Sexual relations among males was not uncommon in ancient Greece, especially among the aristocratic* class. Certain rules of behavior governed the sexual relations between men. An older man (called the erastes) pursued an adolescent male (called the eromenos) and was expected to win him over by his wisdom and military prowess. The adolescent was expected to try to resist his advances, for to do otherwise would have been considered unmanly. The older man might guide the adolescent’s education and care for his welfare. As soon as the youth entered adulthood and took his place among free male citizens, the relationship ended. Sexual activity was linked to status. An elaborate series of protocols dictated how young free men must be courted and treated. Slaves and other nonfree young men might be exploited.
Customs differed in the various regions of Greece. In Thebes, a troop called the Sacred Band consisted of pairs of lovers who fought and died together. In Sparta, an erastes was held accountable for his eromenos, who might remain under his guidance until the young man reached the age of 30, or sometimes for life.
Less is known about female homosexuality. Sappho, a Greek poet who lived in the late 600s B.C., wrote about love between women. Relationships between females that occurred in girlhood were expected to cease when the young woman married.
Homosexuality in Rome was almost always frowned on and ridiculed. But it was very much present, often under the guise of bisexuality*. For example, the emperor Hadrian was openly homosexual but was in a quite “respectable” marriage. (See also Love, the Idea of; Marriage and Divorce; Women, Greek; Women, Roman.)
* aristocrat person of the highest social class
* bisexuality physical attraction toward both sexes