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after being to pompeii and seeing the explicit mosaics, and statues found in a brothel, it really got me to thinking about how these romans acted

how was the romans view of sexuality different from today?
if you took a christian view of sex back then, would you be considered an outcast?
did these romans think of anything else?
were they crazed inhuman animals, that we have no idea today
or were they they civilizied people i though they were except there sexuality was a little bit mor eopen?
Much of this is uncertain. There are publications that state that the Romans were very promiscuous, but I often wonder if this is not some sort of wishful thinking - look, those decadent Romans.

One aspect can be described with some certainty. According to the laws on marriage that were enacted by Augustus, the Romans were supposed to remarry once their partner had died. Christians thought that this was not decent -marriage ties were forever- and in the fourth century, the law was changed.

There is some debate about same-sex unions. They are not mentioned in the Corpus Iuris (the great collection of Roman laws that was composed by the very Christian emperor Justinian), but this may reflect later adaptations. The debate is not entirely without relevance for our modern age, as you can read here.
*moving this to Civ, where it belongs*


well I m sorry u had to move it
can I get some replys?

I suspect that you have had a rather unusual upbringing, if you find the Roman mosaics and statues to be that much more explicit than modern day television, movies, songs, and art.

Perhaps the dipictation of the various forms of male reproductive organs are a bit more noticible, but then, Priapus is a diety of protection, good fortune and material increase.

There is nothing available in ancient Pompeii erotica that is not also available in the modern (christian?) USA or Europe. In fact, many of the bits of clothing worn by modern people in public would have been seen as obscene in certain periods of Rome's history, especially when worn in public. In a modern brothel, would you not expect to find similar items? Of course, they might be photographs instead of mosaics, but .....

In many art museums in (christian???) America, you will find paintings of nudes, statues of nudes, something erotic. In the truck stops and convenience stores across the USA you would find obscene graffitti in the toilets, with rude pictures, and erotic magazines and books, where not limited by local laws. In many places in Western Europe there is no ban on erotic expression, and som e cities have yearly erotic parades (if they can find sponsors).

I suspect that you are basing your shock and surprise at Pompeii on your own experience, which may not reflect the experiences of other modern Americans or Europeans.

Christians and Sex? There are as many different groups of Christians and different beliefs in what is allowed as there are denominations and splinter groups. I found in a short look on the internet a Christian group of nudists, and many Christian works on sex, how to, how not to, and so on.

Not everyone is as prudish about the human body and human reproduction as certain conservative religious and political groups try to legislate. You can be really animalistic and crazy and not be sex-mad. You can be really civilized and sexual. Look at Ben Franklin (American Historical figure), for a very good example.

Try reading 'Sex or Symbol:Erotic Images of Greece and Rome', by Catherine Johns. 1982. London.

This should answer all your questions on this subject. Catherine Johns was from the British Museum so the topic is treated in a serious and objective manner.


I also recommend you try to find some of the books by Jaques Martin such as 'les Voyages d' Orion'. They are children's books available in Western Europe but they show more nudity and violence than would be considered acceptable for British children's books and I suspect would certainly not be seen in American schools. Nevertheless they also give a good impression of all the colour painted on buildings and statues.


ok your right thats the problem
we have ase much of that erotica stuff, or maybe even more than in ancient rome

but in america the majority of the population dont have such things in there homes, or openly talk about sex or regard grafitti in the bathrooms as art, but all this stuff in ancient rome was all customary expected accepted, and it made me wonder if the romans morales was different than ours?
They probally where! Just as there is great diffrences between you in Us and us here in Europe or between states in US and in Europe.

What goes for normal in Calefornia might not be accepted in Ohio, follow me?

Same thing here in europe. In Sweden we do some things one way and in denmark another. For example, To drink a few beer every day are in some circles here in Sweden considered to be a possetive sign of alcoholism, in Ireland it is just the way it is and noone would think it is to be a drunkard. In Sweden we tend to drink a bottle of vodka everey weekend and get pissed drunk, and that would be a true sign of alcoholism in Ireland.

In the same way the erotic standards of the roman empire most sertanly differed in different regions and classes! What went in the patrician famillys could probally be very much frowned upon in a workingclass town in Provincia Narboniensis! (Just wild guesses from my part, but you might catch my drift.)


ok that makes sense thanx

so the romans had pretty much the same morales as us?
Prostitution was legal in Rome, and the Empire. In some places it was regulated, in some places it was frowned upon. Priapus statues would be found in many Roman gardens and houses , but probably not in a Roman Judean household? Some emperors were notorious for their sexual perversions, some of them were strict and fined people who were immoral. We are talking about many different people, and many different morale standards. The same goes on here in the USA or in the whole world. What is acceptable changes as you move from place to place and time to time.

Mores (morals) include concepts other than sexual relations. Slavery, prostitution, religion, human sacrifice, punishment for crimes, manner of dress, marital fidelity, age of marriage, degree of allowable relationship in marriage, various sexualities, (hetro-sexual, homosexual, bi-sexual....)

