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Sex and Sexuality in Ancient Rome (Paperback)

Ancient History Rome P&S History Social History

By L J Trafford
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 40 black and white illustration
ISBN: 9781526786876
Published: 30th September 2021

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From Emperors and empresses, poets and prostitutes, slaves and plebs, Ancient Rome was a wealth of different experiences and expectations. None more so than around the subject of sex and sexuality. The image of Ancient Rome that has come down to us is one of sexual excess: emperors gripped by perversion partaking in pleasure with whomever and whatever they fancied during week long orgies. But how true are these tales of depravity? Was it really a sexual free for all? What were the laws surrounding sexual engagement? How did these vary according to gender and class? And what happened to those who transgressed the rules?

We invite you to climb into bed with the Romans to discover some very odd contraceptive devices, gather top tips on how to attract a partner and learn why you should avoid poets as lovers at all costs. Along the way we’ll stumble across potions and spells, emperors and their favourites and some truly eye-popping interior decor choices.

An entertaining read, well organised and covering a lot of ground in terms of the many salacious stories about individuals in ancient Rome, both famous and infamous (the latter being mostly either emperors or members of their families). The book covers issues around what is the ideal Roman man or woman, how sex was perceived to play a role in this but also how the existence of laws usually shows that people are still people and doing what they want to do.

NetGalley, Graculus .

Gossipy and salacious, this is sure to whet the appetites of any reader who has had questions or wondered about sex in Ancient Rome. The author covers a wide array of topics and doesn't shy away from any prudery. It’s all exposed, along with graphic descriptions of sex among the Romans. While much of the book focuses on men, women are not forgotten. It’s an eye opening read.

NetGalley, Janilyn Kocher

I’ve always found the idea of sex and sexuality in ancient Rome to be fascinating so this book did not disappoint.
It covered so many areas including the laws and views and was full of really interesting facts that were written in a way that made it enjoyable to read!

NetGalley, Lauren Hudspeth

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Although the title suggest we are going to learn only about sex, this book, goes more far than that. Can be read as a history book, with all what it implies. Sexuality, love, magic, women, men, social manners, deep complex ideals and ways from ancient Rome... you will learn about all those things. Now, my knowledge about ancient Rome is not huge, as my main interest have always belonged to Greeks, so if you are a classicist I'm sure you can find some things that could have been better

Since I'm not, this book was really key to have a big and easy idea of all these themes that are their selves truly complicated and required a huge research. Is not doubt that the work from L.J. Trafford is amazing, the read of this book is so easy, so captivating that you easily devour it and end up learning a lot of things that you only have clichés about
I truly recommend it to you all

NetGalley, Mariana Cevallos

The volume is written and presented in a conversational, light-hearted manner, and undoubtedly will be enjoyed by the everyday curious individual. Trafford covers a vast amount of scope in their text, analysing Romans from every walk of life - plebs and emperors alike - something often overlooked or out of balance in competing trade titles. Various sources of ancient evidence (ranging from sculptures to vases to magical papyri - fantastic!) support Trafford's witty narrative, and the volume often had me laughing out loud (personal highlights include: the image descriptions in the prelims, the whole section on contraception, and 'A Short History of Beards').

Ultimately, bravo to Trafford. I would definitely recommend this work, and thank you very much to NetGalley and Pen & Sword History for the privilege!

NetGalley, Attica Idle

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is one of the best nonfiction titles I've read so far this year. I devoured this book and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the topic. The book covered pretty much everything I could have dreamed of on the topic of sex and sexuality from the stories of famous Roman debauchery to Rome's fear of decreasing morality and yes, the book even discusses their view of same-sex relationships. It was fascinating to see how while some aspects of Roman culture may seem alien to us in the modern day, other aspects about human nature never really change.

The wealth of examples straight from Rome included in this book made the peek into Roman culture fun and taught me about people, cultural taboos and expectations I didn't know about. The style of the writing and topic breakdowns made everything easy to absorb and sucked me right in without the material ever feeling dry or too academic. And while this book is hilarious at times, it does explore the darker side of sexuality and taboos as well, including topics that could make some readers uncomfortable like rape and infant exposure.

NetGalley, Katelyn Uplinger

An interesting read not just in the sexual activities of Romans, but the lives they lead as well. There was a lot of interesting information in this book for its length, and I really appreciated how the author sprinkled in some humor in the writing — although sometimes it's like they're trying too hard. Very well-researched, attention-getting, and everything was explained in a way that wasn't clunky.

