The Acceptance of Prostitution and Child Prostitution in the Ancient Greek and Roman Empires

Last Updated: 15 Mar 2023
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The way children have been viewed has changed drastically since the days of the Roman Empire. Many children were forced into prostitution by their parents. Others were sold to slave owners because the family that the child was born into could not afford to raise them (Grille, 2005, n.p.). “In ancient Rome, child prostitution was institutionalized, and government went so far as to tax child prostitutes” (Grille, 2005, n.p.). Child prostitution was largely accepted in the Roman Empire.

“[I]n Ancient Rome, having a child prostitute was seen as, almost a fashion accessory, for the rich” and noble (Jackson, 2006, p. 44). The selling of children by their parents to slave owners to become prostitutes was common in the Roman era (Jackson, 2006, p. 44). Jackson says these children were forced to please their owners in every way possible. Child slaves performed sexual acts for their owners and they had no choice but to allow their owners to have sexual relations with them.

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“[F]amilies could sell their daughters into prostitution when families fell on hard times (Ditmore, 2006, p. 38).” Selling of a daughter’s virginity and sexuality was important because it belonged to her father and in his absence the daughter’s mother, until the daughter was married (Ditmore, 2006, p. 38). Although in today’s society a mother or father selling their daughter as a prostitute is a crime, it was an accepted practice for the Roman people. The daughter’s family had a greater income because of prostitution, which allowed it to better support them.

Children captured during wartimes were also sold into prostitution (Ditmore, 2006, p. 38). Some of these children were caught, caged, and set on display as entertainment for Roman citizens; while other were sold to slave owners for prostitution. Captured child prostitutes were sold to slave owners who then put them out on the street to attract customers and gain money (Ditmore, 2006, p. 38).

The Greeks and Romans supported having sexual relationships with young boys. This is known because there are many writings concerning child prostitution and sexual intercourse with young children.

“According to Brett Kahr, Plato and Aristotle both wrote about having anal sex with boys-- called pederasty. Plato believed that boys should be shared among many men. Aristotle advocated the sexual use of children, but, Kahr writes, may have been the first recorded writer to caution against sex between a man and his own son. Kahr goes on to say that the ancient Roman use of children was accepted and integrated into the culture. One example was the establishment of a public holiday for child prostitutes.” (qtd in Hastings, 1996, p. 22)

In my opinion, if two of greatest philosophers of the Greek and Roman era supported child prostitution then it is reasonable to think that the majority of Greek and Roman citizens agreed with Plato and Aristotle. Child prostitution was largely accepted in all parts but the world in ancient times, although the Greek and the Romans are the ones most heard about.

DeMause said that neighbors borrowed young boys for sexual favor's and that incest was common in Roman times. “That incest is also traditional in the infanticidal mode is harder to prove conclusively, since what really happened in the family bed does not often leave historical traces. Yet all the records we have suggest that this was so” (deMause, 1998). For many of the child prostitutes the abuse, as we would call it today, was a normal occurrence and had been going on for years.

“It began around age seven, continued for several years and ended by puberty, when the boy's facial and pubic hairs began to appear. Child brothels, rent-a-boy services and sex slavery flourished in every city in antiquity. Children were so subject to sexual use by the men around them that schools were by law prohibited from staying open past sundown, so their pedagogues—slaves who were assigned to protect them against random sexual attack-could try to see that their teachers didn't assault them.” (deMause, 1998)

Today, we see child prostitution as a crime but that was not the case in the Roman times. Child prostitutes were bought and sold by slave owners to make a profit (Grille, 2005, n.p.). Justin Martyr condemns sex with prostitutes with the words “the godless and infamous and impure intercourse” (ctd in Bakke, 2005, p. 122). In my opinion, the prostitution of children was a way for free Roman men to have sex with a child whether the child was willing or unwilling.

Child prostitution has been around for thousands of years. Child prostitution was going on during the Roman era, before then, and is continuing today. Unlike today, however, the acceptance of child prostitution was widely known and the majority of the Roman people wanted to have sex with child prostitutes. Child prostitution was considered normal for the Roman people (Ditmore, 2006, p. 38). Today, in my opinion, the vast majority would people would look down on the Romans for their sexual relationships with children, and while doing so is human nature today, the Romans did not view child prostitution as being wrong.

Reference List

1. Bakke, O. (2005). When children become people: the birth of childhood in early Christianity. Google Books, pp. 122. (McNeil, B. Trans.). (Original publication date not found).

2. Ditmore, M. (2006). Encyclopedia of prostitution and sex work: a-n vol 1. Google Books, pp. 38 Greenwood Press.

3. deMause, L. (1998). The history of child abuse. In The Journal of Psychohistory.

Retrieved April 16, 2013, from

4. Grille, R. (2005). Parenting for a peaceful world. New Society Publishers. Google Books.

Gabriola Island, Canada.

5. Jackson, K. (2006). Sheila chambers, pp. 44. Google Books.

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The Acceptance of Prostitution and Child Prostitution in the Ancient Greek and Roman Empires. (2023, Mar 15). Retrieved from

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