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The following about boy prostitution in ancient times is the first two chapters of Boys for Sale. A Sociological Study of Boy Prostitution by Dennis Drew & Jonathan Drake, New York, 1969, pp. 21-28. What they had to say about it is restricted to the Roman empire, though, as they point out, some details of boy prostitution in ancient Greece are known.

The authors were American university professors, but neither was a historian. Not only did they not seek real evidence by using primary sources, but they seem to have been indifferent as to whether their secondary sources were serious historical works or other non-historical books like their own. So, while their book preserves much priceless information and insight on boy prostitution within living memory of the time of writing, it is much less valuable for the past, and these chapters on the remote past are by far the worst, with exaggeration and imaginative speculation presented as fact. They are reproduced here with misgivings and only because some readers of this website have complained about the omission from it of only this part of Boys for Sale.

The authors gave no footnotes. Those given here are more than usually important for those who want to know which of the authors’ claims are believable.


Ancient Times

As far back into history as researchers care to go, we can find data pertaining to boy prostitution. For any continent we choose, its folklore, art, legend and recorded facts point out to us that there is nothing new in men resorting to boys for pleasure. Attitudes have changed — sometimes boy-love has been in, sometimes out, but always in existence to some degree. Best known to scholars of the Western world are the details of boy-love in early Greece and Rome. Let us open our survey therefore in Classical Times.

Boy Prostitution in Roman Times

Boy prostitution was extremely common throughout the Roman Empire. We have proof from Roman poetry, plays and novels, historical literature and even from murals. Loving young boys was common and largely accepted in a world where slavery provided ideal conditions for such practices. Sexual relations were so common between master and slave, and such a high percentage of citizens kept beautiful young catamites that one might wonder that there was also an extensive need for boy prostitutes. In Petronius’ Satyricon, one of the characters is attended by a whole retinue of cute little slave boys and the story reports many kinds of sexual activities between them and the adult party-goers.[1]

Trimalchio's Feast in Petronius's Satyricon, with one of the host's catamites shown serving the party-goers

Never is there any evidence that such practices were considered not at all unusual by either the adults or the boys. The incidents are not injected for sensationalism but are clearly a basic part of the story.

Ironically, it was considered a disgrace for a free man to accept the passive position in anal intercourse and men who did so were the subject of ribald humor and disparagement. But, to take an active role with a youngster, especially a slave or prostitute, was considered perfectly normal. Indeed, patrician families often gave sons a younger slave-boy to be used as a sexual companion until he married.[2] Active fellatio was also considered to be a “slave’s occupation” or a duty to one’s master, but, a patrician who so indulged, was considered with disgust and suspicion.[3] Often, if a known fellator attended a banquet, the cup from which he’d drunk was thrown away.[4]

There were many houses of boy prostitution in most Roman cities. These houses featured boys of different races, colors and talents. Boys from the East were popular for their dancing and refinements. Germanic boys were appreciated for their bawdiness and sensuality. Needless to say, all of them were trained and disciplined to the point of perfection. The managers of these brothels also pandered to the special tastes of wealthy men, many of whom never set foot in a brothel. These panderers and their agents combed the slave markets for beautiful young boys, often buying them as mere toddlers of 2 or 3. These boys were then placed — and kept — in special training academies and never had a chance to learn of any other kind of life. They were reared with the attitude that the sole function of boys was to entertain men sexually. The whole drive of their young lives, therefore, was to perfect themselves in these accomplishments.[5]

Such a boy was Antinoüs who later became the favorite of Emperor Hadrian. The Emperor placed statues of the beautiful boy all over his Empire and many of them have prominent places in today’s museums. The Emperor, saddened by the recent death of his wife, found the beautiful youngster in a “sacred grove” which was really nothing more than a park, “specializing” in boy prostitution. It was a meeting place for men and boys who could become acquainted in pleasant surroundings.[6]

Frontispiece of Magnificent Hadrian by Sulamith Ish Kishor, showing Antinous

The novel, Magnificent Hadrian, describes how a youngster like Antinoüs had been taught that many men would make love to him, tease him and use him for their pleasure. He was also taught to use all of his charms to arouse them and to gratify them.[7] Some such boys were feminized in their training, others were not. They were beautiful, depilated and perfumed, and wore their long curly hair carefully groomed. All were taught every possible refinement of debauchery which they could utilize to arouse and satisfy the voluptuousness of men. Some were trained as dancers, mimes, singers and storytellers, but all were trained in fellatio, sodomy, analingus[8] and other delights. (See Edward’s La Prostitution dans I’Antiquite, Paris, 1887.)

Since it was so easy to sodomize one’s own young slave-boys, well as the unprotected children of the lower classes, why so many prostitutes?[9] The answer probably lies in the fact that the Roman citizen travelled far more extensively than other peoples of that time. Often a businessman would be days or months in a strange province. Politicians and statesmen would find themselves transferred to far-away posts which entailed all of the disadvantages of present-day transfers. For some, it was financially impossible to bring wife, children and slaves to new locations. They left family behind and contented themselves with a few personal slaves to attend to daily needs, sending money to wives for the running of their households back in Rome. These men were likely candidates for customers of prostitutes, both male and female, depending on their tastes at the moment.

