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Erotic Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum (NSFW!)

Ancient Rome

Erotic Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum (NSFW!)

Erotic art in Pompeii and Herculaneum is a phenomenon often omitted by textbooks about ancient history. Those famous Roman cities destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, were discovered with preserved buildings and artifacts in the 18th century. Archaeological works revealed that the cities were full erotic artifacts such as statues, frescoes, and household items decorated with sexual themes. That was such a shock for the scholars that large number of erotic artifacts from Pompeii being locked away from the public for nearly 200 years.

Re-opened, closed, re-opened again and then closed again for nearly 100 years, the Secret Museum, which is a part of the National Archaeological Museum, Naples now presents erotic artifacts from the excavations that for years were perceived as obscene, or at least as problematic.


What can we see in the Pompeii and Herculaneum?

A lot of phalluses

Phallus set in a small temple (carved of tuff), from Pompeii, c.1-50 AD, photographer: Kim Traynor Erotic Art Pompeii Herculaneum

Phallus set in a small temple (carved of tuff), from Pompeii, c.1-50 AD, photographer: Kim Traynor

The phalluses, as an independent phenomenon or as a body part of Pan, Priapus or a similar deity was a common image. Priapus was the god of sex and fertility and was often shown with a oversized erection.

Fresco of Priapus, son of Aphrodite and god of fertility and growth, found in a villa in Pompeii

Fresco of Priapus, son of Aphrodite and god of fertility and growth, found in a villa in Pompeii


But the phalluses might have been also treated as a ward against the evil eye, which sounds like a quite interesting concept nowadays.

Brothels

Fresco from the Pompeii brothel, photographer: Thomas Shahan Erotic Art Pompeii Herculaneum

Fresco from the Pompeii brothel, photographer: Thomas Shahan

In Pompei and Herculanum you could see a lot of big erotic frescos on the walls. They might have been the advertisements for the brothels. Brothels also had many erotic paintings and graffiti inside. The most interesting one was The Lupanar which had 10 rooms (cubicula, 5 per floor), a balcony, and a latrina.

Scene from the Lupanar Erotic Art Pompeii Herculaneum

Scene from the Lupanar


Prostitution was relatively inexpensive for the Roman male but it is important to note that even a low priced prostitute earned more than three times the wages of an unskilled urban labourer. However, it was unlikely a freed woman would enter the profession.

Suburban baths

Two men and a woman making love; Pompeian wall painting, from one of the Therms (baths), the south wall of the changing rooms - painted around 79 BC. Erotic Art Pompeii Herculaneum

Two men and a woman making love; Pompeian wall painting, from one of the Therms (baths), the south wall of the changing rooms – painted around 79 BC.

These pictures were found in a changing room at one side of the newly excavated Suburban Baths in the early 1990s. The function of the pictures is not yet clear: some authors say that they indicate that the services of prostitutes were available on the upper floor of the bathhouse and could perhaps be a sort of advertising, while others prefer the hypothesis that their only purpose was to decorate the walls with joyful scenes which was a popular thing in Roman culture.

Fresco from the suburban baths depicting cunnilingus Erotic Art Pompeii Herculaneum

Fresco from the suburban baths depicting cunnilingus


But there is also a one interesting explanation that they might have served as reminders of where one had left one’s clothes.

Find out more about Erotic Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum:

      

Art Historian, huge fan of Giorgione and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Founder and CEO of DailyArtMagazine.com and DailyArt mobile app. But to be honest, her greatest accomplishment is being the owner of Pimpek the Cat.

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