (the donkey) can make it a service (put it in the ass) to powerfull men and rulers.





4- Commercial content

The commercial aspect is particularly apparent in the frescoes from the ancient brothels (Lupanari) [Lupo=wolf; Latin for she-wolf=prostitute].
In the Roman brothels are found pornographic frescoes of modest artistic quality (popular painting), which depict scenes of mates in different positions. The Romans distinguished and indicated the different performances offered by prostitutes with the name of the goddess: “Venus Pendula”, “Venus Pendula Conversa”, “Venus Pendula Aversa” etc..
On a fresco with scenes of anal penetration, there are traces of a painted inscription: "Lente Impelle", a request from the prostitute, who invites his clients to "gently push up".





5 – Magic content

(as Syltoria wrote) we know that phalli on a stone plaque in front of a house or as an elaborate tintinnabulum, for instance, indicate not that this was a house of ill repute but were in fact a luck charm designed to bring growth and wealth on the house.





6- funerary content

The funerary aspect is given by phallic travertine stones from Etruscan tombs from the area of Chiusi and Perugia (II - I century BC): they are commonly explained as the tombstones of  male characters, of which they wanted to emphasize in particular the virility or the generative force. In reality the Etruscan names engraved on the phallic stones are both men than women (Lanuel-Lania-Mainath-Arnth-Uplna etc..), so perhaps they should be explained rather with a hope of rebirth (as the earth - in which you are buried- is a powerful symbol for women's fertility, and would not be possible to be re-born if it were missing the male element).





7 – Love and pleasure contents

Finally, the private love and pleasure of couples,which is found in the private objects like plates, vases or jars, decorated with erotic scenes both heterosexual and homosexual.



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« Reply #4 on: October 12, 2012, 03:33:33 pm »

an interesting book...
'Sexual Life in Ancient Rome' by Otto Kiefer (1993)

~ Peter
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