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Homosexuality in ancient Rome often differs markedly from the contemporary West. Latin lacks words that would precisely translate "homosexual" and "heterosexual".[1] The primary dichotomy of ancient Roman sexuality was active/dominant/masculine and passive/submissive/feminine. Roman society was patriarchal, and the freeborn male citizen possessed political liberty (libertas) and the right to rule both himself and his household (familia). "Virtue" (virtus) was seen as an active quality through which a man (vir) defined himself. The conquest mentality and "cult of virility" shaped same-sex relations. Roman men were free to enjoy sex with other males without a perceived loss of masculinity or social status, as long as they took the dominant or penetrative role. Acceptable male partners were slaves and former slaves, prostitutes, and entertainers, whose lifestyle placed them in the nebulous social realm of infamia, excluded from the normal protections accorded to a citizen even if they were technically free. Although Roman men in general seem to have preferred youths between the ages of 12 and 20 as sexual partners, freeborn male minors were off limits at certain periods in Rome, though professional prostitutes and entertainers might remain sexually available well into adulthood.[2]

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It was expected and socially acceptable for a freeborn Roman man to want sex with both female and male partners, as long as he took the penetrative role.[14] The morality of the behavior depended on the social standing of the partner, not gender per se. Both women and young men were considered normal objects of desire, but outside marriage a man was supposed to act on his desires with only slaves, prostitutes (who were often slaves), and the infames. Gender did not determine whether a sexual partner was acceptable, as long as a man's enjoyment did not encroach on another man's integrity. It was immoral to have sex with another freeborn man's wife, his marriageable daughter, his underage son, or with the man himself; sexual use of another man's slave was subject to the owner's permission. Lack of self-control, including in managing one's sex life, indicated that a man was incapable of governing others; too much indulgence in "low sensual pleasure" threatened to erode the elite male's identity as a cultured person.[15]

Among the works of Roman literature that can be read today, those of Plautus are the earliest to survive in full to modernity, and also the first to mention homosexuality. Their use to draw conclusions about Roman customs or morals, however, is controversial because these works are all based on Greek originals. However, Craig A. Williams defends such use of the works of Plautus. He notes that the homo- and heterosexual exploitation of slaves, to which there are so many references in Plautus' works, is rarely mentioned in Greek New Comedy, and that many of the puns that make such a reference (and Plautus' oeuvre, being comic, is full of them) are only possible in Latin, and can not therefore have been mere translations from the Greek.[21]

Such a trend distinguishes Roman homoerotic art from that of the Greeks.[54] With some exceptions, Greek vase painting attributes desire and pleasure only to the active partner of homosexual encounters, the erastes, while the passive, or eromenos, seems physically unaroused and, at times, emotionally distant. It is now believed that this may be an artistic convention provoked by reluctance on the part of the Greeks to openly acknowledge that Greek males could enjoy taking on a "female" role in an erotic relationship;[57] reputation for such pleasure could have consequences to the future image of the former eromenos when he turned into an adult, and hinder his ability to participate in the socio-political life of the polis as a respectable citizen.[58] Because, among the Romans, normative homosexuality took place, not between freeborn males or social equals as among the Greeks, but between master and slave, client and prostitute or, in any case, between social superior and social inferior, Roman artists may paradoxically have felt more at ease than their Greek colleagues to portray mutual affection and desire between male couples.[56] This may also explain why anal penetration is seen more often in Roman homoerotic art than in its Greek counterpart, where non-penetrative intercourse predominates.[56]

Roman attitudes toward male nudity differ from those of the ancient Greeks, who regarded idealized portrayals of the nude male. The wearing of the toga marked a Roman man as a free citizen.[64] Negative connotations of nudity include defeat in war, since captives were stripped, and slavery, since slaves for sale were often displayed naked.[65]

Some terms, such as exoletus, specifically refer to an adult; Romans who were socially marked as "masculine" did not confine their same-sex penetration of male prostitutes or slaves to those who were "boys" under the age of 20.[77] Some older men may have at times preferred the passive role. Martial describes, for example, the case of an older man who played the passive role and let a younger slave occupy the active role.[78] An adult male's desire to be penetrated was considered a sickness (morbus); the desire to penetrate a handsome youth was thought normal.[79]

