What did homosexual practices look like in ancient Rome? What were their social and cultural contexts? Did gay men from lower classes have any opportunities to fulfill their desires?
In ancient Rome, homosexuality was widely accepted and practiced, but only in certain social circles. “Homosexuality was tolerated in Rome, but only in certain social circles and under certain conditions” – Thomas K. Hubbard and Paula H. Friedrich, editors of the book “Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents”, published by the University of California Press in 2003. Men from lower classes, such as slaves or male prostitutes, were often sexually exploited by higher social classes, but they did not have the right to engage in homosexuality with each other. In the case where such men were caught engaging in homosexual acts, they faced severe punishment, even death. On the other hand, among the aristocracy, homosexuality was treated as an acceptable form of male-male relationships, usually in the context of older and younger men. For example, Plautus, a Roman playwright from the 3rd to 2nd century BCE, mentions “In Rome, nobody asks whether a man has sex with another man, but only whether he acts in an active or passive role.
In summary, in ancient times it did not matter whether you were gay, but only whether you had the appropriate social status and sufficient amount of money, which from today’s perspective could be considered unfair and discriminatory.