1. Education

Ancient Roman Prostitutes and Notes on Roman Prostitution

Terms for Ancient Roman Prostitutes and Brothels.
From W. C. Firebaugh

More of This Feature
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter English translation of the Satyricon

Related Resources
Roman Prostitution
Greek Prostitutes
Hetairai Courtesans
Little House in Pompeii Information on the remains of a Roman brothel.
Ludi Florales Flora was thought by Renaissance thinkers to have been a human prostitute turned goddess.
Legal Opinions on Prostitution

At the start of his translation of "The Satyricon," by Petronius, W. C. Firebaugh includes an interesting, somewhat rambling section on ancient prostitutes, the history of prostitution in ancient Rome, and the decline of ancient Rome. He discusses the loose morals of the Romans, evidenced by the historians, but especially by the poets, about Roman men bringing back to Rome standards in prostitution from the East, and about normal Roman matrons acting like prostitutes.

Ancient Roman Prostitution

From the complete and unexpurgated translation of the Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter, by W. C. Firebaugh, in which are incorporated the forgeries of Nodot and Marchena, and the readings introduced into the text by De Salas.

The following terms for Roman prostitutes and brothels are defined below:

AElicariae | Amasiae | Amatrix | Ambubiae | Amica | Blitidae | Busturiae | Casuaria | Citharistriae | Copae | Cymbalistriae | Delicatae | Diobolares | Diversorium | Doris | Famosae | Forariae | Fornix | Gallinae | Lupae | Lupanaria | Meretrix | Mimae | Noctiluae | Nonariae | Pergulae | Proseda | Prostibula | Quadrantariae | Scorta erratica | Scortum | Stabulae | Tabernae | Tugurium | Turturilla

Lupanaria -- Wolf Dens, from lupa, a wolf. The derivation, according to Lactantius, is as follows: "for she (Lupa, i. e., Acca Laurentia) was the wife of Faustulus, and because of the easy rate at which her person was held at the disposal of all, was called, among the shepherds, 'Lupa,' that is, harlot, whence also 'lupanar,' a brothel, is so called." It may be added, however, that there is some diversity of opinion upon this matter. It will be discussed more fully under the word "lupa."

Fornix -- An arch. The arcades under the theatres.

Pergulae -- Balconies, where harlots were shown.

Stabulae -- Inns, but frequently houses of prostitution.

Diversorium -- A lodging house; house of assignation.

Tugurium -- A hut. A very low den.

Turturilla -- A dove cote; frequently in male part.

Casuaria -- Road houses; almost invariably brothels.

Tabernae -- Bakery shops.

The taverns were generally regarded by the magistrates as brothels and the waitresses were so regarded by the law (Codex Theodos. lx, tit. 7, ed. Ritter; Ulpian liiii, 23, De Ritu Nupt.). The Barmaid (Copa), attributed to Virgil, proves that even the proprietress had two strings to her bow, and Horace, Sat. lib. i, v, 82, in describing his excursion to Brundisium, narrates his experience, or lack of it, with a waitress in an inn. This passage, it should be remarked, is the only one in all his works in which he is absolutely sincere in what he says of women. "Here like a triple fool I waited till midnight for a lying jade till sleep overcame me, intent on venery; in that filthy vision the dreams spot my night clothes and my belly, as I lie upon my back." In the AEserman inscription (Mommsen, Inscr. Regn. Neap. 5078, which is number 7306 in Orelli-Henzen) we have another example of the hospitality of these inns, and a dialogue between the hostess and a transient. The bill for the services of a girl amounted to 8 asses. This inscription is of great interest to the antiquary, and to the archoeologist. That bakers were not slow in organizing the grist mills is shown by a passage from Paulus Diaconus, xiii, 2: "as time went on, the owners of these turned the public corn mills into pernicious frauds. For, as the mill stones were fixed in places under ground, they set up booths on either side of these chambers and caused harlots to stand for hire in them, so that by these means they deceived very many, -- some that came for bread, others that hastened thither for the base gratification of their wantonness." From a passage in Festus, it would seem that this was first put into practice in Campania: -- "harlots were called 'aelicariae', 'spelt-mill girls, in Campania, being accustomed to ply for gain before the mills of the spelt-millers." "Common strumpets, bakers' mistresses, refuse the spelt-mill girls," says Plautus, i, ii, 54.

There are few languages which are richer in pornographic terminology than the Latin.

Meretrix -- Nomus Marcellus has pointed out the difference between this class of prostitutes and the prostibula. "This is the difference between a meretrix (harlot) and a prostibula (common strumpet): a meretrix is of a more honorable station and calling; for meretrices are so named a merendo (from earning wages) because they plied their calling only by night; prostibulu because they stand before the stabulum (stall) for gain both by day and night."

Prostibula -- She who stands in front of her cell or stall.

Proseda -- She who sits in front of her cell or stall. She who later became the Empress Theodora belonged to this class, if any credit is to be given to Procopius.

Nonariae -- She that is forbidden to appear before the ninth hour.

Mimae -- Mime players. They were almost invariably prostitutes.

Cymbalistriae -- Cymbal players. They were almost invariably prostitutes.

Ambubiae -- Singing girls. They were almost invariably prostitutes.

Citharistriae -- Harpists. They were almost invariably prostitutes.

Scortum -- A strumpet. Secrecy is implied, but the word has a broad usage.

Scorta erratica Clandestine strumpets who were street walkers. Secuteleia

Busturiae -- Tomb frequenters and hangers-on at funerals.

Copae -- Bar maids.

Delicatae -- Kept mistresses.

Famosae -- Soiled doves from respectable families.

Doris -- Harlots of great beauty. They wore no clothing.

Lupae -- She wolves. Some authorities affirm that this name was given them because of a peculiar wolflike cry they uttered, and others assert that the generic was bestowed upon then because their rapacity rivalled that of the wolf. Servius, however, in his commentary on Virgil, has assigned a much more improper and filthy reason for the name; he alludes to the manner in which the wolf who mothered Romulus and Remus licked their bodies with her tongue, and this hint is sufficient to confirm him in his belief that the lupa; were not less skilled in lingual gymnastics. See Lemaire's Virgil, vol. vi, p. 521; commentary of Servius on Aeneid, lib. viii, 631.

AElicariae -- Bakers' girls.

Noctiluae -- Night walkers.

Blitidae -- A very low class deriving their name from a cheap drink sold in the dens they frequented.

Forariae -- Country girls who frequented the roads.

Gallinae -- Thieving prostitutes, because after the manner of hens, prostitutes take anything and scatter everything.

Diobolares -- Two obol girls. So called from their price.

Amasiae, also in the diminutive -- Girls devoted to Venus. Their best expression in modern society would be the "vamps."

Amatrix -- Female lover, frequently in male part.

Amica -- Female friend, frequently a tribad.

Quadrantariae -- The lowest class of all. Their natural charms were no longer merchantable. She of whom Catullus speaks in connection with the lofty souled descendants of Remus was of this stripe.

You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.