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287. Prostitutes. Athens, 4th cent. B.C. (Alexis, fr. 18 PCG. G)

First of all, they care about making money and robbing their neighbours. Everything else has second priority. They string up traps for everyone. Once they start making money they take in new prostitutes who are getting their first start in the profession. They remodel these girls immediately, and their manners and looks remain no longer the same. Supposed one of them is small; cork is sewn into her shoes. Tall? she wears thin slippers and goes around with her head pitched towards her shoulder; that reduces her height. No hips? she puts on a bustle, and the onlookers make comments about her nice bottom. They have false breasts for them like the comic actors'; they set them on straight out and pull their dresses forwards as if with punting poles. Eyebrows too light? They paint them with lamp-black. Too dark? she smears on white lead. Skin too white? she rubs on rouge. If a part of her body is pretty, she shows it bare. Nice teeth? then she is forced to keep laughing, so present company can see the mouth she's so proud of. If she doesn't like laughing, she spends the day inside, like the meat at the butcher's, when goats' heads are on sale; she keeps a thin slip of myrtle wood propped up between her lips, so that in time she will grin, whether she wants to or not. They rebuild their bodies with these devices. Return to the


290. The senate vs. Vistilia. Rome, A.D. 19 (Tacitus, Annals 2.85. L)

In the same year the senate passed severe provisions to repress women's dissoluteness and prohibited prostitution for granddaughters, daughters, and wives of Roman knights. For Vistilia, a woman of a praetorian family, had made public, before the aediles, her practice of prostitution. This was done in keeping with a valid and venerable custom by which it is considered sufficient punishment for unchaste women to admit their shame publicly. The senate also wanted to know why Titidius Labeo, Vistilia's husband, had not carried out the punishment provided by law for his patently guilty wife. But he explained that the sixty days allowed for him to make up his mind what to do had not yet elapsed,[1] so the senate passed judgment only on Vistilia, who was relegated to the island of Seriphos. [2] Return to the


291. Justinian [3] on pimps. Rome, 6th cent. A.D. (Justinian, Novellae 14 praef.-1. Tr. S.P. Scott, rev. L)

The name and calling of pimp was so odious both to the ancient laws and to those of the Empire that many legal enactments have been published against persons committing offences of this description. We, ourselves, have already promulgated a constitution increasing the penalties against those who are guilty of such wicked deeds, and we have, in addition, supplied by other laws what our predecessors omitted, and have by no means lost sight of this matter, for we have very recently been informed of the evil consequences which such traffic has caused in this great city.

We are aware that certain people live illicitly, that they find opportunity for themselves for dishonourable wealth by cruel and hateful means. They travel around the provinces and many other places, and they deceive wretched girls promising them shoes and clothing. With these they buy them and lead them back to this most blessed city. They keep them in their homes, and give them wretched food and clothes and then hand them over to those desiring them for their pleasure. They themselves receive the shameful income earned from the bodies of the girls. They draw up agreements so that the girls will maintain this wicked and criminal occupation so long as their keepers wish. Some of the women also take sureties.

They pursue this criminal activity so much that in almost all of this regal city, as well as in the countries beyond seas; and (what is worse) houses of this kind exist in close proximity to holy places and religious establishments; and at the present time this wickedness is so prevalent that any persons who wish to withdraw these unhappy girls from the life that they are leading, and legally marry them, are not permitted to do so.

Some of these wretches are so unprincipled as to deliver over to corruption girls who have not yet reached their tenth year, and in order to ransom these unhappy beings for the purpose of contracting lawful marriage, great sums of money are exacted. Ten thousand means of effecting their ruin exist which are not susceptible of being described in words; and the resulting evil is so great, and the cruelty so widespread that, while it first was confined to the most remote parts of the capital, it now not only extends over the city itself but also over all its suburbs.

