Religious Sex Parties
Imported from Greece, the Bacchanalia were ‘fertility festivals’ that really took hold in modern South Italy. And with good reason: they were devoted almost exclusively to shagging as many people as humanly possible.
Writing about these ‘festivals’ in the Augustan era, the historian Livy breathlessly described scenes of unimaginable debauchery. These ‘festivals’ were alleged to be a place where people met, danced themselves into ecstasy, then fell into frantic copulation with no regard for who or what they might be screwing. This isn’t just Livy going on a fantasy-trip, either. By all accounts, the authorities were so troubled by the practice that they outlawed them, with punishments of severe torture imposed on anyone who continued to practice. Remember this is Rome, at the height of its decadence – so anything they want to ban as ‘immoral’ has gotta be pretty extreme. Yet, for all the threat of torture lingered over its followers, the cult of Bacchus survived for centuries – along with its pervy, orgiastic rites.
Here we get to one of the bleaker sides of Roman culture. Reading this list of debauchery, some of you may have been wondering how the Romans managed so much sex in the days before the pill. Well, according to historian Mary Beard they simply redefined the term ‘abortion’ to a terrifying degree.
And I mean terrifying. Since we now know virtually all Roman contraception methods were useless, all the unwanted pregnancies must have gone somewhere: and that somewhere was apparently the rubbish dump. No joke: there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Roman mothers just casually tossed newborn babies away. From ancient letters advocating the practice, to clues that discarded babies may have been a major source of slaves (the popular slave name Corpeus translates as ‘found on the dung-heap’); the signs all indicate a culture totally at-home with mass infanticide. Chew on that next time someone describes our civilization as ‘violent’.