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  • Writer's pictureCari

Sex In The Ancient World

WARNING - this post discusses sex and may not be appropriate for all viewers ( so please do not show this to your grandma) -

What: The Ancient City of Pompeii

When: Founded in 6th or 7th century BC - Abandoned 79 AD

Where: Province of Naples, Campania, Italy

Welcome back to Carivaggio! Due to popular demand we are changing directions a bit today. I want to set the clock all the way back and talk about Ancient Art. As one of the most popular and commonly known archeological sites in the world, Pompeii is a gold mine of information on ancient Italian life.

In 79 AD, (anno domini or in the year of our lord, same as CE or common era) the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius led to the desertion and subsequent destruction of Pompeii. Or so we thought. The volcanic ash actually preserved much of the ancient civilization. We are able to glean unprecedented insights to the daily life of these ancient Romans, and this includes information about their sexual comings (ha) and goings.

The discovery of Pompeii led to the eventual uncovering of thousands of sexual images throughout the civilization. Sexual frescos (read my last post to learn about frescos) and erotic statues even decorated common people's homes. What was it about these romans and sex? Was it fascination? A form of pornography? Or simply just the fact that the topic of sex was less taboo than it is today?

The simple fact is that the idea of sex was less taboo and was widely accepted as a normal activity among everyday people. However it was not just sex that was normalized. Sex was used to promote many non sexual things. For example, large phallus's (please don't make me say the dictionary definition of this word) were seen as a symbol of fertility. Images of large phallus's could be used to promote plant growth in gardens. So many of these extremely sexually graphic images were not necessarily used for a solely sexual purpose. Although many of them were...

Since we have explored a bit of background about erotic art in Pompeii, let us break down some of the images below, since I know you haven't taken your eyes off of them the entire time you have been reading. Images will be referred to as Image 1, Image 2 and so on.

Image 1 and Image 2:

Here we see two different images of the god Priapus. Priapus is the god of sex and fertility. That is why he is often seen with an exaggerated phallus. In Image 1 he is seen with the attributes of Mercury, possibly alluding to the fact that he is protecting riches - as this image was found in a wealthy household. In Image 2, we also see Priapus who is actually weighing his extra large piece. Image 2 was found in the house of Vettii, one of the largest houses found in Pompeii.

Image 3 and Image 4:

The question on everyone's mind answered. Yes, there were brothels, and this is the kind of art found in the Brothels at Pompeii. As you can see, it is not PG-13. According to my research, it is not entirely clear if these images were advertisements for sexual services or simply images to ... get people going. Image 3 was found in the house of Vettii and Image 4 was found in the Lupanare (Pompeii's most famous brothel). It is said that one could find graffiti around Pompeii noting that the woman there are "very friendly".

Image 5 and Image 6:

Lastly, let us discuss the Roman baths. The baths were a place where sexual desire was thought to be heightened. However, these images were found in the changing room. Some archeologists believe they were advertisements for the local brothel or simply just fun wall decoration. However the theory put forward by the original archaeologist, Luciana Jacobelli, is that "they served as reminders of where one had left ones clothes".

Image 7:

This image was simply found in a house of a wealthy resident, however I like it because the woman is wear a form of ancient brassiere.

And there you have it folks. Ancient sex. I honestly find this topic truly fascinating and could go on about the art of Pompeii forever. Please let me know if you enjoyed this post and if you would like to see more topics. Learning does not need to be boring people. It is really interesting what you find when you look close enough.

Until Next Time,


Image 1: Unkown artist, Priapus/Mercury, Between 89 BC- 79 AD.

Image 2: Wall painting of Priapus, House of Vettii

Image 3: An erotic wall painting from room at the side of the kitchen, House of Vettii

Image 4: Wall painting from brothel at Pompeii

Image 5: Fresco from the suburban baths of a 2 male and 1 female threesome, Painted around 79 AD

Image 6: Fresco from the suburban baths depicting cunnilingus

Image 7: From theHouse of the Centenary - the woman is wearing a form of brassiere, First Century BCE.

*I DO NOT OWN ANY OF THESE IMAGES* all images acquired from Wikipedia.

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