Sunday, March 25, 2012

Consider Antonius

Bad marketing, Roman style. Would it have killed the seller to wash the girls, do their hair up nice and put a little grease in it and on their skins? And remove all their clothes, of course. Only a fool buys a clothed slave!Image source: Vidcap from Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

The flying monkeys found an excellent article in, of all places, The Wall Stret Journal. It was advice for an up and coming political aspirant that seemed directly related to the current political campaign. The catch of course is that it's culled from a 2000 year old Roman manuscript.

There was a particular quote that interested me. Here it is:
3. Know your opponent's weaknesses—and exploit them. Quintus practically invented opposition research: "Consider Antonius, who once had his property confiscated for debt…then after he was elected as praetor, he disgraced himself by going down to the market and buying a girl to be his sex slave." A winning candidate calmly assesses his opponent and then focuses relentlessly on his weaknesses, all the while trying to distract voters from his strengths.


The reason it interested me is this: the notion that a Roman would be disgraced by purchasing a sex slave. Hell, the term sex slave itself is a bit jarring. Romans did literally consider slaves property. The term originate from the phrase "saved" the idea being that they were the survivors of battle whose lives were "saved" (i.e., they were not massacred) in exchange for a lifetime of servitude. Their lives and their bodies belonged to the Romans much as the lives and bodies of farm animals did, in fact, under Roman law, slaves were not regarded as human, but as livestock.

So of course Romans could fuck any slave they wanted to, male and female, and according to the sources I've read (The Internet) they did. They did not have sex slaves, they were ALL sex slaves, in essence, though as a practical matter the house slaves generally served as sex slaves. Some Romans probably took slaves primarily for the purpose of fucking them, but they also worked around the house when they were not being fucked.

I've seen nothing to indicate that Romans would have considered fucking a slave to be disgraceful. Now being fucked BY a slave ... if you were male, being on the receiving end ... THAT could be disgraceful. But the Romans just weren't freaked out about sex the way Christians and their weird-ass descendants (that would be, Western Civilization) are.

So, I'm taking this quote with a grain of salt. I'm no scholar in Roman history, but I've read a LOT of popular accounts of Roman slavery (some of them only semi-lurid at best) and none of them points in the same direction this one does.

Still, fun read!


Anonymous said...

Spartacus does get it right (or at least better) in other episodes. See:

Pat Powers said...

Can't argue with that ... thanks for the link! Interesting thing is, it's the same women as in the pic I posted, just naked now.

Andrew said...

When you talk about the Roman Empire, you have to remember it lasted a long time and spread over a large area - within that customs and morality changed a lot. More time passed between the assassination of Julius Caesar and the Nero burning Rome than between the assassination of Lincoln and the assassination of Kennedy, and that was only the first dynasty of Emperors. So, to say that Romans treated slaves in a certain way is an oversimplification. Laws and customs varied over time. Here's an oversimplification, anyhow. The Roman attitude to sex with slaves was a bit like ours to drinking. It was OK done in moderation, but if you did it to excess, that was considered a sign of weakness. Going to the market and buying a pretty girl for sex might be like being publicly drunk - something showing a lack of judgement in surrendering to base instincts.

Also remember that public and private morality might be very different. The Emperor Tiberius publicly castigated Cestius Gallus for being a lecherous old spendthrift, and privately accepted an invitation from him to dinner on condition that the food was served by naked girls. Of course, that story comes from Suetonious, who was the National Enquirer of Roman historians, so who knows how true it is.

Roman slaves could own money, property and even slaves of their own. They could receive gifts or payments from their owners or others, ans save money to buy their freedom. There is a very beautiful solid gold armband that survives from those days, inscribed "From the master to his slave girl." the value of the gold would have been more than enough for the girl to buy her freedom has she wanted to...

A few years back, archeologists in London found a sale contract for a slave girl. She was sold for 600 denarii (small silver coins). That was two years pay at minimum wage. Money doesn't really translate into modern terms, but the investment was similar to buying a new car. She was sold to a slave who was part of the Roman civil service. He could have probably afforded to buy his own freedom, but he has a cushy job and could afford to buy an imported French slave girl to look after his needs, so why bother? Her name translates as Lucky, and just like a new car, she came with a warranty - money back if she ran away.

For some pictures I've taken of modern slave girls, I would be honoured if you would visit my blog at

Pat Powers said...

Thanks for the interesting and informative response, Andrew. The reason I posted was that the quote from the Wall Street Journal annoyed me ... millions of people would read it, and get the idea that Romans thought fucking slaves was disgraceful, whereas they did not according to most sources I have read. I am not sure how the Roman attitudes about sex changed in the post-Christian era, or even that they did. And you're right, some historical perspective is in order here ... the four hundred years the Roman Empire lasted in the West after the birth of Christ is still twice the lifespan of our American democracy, and Rome was around for 600 years before Christ was born.