I wasn’t going to have a break from posting blog posts over Christmas – New Year, but I have now decided that I will. I’m just too tired not to have a break. So at some point I’m going to go bush, throw up the tent and read some books (modern-style). I could really use the break right now. Still, from time to time I may post something I come across. This will be an extended period, from the time I post this update, through to the middle of January 2018. From that point I’ll get back to more regular posts.
So let me take this opportunity to wish you all a great Christmas and New Year, and enjoy the time with family and friends if you can. – now something for a parting laugh
In our series on sexual histories, authors explore changing sexual mores from antiquity to today.
Like the anxious men who began excavations at Pompeii in the 18th century and discovered more about the ancient Italians than they had bargained for – such as phallic-shaped lamps – historians of sex are regularly confronted with case studies from the past that challenge their own ethics. Those who worked the streets of Pompeii and served clients in the brothels lived hard lives, yet many of the murals that survive depict the women as erotic and exotic.
Murals from brothels and buildings that served as brothels (such as inns, lunch counters, and taverns) show fair-skinned women, naked (except for the occasional breast band), with stylised hair, in a variety of sexual positions with young, tanned, athletic men. The figures sport on beds that are sometimes ornate and festooned with decorative quilts.
In buildings identified as brothels, the murals may have been intended to arouse clients. They may also have functioned as pictorial menus or even served as instruction manuals for more inexperienced customers. In buildings identified as private residences, the scenes were most likely decorative but also designed, perhaps, for titillation.
Contrary to the idealised images, the brothels themselves provide evidence that the women worked in cells, usually only big enough for a narrow bed. The absence of windows in most attests to the darkness of the cells, as well as limited air flow.
Excavations also suggest that the cells were usually without doors, which implies that the rooms may have been curtained. They have also revealed stone beds. Wooden beds as well as pallets were likely also used, but would have perished in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.
The conditions in which the women worked were of no concern to brothel owners, clients or anyone else for that matter, as most sex workers in ancient Italy were slaves. As the ancient attitude towards slaves was one of indifference at best, and violent disdain at worst, the lives of women were no source of empathy to those outside their class.
The sex workers fulfilled a utilitarian function and nothing else. Confined to the premises by (usually) male pimps who provided them with only their most basic needs, the women were essentially cut off from the outside world. This rendered them vulnerable to the whims of both pimp and client alike.
Women who worked the streets in Pompeii often waited around archways and other standard locations such as graveyards and public baths. In larger towns and cities, where control of the sex trade was harder to manage, some of these women may have worked without pimps. Those who made up this percentage of workers were mostly freed slaves and poor freeborn women.
Stories from graffiti
The preservation of graffiti on the walls of Pompeii’s buildings also provides historians with details of the sex trade. Most of it is extremely graphic. It includes information on specific services and prices, clients’ appraisals of certain women and their abilities (or lack thereof), and some sexual advice.
Some graffiti are straight to the point:
Others are advertisements:
Euplia was here
with two thousand
Or list prices:
Euplia sucks for five dollars*
Often the names of slaves and, by default, sex workers, had Greek origins. The name “Euplia”, for example, comes from a Greek word meaning “fair voyage”. Sex workers’ names sometimes denoted the function or physical features of the individual in question. In this case, Euplia promised her clients a fair voyage.
Graffiti also attests to male sex workers in Pompeii. As with the writings concerning women, this graffiti lists specific services offered and sometimes prices. As freeborn women were not permitted to have intercourse with anyone but their husbands, the clients who accessed male sex workers were almost exclusively men. The sexual mores of ancient Rome, catered for male-to-male sexual encounters if certain protocols were maintained (a citizen could not be penetrated, for example).
The few literary records that suggest there may have been female clients of sex workers are questionable, as they were usually written for satiric or comedic purposes. Still, it would be naïve to discount instances of wealthy, freeborn women accessing male sex workers or household slaves.
Similarly, it would be naïve to assume that male clients did not seek other men with whom they could participate in acts deemed socially unacceptable (essentially acts in which the citizen male would occupy a submissive role).
Society and the sex trade
At the time of the eruption of Vesuvius, Pompeii was a town of modest size, with a population of around 11,000, and a thriving community with sophisticated architecture and infrastructure. Located in Campania, some 23 kilometres southeast of Naples, and near the port of Pozzuoli, it enjoyed robust trade and economy, and had a multicultural demographic.
The prosperity of the town and the continual presence of merchants ensured a strong market for sex. Indeed, the sex trade was integral to the successful functioning of society, particularly marriages.
As marriages, particularly those among the elite classes, were arranged and predominantly for the birth of male heirs, a husband would not seek sexual pleasures from his wife. Rather, out of respect for her, a man would pay for pleasurable sex, especially those acts that were not expected to be performed by a respectable woman.
Indeed, the graffiti attests to five different types of sex for sale: intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, active anal sex, and passive anal sex. Thus the sex trade performed a type of social and moral policing of the institution of marriage, as well as the preservation of an adult male’s reputation and masculinity. As
sex work was not illegal (being predominantly structured around slavery) but adultery was outlawed, this was another reason for paying for sex.
