Did sacred prostitution exist in the classical world, or ancient near-east?

I’ve no real idea, I have to say.  I’d always vaguely assumed so, and apparently scholars have always thought so.  But today I saw a BMCR review here by someone who thinks not, reviewing a book by an ally.  I’m a little wary of the ideology on display; the review makes it look a  bit agenda-driven.

But I wonder what the facts are. My instinctive reaction is to ask to see the evidence from primary sources.  The review tells me that Strabo says something or other about it at Corinth, in book 12.   Unfortunately the Lacus Curtius translation hasn’t got that far yet.  What we need is a data set online.  Then we can assess the matter for ourselves.

Thanks to Roman History Books blog for this one.


5 thoughts on “Did sacred prostitution exist in the classical world, or ancient near-east?

  1. There was sacred prostitution. Strabo Book XI, chapter 14.16:

    16. Both the Medes and Armenians have adopted all the sacred rites of the Persians, but the Armenians pay particular reverence to Anaitis [Anahit], and have built temples to her honour in several places, especially in Acilisene. They dedicate there to her service male and female slaves; in this there is nothing remarkable, but it is surprising that persons of the highest rank in the nation consecrate their virgin daughters to the goddess. It is customary for these women, after being [275] prostituted a long period at the temple of Anaitis, to be disposed of in marriage, no one disdaining a connexion with such persons. Herodotus mentions something similar respecting the Lydian women, all of whom prostitute themselves. But they treat their paramours with much kindness, they entertain them hospitably, and frequently make a return of more presents than they receive, being amply supplied with means derived from their wealthy connexions. They do not admit into their dwellings accidental strangers, but prefer those of a rank equal to their own.

    From W. Falconer’s translation (London, 1903).

    Incidentally, thanks to Google Books, E. H. Bunbury’s two volume History of Ancient Geography among the Greeks and Romans (1883), once collectors’ items, are now freely available for download in .pdf format: Volume I (“http://books.google.com/books/download/A_history_of_ancient_geography_among_the.pdf?id=00oTAAAAYAAJ&output=pdf&sig=ACfU3U06eSaI9GULZmUSYvAkGEBO8h8uIQ”);
    Volume II
    These works contain a great deal more than information on geography, and make an invaluable accompaniment to the historical sources. Note: save the files under distinctive names, since Google has given both volumes the same title.

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