The relationship between the exoletus and his partner could begin when he was still a boy and the affair then extended into his adulthood.[101][better source needed] It is impossible to say how often this happened. For even if there was a tight bond between the couple, the general social expectation was that pederastic affairs would end once the younger partner grew facial hair. As such, when Martial celebrates in two of his epigrams (1.31 and 5.48) the relationship of his friend, the centurion Aulens Pudens, with his slave Encolpos, the poet more than once gives voice to the hope that the latter's beard come late, so that the romance between the pair may last long. Continuing the affair beyond that point could result in damage to the master's repute. Some men, however, insisted on ignoring this convention.[101][better source needed]

In the discourse of sexuality, puer ("boy") was a role as well as an age group.[110] Both puer and the feminine equivalent puella, "girl", could refer to a man's sexual partner, regardless of age.[111] As an age designation, the freeborn puer made the transition from childhood at around age 14, when he assumed the "toga of manhood", but he was 17 or 18 before he began to take part in public life.[112] A slave would never be considered a vir, a "real man"; he would be called puer, "boy", throughout his life.[113] Pueri might be "functionally interchangeable" with women as receptacles for sex,[114] but freeborn male minors were strictly off-limits.[115] To accuse a Roman man of being someone's "boy" was an insult that impugned his manhood, particularly in the political arena.[116] The aging cinaedus or an anally passive man might wish to present himself as a puer.[117]

The puer delicatus was an "exquisite" or "dainty" child-slave chosen by his master for his beauty as a "boy toy",[119] also referred to as .mw-parser-output .vanchor>:target.vanchor-textbackground-color:#b1d2ffdeliciae ("sweets" or "delights").[120] Unlike the freeborn Greek eromenos ("beloved"), who was protected by social custom, the Roman delicatus was in a physically and morally vulnerable position.[121] The "coercive and exploitative" relationship between the Roman master and the delicatus, who might be prepubescent, can be characterized as pedophilic, in contrast to Greek paiderasteia.[122]

Funeral inscriptions found in the ruins of the imperial household under Augustus and Tiberius also indicate that deliciae were kept in the palace and that some slaves, male and female, worked as beauticians for these boys.[123] One of Augustus' pueri is known by name: Sarmentus.[123]

In the erotic elegies of Tibullus, the delicatus Marathus wears lavish and expensive clothing.[127] The beauty of the delicatus was measured by Apollonian standards, especially in regard to his long hair, which was supposed to be wavy, fair, and scented with perfume.[128] The mythological type of the delicatus was represented by Ganymede, the Trojan youth abducted by Jove (Greek Zeus) to be his divine companion and cupbearer.[129] In the Satyricon, the tastelessly wealthy freedman Trimalchio says that as a child-slave he had been a puer delicatus serving both the master and, secretly, the mistress of the household.[130]

Roman law addressed the rape of a male citizen as early as the 2nd century BC,[159] when it was ruled that even a man who was "disreputable and questionable" (famosus, related to infamis, and suspiciosus) had the same right as other free men not to have his body subjected to forced sex.[160] The Lex Julia de vi publica,[161] recorded in the early 3rd century AD but probably dating from the dictatorship of Julius Caesar, defined rape as forced sex against "boy, woman, or anyone"; the rapist was subject to execution, a rare penalty in Roman law.[162] Men who had been raped were exempt from the loss of legal or social standing suffered by those who submitted their bodies to use for the pleasure of others; a male prostitute or entertainer was infamis and excluded from the legal protections extended to citizens in good standing.[163] As a matter of law, a slave could not be raped; he was considered property and not legally a person. The slave's owner, however, could prosecute the rapist for property damage.[164]

A section of the Digest by Ulpian categorizes Roman clothing on the basis of who may appropriately wear it: vestimenta virilia, "men's clothing", is defined as the attire of the paterfamilias, "head of household"; puerilia is clothing that serves no purpose other than to mark its wearer as a "child" or minor; muliebria are the garments that characterize a materfamilias; communia, those that are "common", that is, worn by either sex; and familiarica, clothing for the familia, the subordinates in a household, including the staff and slaves. A man who wore women's clothes, Ulpian notes, would risk making himself the object of scorn.[203] Female prostitutes were the only women in ancient Rome who wore the distinctively masculine toga. The wearing of the toga may signal that prostitutes were outside the normal social and legal category of "woman".[204] 041b061a72


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