5 – Pompeii Was a Hub of Prostitution
The number of erotic frescoes found in Pompeii shows that the people of the era were certainly not prudes. It was suggested that the town was the capital of prostitution in Ancient Rome and excavations of the site seem to lend credence to this notion. The Lupanar was the most famous brothel in the town. It is without question the best ‘organized’ location for prostitution within Pompeii and also happens to be among the most popular tourist sites.
The Lupanar did a roaring trade because Pompeii was a trading town. As a result, it was visited by a large number of people each day; especially merchants from other towns who were happy to unwind in the brothel after a hard day’s work. Incidentally, the Lupanar is located at the intersection of two roads near the town center and is close to Pompeii’s Forum and Stabian Baths.
The notion that the Lupanar was the only brothel in Pompeii is incorrect. It was, however, one of the few which offered an explicit reference to the services it provided. The Lupanar had ten stone beds with mattresses; customers had privacy because each bed was enclosed within its own small room. The brothel had two floors with five beds on each although the upper floor had larger rooms. For extra discretion, customers using the upper rooms could enter the Lupanar via a special entrance.
There is also evidence that Lupanar encouraged customer reviews. Customers would scratch their opinions of the brothel and the performance of the prostitutes on the walls. Archaeologists found up to 120 pieces of ‘review’ graffiti. The person in charge of the brothel was called the ‘leno’ and he purchased the girls as slaves. Most of the prostitutes came from the East, and the leno apparently paid an average of 600 sesterces per girl.
There is even evidence to show how much a customer paid at the Lupanar. The cost ranged from 2 – 16 asses; 2 asses were roughly equal to one sesterces. If you needed directions to the brothel, there were signs in the form of phalluses engraved on the road surface to tell you how to get there. Archaeologists estimate that there were up to 25 brothels in Pompeii although most of them were not as open about their services as the Lupanar.