The layers of volcanic materials that covered Pompeii and most of its population to a depth of 25 metres left extensive evidence of the ancient Italians, their lifestyles, and their environments. Ironically, the eruption that trapped the inhabitants in both time and place has bestowed a strange immortality upon them.
These people whisper to us, and their tales are varied, joyous and sad. Their stories are sometimes shocking and even heartbreaking, but, like the lives of the sex workers, worthy of remembrance.
*Five dollars is a rough conversion of the value of ‘five asses’: the currency in the original graffiti.
Tomorrow: the sexualisation of girlhood in 19th century postcards.
We often associate virtual reality (VR) with thrilling experiences we may never be able to have in real life – such as flying a jet fighter, exploring the oceans or going on a spacewalk. But researchers are also starting to use this technology to study and open up access to archaeological sites that are difficult to get to.
An archaeological site can be inaccessible for a range of reasons. It might be in a remote location or on private property, the archaeological remains may be fragile, or it might just be difficult or dangerous to get there.
Just over an hour’s drive north from Los Angeles is the Wind Wolves Preserve. At nearly 100,000 acres, the preserve protects a wide range of endangered and threatened species in the heart of the most populous state in the US.
It also hosts two remote archaeological sites situated in the San Emigdio Hills. Pleito, one of the most elaborately painted rock-art sites in the world, and Cache Cave, with one of the most significant in-situ collections of perishable objects, including baskets, ever discovered in the American West. The oldest of the rock paintings and baskets appear to be over 2,000-years-old. However, exploring it is problematic. The paintings at Pleito, found on exfoliating sandstone, are extremely fragile. Meanwhile, the Cache Cave is a complex, narrow cave system.
Yet these sites are of great cultural importance to local Native Americans, especially the Tejon Indian Tribe. The hands of some of their ancestors painted the rock art, while other highly skilled basket makers worked for hours on making some of the world’s finest basketry. Until recently, the majority of the Tejon tribes people were unable to visit the Pleito cave site due to its inaccessibility and fragility.
Now our team of researchers from the University of Central Lancashire in the UK has created a VR model of the sites. We did this by taking images with a digital camera and performing laser scanning of the site. Using “reality capture” techniques like photogrammetry – which helps make measurements from photographs – we could then develop a VR prototype.
We tested the prototype at the offices of the Wind Wolves Preserve and the Tejon tribe, respectively, in the summer of 2017. The response was profound, with younger tribal members responding particularly well in an environment similar to “gaming”. Equally, the simulation proved effective for use by the elder members of the tribe, some of whom have mobility issues visiting the preserve and its rugged terrain.
We also tested the software at the actual site of Pleito with the Tejon Indians. Two tribal members who could not make the climb to the cave instead used the VR headset on flat ground nearby. This allowed them to experience the environment and to “be” in the landscape while still exploring the paintings. This, as far as we are aware, was the first time Native Americans have used VR in the field to reconnect with their own past.
The research provides an innovative platform for tribal members to engage with sites and practices no longer in living memory as a form of cultural restoration. Importantly, it also provides an effective way to engage young tribal members within ancestral spaces and practices.
As well as opening access to remote archaeological sites, we are now able to construct what we term an “enhanced reality” experience. Cutting edge archaeological image processing techniques such as DStretch and Reflective Transformation Imaging can be used to overlay digitally enhanced textures directly over the cave geometry. This allows people to view details of the site that are difficult to see with the naked eye.
For example, research investigating pigment recipes used within the different layers of painting on the site helped us to display the separation of the layers on the cave. It also enabled us to show the site as it would have looked through different points in time.
This really shows how VR simulations of archaeological sites can offer unique ways to experience, engage and explore scientific data.
As a visualisation tool, new opportunities are now arising to use immersive technologies like VR to conduct research. Innovative work at the Allosphere – a facility at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which helps make visual representations of data – has enabled researchers to analyse multiple data sets in ways not previously possible.
In our work in California, we are investigating how to use VR to help field research by using immersive reconstructions of previous season’s excavations to aid in new ones as we dig deeper within the cave deposits. That way, we can actually see previous layers that we have removed and better contextualise the new layers we are exposing.
The technology can also be of great use in teaching. We are sharing the models of the Californian sites with our archaeology and anthropology students, offering unique and novel opportunity to explore the rock art, handle and inspect the baskets and even use native technologies such as the bow and arrow.
VR technologies are starting to open up remote access to other sites around the world too. From the British Museums documentation of African rock art sites to the Scan Pyramids Project opening access to the iconic monuments of Giza, to an immersive interaction with Nikola Tesla and his laboratory, the application of immersive technologies are proliferating across the globe.
The most creative of these projects include scientific information to make them more than simple replications – enhanced learning environments where scientific knowledge can inform the public about the past. Excitingly, this offers entirely new ways to learn from old sites, without damaging them.
Welcome to our series on sexual histories, in which our authors explore changing sexual mores from antiquity to today.
