WARNING: Graphic sexual language and artwork.
Prostitution—the oldest profession in the world.
Whether the adage is true or not, there’s no denying the practice of selling sex has flourished for millennia.
Unlike today’s notion of prostitution, harlotry didn’t begin in dark alleyways, brothels, and seedy taverns. Instead it sprouted within the temples of ancient Mesopotamia and was rooted deep in the religious rituals of the day. Dedicated to the service of the fertility goddess, male and female prostitutes fornicated not for money or gain, but for the blessings of the goddess. Back then, sex was literally a religious experience.
In ancient times, a woman had very little control or rights. But the one thing she possessed—that was always in demand—was her body. Transactions shifted from religious to a more self-serving path.
The ancient Greeks lumped prostitutes into three groups. Lowest were the pornai or slave prostitutes. All men, regardless of income level or cleanliness could afford the pornai.
A notch up was the street prostitutes. Male and female, these freeborn street walkers were inexpensive and convenient.
High-class hookers called the Hetaera existed for those with more refined tastes and deeper pockets. Much like the Renaissance courtesans, these women were educated in music and the art of sex. Beyond the parties and orgies, the Hetaera enjoyed a level of social influence denied to almost every non-prostitute female in Greece. These ancient call-girls actively participated in the symposia, where their beliefs and opinions were often times valued by the men.
The Hetaera were sophisticated, graceful, and capable of servicing many clients during an evening’s function. Bang them—yes—blow them—maybe not. The practice of fellatio was off-limits to most, but many still indulged.
Though oral sex or “dirty mouth” was taboo during this time period, it’s rumored that women from the island of Lesbos possessed legendary skill when it came to blow jobs. Unlike the contemporary lesbian label, females from Lesbos enthusiastically and skillfully cavorted with men. If a woman was accused of acting like a Lesbian, it usually meant she gave hummers to most, if not all, the men at a gathering. You go girls.
The prostitutes of Rome were plentiful and cheap. Numerous women worked as tavern waitresses or in lodging houses. Many whores loitered under the arches of Circus Maximus, ready at a moments notice to provide a good rogering to those men aroused by the games and in need of instant relief.
The brothels were filthy, smelling of lamp smoke and other putrid odors that permeated the poorly ventilated dens. Taverns for the most part, were considered brothels and the waitress regarded as prostitutes by law and for tax purposes.
Horace, the famous Roman poet, wrote about his experience—or lack there of, with a tavern waitress.
“Here like a triple fool, I waited ’til midnight for a lying jade ’til sleep overcame me, intent on venery; in that filthy vision the dreams spot my night clothes and belly, as I lie upon my back.”
Poor Horace, we can only hope he awoke in time to give it a couple of strokes and not completely waste the experience.
As the Roman men traveled, conquered, and returned home, their disenchantment with Roman women grew. Having experienced some of the most sensual and sexually skillful women on Earth, the local flavor paled in comparison. To remedy the situation, many Roman men imported Hetaera and Syrian prostitutes—much to their spouse’s dismay.
Roman wives and women bristled over the influx of foreign harlots. Soon, the smack-down for female supremacy began. Modest by nature, the Roman women tossed caution to the wind and pulled out all the stops. Their behavior was often times over the top in an effort to outdo their competition. Without the refined grace taught to the Hetaera, the Roman women came off looking more like gold-digging sluts than sexually cultured paramours. Crass and unsophisticated, the Roman women’s efforts soon drew contempt from the very men they desired to woo, their husbands and masters.
With prostitution on the rise, politics soon stepped in and levied taxes on the profession. In Rome, procuring income from a brothel was a respected and legitimate source of income. Being a prostitute wasn’t. The government set forth a registration for women. They were required to provide their real name, age, place of birth, and a pseudonym under which they would practice, much like the stripper names of today.
Once a whore, always a whore. If a woman’s name was entered in the officials scroll, it remained for all times, no matter what direction the woman’s life took. If she married a respectable citizen, she retained the stigma of prostitution her entire life.
Failure to register as a prostitute was severely punished. However, the number of clandestine harlots in Rome probably equaled that of the registered prostitutes. Since the men who frequented the unregistered women were politicians and prominent citizens, it was difficult to deal with and rectify the situation. The punishment for employing the services of an unlicensed whore was as steep for the panderer as it was for the woman.
During his reign, Caligula established a brothel inside the palace and forced the wives, young daughters, and sons of elite citizens to serve as prostitutes. Ruthless and brutal, the emperor took great pleasure in sampling the family members of his senators and officers. To add insult to injury, he’d boast and brag in explicit detail to the husbands and fathers of the family members. It’s no wonder Caligula was assassinated by one of the guards.
Some women, the rare few, became wealthy from their stints as prostitutes. A Greek Courtesan named Phryne from the 4th century BC, acquired so much money, she offered to rebuild the walls of Thebes, which had been destroyed by Alexander the Great. Her one request was that “Destroyed by Alexander, Rebuilt by Phryne” be inscribed into the stone.
Latin has more pornographic words than any other language and the number describing prostitute is staggering.
Lupae – Given for the wolf like cry they emit during sex and proficiency in lingual gymnastics, or giving head.
Blitidae—A very low class. The name is derived from the cheap drink sold in the dens they frequent.
Forariae—Country girls who turn tricks along the roads
Gallinae—Thieving prostitutes. Named after hens. They take anything and scatter everything.
Diobolares—Two obol girls, named for their price.
Amasiae—Girls devoted to Venus. Tramps in modern society.
Amatrix—Female lover in the male roll. Dominatrix.
Amica—Female who wanted to be an active partner or on top during sex.
Quadrantariae—The lowest class of prostitutes. Their natural charms are no longer sellable.
It’s surprising how little the profession of prostitution has changed over the centuries. Though still illegal, the trade of sex thrives in most countries around the world.
Please return on November 17 for more Sex in History. We’ll be delving into the psyches of the Greek Gods.
If you missed any of our first month’s posts and would like to catch up, you can purchase the Everything Erotic Volume I anthology as an ebook at the introductory price of 99 cents until October 22nd.
Copyright 2010 Boone Brux