Homosexuality in Ancient Rome

Categorising homosexuality as something exclusively practised by one group of individuals was not a concept the Romans would have understood. Their lines of what was considered acceptable behaviour were drawn from the notion of power and domination, where the Roman male psyche to ‘conquer’ shaped every part of his life, even his view on homosexual practices. For as long as he took the dominant, penetrative role, it was socially acceptable and considered natural for him to have same-sex relations. His masculinity or his social standing would not have been undermined.

A Roman male’s liberty was strongly defined by the right to preserve his body image and to keep his body from physical use by others. Therefore, to be a submissive male partner was seen as subservient and against Roman ideology.

Sex between men of equal status was not socially acceptable and was even severely punished in some circumstances, though until the Roman Empire came under the influence of Christianity there is limited evidence of court cases. Sex with young Roman boys was a crime, but with slaves, prostitutes, actors or anyone else of no social standing it was perfectly legitimate for the dominant Roman male to indulge his sexual needs and desires.

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