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Pompeian Brothels and Social History By Thomas A. J. McGinn.

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Presentation on theme: "Pompeian Brothels and Social History By Thomas A. J. McGinn."— Presentation transcript:

1 Pompeian Brothels and Social History By Thomas A. J. McGinn

2 Focus of the Study To examine 20 th Century scholarship on Pompeian brothels, its methods and assumptions, and above all the criteria used to identify them Not to advance new candidates for brothels, but to suggest that not all brothels in Pompeii have been identified

3 What is a Brothel? The broader the definition, the more the possible venues McGinn: “a location with sex as its principal (or at least a major component of its) business, that allows two or more prostitutes to work simultaneously” According to literary sources, this definition applies to the Roman notion Pompeian brothels were relatively small, so a distortion brought about by a wide range in the size of brothels is minimized

4 How to Identify Brothels in the Archaeological Record Della Corte’s criteria: The design and layout of the establishment The presence of erotic art The presence of erotic graffiti

5 How to Identify Brothels in the Archaeological Record A. Wallace-Hadrill’s criteria: The structural evidence of a masonry bed set in a small cell of ready access to the public The presence of paintings of explicit sexual scenes The cluster of graffiti lauding bene futui, good sexual partners

6 Problems with these Criteria Reliance on room layout provides no effective way to distinguish a brothel from an inn Masonry beds only reveal purpose-built brothels – prostitutes could have used wooden beds, which are less likely to have survived, or no bed at all Erotic art was a ubiquitous feature of Roman social life Graffiti can communicate jokes, insults, or idle boasting

7 Public Displays of Erotic Art




11 Erotic Art from a Purpose-Built Brothel

12 Erotic Art from the Changing Room of a Suburban Bath

13 Potential Brothels Purpose-built brothels: spaces intended, designed, and built to serve as brothels Cellae meretriciae: the most likely venues for prostitution at Pompeii Cribs: small, crude buildings or rooms, clustered in an alley or along a roadway, used by prostitutes who do not work in brothels Baths and cauponae: areas where prostitution certainly occurred but was not a major component of the business Private dwellings: parts of a house separate from the owner’s living area, such as a slave’s quarters, often had separate entrances and many of the criteria found in brothels

14 The Purpose-Built Brothel 5 simple small rooms on the ground floor, each with a masonry bed Series of erotic paintings along the hallway connecting the rooms 5 upstairs rooms accessible by a separate entrance- stairway and balcony Latrine under the stairway with 100 graffiti, mostly erotic Often the upstairs does not contain erotic paintings – sleeping quarters for prostitutes, or it could be a separate operation

15 Moral Zoning? Did the Romans keep brothels in certain areas and out of others? Did they wish to isolate prostitution from elite women and children? Were impure activities concentrated in hidden areas? Were brothels segregated to lower class neighborhoods?

16 Moral Zoning? Moral zoning was not common until the rise of Christianity Roman cities tended to be fairly homogeneous socially Brothels were rarely located at great distances from upper-class dwellings Map of Pompeii shows that brothels were evenly distributed, except near the Forum, where regulation of brothels may have been successful


18 Roman Perspective on Prostitution Prostitution seen as an alternative or antidote to adultery Prostitutes served to distract male lust away from “respectable women” Erotic art was commonly on display and easily visible to elite women and children, in dining rooms and gardens The Romans were much more open about sex than we are today and evidently had no concern keeping it out of the home and confined to a brothel Prostitution may have been seen as a breach of upper-class decorum, but indecent behavior by members of the lower classes was to be expected

19 Roman Public Policy Toward Prostitution Prostitution was tolerated – limited regulation Today, public policy involves repression of prostitution, which would have been foreign to the Romans What policies were initiated ultimately failed Although no brothels are located in the Forum, prostitution existed and was actually encouraged there Roman policy on prostitution tended to make the activity as visible as possible Prostitutes were meant to be humiliated

20 Demographics Estimates of Pompeii’s population: 7,000 to 20,000 504 domus (private dwellings) 34-35 brothels Many of the clients of prostitutes probably were not citizens of Pompeii Assuming an average of 4 prostitutes per brothel, and accounting for prostitutes who did not work at brothels, just over 100 prostitutes lived in Pompeii.

21 Future Work Redefine the criteria for identifying brothels More detailed examination of the physical remains Reexamine the subtypes of brothels (purpose-built, caupona, and lower-class lodgings, etc.) Analyze Pompeian brothels in the context of the Roman world (Ostia and Rome itself)

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