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Men in the Rome's time

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Romano gladiadorOur modern preoccupation with sexuality has depended on a distinction between homo- and hetero-. That gender changing operations and other less dramatic transgender behavior is blurring our neat borders should help us understand the very different Roman attitudes.

Today you can have a lesbian who was born a man and a gay male who was born a woman or a male in prison who behaves in ways that to the outside world appear homosexual, but to the prison community do not, alongside the more traditional homosexual, bisexual, and heterosexual roles.



Instead of today's gender orientation, Roman (and Greek) sexuality can be dichotomized as passive and active. The socially preferred behavior of a male was active; the passive part aligned with the female.

"The relation between the 'active' and 'passive' partner is thought of as the same kind of relation as that obtaining between social superior and social inferior.

To be a Roman male in good standing

gladiatoresWalters makes a crucial distinction between "males" and "men": "Not all males are men, and therefore impenetrable." In particular, he refers to the special nuance of the term vir, which "does not simply denote an adult male; it refers specifically to those adult males who are freeborn Roman citizens in good standing, those at the top of the Roman social hierarchy" -- those who are "sexually impenetrable penetrators"
Craig A. Williams' Bryn Mawr Classical Review of Roman Sexualities. And "... since the concepts "heterosexual" and "homosexual"


did not exist, but there does seem to be a high degree of correlation between the conduct of men identified as cinaedi and that of some men now labeled "homosexuals," though it must be appreciated that the modern term is clinical while the ancient one is emotional and even hostile, and that both have been imposed from outside."

Richard W. Hooper's Bryn Mawr Classical Review of The Priapus Poems, meant you initiated penetrating acts of sex. Whether you did this with a female or a male, slave or free, wife or prostitute, made little difference-- as long as you were not on the receiving end, so to speak. [See Catullus XVI.] Certain people were off limits, though, and among them were free youths.

gladiatorThis was a change from the Greek attitude which, again to simplify, condoned such behavior in the context of a learning environment.

The Greek education of its youth had begun as training in the arts necessary for battle.Since physical fitness was the goal, education took place in a gymnasium. Over time the education came to encompass more academic parts, but instruction in how to be a valuable member of the polis continued. Often this included having an older male take a younger (post-pubescent, but still unbearded) one under his wing -- with all that entailed.

For the Romans, who claimed to have adopted other "passive" behaviors from the Greeks,

Although later Romans sometimes asserted that homosexuality was imported from Greece, by the close of the 6th century B.C.E, Polybius reported, there was widespread acceptance of homosexuality
Lesbian and Gay Marriages

Free youths were untouchable. Since adolescents were still appealing, Roman males gratified themselves with youthful slaves. It's thought that in the baths (in many ways successors to the Greek gymnasia), freed men wore a talisman around their necks to make it clear their naked bodies were untouchable.

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