Prostitution in the ancient world
The Greek word porne, which is the root of the word pornography, means prostitute and in ancient Greece, a pederastic society, both women and young boys practiced prostitution. Greek society regulated prostitution, requiring women prostitutes to wear distinctive garb and to pay taxes for the privilege of practicing prostitution. Some women prostitutes occupied influential positions in Greek society and charged enormous sums for their services while others became legendary for their beauty and sexual prowess. There were specialized categories of prostitutes including streetwalkers, those who worked outdoors in public areas, and those who worked under bridges.
Ancient Rome allowed prostitution in the city and throughout the empire. Moral disapproval of the practice was non-existent before the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. The ruins of Pompeii depict prostitution services advertised on walls of the city. In Rome itself several large brothels were owned and operated by the government. The month of April contained several religious rites in the name of the goddess Venus, and prostitutes were involved in these events. Most prostitutes in Rome were slaves, those who entered into it of their own free will were denied their rights as Roman citizens.
In the Roman world abandoned and sometimes orphaned children were often raised to be sold into slavery as prostitutes. Some “orphanages” were little more than farms for the raising of children into prostitution, a practiced sanctioned by the Roman government. Free women found guilty of some crimes were sometimes sentenced into slavery as prostitutes. Purchasers of these slaves were often Roman citizens of high social or political standing, and their engaging in the purchase and sale of sexual slaves had little impact on public perceptions of their character and morals.
Ancient Israel was another area where prostitution flourished, as reported in the Bible and other ancient texts. Biblical references to prostitution occur in both the Old and New Testaments, though recent translations have changed considerably from the texts in Hebrew and Greek. In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, there is a story of the widowed Tamar, who attempts to trick Judah into making her pregnant by imitating a prostitute. She is described as waiting beside a road with her face covered, indicating that she is a prostitute, giving an idea of how prostitutes worked in the ancient days of the Holy Land.
In Mesoamerica both the Incan and Aztec civilizations practiced prostitution, and both separated prostitutes from the main population. In the Aztec world prostitutes were housed in buildings guarded by soldiers. They were called Houses of Women although male prostitutes were among them. Incan prostitutes were segregated and also guarded by soldiers. Access to the prostitutes in both of the civilizations was through the government, and the prostitutes were not slaves, though they could not leave their controlled environment unless they desired to quit working as prostitutes.