A new study on the horrible reality of ancient prostitution

From RogueClassicism I learn of a new book which is more timely than we might suppose:

Prostitution has been called arguably the world’s oldest profession. And the world can now get rare insight into some of the earliest prostitution from ancient Greece in a new book that was co-edited by Madeleine Henry, a professor in Iowa State University’s department of world languages and cultures and chair of the classical studies program.

Henry and co-editor Allison Glazebrook, an associate professor of classics at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, brought together an international team of scholars to contribute to the book, “Greek Prostitutes in the Ancient Mediterranean, 800 BCE-200 CE,” which is being released this month ( The University of Wisconsin Press ). …

“Historically, we like to focus on the glamorous upper class aspects of prostitution. We don’t focus on buying the right to rape a child,” said Henry …

Dr Henry’s point is right, as any reader of Martial can tell.  But the need to deglamourise is more important than we might suppose.   I cannot imagine a prostitute as glamorous — more likely a sad, drug-addicted, diseased woman dragging out her life in misery and waiting to die.  But thanks to Hollywood and the TV producers of the selfish generation, I find that many ignore this.

Recently someone in the UK called for brothels to be legalised.  This means making pimping and procurement legal, the enticement of women into a trade that has use for them only for so long, and then sells them on to still more degraded institutions.  You don’t need to know very much about English literature to realise what an awful business this is, how brothels function as a gateway into a world of buying and selling women.   A post appeared in an online forum, and I wrote a quick post pointing out what it really would mean.

To my astonishment, there were posters calmly accepting the spin that this would benefit the women, that a house in which women were sold to enrich a pimp would be a safe place.  A few posts and queries, and it became clear that those so speaking cared nothing about the women; they just wanted brothels, they were prepared to make all the usual excuses that we hear whenever some evil is to be legalised — haven’t we seen so much of this? — and the consequences were of no concern to them.  Thus the 60’s revolution reaches its inevitable conclusion.  This is not the place to recount that debate.  But I took away from that the conclusion that it is really important not to glamourise this evil trade. 

I have not seen the book.  Let us hope that it is not some waffly study, but a solid digest of sources, texts, inscriptions, and as little speculation as possible.


One thought on “A new study on the horrible reality of ancient prostitution

  1. Not all and everyone was bad. There were (admittedly later) heroes like Gaius Marius, who counteracted pederasty and abuse, and even made (military) laws against it. (I think they were part of the Marian reforms.) One example is that Marius acquitted Trebonius and lauded him to have displayed the “most noble conduct”. What had Trebonius done? He had killed his erastes, the older man who had tried to rape him, Gaius Lusius, a nephew of Marius’ (!!). See here. Technically it had not been prostitution, but Trebonius mentions it, and in fact, many of the pederasty, abuse, homosexual rape and sexual humiliations in the Roman army were means of hierarchical subjection, and the grunts willfully went along and often prostituted themselves. Marius changed all that.

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