Population Control Was No Joke in Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire

An engraving of ancient Athens based on a painting by Samuel Morse, the inventor of Morse Code. Wikimedia

2. Prostitutes were believed to be essential for population control

There is a reason that prostitution is referred to as the world’s oldest profession. Prostitutes are described in both testaments of the Bible, in the ancient texts of China and India, and in virtually all records of the ancient world. The Greek city states did not make the practice illegal, rather it was a licensed profession, regulated and taxed by the government. At the same time, the crime of rape was punishable by death, and a man who engaged in an affair with a married woman could be legally killed by the offended husband, if he had the opportunity to catch them in the act.

Prostitutes were both male and female, though their clientele was overwhelmingly male. The women engaged in the profession practiced birth control, using various herbs and other methods to prevent pregnancy, and abortion to end it. As in all aspects of life in the ancient Greek city-states, prostitutes were divided by class, and treated accordingly. An Athenian politician, Solon, was deemed the first to place prostitutes in brothels, a measure he undertook to curb both sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. The establishment of brothels in Athens was recognized as a part of Athenian democracy, and members of all social classes were welcomed to use them without fear of being labelled immoral by their fellow citizens.