Again, you would be shocked and possibly embarrassed to walk into a brothel in Pompeii, or the red light district in Frankfurt, or a beach on Crete. People are different. Rules are different. Some people say that the 'moral man' obeys the rules of his society. Some have other ways of determining morality. Most Romans were probably moral, just like most modern people, but maybe not in exactly the same ways.
Yes to a point.

Despite everything you hear about Roman orgies the sexual morals of most Roman families were very conservative. They emphasized chastity, abstinence before marriage fidelity within. Monogamy was the norm. Divorce was discouraged but commonplace none-the-less, particularly among elites and the upper classes who married for poliical connections as much as love.

Of course all the usual problems persisted, prostitution, pornography, adultery, fornication, but the same could be said of 19th C. America. All of those were known then too but it would be a mistake to suggest that those behaviors were normative.

Just read any Golden or Silver age latin poet. Prostitution was legal, more or less. Harlots are everywhere but generally they are mentioned to condemn such behavior.

Incest, pedophila and rape were expressly forbidden (although first cousins often married) Child molestors were subject to special executions, being torn asunder or thrown to beasts in the arena. Rape was a capital offense, although often many families hushed it over to avoid shame and publicity.

All in all this is very similar to our times, with the exception that sex crimes were generally treated much more harshly.

Romans had no objection to masturbation as long as it was private. Public displays of sexuality (whether with a partner or not) were considered vulgar. Nudity in art was discouraged unless it had a moral or historical point. When the gods and goddesses are shown nude, it is to emphasize their perfection, not their sexual attributes (although often this was an excuse for elites to have naked statues! but that's no different than the 19th C. either!) Phalluses are nearly always symbols of fertility and not sex. Satyr plays and sexual farces were common, and popular, but thought vulgar by many Romans and even then a lot of the time they existed to satirize such behavior and condemn it, not endorse it.

About the only two things that I can think of that were genuinely different than most modern or early Christian morals.

The first is body shame. Romans as a group were modest and much more so than some Mediterranean cultures. However that sense of modesty was always linked to context. Nudity in the marketplace or home was outrageous, nudity at the bathhouse, palaestra or latrina, perfectly fine. The Largo Argentina has a massive colonade that housed a huge open latrine meant for both men and women. Such natural body functions were considered normal and there was nothing really to be ashamed about it. If you exposed yourself in public you would be shamed and shunned but if you hiked up your tunic to use a latrine, no one would have given you a second look. The same is true of bathing. Men and women did bath together, but generally in the imperial baths, women bathed in the morning while men bathed in the afternoon, but there was alway some overlap. A bathhouse was by no means a sexual environment. Even today there are Asian bathhouses were families bathe together. It's a cultural thing.

The other biggie is ephebophilia and pederasty.

I want to warn people off here, but there is just no other way to talk about this except frankly and it really was one of the things that really differentiated ancient cultures. Those not interested may skip this part.

This is one part that is definitely very different from the modern day. It is often said that the ancients were lax on homosexuality but that is misleading. Very rarely did males pair off into partnerships (Hadrian and Antinoos were shunned for this very reason). Homosexuality as we understand it would be unrecognizable in the ancient world and probably condemned. The ancient practice was more like mutal masterbation and always paired an older man with a younger male, with the elder man being the dominant player, penetrating the younger man who was compliant. There is a great deal of debate regarding the method. The literary sources suggest that the elder man masturbated between the younger man's thighs. People doubt this but the artistic evidence seems to back it up. Anal sex was seen as unsanitary. Scenes of anal sex in art nearly always show farcical scenes indicating that the behavior was low class and vulgar. In nearly all others the penis can be clearly seen to be between the thighs. The older man was not considered to be "homosexual" if he was the one penetrating. This was just a normal practice. Married and unmarried males participated, though not too far into marriage men were expected to give it up, or at least do it less, not because it was adulterous or immoral, but because it showed a certain lack of respectful restraint.

Boys could be quite young, as young as twelve and nearly every adult male of a certain class would do it, particularly the upper classes. It was seen as a healthy alternative to adultery or prostitution. Boys were to be treated well and not abused and given gifts or money/board for their service. One of the nicest things you could say about an emperor in his biography was that he never abused his "boys". Where the boys came from to do this is something of a mystery but we can guess they were slaves or lower classes and not the upper classes.

Crassus' famous come-on to tony curtis's character in "Spartacus" is kinda ridiculous in historical context. There wouldn't need to be any persuasion, it would simply be a matter of negotiating terms.

There were of course, huge objections to the practice by Christians. Paul mentioned "Catamites" specifically and forbade the practice. Some early church scholars feel that the injunctions against homosexuality in the NT are specifically aimed at this practice. It was a common Mediterranean practice. It endured well into the Christian period however and continued unabated throughout the Persian and Islamic courts as well. Many of those fabulous Medieval persian love poems are written to boys.

There is interestingly enough, no female counterpart and the practice seems largely absent amongst the lower classes, but probably due to economic and social reasons, not moral ones.

