Sexuality In Roman Society Essay

1809 words - 8 pages

The idea of sexuality as constructed by Ancient Romans is wholly complex as was most of Roman society. An interesting way to look at Roman sexuality is through the lens of Roman society. Ancient Roman sexuality was not uniform throughout society and different societal classes created different types of sexualities. Three authors examine sexuality from three different social realms, the realm of the prostitute, the realm of Roman patricians in terms of contraception, and the realm of Vestal Virgins. Prostitutes in Rebecca Flemming's article, "Quae Corpore Quaestum Facit: The Sexual Economy of Female Prostitution in the Roman Empire" are a representation of lower class sexuality. Mary Beard's ...view middle of the document...

Another criticism is that it seems the author is using research from other eras such as Medieval Europe to reinforce her own research on prostitution in Ancient Rome. Understandably there is not a lot of research about Roman prostitutes but using history from a later era in comparison to the era the author is researching takes the focus away from the era in question. Another criticism found within the body of the article is that the author uses many sources from different eras to make conclusions about Roman prostitutes and she does not tell when these sources were written. For example, in talking about how women were sold into prostitution, the author talks about Firmicus Maternus (lived in 4th century AD and Apuleius (who lived in 2nd century AD). These two men lived hundreds of years apart but she talks about them in the same light to reinforce a point.
Later on in the article, Ms. Flemming describes the circumstances in which women came to be prostitutes. Many times they were daughters, wives, or slaves sold by family members into brothels for profit or stolen by pirates and then sold. Money was not an incentive for a woman to go into prostitution but rather an incentive for traders and families to make profit from these women's bodies. Sometimes families deployed wives and daughters into prostitution temporarily if they needed extra money. From a variety of sources, the author finds other facts about life as a prostitute such as women and girls who went into prostitution were automatically seen as unchaste no matter if they have had sex or not. This indirectly shows the importance chastity had in Roman society. Ms. Flemming goes on to talk about the roles prostitutes had in Roman society such as allowing married men to curb their sexual appetites without having sex with other married men's wives. This meant prostitutes were treated as lesser women and did not allow for moving up in the Roman social ladder. Overall, the author gives quite a comprehensive view of Roman prostitution that is a topic with not many primary sources. This lack of primary sources, though not the author's fault, causes the author to make many generalizations about Roman prostitutes based off of hundreds of years of Roman history when realistically Roman history varies very much from century to century.
In the article "The Sexual Status of Vestal Virgins", the author Mary Beard uses a synchronic approach which works by comparing evidence of Vestal Virgins from many centuries and generating conclusions from that. This approach works if you do not have much evidence of your subject as the author does not. It is really the best a historian can do until more evidence is found but to be fair the generalizations made in articles such as these may not be very accurate.

Ms. Beard starts off by talking about the conclusions that historians have agreed upon about Vestal Virgins such as that their holiness was directly related to their virginity and purity. She then...

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