Prostitution—the selling of sex in exchange for money—was legal and common in both Greece and Rome. A group that included women, children, and slaves, prostitutes were generally among the least protected members of ancient society. Both men and women worked as prostitutes for a variety of reasons. Although some slaves were forced into prostitution, others chose to sell their bodies to earn the money to buy their freedom, and some women turned to prostitution to earn a dowry*.
Prostitution was sometimes practiced in the temples. Temple prostitutes were regarded as sacred. In some regions, such as Babylonia, women were required to give themselves to a stranger as part of a religious ritual*. Prostitutes also worked in inns, taverns, public baths, and other places where there might be many potential clients. Some prostitutes had managers, to whom they gave their earnings. Some male and female prostitutes attached themselves to rich or powerful clients, who supported them financially. Aspasia, the mistress of the Athenian statesman Pericles, was well known for her power and influence.
* dowry money or property that a woman brings to the man she marries
* ritual regularly followed routine, especially religious
Although most Greeks and Romans considered prostitution necessary to society, some regarded it a threat to family life. Plato and other philosophers* condemned the practice. The Roman educator Seneca the Elder called prostitution “unhappy and sterile submission.” Despite these criticisms, the governments of Athens and Rome recognized prostitution as a source of income and taxed it. Brothels (houses of prostitution) were common. In fact, the ruins of several brothels were found in Pompeii, a city of about 20,000 people that was destroyed during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79. (See also Homosexuality; Women, Greek; Women, Roman.)
* philosopher scholar or thinker concerned with the study of ideas, including science