Exposing the Secret Sex Lives of Famous Greeks and Romans in the Ancient World
In the ancient world, the public were not so privy to information about the scandalous sex lives of central societal figures. Still, sexual rumors have always existed and, in this way, historical figures became famous for their sexual exploits.
William the Third is rumored to have preferred men to women. Catherine the Great had many lovers and she reportedly gave them gifts even after the affair was over so that they might help her find her next man. The press ran pamphlets about Marie Antoinette’s sex life as well. She was rumored to have participated in orgies where she slept with her brothers-in-law as well as with other noblewomen. Genghis Khan is said to have been with so many women that today there are around 16 million of his living descendants. Julius Caesar liked both men and women and, in the case of men, his political enemies used to say that “He was every woman’s man and every man’s woman”.
Tiberius’ Twisted Sex Practices
Emperor Tiberius is regarded as one of the most sexually twisted rulers. He ruled between the years 4 and 37 AD and his biographer Suetonius stated that, in later life, the emperor had built himself a porn center on Capri. There, young people engaged in elaborate sexual acts both with Tiberius watching as well as with his participation. In the emperor’s bathing pools, the youths were trained to fellate him underwater while the old emperor called them “his little fishes”.
Bust of the Emperor Tiberius. (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Speculations and Suspicions
Greeks and Romans had a relaxed attitude regarding nudity and they adored the human form. However, once a person died, the human body no longer posed any interest. As a result of this, their knowledge of detailed human anatomy was mostly based on speculation.
For example, there was a strange belief stating that women’s wombs vagabonded about the body causing hysteria. In order to treat this, doctors used bad smells along with loud noises to scare wombs back into position. There were also strange beliefs regarding the clitoris; a large clitoris was considered to be a medical condition requiring surgery.
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Kissing in public was not seen as something positive in the Greek and Roman aristocratic circles. Still, husbands did kiss their wives when they returned home at night after having been to parties. The purpose of this was not affection. Instead, they used kissing in order to determine whether or not the woman had been drinking during the man’s absence. Kissing also lost popularity when Roman citizens from Spain began to brush their teeth with human urine.
Gladiators’ Scandalous Sex Lives
Many well-known gladiators also had scandalous sex lives. They were considered very attractive by women, even those that were slaves. However, not all gladiators were slaves. For example, Commodus preferred his role as a gladiator to being an emperor. Like many other rulers, Commodus also pursued sexual degradation in his spare time.
Nude couple in bed. Roman fresco from the Casa del ristorante (IX.5.14, room f, western wall) in Pompeii. Ca. 62-79 AD. (Public Domain)
Commodus’ parents, Faustina and the emperor Marcus Aurelius, had a marital problem that was caused by a gladiator. Faustina had a strong lust for a certain gladiator and she told her husband about this desire. The emperor then consulted a soothsayer who provided the following solution: Faustina was ordered to have sex with the gladiator - who would be killed while he was on top of her. Then, she was obliged to bathe in the man’s blood, clean up, and finally have sex with her husband.
A bust of Commodus. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Sabina and Hadrian had an arranged marriage. The empress followed her husband on his year-long circuits across the Roman Empire. Even though the emperor used to sleep with many other women and men outside of their marriage, the two spouses treated each other with respect.
This changed when, around his 50th year, the emperor met the love of his life in Antinous, a teenage boy from Bithynia. The two became inseparable and the wife became an unwilling witness to the couple. On a later tour, the three reached Egypt and, in October 130 AD, the youth disappeared.
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The tondo depicting Hadrian's lion hunt, accompanied by Antinous. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Hadrian was overcome with grief. He ordered many searches for the teen, but they all ended in nothing. In a few weeks, the emperor deified the boy and founded a city in his name. Thousands of statues were made of Antinous and his worship was ordered throughout the empire. The busts of Antinous exist even today in museums and, sometimes, they are misidentified as Dionysus or as Ganymede. Years later, Hadrian also deified Sabina when she died.
Top image: Painting of a bride's new sexual agency. Source: Public Domain
By Valda Roric
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