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Sex and Sexuality in Pompeii

Updated July 17, 2021
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Sex and Sexuality in Pompeii essay

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Sexual desire is a response to our biological drive, as well as social and psychological factors in which the way it is expressed today, may differ from past eras. Society plays a great role in what is ethically acceptable to be a sexual desire. Sexual expressions in humans are based on the sexual freedom of choice, and a mentality less tied to reproduction making it easier to have frequent sexual intercourse. Exploring the many different blankets of sex and sexuality in many Roman societies – from the Julio-Claudian dynasty to the brothels in Pompeii – I will examine how homosexuality, gender roles, and sex trade affect masculinity and femininity.

Without a doubt, sexual relations in the ancient world differ greatly from those of the modern world, especially, when having to do with same-sex sexual or social relations. In ancient Rome, men did not intertwine sexual acts and sexual orientations, men were involved in homoerotic relations, yet they did not identify as homosexual . While men were able to have sex with both women and men, female sexual relations were frowned upon in ancient Rome.

There was no real concept of homosexuality or heterosexuality, which made gender roles more apparent by enabling one person in the relationship to be more masculine. “Sex relations were structured hierarchically, in contrast to our ideal of equality between the partners, and the gender roles of active and passive partner were not tied to sex—for the person in the submissive role, at least, structural ‘femininity’ was the consequence of lower status, not sex.” Women and men did not have equal rights because of the strict gender roles. Romans did not like women holding a high position in society therefore acts between men and woman were carried by men.

Male and female, masculine and feminine, was a way of making sense of the world; they restricted women’s social opportunities and limitations and had an empire centralized around men. In the book, Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity by Craig A. Williams, he explains how Roman masculinity consisted of three protocols: The Priapic paradigm, legal and moral sanctions against adultery and stuprum, and “codes about the nature of men’s love as it is directed toward youths, ” (Williams 1999). But like women, men also had some downsides to their homosexuality, the rejection of Roman ideologies concluded in the revocation of power or “if a man breaks just one rule, he loses the game; in the balancing act of masculinity, one stumble can ruin the entire performance,” (Williams 1999). Men had plenty rights which served towards their boost of masculinity and power gain but if they broke one rule all of this would be taken away.

According to three standards mentioned before, Nero Claudius Caesar, the last Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, is the epitome of masculinity. Out of the twelve first emperors of Rome, only one [Claudius ] did not have a male lover and Nero was the first emperor to marry a man . Nero was a deviant who killed close relatives, raped them, and exercised atrocious cruelty as well as extortion on others. He killed his wife [Poppaea] and “he sent for a woman who looked like Poppaea and kept her (presumably) as a concubine. The following year he discovered a young freedman who so uncannily resembled Poppaea that he castrated him, called him Sabina, married him, and dressed and treated him in all ways as his empress.” Not much different, his Paternal cousin and wife of Emperor Claudius, Roman Empress Valeria Messalina, was notorious for being promiscuous and for using her sexual allure to manipulate to get what she wanted. Not surprisingly, she was accused of committing adultery and was forced to commit suicide, (Skinner 2013).

During Nero’s reign, he supplied Roman citizens with potable water, a sewage system and a Golden House . The Golden House served as a place of entertainment; which included 300 rooms with no sleeping quarters and ancient Roman baths . Wall paintings in the Golden House as well as in buildings in Pompeii, serve as significant innovations as they make small houses and rooms appear larger, and even create a stimulating environment were the paintings depict a story . Knowing the dark sexual past of Nero, it is hard not to believe that they were having sexual interactions at the Golden House.

The sexual exploitation of young boys and sex acquired by physical abuse both embody the Ancient Roman understanding of sexuality. By establishing inexpensive brothels, it gave young men the opportunity to relieve sexual urges without molesting women. Brothels made it easier for men, as well as young men, to exercise their masculinity. For over two hundred years, the town of Pompeii has given researchers a new look into ancient Roman sexual life as well as many other aspects. Archeologists have uncovered art, graffiti, objects, and buildings which show us an insight into the Roman sexualities of Pompeii. Such as the ithyphallic bronze tintinnabulum, the fresco of Priapus, and of the erotic scene from Pompeii, House of Caecilius Iucundus.

Art illustrates the way Roman artists imagined sexuality and the roles they played in art therefore, understanding what society believed to be acceptable sexual behavior. Many of these graffiti or frescos, emphasize the male fantasy of sexual dominance over female partners. The way artists would illustrate the ideal sexual scene, is a great representation of the views of roman male sexuality. They were able to manipulate the female form into a form that was more attractive and apparent to men. These artistic pieces show the correct gender roles in sexual relation between men and women. Surprisingly, compared to earlier ancient roman eras, women started taking a lead on heterosexual intercourse as there were more women than men participating in this kind of sexual intercourse and yet men were not apparent in prostitution . These artistic pieces show the correct gender roles in sexual relation between men and women.

Even though ancient Romans had a negative outlook on prostitution , the venues were prevalent throughout town. Graffiti and Frescos in Pompeii served as a stimulant outside of the Brothels to excite customers to come in. The graffiti served as a guide for the services the prostitutes offered. They also portrayed the hierarchal role of men in masculinity. The prices of prostitute were affordable enough for men to keep a monogamous marriage. Men could not do certain sexual acts with their wives and so they were able to express this at the Brothels. While it might seem that paying women for sex results in a lack of masculinity, men did not seem to care. Prostitution as a profession was legal, was hardly regulated, but it was a degraded status. Even though the disapproval of prostitution by roman society is apparent during this time, it is also apparent that sex trade was profitable in the Roman era.

The concept of penetration was essentially how masculinity was defined. Sexual orientation was not defined by homosexual or heterosexual intercourse nor did it exist. Male masculinity is apparent due to the hierarchal gender roles. The raping of slaves and women as well as the sexual exploitation of young men, was a vivid sign of masculinity. Until we examined the graffiti in Pompeii, were erotic scenes were revealed and were women took an active role and men were passive. Male passivity was only evident during the rise of prostitution and could be regarded as effeminate. Subsequently, due to the appearance of sexual graffiti and erotic frescos, there was no evidence of male prostitution. Brothels were evident throughout the town of Pompeii were women dominated the market and were men could exercise their sexual fantasies. Sexual labor was not only a part of everyday life, but it revealed the Roman worldview.

Sex and Sexuality in Pompeii essay

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Sex and Sexuality in Pompeii. (2021, Jul 17). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/sex-and-sexuality-in-pompeii/

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