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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN. Sexuality in the Roman Empire

Amy Richlin

Subject Roman History » Roman Empire

Key-Topics sex, sexualities, slavery, sources

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631226444.2006.00022.x


The Roman Empire: vast in space, long in time. How can we imagine something as elusive as sexuality over that wide expanse? Since the 1970s, classical scholars have been thinking about sexuality in the ancient Mediterranean, but most have focused on Greeks from Athens and Romans from Rome. Thanks to the interest taken in the subject by Michel Foucault in his last work, discussion has often revolved around questions Foucault found important, especially pederasty and sexual identity ( Foucault 1988 ; for overviews, see Edwards 1993 ; Larmour et al. 1998 ; Skinner 1996 ). But in order to get an idea of sexuality as a whole in the Roman Empire as a whole, we need to dolly back. Let me propose a thought experiment: the Kinsey II Expedition to the Roman Empire. Afire with the possibilities opened up by the invention of a reliable time machine, Kinsey II and his crew of Lab-coated assistants have grabbed their clipboards and questionnaires and are about to set out on an immense project. They will fan out to all parts of the Roman Empire, starting in the year 14 ce and returning to antiquity at 70-year intervals: 84, 154, 224, 294, 364, 434. Much as they wish they could carry on to the fall of Byzantium, they have decided to take the end of the empire in the West as a stopping point. They have devised a simple questionnaire: 20 questions. Imagine their findings on an enormous grid, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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