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Sex in world of ancient Romans

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Sex in ancient Rome
Sex in ancient Rome

According to Roman law, marriage could be concluded when a man turned 14 and a woman 12. Some Greek authors mocked this caesura, claiming that early marriage is the only guarantee of the bride’s virtue. Moreover, according to Roman law, the husband was not obliged to observe marital fidelity.

He was not allowed to live with other free citizens of Rome. The ban, however, did not include slaves or courtesans, with whom the Romans were often associated in a permanent relationship. For example, Scipio the Elder – Hannibal’s conqueror – had a wife-mistress besides his wife. Interestingly, the wife’s relationship with the concubine was good and there were no arguments.

In quite a different situation, there was a Roman woman who had to be absolutely faithful to her husband. According to the Cato the Elder, a wife who was caught in adultery must be killed. Moreover, according to Roman culture, a woman who is not in a relationship, i.e. being a lady or widow, should not maintain sexual relationships. According to the Romans, this behavior made it impossible for a woman to act as an exemplary wife and mother. A great example of such situation was the story of Lucretia, who was raped by the son of king Tarquinius Superbus – Sextus. Becasue of that, she could no longer play the role of a real housewife. She told her husband about it, asked him for revenge, and then committed suicide. According to legend, her harm was to become the direct cause of the uprising under Lucius Junius Brutus, which was led in 509 BCE to overthrow the monarchy and began the republic.

What is worth noting, formal requirements forbade a woman to maintain sexual relations with other partners; however, they often did love with their servants. Of course, such matters were kept as confidential. It was natural that there was no way to avoid betrayal in society, which is why there was unofficial acceptance of such acts. Of course, while maintaining the aura of the secret.

Lovers also did not have an easy life. The caught woman most often ended her life in agony when the man was castrated or simply killed. Publius Menius instructed to kill his freedman for having kissed his daughter during studies. Another time, a citizen who caught his wife with lover, forced them to spend the night together. On her eyes, many times he raped the rival, beat and only then let go. A Roman citizen who was passive during a homosexual relationship was automatically guilty of violating Roman law and was condemned to death. In this particular case, it was the overt revenge of a disgraced husband, which the Roman norms also envisaged. In fact, a secret lover had a punishment worse than death – according to the custom, he could no longer play the role of husband and father, and thus he did not belong to the community.

Mural from Pompeii.
Author: get directly down | Na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa - Na tych samych warunkach 2.0.

From the second century BCE the law on treason has been liberalized. In general, the betrayed Roman applied for divorce and kept his wife’s dowry. Over time, the public handling of such matters became “unpalatable” and all rumors of betrayal were tried to cover up.

  • Koper Sławomir, Miłość i polityka. Kobiety świata antycznego, Warszawa 1997

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