It was not unusual for a visiting relative or business associate to be offered a slave-boy for sodomy if he spent the night. However, not everyone in the Empire favored slavery or sodomy. Just as today, opinions varied. Some people, while not condemning the actions of others, still did not think highly of the sexual use of boys. Since it was a widespread custom, they usually remained silent about their dislike. If a visitor was staying in the home of such a person, he was more likely to visit a house of prostitution than to risk offending his host.[10]

Occasionally, Romans of position feigned disapproval to protect their self-esteem. A patrician always wished to be well thought of by his family, his neighbors, his friends and his slaves. So much so that perhaps desire for a little sexual variation would remain unfulfilled (as far as his acquaintances knew) in order to maintain a pure but bogus image. He could easily satisfy his urges with a secret sexual sortie in the company of an obliging professional boy.

Those About to Die by Daniel Mannix (1958)

Boy and girl prostitutes frequented the circuses and baths, often tempting men who had not come for this purpose but who could be aroused into buying a little extra pleasure. The circuses, particularly in the latter days of the Empire, contained sexual elements which were designed to stimulate and titillate the crowds. Mannix, in Those About to Die, tells not only of the young amateur prostitutes who gathered round the baths, but also of the professionals who set up shop at the Colosseum.[11] Under the arcades of this grand arena were refreshment stands where one might eat and drink, and be entertained by obscene dances at the same time. It was easy to engage the services of the young boy prostitutes who congregated there, advertising their trade by lifting their tunics waist high to display their buttocks in attempt to arouse interest. These youngsters were frequently used by spectators who had become aroused by other exhibitions in the arena and who hurried down to the boys below for satisfaction. Cubicles were available where a customer could take a boy of his choice. Particular customers could even draw the cubicle curtain to avert the gaze of voyeurs who hung around for their own special delight. The prostitutes were often dirty and poorly fed, but they made up for this in their skill at sexual relations. One of their stocks in trade was bringing a customer to a hasty ejaculation so that they might service many more in rapid succession.

Young boys would especially attempt to arouse soldiers in the crowd for it was more or less common knowledge that soldiers were bisexual in their desires. They sought soldiers who had just returned from military assignments which would have left them little time for sexual pleasure. Soldiers were special targets for the little hustlers.

Many a boy was introduced to anal penetration within the confines of a Roman tent when the Empire, had swept over his province or country. Since Roman soldiers were allowed to keep captured catamites, they would often share a boy. Sometimes three soldiers would share a boy’s sexual use as well as his food and upkeep. At times, boy brothels were arranged as commonly and acceptably for the army as USO centers are today providing the pleasure of young boy’s bodies.

Soldiers, like a good many Romans, were evidently completely bisexual in their tastes. They enjoyed women, but considered themselves deprived if sexual varieties, including boys, were not also provided for them. Despite the fact that women prostitutes in the Roman empire might also be very young and despite the fact that they, too, were trained to do everything, or nearly everything, there was a feeling that girls alone were only a partial diet. Boys were needed too. No guilt feelings were stimulated in either man or boy, and often the pleasure was perhaps less sexual than one might suppose. Catamites, the very young ones at least, were looked upon as mere playthings, much as one might view a pet dog which is to be petted, teased and made to do tricks to amuse one as well as one’s guests. But, the tricks, of course, were usually sexual.[12]

Dupouy says that the Romans demanded of boy prostitutes all of the pleasures that were possible with women, plus other more extraordinary delights. We are not given all the details, but there is no doubt that anything the mind could imagine was attempted and more than the Marquis de Sade was able to conceive. Even more went on at private parties when boy street prostitutes were employed to entertain. Having less protection and often being homeless, they could be used with animals, tortured or put to whatever use the guests could desire.[13]

Therefore, since ordinary voluptuous play with boys was commonly available with one’s own private slaves, the amusements sought at the brothels were likely to be more exotic. One legendary fragment of military amusement tells of a group of soldiers hanging a group of boys upside down by their legs: “It was surprising how each anus was deliciously different in this position” said one onlooker. The pain or discomfort of the prostitutes themselves, of course, was of no import. Any actions or behaviour were permitted if it amused the customers.

The fragment spokesman continues, “The rapture of little tongues and kisses is unbelievably delectable. When one sweet-skinned little boy devotes himself to me, it is wonderful, but when a dozen concentrate on my every part, I am transformed, despite myself, into a passionate bull who loses all sense and conciousness in flaming waves of desire.” There are also hints that his stimulation was not all oral, but was at least partly induced by aphrodisiacs. The Romans may have known of some narcotic sexual stimulants, especially for prolonging erection, that are not yet known again to modern science. One of them probably was a salve to be rubbed onto the penis which would keep it in a rigid condition for hours. Reports of one intercourse continuing for 48 hours under such stimulus, could be the result of a bawdy comic theatrical exaggeration. But, there seems to be little doubt that one reason for the popularity of boy brothels was that anal intercourse in them could be prolonged to great lengths by means not available elsewhere. There are reports of a secret Tunisian drug which was the monopoly of certain brothel-keepers. The drug not only prolonged one’s erection indefinitely, but also made possible within one act of intercourse, an infinite variety of “heavenly sensations” of unbelievable erotic pleasure.

