Prostitution in Ancient Greece and Rome

Prostitution in Ancient Greece

In ancient Greece, the term “porne” appears for the first time, derived from “pernemi ” (sell), meaning what we all know. During this period, both women and young men were doing prostitution and all could become totally independent and free. It was, however, necessary that they wear different clothing from the rest, as it was also mandatory that they pay taxes – something not discriminatory but an obligation of the sex workers.

Famous Prostitutes?

We have read some stories about Lais de Hyccara and Lais de Corinto, although we still doubt if it’s not the same person.

The truth is that Lais of Corinth, about whom more concluding information is available, was known as the most beautiful woman in the entire region and charged large sums of money to her companions, among which were Eubotas, an Olympic champion, and the philosopher Aristippus, who wrote two works about this girl.

Did you know that Solon was the founder of the first brothel? (wikipedia.org)

The legendary Athenian king ordered its foundation in the sixth century BC in Athens, although pimping was expressly prohibited. All the material benefits that the brothel brought were used to build a Temple to Aphrodite – the goddess of love, lust, beauty and sexuality, among other things.

For its part, Corinth and Cyprus were not far behind and thanks to Strabo we know that there was a certain religious prostitution in a temple where, according to the texts, there were more than 1,000 prostitutes.

In Greece in general, we see three categories of prostitution:

  1. Chamaitypa`i – who worked abroad
  2. Gephyrides – those who worked near the bridges
  3. Perepatetikes – those who worked in the streets, where they found their clients and then went to their homes.

In the case of male prostitution, we know that it was mainly adolescent men who did this work in Athenian brothels. However, they used to be slaves because free men could lose their rights if they did so in adulthood. However, homosexuality was not prohibited, only doing it for money.

Prostitution in Ancient Rome

We leave now Greece to talk about another great civilization, Rome. Here we can find mentioned for the first time the term “Prostitutere“, whose translation was “exhibit for sale” – obviously, the body itself.

Rome was perhaps the “paradise of prostitution” (thoughtco.com) due to the enormous sexual freedom that existed for both men and women. They could have relationships with anyone they wanted without any problem. In the case of women, even married women, they only had to adhere to a series of moral and social codes, but nothing prevented them from enjoying their sexuality to the fullest.

Roman prostitutes would be like the modern “escorts”, (www.escorta.com) very educated men and women both to give pleasure and to maintain a conversation. There were even many high-class prostitutes who charged good money but only offered their services for people on the highest social positions.

In the case of prostitutes in Rome, we can find several kinds of prostitutes such as the squads, named for charging a quadrant – which would be the lowest-class prostitutes of all. We also found the felatoras, which, as you can imagine, were called this way for being experts in the art of fellatio.

But the list of types of prostitutes, according to their characteristics and abilities, would be the following:

  • Prostitute: he/she gave his body to whoever he wanted.
  • Pala: who accepted any person who could pay the price asked.
  • Meretrix: independent prostitute.
  • Prostibulae: he/she practiced without paying taxes and where he/she could.
  • Ambulatarae: the prostitute who worked in the street.
  • Lupae: the ones who practiced in the forests around the city.
  • Bastuariae: prostitutes who practiced in cemeteries.
  • Delicatae: male or female prostitutes who had powerful clients as generals or senators.

In all cases, the female prostitutes of Ancient Rome used to be independent women and, in some cases, influential – although they had to wear a purple dress that would differentiate them from other women – in addition to having to pay taxes for developing their activity.

If what you want to know are some famous prostitutes of Ancient Rome, we find them named in the various historical sources. The most well-known were Julia – the daughter of Emperor Augustus, Agrippina and even Messalina – the wife of Emperor Claudius. It was common high-class women to practice prostitution for pleasure.

Messalina, the wife of Emperor Claudius, represented by Eugène Cyrille Brunet (1884)

In spite of the number of places where prostitution was practiced, the most preferred place were the public toilets, because there prostitutes could offer their services to men and women without exception.

As a curious fact, we can add that in the year 1 AD, according to the records found in Rome, 32,000 prostitutes were registered in the capital of the Empire and all of them were given the license to practice the activity – known as “Licentia Stupri”.

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