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Top 10 sex scandals in ancient Rome

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Ancient Rome appears to us to this day as a debauched world, full of nakedness and deviation. It is no coincidence that the emperors who had unlimited power and their family had a great influence on the formation of such an opinion. Here are the 10 sex scandals that rocked Rome.

I. Empress Messalina – nymphomaniac


Third wife Emperor Claudius, Waleria Messalina was a nymphomaniac. According to Roman historians, she once decided to compete with a professional prostitute. The women competed on the issue that would be able to hold more lovers in one night. It is said that Messalina, who had sex with 150 men, was to win.

In addition, the Empress, despite her marriage to Emperor Claudius, decided to marry senator Gaius Silius. This was too much and Claudius gave the order to kill his “submissive” wife.

II. Caligula and his “romances”

Caligula the madman

Emperor Caligula was remembered by posterity as one of the worst and perverse rulers of the Roman Empire. If you believe the historians of antiquity, apart from terror, the ruler was distinguished by an extremely strange sense of humor and controversial “romances”.

Octavian Augustus, his great-grandfather, would certainly be shocked to see what Caligula was doing. During his reign he was officially cohabiting with his own sisters. Moreover, he very often allowed himself to associate with married women, with the knowledge of their husbands. We know the message that the emperor honored with his presence Gaius Piso and Livia Orestillia during the wedding. After the ceremony, Caligula went with the new wife of Piso to his chambers, then returned to announce that he had contracted a marriage similar to Romulus, who, according to legend, was to commission the snatching of the Sabine women to Rome.

Only a few days later, the emperor divorced Livia, because his attention was drawn to the beautiful Lolia Paulina. He was so enchanted by her beauty that he summoned her and her husband to Rome and ordered them to divorce. The marriage of Caligula and Paulina lasted only a few weeks; the emperor, as before, divorced and forbade her to make love with other men under the penalty of death. Eventually, Caligula married Caesonia, the baker’s daughter, who was by custom too small of birth to be empress.

In addition to “official” accounts, Caligula allowed himself to indulge in married women at feasts. During banquets, he kidnapped wives aside, and after some time they would return as if nothing had happened to the table where their husbands were waiting.

III. Caesar Queen of Nicomedes

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar, according to Suetonius’ message, had to deal with tasteless jokes about himself throughout his life. These comments were related to the infamous adventure of a Roman, who was only twenty years old, to the court of King Nicomedes in Bithynia.

In 80 BCE a young Gaius Julius Caesar served in Asia Minor in the army Lucius Lucullus. As part of his official duties, Caesar came to the court of Nicomedes IV – king of Bithynia, a country in northwest Asia Minor. Caesar was sent there on the orders of praetor Marcus Minucius Termus from Asia to get the Bithynian fleet to help with the siege of the city of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. He performed this mission very well, he managed to be even closer to the king. As Suetonius says, it has often been suggested – probably rightly – that they were lovers. The young Roman was to be dazzled by the splendor of the oriental court of the king and the fascination with the lifestyle of the court of Nicomedes.

There would be nothing wrong with the whole situation if Caesar played the dominant role. However, according to the messages, he was to be seduced by the ruler of Bithynia and be the passive party. Apparently he was even caught wearing a woman’s outfit.

There are voices that Caesar may have been bisexual given his many subsequent romances and his relationship with Cleopatra. Regardless of this, political opponents tried at all costs to discredit Caesar, making him a pederasty, lover of absolute monarchy or simply accusing him of contaminating Roman blood. According to Roman law, a Roman citizen who was a passive party during a homosexual relationship was subject to penalty. Luckily, nothing bad happened to Caesar.

IV. Caesar and the Queen of Egypt

Antony and Cleopatra in a movie scene

After his victory over Pompey in 48 BCE at Pharsalus and his death Caesar became the sole master of the Roman world. Cleopatra VII, banished by her brother Ptolemy XIII from Alexandria, was looking for any means to regain power and rebuild the power of Egypt under her rule. The Queen saw Caesar’s only chance to regain power. To that end, she came up with the brilliant idea of ​​seducing Caesar.

As it turned out, Caesar was so delighted with the young, beautiful and exotic queen that he began to share the bed with her. Caesar, in the conflict between the royal couple, supported Cleopatra, who became his mistress during her stay in Alexandria. Caesar eventually led Cleopatra to the throne to bear him a son – Caesarion, who was intended to rule the Empire. Caesar considered the young Ptolemy as a son, giving him the right to claim his father’s inheritance in the future.

Interestingly, at that time Caesar was married to Calpurnia, the daughter of the consul Piso. Caesar even decided to make a dangerous move – he invited Cleopatra to Rome with the child. Caesar, ruling alone in Rome, showed the Romans (including his wife) his “royal” son Caesarion. This event was met with outrage by the public, especially senators, who saw Caesar as a supporter of the monarchy.

V. Antony – seducer

Antony and Cleopatra in a movie scene

After Caesar was murdered in 44 BCE, his friend and soldier Mark Antony “took care” of his beloved Cleopatra. Antony was so mad about the Queen of Egypt that he did not hide his affection for her, despite being openly married to Octavia – the pregnant sister of Augustus.