In 1787, when Arthur Phillip was preparing to lead the First Fleet to establish the British colony in New South Wales he wrote to his superiors to sort out what powers he would have over convicts and the soldiers sent to guard them. At one point, he addressed his power of life and death. Only two offences, he thought, deserved the death penalty – murder and sodomy:
For either of these crimes I would wish to confine the criminal until an opportunity offered of delivering him to the natives of New Zealand, and let them eat him. The dread of this will operate much stronger than the fear of death.
It might not look like it, but Phillip was expressing a rather liberal point of view here. In Britain at this time, there were hundreds of offences that attracted the death penalty. In reducing his list to two he was flying in the face of all common sense. But it is striking that sodomy is on his little list.
While the administration took a dim view of same-sex desire, sex between men and between women flourished in Australia’s convict system – and thanks to the watchful eye of the colonial government, we know much about it.
Crime and punishment
Phillip’s views on sodomy were not an unreasonable position at the time. The Christian Bible was very clear that men who lay with men as with women were deserving of death; and the law – which had been instituted by Henry VIII, that great defender of the nation’s morals – agreed.
As it happened, Phillip, who served as governor until 1792, never got to put his policy into practice. There were no executions for sodomy; nor was anyone shipped off to New Zealand. Watkin Tench, a First Fleeter, opined that there were few “crimes of a deep dye” in the first four years of the colony and that “murder and unnatural sins rank not hitherto in the catalogue of [the convicts’] enormities”.
The first prosecution only came in 1796 when Francis Wilkinson, a labourer, was charged with “that most horrid detestable and sodomitic crime (among Christians not to be named) called Buggery”. We don’t know his fate. The first execution for sodomy that we know of was of Alexander Brown in 1828. This execution is perhaps the first sign of a coming storm. Historian Robert French estimates that about 20 men were executed as sodomites between 1828 and 1863.
By the 1830s, the free settlers in NSW were desperate to put an end to the transportation of convicts to the colony. There were many reasons for this, but one most forcefully put was that it was undermining the moral development of the colony. In the thinking of the time, criminality, including sodomy, was seen as a physical degeneracy passed from generation to generation. So convicts were seen by very nature to be poor stock with which to colonise the country.
And the disproportion of men to women was seen as leaving the convict classes prey to the temptation of sodomy. The Chaplain of Fremantle Prison wrote in 1854,
What will ensue when we have thousands of men cooped up in the colony without wives and unable to seek them elsewhere. Evil will be the result – too humiliating for the mind to dwell upon– too revolting to name. … That moral evil of far greater magnitude, which has of old brought down the signal judgment of Heaven, will result.
Love in plain sight
But if the anxieties of the authorities had unleashed a wave of debate and discussion about the dangers of debauchery, it is important to be aware that there is another way of looking at this – recognising that sodomy was also part of the lived experience of convict men and women, and that their experience was not at all the same as that of the horrified authorities.
Where respectable colonists saw filth and moral evil, there is evidence that convict women and men experienced companionship, affection and attachment, which included sexual love. Consider this letter, written by a convict in 1846 on the eve of his being hanged:
I hope you wont forget me when I am far away and all my bones is moldered away I have not closed an eye since I lost sight of you your precious sight was always a welcome and loving charming spectacle. Dear Jack I value Death nothing but it is in leaving you my dear behind and no one to look after you … The only thing that grieves me love is when I think of the pleasant nights we have had together. I hope you wont fall in love with no other man when I am dead and I remain your True and loving affectionate Lover.
We know quite a lot about love between convicts because they were being constantly monitored by the authorities. In 1841 there was an inquiry into a riot at the Launceston female factory (prison/workhouse) which discovered that sexual relationships between women were common – “depraved” behaviour, “unnatural connection” and the like.
One witness identified six female couples by name; others suggested there were anything from eight to 30 such couples. It was said that there were cases where a woman, sent out of the factory and into private service, would reoffend, so as to be sent back to where her lover was. When the authorities tried to break up couples, women would refuse to leave their cells, or even riot.
The medical superintendent of the Ross female factory – who habitually intercepted the women’s letters – reported on “warmth and impetuosity of the feelings excited in women towards each other, when allied in such unholy bonds”. (It is highly likely that he used the term “unholy bonds” having in mind the “holy bonds” of matrimony, suggesting that these women saw themselves as married).
An 1837 British parliamentary inquiry into the transportation system heard much evidence of the extent of debauchery among the convicts. The inquiry came to be believe there was a semi-underground subculture (a “demi-monde”) in existence.
New arrivals at the Hyde Park barracks, including younger men, put themselves selves under protection of older men – and adopted names such as Kitty, Nancy, Bett. On Norfolk Island, Robert Stuart reported as many as 150 male couples, who referred to themselves openly as “man and wife”. (Same-sex marriage is not as new as we might think).
Relationships among the convicts were of course many different things: situational – a desire for sexual outlet in the absence of the other sex – or coercive, expressing power over someone lower down the pecking order.
They may have been about the more desirable trading sex and affection for protection and advancement. All of these applied, of course, just as much to heterosexual relationships. But as with these, love between men or between women was often enough just that – love.