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Roman Prostitution as a Specific Contribution to Roman Society

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Legal Roman Prostitution and Its Benefits

As a Criminal Justice major, the fact that prostitution has been around for centuries and that people’s views about it has changed over time interests me. Prostitution has been around for thousands of years and in nearly, if not every civilization, and was both legal and a way of life. A prostitute in the days of the Roman Empire benefited from his or her job in many ways, including making money.

Roman prostitution was just as much a job as being a blacksmith. Prostitutes earned money for their services, and in turn benefited themselves or their family. They used graffiti writers as a means of advertising; in some cases, a sexual act painted on a wall and perhaps a fee. “…Graffiti writers were not always careful to specify whether the sex available in such places was commercial in nature…” (McGinn, 1998). Roman prostitutes performed various sexual acts to and for anyone who could pay them.

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I can see how prostitution would help support a family, even during the Roman era. I do not agree with the concept of having sex for money, but it was accepted during this period as a way of life for men, women, and sadly some children. For many of them, prostitution put or kept food on the table. For others, prostitution was the only way of life they knew (this is true for the children that were raised by pimps), or perhaps he or she needed a way to survive and prostitution was a last resort. Whatever the reason for being a prostitute, prostitution supported families, helped the economy, and provided entertainment for many Roman citizens.

Prostitution was normal in Roman society and the law did not prohibit sex for money. Prostitutes, in Ancient Roman culture, could have sexual intercourse with whoever paid for it, and not be in danger of being arrested or being fined. Prostitution was considered a way of living for some people; prostitution was a way for prostitutes to provide food and perhaps medical care for their families. Although the Romans had no law prohibiting prostitution, there were many government positions that prostitutes did not qualify for, including: town councilors, and other provisions affecting one’s status as a citizen, in the law of marriage criminal law (adultery), tax law, the law of slave sale, and many other positions (McGinn, 1998). Prostitutes could not work for the law, gather taxes, perform marriages for couples, sale slaves, and many other things (McGrinn, 1998).

I understand why the Roman people did not want prostitutes in a public office. Even though it was an accepted practiced, many upper class women looked down upon prostitution. They considered it a shameful act, as many people do even today (McGrinn, 1998). Many people today would have an issue with a prostitute, or former prostitute being in a government office, and I believe the same applies to the Romans to some extent. Regardless of the way some people viewed prostitution or the act itself, prostitutes were not allowed to take public office.

Some Roman prostitutes, called Temple prostitutes, also played an important role in religious celebrations (McGinn, 1998). They were regarded as sacred, and in some places were required to give themselves to a stranger as part of a religious ritual (Moulton, 1998). This shows just how accepted prostitution was to the Romans. Although prostitution was accepted as a part of life, some prostitutes were banned from celebrations for respectable women “such as the rituals for the Bona Dea performed by the wife of the pontifex maximus (high priest) and the rites of the goddess Ceres” (McGrinn, 1998).

Roman prostitutes were considered Roman citizens, but they were considered impure. A priestess could not be seen near a prostitute, otherwise she would be dishonored (McGinn, 1998). Roman festivals were a time when prostitutes could show off, perhaps earn money, and advertise their business. “…The Florlia where (we are told) prostitutes stripped themselves naked at the urging of the public” (McGinn, 1998). This was considered a shameful action to some people because stripping in public is an act that brings dishonor upon anyone who does it.

Roman prostitutes were taxed for their services. The taxation of prostitutes shows just how important prostitution was in the Roman world. Prostitutes, in a way, helped keep the Roman Empire alive and prosperous. Even people who had practiced prostitution in the past, before the tax law was created, were subjected to being taxed (McGinn, 1998).

Although I in no way support prostitution, I do believe that it was a good idea for the Roman officials to tax prostitutes. It allowed the Roman government to gain more money to keep their vast empire running. It also helped pay for the cost of buying materials for homes, war equipment, and much more. It only makes sense to tax prostitutes because, much like today, many people would only continue prostitution as a way of life even if it would have been considered illegal for the Romans; I think the Roman government realized this to some extent, and decided to tax prostitutes and make more money for the government, as well as the Roman society. I do not see why former prostitutes were taxed also; I would assume it was just a way for the Roman government to make more money.

Roman prostitution was a great contribution to Roman society. Prostitution helped the empire last as long as it did. It was legal, and that was to help the empire make money. Although prostitutes could not run for government offices, their service assisted the Roman government. It was an accepted practice and is the reason many people were able to support their family. Overall, I think that prostitution helped the Romans live their day-to-day lives.

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