It's very odd but most people react with horror to the practice and equate it with pedophilia, but it was simply not a big deal to Romans. The Romans also make clear distinctions between this and child molestation. Any assault on a girl or a non-adolescent boy was molestation and punishable, as was any non-consensual or physically abusive relationship, though one suspects that any such system would be rife with abuse. The very fact that Trajan's biographies say he was so good to his boys suggests that there were many who were not.

Quote:so the romans had pretty much the same morales as us?
Well, that depends. There are two questions: (1) what do you mean by morals, and (2) who do you mean by "us"?

First, morals. Any society has at least two levels of moralism: the official one and the real one. Example: over here in Holland, the official standard is that between the sheets people can do whatever they like, as long as they are both consenting and 18+; and officially, we all agree that everything can be discussed. That's the official standard. But when I guessed that one of my acquiantances and his girlfriend like to play BDSM games, he said to me what I already understood - this was not to be discussed in public. (In fact, this is why I gave up drinking, because I can be loose-lipped.) This example shows a difference between the official morality and the real moral standards.

When you visited Italy, you must have noticed a difference between the official standard as it is explained by the pope, and the way female sexuality is exploited. (Seen from a Dutch perspective; Italian men always say that in Holland, we don't know allow women to flirt.)

And even in this small country, which measures less than 200 km from east to west, there is a difference between the eastern and western provinces. If a recent survey by the Schorer Stichting (an organization that studies sexual behavior) can be relied upon, young people who tell their parents that they are gay or lesbian, will face hardly any problems in the cities in the west, but will have to overcome some problems if they live in the east.

I interrupt my story. I think that in the United States, there must be a similar difference between, on the one hand, a city like San Francisco, and, on the other hand, the Bible Belt. This means that if you say "us", it becomes a bit difficult. Do you mean "we people from Maine", or "we Americans", or "we rich people in the Americas, Europa, and Australia"? Here's why I asked a second question. End of interruption.

To return to the first question: I think that it is difficult to identify "the" sexual morals, because there must have been an official standards in the Roman age, and there must have been several real regional standards.

There is evidence that even the official standard had regional variation. In Judaea, the official standards can be deduced from that large collection of rabbinical wisdom, the Talmud. Celibacy was not forbidden by the rabbis, but Roman Law actively discouraged it in the Lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus.

I think it is also relevant that today, woman's rights are better than in most areas along the ancient Mediterranean. In most countries, a woman who is sexually abused by her husband, has certain rights. In Antiquity, this was not the case, although a woman in Egypt or Etruria had a stronger position than in, say, Greece. For this reason, I would not say that the Romans had the same morals as we do; at least in theory, the idea that a man could do whatever he liked, has disappeared.

Finally, a word about actual practice. Morals are never what really happens. An interesting observation by Hugh Hefner is that there was no regional variation in Playboy sales: the number of Playboy copies sold per capita was the same in all American states. This suggests that when people make love, they just do what they like to do, whatever the official standards.

Consequently, we would expect that the Romans did the same things as modern people do. This, however, appears not to have been the case.

In the first place, there appear to be no ancient representations of BDSM-acts; perhaps there is one possible exception, but most art historians agree that this statue can mean everything. The oldest reference to BDSM I know of, is a poem by the Iranian religious author Hafez (fourteenth century).

In the second place, if you look at ancient pictures, you will note that people hardly look each other in the eyes. There are exceptions, but compared to western, Chinese, and Indian representations of sex, the ancients usually appear to be self-centered. I do not know what this means.
I cant believe Im posting on this subject but it comes up all the time in examining the ancient world esepcially with the greeks. the porn of pompeii isnt suprising. a brothel didnt have video machines so painting was a logical decoration for such a place but inferring wholesale conclusions about sexuality in the ancient world isnt merited just like looking at amsterdam or bangkok isnt represtentative of the nation as a whole.

I have serious doubts about the widespread 'gayness' of the greeks and even romans. In todays world you have a percentage of people who desire homosexual intercourse or something close to it and the majority dont. It isnt in their makeup to do or desire such a thing. I cant concieve that homosexual activity was anymore prevalent than today percentage wise. I could be very wrong but I doubt it.

One other thing to remember is we dont have the records or writings of the average person in the ancient world. Most of our written knowledge comes from the upper class. So the artsy literati types wrote and painted and expressed their sexuality. So most of our 'understanding' of the ancient greek and roman societies come from like 1% of the population.

I wont get into my opinions on hellenistic thought. Im a avid Greek practicioner but Im not fond of the greek philosophers...... :roll:
Quote:One other thing to remember is we don't have the records or writings of the average person in the ancient world. Most of our written knowledge comes from the upper class. So the artsy literati types wrote and painted and expressed their sexuality. So most of our 'understanding' of the ancient Greek and roman societies come from like 1% of the population.
I wonder if there are class differences in sexuality. I am aware of only two pieces of evidence in modern society. One of them is the Dutch historian Von der Dunk, who pointed out that SM-practitioners are either upper class ("artsy literati types") or lower class, but seldom middle-class; the other is that incest appears to be more common among the working classes.

Still, I think that if there were class differences in western society, we would have known more about it. Maybe Antiquity was different, as class differences were sharper.
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