Roman Orgy by Jacques Martin

Another evidence of narcotics may be present in the descriptions of the astonishing beauty of boys in the brothels. Because of the high prices they could pay, brothel-keepers had their choice of the most beautiful slave youngsters. These most beautiful ones were saved for extremely wealthy clients. There were also stud farms which bred beautiful slaves to furnish brothels. Through a good many generations of careful breeding, boys and girls of exceptional beauty, and the most charming and gentle dispositions were supposed to have been produced for this market. Even so, some of the descriptions of this beauty could now be explained only by an LSD-expanded viewpoint.[14]

Just when the boy brothels disappeared from the Roman scene is not known, but, evidently when the government made it officially illegal, boy prostitution moved to (or remained in) the streets where it continues to flourish until the present time.[15]


[1] They can only mean the nouveau riche Trimalchio, who had “a troupe of long-haired boys”, but his boys were not described as doing anything more sexual than being kissed by him alone.

[2] This is true. For example, Catullus in a poem (LXI 119-148) admonishes the slave-boy of the bridegroom at a wedding for not easily accepting that he can no longer be his master’s bedfellow.

[3] For not just a patrician, but any freeborn Roman male, to fellate was even more shameful than to be pedicated, since he was doubly degraded by being both penetrated and made unclean in the most sacred part of his body (Craig Williams, Roman Homosexuality, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 210, 218-220, where copious references to primary sources are given).

[4] Martial, Epigrams XI 95 says one should not share drinking-vessels with fellators, but throwing away their cups is probably the authors’ exaggeration.

[5] The tone of this paragraph conveys an exaggerated sense of what is known, but for a definitive account of one boy of exceptional beauty who was apparently castrated as a toddler with the purpose that he would eventually make a valuable catamite, see H. Henriksén, “An Imperial Eunuch in the Light of the Poems of Martial and Statius” in Mnemosyne, 4th Series, Fasc. 3 (June 1997) pp. 281-94, which is about the emperor Domitian’s loved-boy Earinus.

[6] The outstanding facts given in the second sentence of this paragraph are true, but the rest is pure fabrication. Everything recorded by the ancients about Antinous is given in the article Hadrian and Antinous. Nothing is known about his life before he met Hadrian except that he came from Claudiopolis in Bithynia, where Hadrian probably found him (but the more exact location is entirely unknown). It is most unlikely that he was a trained catamite as described by the authors, mostly because none of our sources, many of them hostile to him, described him as a slave or freedman, but also because of the depth of Hadrian’s love and esteem for him seen in the light of the emperor’s admiration for Greek culture. It is sheer nonsense to say that when Hadrian met him, he was “saddened by the recent death of his wife.” Such little evidence as there is suggests he disliked his wife, Sabina, and, in any case, she died several years after Antinous.

[7] Presumably this refers to Magnificent Hadrian by Sulamith Ish-Kishor (New York, 1935), which was a biography, not a novel, but in any case, nothing is known about what Antinous was taught beyond the inference (made from a relief on the Arch of Constantine) that he was a page in Rome, most likely taught in the imperial paedagogium for the training of boys who would serve at the imperial court.

[8] There is no Latin word for analingus and no evidence that it was known of to any Roman, so there is no excuse for claiming that boys were trained in it. From all that is known of Roman values (accepting of freeborn males taking pleasure in active roles only, etc.), it could only have been regarded as extremely reprobate.

[9] Incredibly, the authors here miss the main answer to their rhetorical question, namely that attractive slave-boys were beyond the means of the average proletarian Roman to buy or maintain, while visits to brothels were cheap.

[10] This paragraph, like the next and indeed much of the chapter, is credible but purely speculative, unsupported by evidence.

[11] Daniel Pratt Mannix, the author of Those About to Die (1958), was a magician, not a historian, and unfortunately typical of what counts as an authority for Drew and Drake when writing history.

[12] Any notion of restricting the narrative to things for which there is a jot of historical evidence has been long forgotten by this stage. Everything in the four paragraphs ending here must be credited to the authors’ vivid imagination.

[13] Where, o where did “Dupouy” learn this? What a shame that he would not give all the details despite there being “no doubt” about them!

[14] It is not quite clear how much of these last three paragraphs are owed to the “legendary” (imaginary?) fragment to which the authors had apparently exclusive access. If anyone else should ever be privileged to see it, the editor of this article would be most grateful to hear.

[15] The emperor Philip “the Arab” at least attempted to make boy prostitution illegal in AD 248 (Aurelius Victor, On the Caesars 28), but if his edict was enforced at all, it was with limited effect since as late as AD 390 the reigning emperors saw the need to insist on burning at the stake for passive male prostitutes. Nothing is known about boy prostitution in the immediately succeeding centuries, but the substantial success of the authorities around the world in suppressing it since Drew and Drake wrote should caution against swallowing their assumption that it must have continued without interruption: repression can succeed if it is thorough and vicious enough.




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