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three pairs of lovers with space


The following is the one of the sections of the seventh chapter of Dr.
Parker Rossman’s
Sexual Experience Between Men and Boys (originally published in 1976), entitled "The Uses of History", and introduced here.

Roman Sex Exploitation

Evidence of pederasty is found in Etruscan Italy, so it may not be true that the Romans took over the custom from the Greeks. Many Romans justified their pederasty by appealing to Greek philosophy, and the most highly sought and expensive boys were Greek boys especially bred and trained in Alexandria. Roman pederasty must be evaluated in the context of the brutal excesses of Roman sexual culture as a whole. The anti-sex attitude of Christianity may well be the result of the way Romans sexually exploited their slaves, with sex circuses, sex tortures to amuse the crowd, sexual abuse of children by animals for entertainment.[1] As conquerors of the world, the Romans exploited everything as brutally as they wished. The Achilles-Patroclus type of love between soldiers in the Greek army was in many regiments of the Roman army replaced by the custom of allowing a soldier to take along a captive boy to carry his supplies, wait on him, and serve as his sex partner.

Slave Market in Ancient Rome by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1884

Horace wrote love poems about boys, scoffing at meaning anything more than the serving of his lust. Martial told his wife that women and boys were separate pleasures, boys for dirty jokes and playful sex as entertainers. The emperor Hadrian erected statues of his favorite boy all over the empire and commanded his subjects to worship them. Upper-class boys were seduced by their slaves,[2] who played with them sexually, and a Roman father might provide a slave boy for his son to sleep with until marriage, to keep him from getting emotionally involved with some slave girl.[3] One pederast has said: “I think the Greek experiment might have succeeded, resulting in a continuing improving pedagogy which would have nurtured science instead of letting it die, if the Romans hadn’t conquered the world, and if Alexander the Great’s armies hadn’t been tainted by the ‘sport of kings’ when Persia was captured.” “The Romans were playful in a bawdy sense,” says another pederast, “with dirty jokes, songs, plays, poetry, dancing, psychic games - all of which spilled over into the Middle Ages and Renaissance to fertilize even our own times. Generations of the young have studied the classics. I am told that copies of the Satyricon in typescript circulate, for example, in many French and Italian schools as they did in mine - especially the incident where the tutor who seduced his pupil threatens to tell the boy’s father if the boy doesn’t quit being so sexually demanding. Jokes which were told in Roman times and styles of sexually teasing boys from ancient days continue to be prevalent around the Mediterranean. Is it any coincidence,” he continues, “that pederasty thrives most in those countries that were part of the Roman Empire?”

Another pederast wrote: “All kinds of man-boy sex play existed in the Roman Empire, but the worst abuses are recorded in history as evidence of need for change. Although the brutality certainly existed, the Roman pederast literature is really playful, in the sense of the dirty joke as in Catullus. The man-boy sex play in the Musa Puerilis[4] is honestly erotic, satirical, and amusing.” Roman violence and sexual excesses made inevitable, however, a radical swing of the pendulum in another experiment in transforming the moral climate.


[1] “sexual abuse of children by animals for entertainment” is not attested by any Roman source and is an exaggeration unfortunately typical of Rossman’s ventures into old history.

[2] If, as appears, Rossman is insinuating that adult slaves seduced upper-class Roman boys, this is not simply an invention, but a grotesque one from a Roman point of view. A Roman would assume that sex between a man and a boy would involve the man pedicating the boy. Pedication of freeborn Roman males was stuprum (defilement), a crime, and the outrage felt over it would be greatly exacerbated if the perpetrator was a slave. It could of course have occasionally happened, but that is no excuse for stating it did with no evidence.

[3] The existence of such boys is attested. 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. The motive attributed by Rossman to Roman fathers for giving their sons catamites makes good sense, but is speculative.

[4] A collection of classic erotic poetry about young boys. A new edition: La Muse Garçonnière, Paris: Flammarion, 1974 [Author’s note]. The new edition referred to is a fine translation into French by Roger Peyrefitte with beautiful erotic illustrations by Gaston Goor. The poems of Greek love interest in the only reasonably accurate translation into English of the whole work, by W. R. Paton, in 1918, are being steadily posted on this website, arranged by author.




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