How the Ancient Romans Got Their Rocks Off in Pompeii
In 2010, people have Las Vegas. But in AD79, ancient Romans had Pompeii.
Destroyed on 24 August AD79 by the two day eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius, the lost city of Pompeii was eventually unearthed and what has been discovered is that sometimes the ancient Romans liked to par-tay – and they liked to do it in Pompeii.
Just like Vegas, the city of Pompeii was the luxury destination for the Roman elite and many members of the upper classes who lived there full-time. In examining the street Latin graffiti at Pompeii, it was learned that well-known gladiators and actors frequented the city, and drinking and sex were commonplace and acceptable forms of entertainment. And speaking of sex, it was everywhere.
Underscoring this notion was the discovery of a Lupanare (brothel)
which had many erotic paintings and graffiti inside. The erotic paintings presented an idealized vision of sex which seems at odds with the reality of the function of the lupanare (prostitute).
Communal baths were also an important aspect of life in Pompeii and as everywhere else here, sex ruled. Some rather, um, erotic pictures were found in a changing room at the newly excavated Suburban Baths.
The function of these pictures is not yet clear: some researchers say that they indicate that the services of prostitutes were available on the upper floor of the bathhouse and could perhaps be a sort of advertising…
…while others prefer the hypothesis that their only purpose was to decorate the walls with “joyful scenes”.
The most widely accepted theory however, is that they served as reminders of where one had left one’s clothes. Well, whatever rocks your boat…
And while sex was present in Pompeii’s bath houses, it was also prevalent in their households, too. From oil lamps…
…to everyday pottery.
And while sex in Pompeii seemed to be commonplace…
other civlizations didn’t find the culture quite so amusing. In 1819, when King Francis I of Naples visited the Pompeii exhibition at the National Museum with his wife and daughter, he was so embarrassed by the erotic artwork that he decided to have it locked away in a secret cabinet, accessible only to “people of mature age and respected morals”.
Re-opened, closed, re-opened again and then closed again for nearly 100 years, it was briefly made accessible again at the end of the 1960s and was finally re-opened for viewing in 2000.
Minors are still only allowed entry to the once secret cabinet in the presence of a guardian or with written permission.
Today, Pompeii is Italy’s most popular tourist destination with over 2.6 million visitors per year. Not bad for a swingin’ little town…