The discovery of the buried cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum gave archeologists and historians an unprecedented look into sex and prostitution in ancient Rome. Upon excavation, several houses of pleasure in ancient Pompeii were uncovered. Pompeii brothel graffiti painted a detailed and carnal portrait of ancient sex work, showing that prostitution in Pompeii was a booming business, with customers coming on a regular basis.
Prostitution was legal and spread out through the Roman empire. The ancient Romans had a libertine view towards sexual expression. Just 30 years prior to the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (79 CE), Caligula was the emperor of Rome. We all have heard about the freaky sh*t he was into. So, Pompeii and Herculaneum were in peak sexual swing when it all ended with a bang.
The Average Going Rate For A Prostitute Was About 16 ‘Asses’
Prostitutes in ancient Pompeii wouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg, but they would cost you at least two asses. Not literally, of course; the basic unit for ancient Roman currency was an “as”, so “asses” plural. It is believed that prostitutes were given between two and 16 asses for their services. The following script is an example of Pompeii graffiti, one that showed a high-going rate for someone we can assume was a popular prostitute:
“Si quis hic sederit, legat hoc ante omnia.
Si qui futuere voluit Atticen, quaerat a(ssibus) XVI.”
"If any is sitting here, let him read this before anything.
If he is someone who wants to f*ck Attike, he needs 16 asses"
Brothels May Have Had Their Own Currency
The word "spintria" comes from the Latin word for male prostitute. Spintria are coins or tokens that depict hetero and homosexual acts on one side, and a roman numeral ranging from I to XVI on the other. While their purpose is disputed, many have theorized that spintria were a form of cashless payment used in a brothel. think of it as a Chuck E. Cheese token, but for a different kind of fun. Some theories suggest that the act depicted on the coin corresponded with the price on the other side.
However, others have rejected this brothel-token theory, as none of these coins were actually excavated from brothels. Some suggest they were intended to satirize Emperor Tiberius, who ruled between 14 and 37 CE.
Phallus-Shaped Street Markers Pointed Towards The Closest Brothel
Today, it might be difficult to find a brothel just by casually walking down the street. This was not the case in ancient Pompeii. Stone markers in the shape of a phallus lined the roads and pathways, with the tip pointing you in the direction of the closest house of ill-repute.
Children And Soldiers Carried Phallus Amulets For Good Luck
Included among the artifacts recovered from the ruins, are many phallic amulets. These amulets, called bulla, were given to soldiers and young boys to carry around for protection. Bulla that included a phallus were called "fascinum". Nudity and the male form were commonplace in ancient Rome, as sporting competitions were typically performed in the nude. These amulets were thought to also ward off the evil eye. These fascinum were also turned into wind chimes called "tintinnabula", and these little dongs blowing in the wind were meant to bring good fortune to the home.