The Roman Orgy Was Taboo, But Not Fictional (Part 1, Introduction)

On Earth As It Is

henryk-hector-siemiradzki-roman-orgy-in-the-time-of-caesars[1]

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting the results of my preliminary research on Roman orgies. Here is the introduction to my findings.

Until the nineteenth century, the very name of the empress Messalina was a byword for promiscuity writ large.[1] Old-fashioned medical textbooks even called nymphomania “Messalina syndrome.” According to ancient authors, she had scores of extra-marital affairs. Those who refused the advances of the emperor Claudius’ wife did not survive long enough to boast about their scruples. Tradition has it that she competed with a prostitute to discover who could dispatch the most men in a single night, and that she even compelled aristocratic matrons to work in brothels. Eventually, the historian Tacitus claims that she bigamously married the consul-elect and organized a promiscuous masquerade as a coup de grace. Her husband’s armed guards broke up the proceedings. Dozens were executed, including the empress herself. Only a…

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