Pompeii is one of the most important sites for archaeologists and historians researching the Roman Empire and its culture. Before the devastating eruption of Vesuvius in 79, Pompeii was a medium-sized city, with about 11,000 inhabitants.
It was characterized by a multicultural demographic, a thriving community and sophisticated infrastructure. Pozzuoli, a nearby port, facilitated the development of a strong, trade-focused economy.
Economic stability and the presence of merchants from all parts of the empire ensured the strong growth of another type of trade: the sexual one.
Sexuality historians have thoroughly researched the walls of buildings that served as brothels, such as inns, taverns, and dining venues.
A major role in research was played by mural paintings, which sometimes offered explicit details about sex, thus serving as one of the most important historical sources.
Usually, the paintings on the walls depict women with light skin and complicated hairstyles, accompanied by tanned and athletic men.
There are three potential reasons behind these images.
It could have served as a visual means of excitement. Also, maybe the scenes depicted the kind of services a customer could get in a brothel. A third possibility is that they were a guide for inexperienced customers visiting the brothel.
Many of the paintings found on the walls are as explicit as possible. It mentions certain employees and their skills, offers sexual advice and prices for different services.
Studies of these paintings have shown that prostitutes had only Greek names. Sometimes the names were descriptive and told the story of physical characteristics or occupied function. There are also names of men who prostitute themselves.
Since free born women were not allowed to have sex outside of marriage, it is almost certain that the only clients were men. The practice of maintaining homosexual relationships was not at all strange in ancient Rome.
The only rule was that senior citizens could not have a subordinate role during sexual intercourse. In general, sex trade was not condemned and was essential in maintaining the institution of marriage.
It was believed that the only role of the wife was to provide a male heir. It was also believed that pleasing your wife was unworthy and disrespectful to her.
Therefore, husbands fulfilled their fantasies in any of the many brothels in existence. Prostitution was not illegal, but adultery was, so sexual services for money were a common practice.
But the life of prostitutes was not easy at all. They worked in a kind of stone cells, without windows and with a curtain instead of a door.
Most prostitutes were slaves, so they were forced to listen to their masters. In the Roman Empire, their attitude towards slaves was not at all favorable – it balanced between indifference, at best, and extreme violence.
Prostitutes were isolated from the rest of the world and usually moved only within the property of which they operated.
Usually, they were under the control of the pimps who owned their bodies and offered them only what was strictly necessary.
In larger cities and in the metropolis there were women who practiced prostitution on their own, on the street. However, the proportion of prostitutes who worked on their own was quite small. Usually, these were freed slaves or very poor free born women.