NetGalley, Kirsten Nicole Braza

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is loads of fun. If you've read Trafford's novels, or Emma Southron's books, you'll enjoy this speedy romp through the sex lives and attitudes of the Romans. From laws about adultery to attitudes to bestiality, is covers it all at a smart pace and is very entertaining. The Romans seem so modern in many ways it's always good to be reminded there were things they saw very differently to us. And who knew they thought going bald was an illness?

NetGalley, Jackie Bates

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A really great and informative book that brings light to sex and sexuality in ancient Rome! This book really sheds light on all aspects of ancient Roman sexuality from homosexuality, ideals, sexual problems and beauty standards. This book really gets down to the nitty gritty of everything sex and sex adjacent in Ancient Rome.

NetGalley, Meaghan Babin

This book gave an intriguing whistle stop tour on sex and sexuality in Rome, including its practices, laws and views.

This was a super fascinating book! Delving into topics such as the Morality Laws introduced by Augustus; the ideals of virtuous men and chaste women; the differences of law between freed people and freed born; love potions; homosexuality; prostitutes; and the all important salacious lives of the emperors.

This book was just filled with so many fascinating facts that I’ve ended up making a tonne of notes. I enjoyed learning how Romans viewed sex and sexuality, and how these changed later when Christianity was introduced and perceptions/laws shifted. Examples include how there is no Roman equivalent of the word homosexuality- you were not defined by the gender you were attracted to/having sex with, but rather by the act that you partook in. I learned the preferences for hair on both males and females (I had no clue that back then it was usual to be fully bare from the shoulders down in some cases). I also enjoyed learning and taking notice of the rather debauchery lifestyles of some of the Emperors and their wives or mistresses, and how they would implement their status to get around Morality laws.

Overall this book was such a fun and informative read. The author was also SUPER witty and it was just such a joy to read! I also loved the cover of this and it really drew me into requesting this book.

NetGalley, Lucy Langford

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I absolutely loved the tone the author chose for this book, in a way it perfectly matched its contents. There’s plenty of photos too, for those who can’t quite make it to the museum to check out the stunningly racy art the Romans left behind, behinds and all. A bunch of perverts…just like the rest of us.
All in all, a great read. I enjoyed it very much. Recommended.

NetGalley, Mia D

This is an eye-opening, free-wheeling and extremely frank account of Roman attitudes, beliefs and practices when it comes to sex, with a focus on the pre-Christian empire. The author approaches the topic without handwringing and with a wry sense of humour.

Highly readable and full of information about a culture that had very different perspectives on sex than our own.

NetGalley, Adam Windsor

I liked the straightforward approach of this book and the way it was written. Good book.

NetGalley, Norma Carroll

A quick trip through Rome, with a critical eye towards sex and sexuality. This book was an interesting look into the sexual lives of Roman men and women and the rules they lived by. It had a bit of a slow pace, but I was definitely engaged and I learned a lot of new things. For one, I was surprised to find out that there were actual morality laws in Rome. But it’s things like that that kept me invested and coming back for more.

NetGalley, Nicole Nieto

Very educational! Alot of facts I didn't know but am happy to now. The parts on women were particularly interesting.

NetGalley, Blind Bat Books Bakunzi

Some of the more salacious stories of the Roman Empire emphasize its sexual licentiousness; early scholars even blamed it in part for the empire's fall. Despite the moralizing Augustus' best efforts, a whole host of sexual behaviors were practiced by Romans across the empire. While strict gender roles were in place, there was plenty of room to play within--or outside of--those boundaries with a range of partners, particularly if you were wealthy and/or powerful.

This was quick and fairly light romp through Roman cultural history, looking at gender roles and how those constructs translated into love, marriage, sexuality, and masculinity and femininity. Of course, there is the nonconsensual sex--sex between slaves and masters, adults and children, unwilling spouses--which is troubling but unfortunately a considerable aspect of sexuality in ancient Rome. But on the whole, it's useful in exploring, at a birds' eye view, the cultural forces at work that determined dominant sexual mores if not sexual behavior.

NetGalley, Claire Grothe

About L J Trafford

L.J. Trafford studied Ancient History at the University of Reading after which she took a job as a Tour Guide in the Lake District. Moving to London in 2000 she began writing ‘The Four Emperors’ series. The series comprises four books – Palatine, Galba’s Men, Otho’s Regret and Vitellius’ Feast – which cover the dramatic fall of Nero and the chaotic year of the four emperors that followed. Palatine, published in 2015, received an Editor’s Choice Mark from the Historical Novel Society. Her first book for Pen and Sword, How to Survive in Ancient Rome was published in October 2020.

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