Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD CLASSICAL DICTIONARY ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 23 October 2018

prostitution, secular, male

Male prostitution was a common feature of ancient Greek and Roman societies, and to many ancient city-dwellers it was an unremarkable fact of social life. Male brothels, consisting of individual cabins (oikēmata: Aeschin. In Tim. 74, Diog. Laert. 2. 31, 105), were a familiar sight. Clients were chiefly male. Athens collected a tax from the earnings of both male and female prostitutes (pornikon telos: Aeschin. In Tim. 119), so male prostitution was evidently permissible, but in the case of Athenian citizens it entailed, at least by the 4th cent. bce, civic disqualification or disenfranchisement (atimia or ‘loss of honour/status’): any male who sold his body to others for sexual use disqualified himself by that very act from taking part in public life (speaking in the Assembly, serving as a magistrate, or bringing a lawsuit, for example). Prostitution on the part of citizen males at Athens during the classical period was possible, then, only if the prostitute had reached the age of majority and was his own master. Any parent or guardian who prostituted a boy still under his authority, any person who enticed an Athenian youth into prostitution by offering him money for sexual services, and anyone who acted as a procurer for an Athenian youth was considered to have ‘defrauded him of the City’ and incurred serious penalties as a consequence (including death, in the case of procurers). An indictment for prostitution (graphē hetairēseōs), however, was not a prosecution for the crime of prostitution but an action designed to indict the defendant as a prostitute, to make him a non-person in social terms, and thereby to bar him from the exercise of civic rights; any male who did exercise those rights after having been so indicted could be put to death. Since love-affairs between men and free youths conventionally involved gifts from the senior to the junior partner, the distinction between mercenary and non-mercenary relations could be blurred (Ar. Plut. 149–59), and a good-looking boy with many lovers or admirers needed to be careful about his reputation if he aspired later on to play a prominent role in public life. Many male prostitutes at Athens were therefore slaves or foreign residents. Prices varied from a mere one obol (Ath. 6. 241e) to four drachmae or more (Aeschin, In Tim. 158, Anth. Pal. 12. 239), though some writers mention fantastic sums (Lys. 3. 22–25, ps.-Aeschin. Ep. 7. 3).

The city of Heraclea in Pontus was notorious in the classical period for male prostitution (Ath. 8. 351cd). We hear from Roman sources about adult men valued for the size of their penises and sought after as prostitutes by passive men (Juv. Sat. 9). The market in classical Athens, by contrast, was for beautiful boys.


D. M. Halperin, One Hundred Years of Homosexuality (1990), 88–112, 180–90.Find this resource:

J. J. Winkler, The Constraints of Desire (1990), 45–70, 224–6.Find this resource:

C. A. Williams, Roman Homosexuality (1999,Find this resource:

2nd edn. 2010).Find this resource:

N. Fisher, Aeschines: Against Timarchos (2001).Find this resource:

Do you have feedback?