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Bad Sex in Ancient Rome

by Beth Divine 28 Apr 2019

The Romans are often depicted as clean-shaven, civilised men, marching in square blocks and straight lines to integrate and merge with primitive and pagan peoples, absorbing them and remaking them in their own image. This, as almost always, is not quite true and is certainly not the whole truth.

The Roman empire, like so many other successful empires wrote their own histories. In the case of the Romans this was quite unique as few other societies had written language, and certainly nothing as organised as Latin.

In this way, they were able to present their actions – many of which were horrific atrocities – as being sensible and reasonable methods of expanding the empire, all in the name of peace, prosperity and good health for all.

One example of this was the Rape of the Sabine women. Roman was founded in 753BC. A mere three years later, with the Sabine tribes having refused to allow their women to marry anyone from Romulus’s predominantly male followers because they feared the arising of a new strong tribe in the area, the early Romans conducted a series of raids all around the Sabine lands, abducting wives and daughters to boost their access to healthy fertile young women to propagate the tribe: thereby enacting precisely what the Sabines had feared…

The Romans used bargaining and trade to establish links with tribes, imposed their values and ways of life upon those tribes, and were not shy about using any means necessary to control them – many tribes found themselves suddenly indebted to the Romans who would make them large loans or invest into the infrastructure of an area – then enforcing repayment or essentially ‘foreclosing’ on the region in the event of non-payment… Any resistance was dealt with harshly and stringently as Roman numbers grew so fast and the troops could travel so quickly that they could quickly outnumber the small insular tribes against whom they were usually pitted.

Sex was one weapon that the Romans used. Where they could, they would take wives from the tribes, thereby essentially ‘marrying in’ and becoming acceptable. When this was not allowed, or whenever resistance was attempted, retribution often came in the form of the rape of the women, including daughters as young as ten or eleven. Men would often fall into line to prevent these abuses of their womenfolk continuing – and any pregnancies that resulted would be half-Roman offspring, a further spreading of Roman genes that was a bonus to the empire. Famously, Boudicca’s daughters were raped in an effort to get her to fall in line with Roman rule after the death of her husband. Boudicca’s spirit was not so easily beaten and she marched, instead, burning the Roman city of Chichester to the ground…