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Classical Studies 3400E Chapter Notes -Codex Theodosianus, Nudity, Toga

Classical Studies
Course Code
CS 3400E
Chris Piper

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1. What do the sources tell us of the lives of prostitutes? Where does
prostitution take place? What makes a prostitute? What do they wear?
[[Why might a woman become a prostitute? How do they advertise? Entice
Status Most prostitutes, especially those in brothels, were likely slaves; but some
were freedwomen, and some were certainly freeborn. Prostitution was not a crime in
antiquity; thus it was not a punishable offense. Rents from brothels in fact formed part of
the revenues of the estates of many respectable citizens (Dig.
Who were prostitutes? Justinian tells us young girls were lured into prostitution
by the promise of clothes and jewels and other presents; some may have turned to it
because of poverty. For most women it must have been a squalid existence (note again
we have little in the way of evidence for casual prostitution). Prostitutes were often
assumed to be performers and the like. We know women were actresses, performers,
musicians, even performed in the arena from literary, artistic, and epigraphic inscriptions.
Because the women and men who acted, sang, danced or performed for the delectation
and delight of the crowd put themselves on display so publicly, they were often likened to
prostitutes (who also displayed themselves and their bodies openly; thus they have given
up control over them) and were often associated with sexual promiscuity. Even tavern-
girls and bar-maids were considered quasi-prostitutes (they could not be charged with
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adultery, states the Theodosian Code 9.7.1); and the Digest states: "many women have
prostitutes under the pretext of employing them as staff in a tavern."
Clothing and Status As in ancient Greece, there was a hierarchy of prostitution,
from the richly-dressed courtesans to the lowest class of harlot who plied for hire
practically naked. It appears that whores, depending on their station, appeared in
everything from rich clothing all the way down to nothing (there is very little in the
sources to indicate that prostitutes wore the toga, as is often asserted by modern authors).
The authors speak of bright makeup and clothing, or even beautiful clothing and gold
jewelry. Some prostitutes would wear foreign head-gear, like turbans, presumably to
make themselves stand out and thus to increase a buyer’s interest. Messallina gilded her
nipples and wore a blonde wig on her nightly shifts in the brothel. Some whores would
perfume their hair as well, to add to their allure. Nudity (or very little clothing) was the
marker of the lowest whore. Seneca complained that one couldn't examine a matrona the
way one could a naked harlot, who were said to be "ready for every kind of lust." The
whores in a squalid brothel would also be naked, and sometimes even those on the street:
Juvenal describes this sort of harlot as “the whore that stands naked in a reeking
Enticing the customer The prostitute was often described as blanda, wheedling,
or taught to wheedle (docetur blanditias), she showed herself off in public, a notice was
put above the door of the cella of the brothel whore advertising her body, and she
welcomed all comers. A whore was also taught to "make all kinds of movement with her
body" to entice men.
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