Sexuality in Ancient Rome

Sexuality In Ancient Rome

Sexual attitudes and behaviors in ancient Rome are indicated by Roman art, literature and inscriptions, and to a lesser extent by archaeological remains such as erotic artifacts and architecture. It has sometimes been assumed that "unlimited sexual license" was characteristic of ancient Rome:

The sexuality of the Romans has never had good press in the West ever since the rise of Christianity. In the popular imagination and culture, it is synonymous with sexual license and abuse.

But sexuality was not excluded as a concern of the mos maiorum, the traditional social norms that affected public, private, and military life. Pudor, "shame, modesty", was a regulating factor in behavior, as were legal strictures on certain sexual transgressions in both the Republican and Imperial periods. The censors were public officials who determined the social rank of individuals and who could and did on occasion remove citizens from the senatorial or equestrian order for sexual misconduct. The mid-20th-century sexuality theorist Michel Foucault regarded sex throughout the Greco-Roman world as governed by restraint and the art of managing sexual pleasure.

Roman society was patriarchal (see paterfamilias), and masculinity was premised on a capacity for governing oneself and others of lower status, not only in war and politics, but in bed. "Virtue" (virtus), related to the Latin word for "man", vir, was an active masculine ideal of self-discipline. The corresponding ideal for a woman was pudicitia, often translated as chastity or modesty, but a more positive and even competitive personal quality that displayed both her attractiveness and self-control. Roman women of the upper classes were expected to be well-educated, strong of character, and active in maintaining their family's standing in society. But with extremely few exceptions, surviving Latin literature preserves the voices only of educated male Romans on the subject of sexuality. While visual art was created by those of lower social status and of a greater range of ethnicity, it was commissioned by people wealthy enough to afford it, including in the Imperial era former slaves, and was tailored to their taste and inclinations.

Some sexual attitudes and behaviors in ancient Roman culture differ markedly from those in later Western societies. Roman religion supported sexuality as an aspect of prosperity for the state, and individuals might turn to private religious practice or "magic" for improving their erotic lives or reproductive health. Prostitution was legal, public, and widespread. "Pornographic" paintings were featured among the art collections in respectable upperclass households. It was considered natural and unremarkable for adult males to be sexually attracted to teen-aged youths of both sexes, and pederasty was condoned as long as the younger partner was not a freeborn Roman. "Homosexual" and "heterosexual" did not form the primary dichotomy of Roman thinking about sexuality, and no Latin words for these concepts exist. No moral censure was directed at the adult male who enjoyed sex acts with either women or males of inferior status, as long as his behaviors revealed no weaknesses or excesses, nor infringed on the rights and prerogatives of his male peers. While perceived effeminacy was denounced, especially in political rhetoric, sex in moderation with male prostitutes or slaves was not regarded as improper or vitiating to masculinity, if the male citizen took the active and not the receptive role. Hypersexuality, however, was condemned morally and medically in both men and women. Women were held to a stricter moral code, and same-sex relations between women are poorly documented, but the sexuality of women is variously celebrated or reviled throughout Latin literature. In general the Romans had more flexible gender categories than the ancient Greeks.

A late 20th-century paradigm analyzed Roman sexuality in terms of a "penetrator–penetrated" binary model, a misleadingly rigid analysis that may obscure expressions of sexuality among individual Romans. Even the relevance of the word "sexuality" to ancient Roman culture has been disputed, but in the absence of any other label for "the cultural interpretation of erotic experience", the term continues to be used.

Read more about Sexuality In Ancient Rome:  Erotic Literature and Art, Sex, Religion and The State, Theories of Sexuality, Male Sexuality, Female Sexuality, Sexuality and Children, Sex Acts and Positions, Hermaphroditism and Androgyny, Sexual Conquest and Imperialism, See Also

Other articles related to "sexuality in ancient rome, in ancient rome, sexuality, ancient":

Sexuality In Ancient Rome - See Also
... Homosexuality in ancient Rome Erotic art in Pompeii and Herculaneum Latin profanity Exoletus History of human sexuality Homosexuality in ancient Greece ...

Famous quotes containing the words rome and/or ancient:

    History is not a book, arbitrarily divided into chapters, or a drama chopped into separate acts: it has flowed forward. Rome is a continuity, called “eternal.” What has accumulated in this place acts on everyone, day and night, like an extra climate.
    Elizabeth Bowen (1899–1973)

    Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
    In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
    An ancestor was rector there
    Long years ago, a church stands near,
    By the road an ancient cross.
    No marble, no conventional phrase;
    On limestone quarried near the spot
    By his command these words are cut:
    Cast a cold eye
    On life, on death.
    Horseman pass by!
    William Butler Yeats (1865–1939)