Prostitution in ancient Rome

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Prostitution in ancient Rome was legal and licensed. Men of any social status were free to engage prostitutes of either sex without incurring moral disapproval, as long as they demonstrated self-control and moderation in the frequency and enjoyment of sex. Brothels were part of the culture of ancient Rome, as popular places of entertainment for Roman men.


Index Expurgatorius of Martial[edit]

Index Expurgatorius of Martial (1868), pp. 65, 86, 108
  • Lascivam tota possedi nocte puellam,
      Cuius nequitias vincere nulla potest.
    Fessus miile modis illud puerile poposci:
      Ante preces totas primaque verba dedit.
    Improbius quiddam ridensque rubensque rogavi:
      Pollicita est nulla luxuriosa mora.
    Sed mihi pura fuit; tibi non erit, Aeschyle: si vis,
      Accipe et hoc munus conditione mala.
  • I passed a whole night with a lascivious girl, whose wickedness[1] no one could surpass. Tired of a thousand pranks, I begged that boyish favour,[2] before my prayer was finished, my first utterance, 'twas granted. Smiling and blushing I asked for something worse,[3] she voluptuously promised it at once.[4] But she was chaste to me. She will not be so to you, Aeschylus: if you want it, take this boon, but she will attach a condition.[5]
    Last night the soft charms of an exquisite whore
      Fulfilled every whim of my mind,
    Till, with fucking grown weary, I begged something more,
      One bliss that still lingered behind.
    My prayer was accepted; the rose in the rear
      Was opened to me in a minute;
    One rose still remained, which I asked of my dear,—
      'Twas her mouth and the tongue that lay in it.
    She promised at once, what I asked her to do;
      Yet her lips were unsullied by me.
    They'll not, my old friend, remain virgins for you,
      Whose penchant exceeds e'en her fee.

  • Intrasti quotiens inscriptae limina cellae,
      Seu puer arrisit, sive puella tibi,
    Contentus non es foribus veloque seraque,
      Secretumque iubes grandius esse tibi.
    Oblinitur minimae si qua est suspitio rimae
      Punctaque lasciva quae terebrantur acu.
    Nemo est tam teneri tarn sollicitique pudoris,
      Qui vel paedicat, Canthare, vel futuit.
  • When you enter the door of the numbered[7] room, whether a boy or a girl has attracted you, you are not content with the door and the curtain and the bolt; but you order far greater secresy for yourself. If there is a suspicion of the least crevice, it is daubed out, and so are the punctures made by a wanton's bodkin.[8] No one, Cantharus, is so delicate and so uneasily modest who either sodomises or fucks.[9]
    When Suburan dens you enter
      And securely bolt the door—
    Door whereon the painted number
      Marks the calling of a whore,
    Whether boy or girl allure you
      Bolt and door will not suffice,
    Nor the heavy hanging curtain
      Satisfy a mind so nice;
    If the smallest crack or crevice
      Find a place the wall within,
    Plugged it must be like the peep hole
      Punctured by the wanton's pin;
    Cantharus, no man's so modest,
      From what place or race lie comes.
    Who to please his passions, only
      Fucks or sods, or cunts or bums.

  • Utere femineis complexibns, utere, Victor,
      Ignotuniqne sibi mentula discat opus.
    Flammea texuntur sponsae, iam virgo paratur,
      Tondebit pueros iam nova nupta tuos.
    Paedicare semel ciipido dabit ilia marito,
      Dum metuit teli volnera prima novi.
    Saepius hoc fieri nutrix materque vetabunt
      Et dicent: "Uxor, non puer, ista tibi est."
    Heu quantos aestus, quantos patiere labores.
      Si fuerit cunnus res peregrina tibi!
    Ergo Suburanae tironem trade magistrae.
      Ilia virum faciet; non bene virgo docet.
  • Try, Victor,[11] try a woman's embrace, and let your prick learn an operation now unknown to it. The veil is woven for the bride, the virgin is ready, your affiancee will now cut the hair[12] off your slaves. She will allow her eager husband to sodomise her once, while she dreads the first wounds of an untried weapon. Her nurse and her mother[13] will not allow this to be done oftener, and they will say she is your wife, she is not your catamite. Oh what toil, what labours will you undergo, if a cunt is strange to you ! Therefore hand over the tyro to a Suburan school mistress she will make him a man:[14] a virgin is not a good teacher.
    Victor, quit your hateful life,
      Henceforth pledged to marriage joys,
    Wed the long unthought of wife,
      And think of making, not abusing, boys!
    The veil is wov'n, the maidens come.
      And timid hope the bride engages. Who shall soon adorn your home.
      And turn your long-haired slaves to dapper pages.
    Prepare your weapon for the sheath
      Where sexual fondness bids it glide,
    Nor in the scabbard underneath
      Think, as your boyish loves, t' enjoy your bride:
    If at first but faint resistance
      Meet a wrong directed aim,
    Her mother will compel desistance
      And tell you, wives and boys are not the same.
    Then you'll toil, with ill feigned pleasure,
      Through paths to your desires unknown,
    Nor esteem a priceless treasure.
      The pretty virgin rosebud scarce full blown.
    First then, for instruction turn
      To some vet'ran venal beauty,
    She will teach, what you should learn,
      A woman's wants, a loving husband's duty.
    • Martial, Book XI, LXXVIII. To Victor.

