© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2015

© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2015
Introduction to erotic paintings and tales from the Ancient World

© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2012

Same-sex attitudes and behaviors in ancient Rome often differ markedly from those of the contemporary West.
The Latin language lacks words that would precisely translate "homosexual" and "heterosexual." The primary dichotomy of ancient Roman sexuality was active/dominant/masculine and passive/submissive/"feminized".
Roman society was patriarchal, and the freeborn male citizen possessed political liberty (libertas) and the right to rule both himself and those of his household (familia).
"Virtue" (virtus) was seen as an active quality through which a man (vir) defined himself.
The conquest mentality and "cult of virility" shaped same-sex relations.
Roman men were free to enjoy sex with other males without a perceived loss of masculinity or social status, as long as they took the dominant or penetrative role.
Acceptable male partners were slaves, prostitutes, and entertainers, whose lifestyle placed them in the nebulous social realm of 'infamia', excluded from the normal protections accorded a citizen even if they were technically free.
Although Roman men in general seem to have preferred youths between the ages of 12 and 20 as sexual partners, freeborn male minors were strictly off-limits, and professional prostitutes and entertainers might be considerably older.

© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2014

Copyright Vittorio Carvelli
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It was expected and socially acceptable for a freeborn Roman man to want sex with both female and male partners, as long as he took the penetrative role.
The morality of the behavior depended on the social standing of the partner, not gender per se. Both women and young men were considered normal objects of desire, but outside marriage a man was supposed to act on his desires only with slaves, prostitutes (who were often slaves), and the infames. Gender did not determine whether a sexual partner was acceptable, as long as a man's enjoyment did not encroach on another's man integrity.
It was immoral to have sex with another freeborn man's wife, his marriageable daughter, his underage son, or with the man himself; sexual use of another man's slave was subject to the owner's permission.

© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2013

Copyright Vittorio Carvelli
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Lack of self-control, including in managing one's sex life, indicated that a man was incapable of governing others; too much indulgence in "low sensual pleasure" threatened to erode the elite male's identity as a cultured person.
In the Imperial era, anxieties about the loss of political liberty and the subordination of the citizen to the emperor were expressed by a perceived increase in voluntary passive homosexual behavior among free men, accompanied by a documentable increase in the execution and corporal punishment of citizens.
The dissolution of Republican ideals of physical integrity in relation to libertas contributes to and is reflected by the sexual license and decadence associated with the Empire.

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