The Economy of Prostitution in the Roman World

A Study of Social History and the Brothel
Thomas A. J. McGinn
An in-depth study of the different venues for the sale of sex in the Roman world


This book is a study of the evidence for the business of female prostitution in the Roman world during the central part of Rome's history, a period extending from approximately 200 B.C. to A. D. 250. The main focus is on the economics of venal sex, meaning precisely the manner in which it was sold, a subject that extends to the ownership, operation, staffing, and location of brothels, as well as to various aspects of nonbrothel prostitution. Though the state of the evidence discourages any and all attempts at quantification, an attempt is made by the author to recover a sense of the role, the presence, and as much as is possible, the lived experience of prostitution city. Unlike most modern societies, the Roman political and legal authorities allowed the business of venal sex to proceed virtually unregulated, with a degree of tolerance that seems strange to a modern sensibility, but with consequences that emerge as sometimes equally foreign to us.

This book should appeal not only to a wide range of classicists, such as legal and social historians, archaeologists, and those interested in the status and role of women in antiquity, but also to scholars with similar specialties in other cultures and historical periods.

Thomas A. J. McGinn is Associate Professor of Classical Studies at Vanderbilt University.

Praise / Awards

  • "With special emphasis on the well-documented case of Pompeii, McGinn carefully manages a kaleidoscopic mass of literary, legal, pictorial, and material data, along with a judicious use of comparative history, to produce a powerful analysis of the places and modes of sex work in Roman society. Together with his pathbreaking study of the legal aspects of prostitution, and his general work on Roman prostitution, it is not unfair to say that McGinn will have single-handedly established the history of one of the most important moral economies in the empire--a history that has been long overdue."
    —Brent Shaw, University of Pennsylvania
  • "McGinn brings his deep knowledge of the Roman written sources and a fascinating range of comparative material to a skillful hunt for street-walkers and women in brothels, which concentrates on material evidence from Pompeii. His judicious analysis will be valuable for students of other cultures and Roman archaeologists and historians interested in commerce, slavery, 'zoning,' and the co-existing tolerance of prostitution and degradation of the prostitute."
    —Susan Treggiari, Oxford University
  • "This second installment of McGinn's prostitution trilogy is a must for historians of sexuality...The tone throughout makes for a highly readable book..."
    American Historical Review
  • "Just as his first book provided an excellent account of the legal and tax evidence concerning female prostitution in the Roman world, McGinn here offers a wealth of information about the nature and dynamics of the Pompeian brothel and how it functioned within its physical and economic setting."
    Bryn Mawr Classical Review
  • "Focusing on the material evidence for female prostitutes and prostitution, especially as found in Pompeii, this work is a social history that looks at the economics of prostitution: who was involved at all levels, where it took place ad what these economic factors say about Roman private and public attitudes toward the participants and their activities. . . . Of particular value are three catalogs of possible brothels, cribs, and prostitutes at Pompeii. Clearly written and well illustrated, this book constitutes an important contribution to Roman social and economic history."
  • "Addresses important questions in the study of Roman law ... and provides an insight into the work of scholars who rarely, if ever, publish in English. The book will be of great interest to students as well as scholars of Roman law."
    --The Classical Review

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Copyright © 2004, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 392pp.
  • 19 B&W photograph section, 5 maps.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2004
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11362-0

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  • $99.95 U.S.

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