Prostitutes were obliged to be registered with
the Aedile (local magistrate) where their name, age, place
of birth and a pseudo name, if wished, would be recorded. After
being asked her price, each prostitute would be issued with a licence
(Licentia Stupri) and her name added to the official roll.
Once on the list there was no way back - the record was forever.
Prostitutes were known by many different names
depending on their own status within their own community, for
- noted for their enchanted forms, often in the nude.
or she wolf because she patrolled the parks and gardens
and howled for customers.
- serving girls in inns.
Some were well-kept women from high class families,
some (as today) used their influence for political power and most
were Freedwomen. Prostitution as a profession could be a lucrative
business (for some). The tariff inscription from Coptos in
Roman Egypt, dated to AD 90, states that the passport fee for
prostitutes was 108 drachmas, but for other women only 20 drachmas
- clearly it was thought that the prostitutes could afford the
The rooms used by Romes prostitutes were
often very simply and sparsely decorated, albeit with a tablet
above the door way to indicate what a client could expect and
a sign to indicate when occupied.
While sexual disease was known, not much is mentioned
in the surviving sources. Juvenal hints at it auchunnuentae
(secret diseases), for which he says you had best
pray to Juno and take herbal remedies. In a similar
vein, Soranus wrote straightforward and sensible
advice about contraception, with techniques including:
- Potions to cause temporary infertility.
Amulets embued with magic properties
were worn. For example, Pliny records the tying of two little
worms, believed to live in hairy spiders, in deerskin - or maybe
you fancy wearing the liver of a cat in a tube on the left foot!
- The rhythm method was largely ineffective because Roman medical
writers believed the most fertile time was just as menstruation
ended, that is, when the appetite for sex was said to be strongest.
- Pessaries made from soaking soft wool in honey, alum, white
lead or olive oil were used with some degree of effectiveness.
Even Marie Stopes advocated the use of honey in 1931.
- Conception was thought unlikely to occur when women did not
have a desire for intercourse!
- Of course you could always try holding your breath at ejaculation,
or post-coitally to squat, sneeze and drink something cold.
Lucretius recommends that whores, but not wives, should wriggle
their hips and so divert the plow and the seed'
Prostitutes were forbidden to wear the stola, the
dress of a Roman matron, but were instead made to wear the toga
as their outer garment. Dr Lindsay Allason-Jones says that prostitutes
in Italy were often of Syrian or Egyptian origin, and were identifiable
by their heavy make-up, the lack of bands in their hair, and their
short tunics and brightly coloured togas. They also wore long
gold chains that went down to their waist, even going so far as
to gilt their breasts, which if worn with transparent material
would possible appear yellow?
Red and Yellow? No concealment here! You
can see her almost naked in her Coan dress, and make sure that
her thigh is not misshapen or her foot ugly; you can measure her
flank with your eye. This quote from the poet Horatius
speaks of the Freedwomen who, as we have said, made up most of
the population of the prostitutes in Rome. Similarly, Seneca wrote:
There I see silken clothes, if they can be called clothes
which protect neither a womens body nor her modesty, and
in which she cannot truthfully declare that she is not naked.
These are bought for huge sums from nations unknown to us in the
ordinary course of trade - and why? Such garments of
airy delicacy were called Coan because they
were imported from Cos into Greece and Rome. (Plin. N.H.
xi 22(26). According to Sarah B Pomeroy, prostitutes wore saffron-dyed
material of gauzelike transparency. But was Seneca talking about
prostitutes or respectable women?
In other writings Seneca says (N.Q vii, 31,2) we
men wear the colours used by prostitutes, in which respectable
married women would not be seen. But was he talking
about the bright togas or the colour purple as in earlier times,
after the dispute over the annulment of the lex Oppia,
respectable matrons claimed the right to wear purple.
Ovid, mentions the common fashion of dyeing the
hair and the use of wigs: Ever since the auburn hair
of German women had become known in Rome, Roman ladies were wildly
eager to have such hair instead of their own black locks.
It was perhaps fashionable to wear wigs made of red or fair hair
cut from the heads of German girls (Ov. Am. i.14,45). He also
wrote that freedwomen chose bright colours to harmonise or contrast
with their hair (Ov. AA,iii,162). According to Juvenal (vi, 120),
the Empress Messalina wore one of these blond wigs.
Did prostitutes really wear red and yellow
or are these particular colours derived from references about
the colour of wigs made from the hair of captive German slave
girls that seemed so popular? We girls do like to colour
co-ordinate. Ultimately, we still cannot be certain without
far more there reading into the subject. There are a numerous
books and references to prostitution in Rome for anyone wishing
to read them and if anyone comes across any definite evidence
please let me know!
A poem dated to 15 BC or 14 BC written by one Sulpicia,
a Roman lady, who talks about love as slavery and her worry that
her lover will visit prostitutes:
The day which gave you to me, Cerinthus,
to me will be sacred, a holiday forever.
At your birth the Fates sang of new slavery for girls and bestowed
exalted Kingdoms upon you.
More than others I burn. That I burn, Cerinthus,
Brings Joy, if you too blaze with flame caught from me
May you too feel love, by our sweet stolen momments,
By your eyes, by your Birth-spirit, I ask you.
Great Birth-spirit, take incense, heed my vows
If only he glows when thinking about me.
But if perchance hes panting for other lovers,
Then, holy one, leave faithless altars, I pray..
And you Venus, dont be unfair: let both of us
Serve you in bondage,
Or lift off my shackles;
But rather let us both be bound by a
strong chain which no day to come will be able to loose.
The boy wishes for what I do, though he wishes in secret-it shames
him to utter such words.
But you, Birth-spirit, since as a god, you know all,
Grant this: what difference if he prays silently?
As Sarah B Pomeroy says, Like all the
elegists, [Sulpicia] berates her beloved for infidelity and insists
upon her own superiority, especially her noble lineage: For
you prefer the prostitutes toga and a whore loaded with
woolbaskets to Sulpicia, Servius daughter. My
friends are greatly concerned lest I surrender my place to a baseborn
Sexual Life in Ancient Rome by Otto Kiefer.
Ovid, The Erotic Poems.
Goddesses, Whores, Wives & Slaves, Sarah B. Pomeroy.