We all know Rome was a weird place. After all, people went everywhere in togas, had sex with their sisters and spent their free time watching Russell Crowe fight tigers. But what most of us don’t know is just how perverted a place it really was. And I don’t just mean for the Emperors and their concubines: daily life in Ancient Rome was a nonstop orgy of prostitution, child-sex and, well, orgies. After all, even the most straight-laced, conservative Roman could be expected to enjoy:
10. Slave Sex
It’s no secret that Roman society ran on slavery. Men and women captured during military conquests were shipped all over the Empire and auctioned off to the highest bidder – at which point they became the property of some aristocrat or other. And those aristocrats usually had one thing on their minds when buying a young slave: sex.
See, slaves were absolutely devoid of rights in Roman law. They were part of the furniture, no better than the objects surrounding them. And just as it’s technically impossible to have an affair with your bookcase, Roman law didn’t consider slave-sex to be infidelity. So when Augustus outlawed adultery in 31BC, the horny Romans did what any sex-addict would do and started molesting their slaves at an unprecedented rate. Looks, gender and even age were no barrier: the Warren Cup, for example, is a Roman goblet dated to 5 AD that sports an image of a guy casually molesting a child. In essence, being a slave in ancient Rome basically meant being a walking sex aid – speaking of which…
9. Public Pornography
If you think top shelf ‘lad’s mags’ and saucy billboards are rude, just be thankful you’re not living in Roman times. Step out of a time machine in, say, 50BC and you’d find yourself completely surrounded by penises. Literally every available surface in the Empire was imprinted with images of penises. Don’t believe me? There is a Roman coin featuring some sodomy and a statue that used to be displayed in the open, of the God Pan having sex with a goat.
Thanks to their complicated ideas of Gods and fertility, the Romans had literally no problem with the sight of one another’s wieners – and that’s just as well, really. Housewives would use tiny metal penises as wind chimes (see image), well-endowed slaves would be forced to keep theirs on show at all times; and images of the fertility God Priapus weighing his own gigantic member would appear over the entrance of houses as a form of good luck. And that’s before we even get onto the murals that filled the Public Baths, depicting all sexual couplings imaginable. But it wasn’t just frescos and statues. The Romans were also masters of…
8. Lewd Graffiti
Next time you get bored and scrawl a massive dong on the wall of a public toilet, you should know that you’re simply carrying on an ancient tradition that stretches back to Roman times. That’s right: the Romans were no more high-minded about this sort of thing than you or me. When they dug up Pompeii, one of the first things everyone clocked was the sheer amount of graffiti defacing every wall. And you better believe it was rude. One example reads:
“Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men’s behinds. Goodbye, wondrous femininity!”
Believe it or not, that’s one of the tamer ones. There’s a fairly comprehensive list, but the best ones feature advice on oral sex, bizarre opinions on people’s privates and boasts along the lines of:
“Floronius, privileged soldier of the 7th legion, was here. The women did not know of his presence. Only six women came to know, too few for such a stallion.”
Hey, at least it makes a change from ‘Andre the Giant has a Posse’.
7. X-Rated Gravestones
As you may have gathered, no aspect of Roman life was far removed from thoughts of coitus – and that included death. Unlike our sparse epitaphs, Roman men and women would include whole biographies on their tombstones, detailing every little moment of their lives. And since their lives were often pretty bawdy, that made for some X-Rated tombstones. For example, one is known to have read:
“Put on your party hats and don’t say no to sex with pretty girls, as you won’t get a chance when you’re dead.”
Wow, interesting advice, huh? Others, marking the spot where husbands have buried their wives, describe the first night of copulation – with one memorable one boasting about how the ‘wife’ was first seduced aged seven. One in particular is famous for describing in great detail a three-way relationship between two men and a woman; including complimentary passages on the woman’s nipples and how punctual she was at dealing with body hair. What a trait to be remembered for.
6. Obscene Literature
If you thought 50 Shades was dirty, wait till you hear about Roman literature. As with everything else in their lives, it revolved strictly round sex – and not just regular sex: weird, kinky, messy fetish sex. Take Sa tyricon, one of only two surviving Roman novels. The plot focuses on the adventures of a Roman man and his child lover as they navigate a world of orgies, flagellation and dildo-wearing priestesses. Sound a little, uh, extreme? Buddy, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The poet Juvenal routinely wrote about animal sex, violent rape and sodomy; while Martial churned out ‘epigrams’ along the line of:
“With your giant nose and cock
I bet you can with ease
When you get excited
Check the end for cheese.”
In short, their books were like their lives: rude, sex-obsessed and very-much X-Rated.