Like Greek, Roman sexual territory is a foreign domain. There is pertinent
information about Roman sexual matters in all sorts of ancient literature— legal texts,
history, poetry, and political discourse. Ancient erotic handbooks (often illustrated) have
not survived. As well, we have artistic representations and objects (vases, lamps,
mosaics) depicting sexual scenes. The visual record is far richer than the textual record.
All social classes (elite, free, freed, slave) and both genders viewed erotic objects: the
visual representations appeared at all levels of society.
Fresco painting was the technique of trapping pigments in the lime mortar before
it set, to ensure the decoration had a long life (not as long as fired pottery, which was
virtually indestructible). Thus the painter works with mortar that is still wet, rendering
would be done in small sections starting from the top of the wall. Sometimes details were
added after the mortar was dry. There are two types of problems with this type of
evidence. First, poor preservation of many paintings. Second, provenance: archeological
methods of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries meant that some erotic pictures were
destroyed outright. Others (of all topics) were cut away from the walls on which they had
been painted to be housed in museums or sold to collectors. Thus in most cases the
painting in question has been completely divorced from its context— house and room
and placement in the room. And most of our wall-paintings come from the cities of
Pompeii and Herculaneum. 2
Terminology Adams notes that there are more words in Latin for the penis than
for female genitalia (usual one is mentula); this is unsurprising.