Long ago near the Dead Sea, several raunchy little cities competed to see who could take the top spot as the lowest places on Earth. They already were the lowest, being 1,388 feet below sea level, but the low they were going for was depravity. Although their original sites may now be under the Dead Sea, their infamy remains. One was Gomorrah. The other, called Sodom, gave its name to a class A felony. The locals were fond of the back-door sexual approach, the rougher, the better. In time, their predilection became known as sodomy.
The Sodomites did other creepy things. In Genesis 19: 5-8, when a wrathful God wants to destroy Sodom and neighboring cities for their grievous sins, the prophet Abraham offers to find some decent people worth saving—such as his nephew Lot and family. So two male angels disguised as humans show up at Lot’s house, his wife and daughters fix dinner for everybody, and things seem cool. Soon, however, an ominous mob of local men surround the house, shouting, “Where are the guys who came here tonight? Bring them to us—we wanna get to know them.” “Know,” as in the Biblical sense: assault them sexually.
So what does Lot do? To protect his guests, he throws his young daughters to the wolves! He says, “Behold now, I have two daughters who’ve not known men; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you—and do nothing to the guests [the male angels].”
Small wonder that God got disgusted and destroyed Sodom, Gomorrah, and two neighboring cites with fire and brimstone. As Jude 1:7 notes, “Sodom and Gomorrah, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth as an example.” Scholars have wrangled over the “strange flesh” epithet, some interpreting it as illicit sex with strangers, or sex with angels, but most labeling it same-sex relations between men.
As luck would have it, almost no one in ancient Greece or Rome read the Old Testament. Or even wanted to. Thus sodomy, or pedico as the Romans called it, again became popular. Anal sex had quite a few loyal adherents among women: housewives who didn’t want to get pregnant (again); female prostitutes and sex workers, who didn’t want to get pregnant (ever); female slaves (ditto); and many a ruler’s wife, who preferred her spouse to stick it where the sun didn’t shine—just not in hers. Once Spartan women reached age eighteen and formed intimate attachments, they routinely engaged in anal sex, to preserve virginity and to prevent pregnancy.
According to the Old Testament, Sodom gave its name to sodomy, a sexual practice that enraged God so much that he destroyed the city as Abraham’s nephew Lot and family fled.
Sodomy also became a common practice among young Greek and Roman brides; to “spare” her from being deflowered on the wedding night, hubby put his mentula up her bum. How thoughtful can you get?
As Greco-Roman art illustrates, the sexual position called “the lioness” was a classic pose for rear entry; to get into position, a woman crouched, lifting up her buttocks at the same time.
Males in a variety of relationships represented another demographic who enjoyed or routinely preferred rear-end action—gay couples, male prostitutes, and other men with homoerotic bonds. Sometimes it was ritualistic, such as those grooms on their wedding night. At others, it was punitive—male adulterers who’d gotten caught, for instance. In Greece, adulterers and males known to be erotically passive were often made fun of by Aristophanes; in his comedies, he called them “wide-assed” and was fond of “roasting” local individuals, such as Athenian politician Cleisthenes. In the Roman Empire, however, sometimes the adulterer was ceremoniously sodomized by the cuckolded husband.
Plenty of slaves served as objects for sodomy—and took active roles as well. So did many Roman emperors, along with their wives, girlfriends, and boyfriends. Sexually addicted emperors such as Nero, Caligula, Tiberius, Elagabalus, and Commodus got deeply involved in sodomitic giving and receiving. Other couples outed as sodomy aficionados included Greek orator Demosthenes with Cnosion; Pompey the Great with his wife Julia; and Caesar assassin Brutus and his wife Portia.
Although the literature (and the graffiti) is contradictory, it does appear that men who preferred anal sex to the exclusion of other sex practices were called cinaedus in Latin, a borrowing from the Greek word kinaidos. A blunt term, it implied effeminacy.
Oddly enough, long-ago sodomy got much more favorable press than oral sex did. The array of actions which nowadays are often thought of as Many-Splendored pleasurable, gender-friendly foreplay (or even considered “not sex at all” by many younger participants) were called abominations. And worse. Why? It may have been linked to a widespread custom among the upper classes in the Greco-Roman world, where men and women routinely greeted each other with a kiss on the lips, irrespective of gender.
To the Romans especially, os impurum or “filthy, impure mouth” was a repellent notion—and a term of abuse. Men and women rumored to be fond of fellatio or cunnilingus were never invited to dinner parties—people claimed that their perverse behavior gave them hideous bad breath.
There was a nastier side to fellatio, too. Men sometimes forced other males (slaves or free men) to fellate them, an act called irrumatio. In a Roman male’s mind, nothing could be more degrading than to be a receptacle for oral sex. The vicious verses of Martial, Catullus, and other poets of sexual invective made that very clear. To drive home its depravity, irrumatio was sometimes the penalty inflicted on an adulterer, or on a male found guilty of other crimes.
Nevertheless, both practices were cheerfully on tap, as easy-to-find commercial propositions (graffiti “ads” for both services still cover walls in Pompeii and elsewhere) and as part of the personal erotic repertoire of countless sexually active persons.