Pornographic Pompeii wall paintings reveal the raunchy services offered in ancient Roman brothels 2,000 years ago
The sexual behaviours of ancient Italians have been exposed in wall paintings found in a renowned Pompeii brothel. The ‘Lupanar of Pompeii‘ is adorned with wall murals showing vivid sex scenes that date back centuries.
The sex house was once a hangout for wealthy businessmen and politicians before the Roman city was famously wiped out by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD.
Researchers believe the erotic paintings depicting group sex and other acts may have indicated the services offered by prostitutes.
The Lupanar of Pompeii was the centre point for the doomed city’s thriving red-light district.
The ancient Roman brothel was originally discovered in the nineteenth century. It was closed but was recently re-opened to the public in October 2006.
While the brothel is neither the most luxurious nor the most important historic building in what remains of Pompeii, it is the most frequently visited by tourists from across the world.
Prostitutes at the brothel were not exclusively women.
Men, especially young former slaves, sold themselves there too – to both men and women. The erotic lives of Pompeii’s prostitutes were recently illustrated by Western University professor, Kelly Olson. Professor Olson focuses her work on the role of women in Roman society, and the apparent open sexuality visible in the many frescos and sculptures.
The Classical Studies professor travelled to the ancient city as a featured expert on Canadian broadcaster CBC’s programme ‘The Nature of Things. Speaking of life in ancient Pompeii brothels, she said: ‘It’s not a very nice place to work.’
‘It’s very small, dank and the rooms are rather dark and uncomfortable,’ she told CBC.
‘Married men could sleep with anyone as long as they kept their hands off other men’s wives,’ she said.
‘Married women were not supposed to have sex with anyone else.’
The building is located in Pompeii’s oldest district.
The two side streets that line the brothel were once dotted with taverns and inns. Upon entering the building, visitors are met by striking murals of erotic scenes painted on the walls and ceilings.
In each of the paintings, couples engage in different sexual acts.
According to historians, the paintings weren’t merely for decoration – they were catalogues detailing the speciality of the prostitute in each room. Two thousand years ago, before the devastating volcanic eruption, prostitution was legal in the Roman city.
Slaves of both sexes, many imported from Greece and other countries under Roman rule, were the primary workforce. The Unesco World Heritage Site is of special importance because, unlike other Pompeii brothels at the time, the Lupanar of Pompeii was built exclusively for prostitution appointments, serving no alternative function.
Its walls remain scarred by inscriptions left by past customers and working girls. Researchers have managed to identify 120 carved phrases, including the names of customers and employees who died almost two thousand years ago.
Many of these inscriptions include similar phrases to that one would find in a modern-day bathroom, including men boasting of their sexual prowess.
On the top floor of the building sit five rooms, each with a balcony from which the working girls would call to potential customers on the street.
Much like in ancient Rome, researchers speculate that Pompeii prostitutes were required to legally register for a licence, pay taxes, and follow separate rules to regular Pompeii women.
For example: When out on the street, Pompeii’s working girls wore strict attire – they wore a reddish-brown coat at all times, and dyed their hair blonde. Prostitutes were separated into different classes depending on where they worked and the customers they served.
Though the historic sex site has been ‘closed for business for some time, that hasn’t stopped some raunchy holidaymakers attempting to re-christen the building. In 2014, three French holidaymakers were arrested for trespassing after breaking into the brothel ruins for a late-night sex romp.
A Frenchman and two Italian women, all aged 23 to 27, allegedly broke into the Suburban Baths to fulfil their fantasies inside a former brothel that is still decorated with centuries-old wall paintings depicting explicit sex scenes.
But authorities brought the group’s middle-of-the-night threesome to a premature end.