When we talk today about a ‘perversion of justice’, we mean it metaphorically. It’s a way of describing how outraged we are, how unfair the trial was. In Roman times, the phrase would have been scarily literal.
According to historian Vicki Leon, both the Romans and Greeks were fans of ‘unusual’ punishment. Not all the time, but in the case of adultery – very much so. Basically, if you were Roman and someone slept with your wife, you would be legally entitled to sodomize them in return; with an audience if you so desired.
It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Despite their, well, ‘love’ of boy-love, the Romans were a deeply masculine bunch. There was literally nothing more shameful for a man to do than take the ‘feminine’ role in homosexual sex – so to sodomize someone would be the ultimate act of revenge: branding them ‘unmanly’ for life. But even within the context of Roman society, this punishment sometimes took a weird turn. Apparently, it was not-unusual for the offended party to sodomize his rival with a radish, as opposed to his own equipment. Why that might be, I’ve no idea. But next time you cheat on someone, just be glad you’re not doing so in Ancient Rome.
No article on Rome would be complete without mentioning its crazy rulers. Almost every single Emperor to rule Rome was categorically insane – to the point that it often seems like they’re trying to outdo each other in the ‘lunatic’ stakes. Nero, for example, had his favorite boy castrated and attempted to turn him into a woman. Caligula made his horse a senator, converted the palace into a brothel and pimped out his sisters; while Elagabalus spent more time cruising Rome’s red light district dressed in drag than anything else – pausing only to invent the whoopee cushion.
Now, most of what has been written about Rome’s Emperors is probably exaggerated – Tacitus and Suetonius both liked to belittle their enemies ruthlessly – but, if even ten percent of it is true, they were some messed-up people. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that your average Roman was a little crazy too.