Prostitution in Ancient Rome

My second day in Rome involved a six and a half hour tour of all things “gladiator” with my sons and a tour guide.  All romantic cities take on a totally different patina when you view them with young boys.  I can remember going to some of my favorite cities before and after children and how different the experience was.  London, the city of Dickens, the Royal Family and the best accent on earth on my first trip, became the land of beheading, torture and all things “knights” on my second.  Paris, with its romantic café’s, art and walks along the Seine, became the land of The French Army Museum, guillotines and underground catacombs of bones.  Today, my beautiful, sexy, delicious Rome turned into hungry lions, crazy emperors and bloody battles!

Our tour guide did his best to include me in the talk of architecture, and marble mosaics and of course, Vestal Virgins.  “Mom, what’s a Virgin?” “Mom, why did they have to be Virgins?”  “Mom, what’s the big deal about being a Virgin?”  These were some of the questions whispered to me during the Coliseum and Forum parts of the tour.

Mid-way through our day, we broke for lunch at a trattoria to gorge on some pasta.  Our tour guide asked me about my project in Amsterdam, where he had coincidentally been a tour guide years ago.  Though a native of Rome, he used to take groups of Romans on holiday to Amsterdam.  When I told him about the project he told me some things about the prostitutes in ancient Rome.

It seems prostitutes, back in the day, were self-employed women who rented rooms to work in.  Ah, it seems like Amsterdam may have gotten their window brothel idea from somewhere else!  Apparently, back then prostitution was legal and licensed.  Also, prostitutes where the only women allowed to wear a toga, a traditionally male formal garment.  I guess this did for men then what a woman wearing a men’s button down dress shirt does for them now.

Anyway, the legalizing and regulations seemed not to have been so much about the safety of the women, but to maximize profits.  Some things never change.

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