A certain person informed us in secret of this condition of affair some time ago, and recently the most excellent Praetors have been directed by us to make inquiry concerning it, which they have done, and made their reports to us, and we immediately afterwards deemed it necessary to implore the assistance of God, and purge the city quickly of this iniquity.

(1) Therefore we direct all persons to live as chastely as possible, which, with confidence in God, can alone profit the souls of men. ... We absolutely forbid any women to led by artifice, fraud, or compulsion to such debauchery; it is permitted to no one to support a prostitute or to prostitute them publicly, and to use the profits for any other business; we forbid them to undertake agreements for this and to require sureties and to do any such thing which compel the wretched women unwillingly to destroy their chastity.

Nor shall it hereafter be lawful to deceive young girls, and induce them to prostitute themselves by promising them clothing, food, and ornaments.

We strictly prohibit all these things; and, after having considered the subject carefully, we direct that any bonds which may have been executed to secure the performance of such contracts shall be of no effect; and that those who are guilty cannot recover any gifts which they may have made to the girls with whom the said contracts were made; and that they themselves shall be expelled from this most fortunate city as pestiferous persons, and destroyers of public morals, because of having reduced free women to slavery by requiring them to lead a licentious life and bringing them up for promiscuous debauchery.

Hence we decree that if anyone should hereafter remove a girl against her will, and compel her to remain with him, and, without providing her with sufficient food, to appropriate for himself the wages of her prostitution; he shall be arrested by the respectable Praetors of the People of this most blessed city, and condemned to death. We have already entrusted the Praetors of the People with the prosecution of persons guilty of pecuniary theft and robbery; and there is not much more reason for us to do so where crimes against chastity are concerned? If any owner of a house should rent it to a pimp for this purpose, and, knowing who he is, should not eject him; he shall be sentenced to pay a fine of a hundred pounds of gold, and shall risk losing his house. If anyone hereafter should draw up an agreement in writing as evidence of a contract of this kind, and receive a surety with reference the same, he is hereby notified that he will not be benefited in any way either by the obligation of the girl, or by that of her surety; for as her agreement is void in every respect, her surety will, under no circumstances, incur any liability. The guilty person shall, as we have already stated, undergo corporeal punishment, and shall be expelled far from this great city. We exhort the women of our Empire to remain chaste, and not to allow themselves to be persuaded or compelled to embrace a life of debauchery; we absolutely prohibit pimping, and when it is committed, we shall punish it. Return to the


306. A harpist. Delphi, 86 B.C. (Pleket 6. G)

An inscription honouring a Theban woman for her services to Delphi. In a succeeding paragraph, similar honours are awarded to her nephew Lycinus, who lived with her.

To the god. With good fortune. During the archonship of Habromachus, in the month Boucatios. Strategos, Cleon, Antiphilus, and Damon were serving as councillors for the first six-month period.

The city of Delphi has decreed: whereas Polygnota, daughter of Socrates, a Theban harpist having come to Delphi, at the appointed time of the Pythian games, which could not be held on account of the present war, began on that very day and gave a day's time and performed at the request of the archons and the citizens for three days, and won the highest degree of respect, deserving the praise of Apollo and of the Theban people and of our city-she is awarded a crown and 500 drachmas. With good fortune.

Voted: to commend Polygnota, daughter of Socrates, the Theban, for her piety and reverence towards the god and for her dedication to her profession; to bestow on her and on her descendants the guest-friendship of the city, the right to consult the oracle, the privileges of being heard first, of safety, of exemption from taxes, and of front seating at the games held by the city, the right of owning land and a house and all the other honours ordinarily awarded to other benefactors of the city; to invite her to the town hall to the public hearth, and provide her with a victim to sacrifice to Apollo. To the god. With good fortune. Return to the top


1. By the lex Iulia de adulteriis. Cf. nos. 120, 125, 127. (back)

2. A deserted island in the Cyclades used for the purpose. (back)

3. On Justinian, see p. 98. (back)