The Plague of Lust[edit]

Reported in: Julius Rosenbaum, The Plague of Lust, vol. 1 (Paris, 1901)
  • Nuda in litore stetit ad fastidium emptoris; omnes partes corporis et inspectae et contrectatae sunt. Vultis auctionis exitum audire? vendit pirata, emit leno, excipit fornix. [...] Ita raptae pepercere piratae ut lenoni venderent; sic emit leno ut prostitueret.
  • Naked she stood on the shore at the pleasure of the purchaser; every part of her body was examined and felt. Would you hear the result of the sale? The pirate sold, the pandar bought. [...] For this the pirates spared their captive, that she might be sold to a pandar; for this the pandar bought her, that he might employ her as a prostitute.


  1. Nequitias, wickedness," so we say playfully of an accomplished performer, "a wicked little devil," meaning that she was up to every dodge; in a word, an accomplished prostitute.
  2. Boyish favour, i.e., I asked her to let me have her a l'Italienne.
  3. Something worse or literally more "shameless," i.e., I asked her to gamahuche me.
  4. She made no objection on the score of filthiness, but promised to do it; however, she wanted so much extra that I couldn't afford it, and consequently she was quoad her mouth, chaste to me. But you, Aeschylus, won't grudge your money on your favourite vice; go to her then and be gamahuched.
  5. Conditio mala, literally "take this boon under an evil condition," similar to this use of mala is the phrase "to levy black mail."
  6. This epigram is evidently addressed to a man whose specialité was to be gamahuched.
  7. " Numbered" lit. " with the names over the doors," which is difficult to translate in one word. " Numbered" gives, perhaps, the best idea. Professed harlots had their names inscribed over the doors of their rooms. These rooms or "cellae" were the harlots' bedrooms, not the brothel itself, which contained many of these "cellae." This method was very convenient for the public, as the prostitutes used to stand naked at the doors of their "cellae," that they might be inspected by the visitors of the bawdyhouse, who turned them round and examined them to see that they had no secret blemishes.
  8. Bodkin, compare Tertullian de Virgine Velanda, c. 12.
  9. There is a beautiful antithesis here. No one, says Martial, is so careful of not being seen as an utter debauchee. So has Seneca remarked, and it holds good at the present day. But it may admit of another explanation. The fast man who has had the pleasure of peeping through crevices and chinks at other people, would naturally take care that he was not watched himself. But the idea Martial intends to convey is, that a man who fucks or sodomises does not much care if he is seen, as these were mere peccadilloes, but he does care if he's seen gamahuching, therefore as Cantharus is so very cautious about crevices and chinks, we may fairly conclude that he gamahuches.
    Uneasily modest. So Byron, "ladies of the most uneasy virtue."—DON JUAN.
  10. This epigram is directed against a gamahucher who whenever he entered a bawdyhouse, whether he had a woman or a boy, carefully examined the room to look for the least crevice, even the puncture of a needle. Now no one who goes in for sodomy, or legitimate womanising, is so particular as all this, but a gamahucher would take all these precautions. In modern times this is reversed, a man who was going to sodomise a woman or a boy, would probably be very careful and cautious in seeing that he was not spied.
  11. Martial advises his friend Victor, who was about to marry, and who had never had a woman, to take some lessons from a whore, since he would not learn the " twists and the turns" from an inexperienced virgin, and would consequently, think poking (somewhat unjustly) poor fun, since two unsophisticated people would make a bungle of it.
  12. Your slaves, whom you have used as catamites, will have their long hair cut off, for your wife, now that you are married, will make you give them up, and they will not be so likely to be attractive when their long girlish hair is cropped.
  13. Nurse and mamma will question her about the event, and wliat her husband did to her, how she liked it, etc.
  14. Modernised, "Go to a Haymarket prostitute."

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