Part 8: Calax - Sex in Roman society
I know Romans were staggeringly misogynistic, but were they as bad as the Greeks? And was homosexuality quite as... encouraged? My knowledge of Roman living is pretty much based off of 'I, Claudius' (sorry).
Depends on what you define as "As bad as the greeks". Women were still seen as property to be tossed around between men, and their families (to the point that we've found a court record where a murdered prostitute's mother got money from the killer because he had taken away her retirement income, not because he'd just killed her daughter). And the male members of the family (well the heads of the families) would sometimes prostitute their female members in order to pay the bills. Not send the girls to a brothel or anything, but rather a man (or woman) would let a wealthy man screw his daughter/sister/even wife for some extra cash to make ends meet. The biggest example of this that we know of is from Seutonius
The Deified Julius Ceaser posted:
But above all Caesar loved Servilia, the mother of Marcus Brutus, for whom, during his last consulship, he bought a pearl worth six million sesterces and, in the course of the civil war, in addition to other gifts, knocked down to some extensive estates which were on sale at auction at a very modest price. Indeed many were astonished at the low price and Cicero wittily remarked 'The price was higher for a third was knocked off.' For it was believed that Servilia was prostituting her daughter, Tertia, to him.
Prostitution in general was a giant mess with this odd dichotomy about what was and what wasn't worthy of infamous status. For the uninitiated Infamia was a status that was thrown only onto certain professions and the practitioners thereof. The professions (Pimps, actors, dancers, gladiators, and prostitutes) were only joined later by adulterers and men who got penetrated. Basically an Infamous person was just a tiny step above Slave in the social orders and had a bunch of fun things attached to it like the fact that you couldn't be raped. Ultimately the point I made in my paper was that these positions were ones in which the Infamous person stepped out of their social role deliberately, and for a short time. Everything you were, are, and are going to be was wrapped up in your social role, and every action you took was to reflect upon where you were within the social order. Thus a man who got buggered was a horrific thing (because that was a role for women), and oral sex was a HUGE taboo because of the fact that when a citizen speaks, his mouth is working for all of Rome, and you would sully that organ by putting it on another persons genetalia.
Although it should be noted that there was no cultural black mark for slaves who were prostituted (male or female), only for freedmen and citizens. Ultimately, a rich man could have sex with anything in his household (barring his direct family) and be perfectly fine because it was his right as the head of the family. Once the slaves were freed their past as slaves was generally forgotten (except for the fact that they were slaves).
In a silly aside: Our lovely Nero, the nutter that he is, at one point tried to make a freedwoman his wife (against the laws enacted by Augustus), and then cut the balls off a guy named Sporus and "married" him. Treating the eunuch as an "Empress". How true this is we don't know because a lot of the Seutonius passage for him (and Caligula and Tiberius) is dedicated to basically demonizing them. Most historians don't think that Nero Caligula and Tiberius were actually that bad.