Lots of us have grown up with the image of Rome as a bastion of hedonism and sexuality where orgies were commonplace. Hell, even I think that’s something of a cool idea. But it turns out our society got that from both Christianity and old movies. Among them, the 1979 movie Caligula, which was actually produced by Penthouse.
In actuality, Romans were the exact opposite of the sex-loving, fun-loving, orgiastic, hedonists we often believe they were. They were actually among the most prudish societies ever, pretty much the exact opposite of orgiastic. Roman couples had sex not just at night, but in the dark, and with most of their clothes on, and the Romans seemed to have trouble even imagining an orgy, let alone in well-lit conditions or involving nudity.
While the Romans did have feasts and drunken festivals, orgies were not involved in them, and while wealthy Romans did have sex in front of slaves, those same wealthy Romans considered slaves as equal to furniture, with the exception that they can move, bring them stuff, and do stuff for them.
The only exception to the prudishness of Roman society was the festival of Saturnalia, when people were allowed to revel in all sorts of ways, but that was mainly supposed to represent the Golden Age ruled by the god Saturn, as well as being a winter solstice festival. It was also the only time of freedom when you could do whatever you wanted. After that, everything went back to the way it was.
The idea that Romans were orgiastic hedonists was made up by early Christians as a way of making Rome the bad guy (which it still kind of was), but it was also a way of appealing to the Roman culture of super-prudes. Think about it, by telling the Roman prudes that the rich were having wild, fun sex, let alone nude, well-lit, loving it, and different from everyone else, early Christians could promote their own religion by defaming the traditional Roman religion and state. And nothing could defame the traditional religion and state in the eyes of the Romans, who as we’ve established were a prudish lot, than nudity (especially well-lit), sex parties, and that someone somewhere was having sex without clothes on, let alone the idea that wealthy Romans were holding orgies.
And it’s here that one begins to realize that Abrahamism isn’t the only or the first prudish culture. Apparently, the Romans too were a prudish culture afraid of sex. Or were they afraid of sex? Because if Saturnalia implies anything, perhaps the Romans did not want to be so prudish, and subconsciously wanted to celebrate sex, and so Saturnalia was their only outlet. But this is pure speculation.
2 thoughts on “Rome was actually a bunch of prudes”
Finally a person who knows what they’re talking about. I was talking to a seventy year old co-worker of mine while watching “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” today about the Romans after a question about Julius Caesar came up. I told him they weren’t orgy loving sex fiends and he got offended. The lack of accurate information being taught throughout the years makes me wonder what other parts of history were altered to make someone seem like a bad guy?
Actually, for me, prudes are the bad guys.