From the union of Antony and Cleopatra, the children were born, whom Antony planned to endow on the eastern lands of the Empire under his control. These plans were overwhelmed with bitterness; the senate and Octavian decided to deal with Antony and the hated queen. They both died and the widowed Octavia took care of their children.

VI. Emperor Tiberius’ perversions on Capri


The last years of Tiberius’ reign, which he spent in isolation on the island of Capri, are history. According to Suetonius, there was supposed to be really perverse games.

The historian Suetonius writes about the perverse, sexual excesses of Tiberius while on the island. His testimony raises doubts, but it is worth mentioning what, according to the Roman historian, was supposed to take place in the villa of the nearly seventy-year-old emperor.

The emperor withdrew from the political life of the country in 26 CE and gave the reins of power to his secretaries and Sejan. According to Suetonius, he was to focus on frolics and expanding his knowledge in the field of erotic deviations. Apparently, he managed to accumulate the largest library of pornographic works in the world. In addition to works written on the island, he also collected paintings and sculptures. Once, Tiberius is said to have been given the choice of inheriting either a large amount of money or a painting by Parrhasios of Miletus depicting a pair of mythical lovers, Atalanta and Meleagra, while practicing French love. After a short period of thought, the emperor decided to put a painting in his bedroom.

In a villa on Capri, the emperor was to gather a sizeable harem of young boys and girls, in the company of whom he indulged in the pleasures of the body. It is said that Tiberius was the originator of the position called sprintrie, in which three men indulged in each other. The emperor reportedly enjoyed watching love grow as well. For this purpose, he chose specific people who made love in front of him in the indicated positions.

Tiberius reportedly marvelled at the beauty of one slave during the sacrifice, which he raped after the ceremony. He also ordered his brother to take part in the procedure. However, when he found out that they both regretted this event, he ordered them both to break their legs. Another time, when a member of the senatorial family visited him on the island, Malonia decided to rape her. When she still resisted, he decided that he would destroy her life. The Roman woman was harassed by lawsuits, which over time led her to commit suicide.

Tiberius also invented kinky games. Namely, he trained little boys to play “fish”. Tiberius was going into the water naked, and young boys dived around him and teased his thighs and phallus with their teeth. The fun did not end with biting, but also sucking on the ruler’s body. With time, Tiberius came up with the devilish idea that he would involve babies in play.

VII. Julia – an example of an unfaithful wife

Julia - Augustus' daughter

August’s daughter, Julia, was an example of an unfaithful wife. Although in 11 BCE she became the wife of Tiberius, she did not shy away from romance and love outside of the marriage bed. Julia’s scandalous conduct resulted in Tiberius leaving for Rhodes in 6 BCE, who was ashamed of his wife.

Among her lovers were Iullus Antonius, Tiberius Quinctius Crispinus, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, Appius Claudius Pulcher and Cornelius Scipio, representatives of the most famous Roman families. This points to the existence of a political basis for these relationships as well. It should be noted, however, that she also did not avoid lovers of worse birth.

Julia’s scandalous behaviour was a crack in Octavian’s “mental reform” in Rome. The emperor sought to restore the ancient Roman moral and religious virtues, and Julia only ridiculed him. Ultimately, August on behalf of Tiberius sent Julia the divorce papers. In the same year, Augustus sent her into exile on the island of Pandateria, where she lived in very harsh conditions. She died in the Regium, probably on the orders of the already ruling Tiberius.

VIII. Sporus, udear Nero


Sporus is an example of the tragic fate of a slave. He was a Roman slave who liked Emperor Nero as it reminded him of his late wife Poppaea Sabina (which he actually killed with a kick to the pregnant belly). Nero ordered the boy to be castrated and in the fall of CE 66, during the Emperor’s journey through Greece, he married him.

After castration, the eunuch was given a female name, Sabina, of course. From then on, he dressed like a woman, had to do all female activities, always surrounded by other women. Nero promised great honours and a monetary reward to anyone who could make the boy a real woman. Sporus accompanied Nero until the end, but when the emperor demanded that they commit suicide together, the boy escaped. No sources say whether Sporus reciprocated Nero’s feelings.

IX. Emperor Elagabalus is his wife

Heliogabal's Roses

One of the disgusting ideas of Emperor Elagabalus was to marry a Greek slave named Hierocles. Officially, their relationship did not have legal force, because the ancient Romans did not envisage the institution of homosexual marriage.

Hierocles became the emperor’s favourite when he fell from the chariot in front of the imperial box during the Games, and his helmet slipped off his head, revealing the face of the coachman. The teenage emperor was delighted with his beautiful blonde hair and immediately ordered him to be brought to the palace, bestowing his favours. The emperor would then say: “I am glad to be called the mistress, consort, queen of Hierokles.”

X. Heliogabalus transsexual


Finally, Elagabalus again. As is well known, Emperor Elagabalus was famous for his transgender-orgiastic behaviour. There is a message that the young ruler wanted to undergo gender reassignment which was impossible at the time.

In the end, he was distracted from this idea, which would certainly have ended in his death.

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