The History of Sex: Pompeii -- Wolf-Bitches and the Lamb of God -- (Chap. I, Pt. 1)

Chapter One 
Whores and Christians at Pompeii 

'The Roman rules by arms and vices.' 

Graffiti in Pompeii, 1st century AD 

Given that we get the word 'sex' from the Romans, it was apt that my questioning had begun in Italy.

I was in Naples researching another book when I realized I was near Pompeii, a place I'd dreamt of visiting but assumed I'd never get to see.

So I spent a morning tramping around the Roman ghost town on the rainiest day of the year, sheltering in ruined villas while searching for the signs of life left by their inhabitants.

Pompeii street shot, with Vesuvius in the background

But what I didn't know was that the volcanic ash had preserved one of its brothels almost perfectly intact.

Whether or not prostitution is the world's oldest profession, that meant the bordello must be the West's most ancient house of ill repute—a fact curiously overlooked by most guidebooks.

And whereas you can see countless Greco-Roman ruins throughout Europe, the only surviving whorehouse from antiquity is at Pompeii.

With a pitch like that, I decided I had to see it, trekking halfway across town and getting soaked in the process.

As the deluge sluiced through the streets—if only it had rained like this in 79 AD—I took refuge in the 'wolf-bitch's den,' a tiny building in the heart of the oldest part of town.

The lupanar
Erected during the last days of Pompeii, the lupanar had five rooms upstairs and five on the ground floor. Above each doorway, painted panels showed what went on inside the cubicles.

While I was trying to work out the logistics of a particularly elaborate coupling, a tour group entered, led by a greyheaded guide.

'This was a kind of erotic menu,' he announced in English with a Germanic twist. 'You could come in and say, "I want this or that," and it was more expensive the more complicated your tastes.'

Inside the lupanar
His American charges gawped at the sex paintings, the men seemingly having discovered a newfound appreciation for ancient art, pondering idly whether they might be able to convince their wives to do like the Romans (Y'know what they say, hon. 'When in Rome…), while the women mostly laughed off the 'perversion' (…but we're not in Rome; we're in Naples.)

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