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Later Christians may have exaggerated the degree of their depravity, but it cannot be denied that they had, to say the least, ambivalent attitudes to sex.In contrast to their women, it was entirely accepted and even expected for freeborn men to have extramarital sex with both female and male partners, especially adolescents, provided that they (1) exercised moderation, (2) adopted the active, or dominating, role, and (3) confined their activities to slaves and prostitutes, or, less commonly, a concubine or ‘kept woman’.

The Vestal Virgins tended, among others, to the cult of the assured the ascendency and continuity of the state.Similarly, during the Liberalia, devotees of the god Liber Pater carted a giant phallus through the countryside to fertilize the land and safeguard the crops—after which a virtuous matron placed a wreath on top of the phallus.Latin does not have a strict equivalent for the noun ‘homosexual’, which is relatively recent in coinage and concept; but a minority of men did, then as today, express a clear same-sex preference or orientation—most famously the emperor Hadrian, who founded a city in memory of his beloved Antinous, and even had him deified.Most extramarital and same-sex activity took place with slaves and prostitutes.According to Tacitus, Agrippina visited astrologers to ask about the future of her son, Nero.

The astrologers predicted that Nero would become emperor and would kill her.Slaves were regarded as property, and lacked the legal standing that protected a citizen’s body.A freeman who forced a slave into having sex could not be charged with rape, but only under laws relating to property damage, and then only at the instigation of the slave’s owner.Agrippina replied, “Let him kill me, so long as he becomes emperor.” Both women and men, but especially women, were supposed to uphold or ‘one-man woman’, sought at all times to appear modest and to limit her social interactions with men other than her husband and male relatives.Divorce, however, did not attract any stigma or prejudice, and upper class divorcees or widows were encouraged, even expected, to remarry after a suitable period of mourning.Prostitution was both legal and common, and often operated out of brothels or the fornices (arcade dens) under the arches of a circus. By becoming a prostitute, a freeborn person suffered —a concept that still retains some currency in the Roman Catholic Church—included actors, dancers, gladiators, and other entertainers.