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So pervasive, in fact, was this pederasty that Romans who didn’t fancy young boys were generally considered a little odd – a belief that only vanished when Christianity finally took hold.
Imported from Greece, the Bacchanalia were ‘fertility festivals’ that really took hold in modern South Italy.
If you were going to engage in a homosexual relationship with a free-born male, you had to wait until they were at least 12.
But, as far as slaves were concerned, anything went – and it usually did.
Housewives would use tiny metal penises as wind chimes (see image), well-endowed slaves would be forced to keep theirs on show at all times; and images of the fertility God Priapus weighing his own gigantic member would appear over the entrance of houses as a form of good luck. Next time you get bored and scrawl a massive dong on the wall of a public toilet, you should know that you’re simply carrying on an ancient tradition that stretches back to Roman times. And since their lives were often pretty bawdy, that made for some X-Rated tombstones.
And that’s before we even get onto the murals that filled the Public Baths, depicting all sexual couplings imaginable. That’s right: the Romans were no more high-minded about this sort of thing than you or me. For example, one is known to have read: “Put on your party hats and don’t say no to sex with pretty girls, as you won’t get a chance when you’re dead.” Wow, interesting advice, huh?
This isn’t just Livy going on a fantasy-trip, either.As with everything else in their lives, it revolved strictly round sex – and not just regular sex: weird, kinky, messy fetish sex.Take Sa tyricon, one of only two surviving Roman novels. The poet Juvenal routinely wrote about animal sex, violent rape and sodomy; while Martial churned out ‘epigrams’ along the line of: “With your giant nose and cock I bet you can with ease When you get excited Check the end for cheese.” In short, their books were like their lives: rude, sex-obsessed and very-much X-Rated.And with good reason: they were devoted almost exclusively to shagging as many people as humanly possible.Writing about these ‘festivals’ in the Augustan era, the historian Livy breathlessly described scenes of unimaginable debauchery.