Standards and Deviance: Sexual Images in the Art of Ancient Rome

Keywords: ancient Rome, sexual art, gender, moral and ethical norms, everyday life


The paper examines the social life of ancient Rome on the basis of Roman sexual art. The main focus is on fresco painting with various types of sexual intercourse depicted on it. A multifaceted comparative analysis of written and visual sources has been carried out, on the basis of which a number of important issues, related to the everyday life of the ancient Romans, are clarified. The researcher has established a moral and ethical paradigm of the ancient Roman society: social norms and stigmas. In this context, it is discovered that Roman sexuality depended directly on social stratification. Thus, Roman’s cultural ideals were determined by active elite men (vir).

A new outlook for the gender issue of Ancient Rome is also proposed. The gender was determined and regulated by the Romans visually. Thus, the gender roles and stereotypes of Roman society, which were reflected in visual stories, are clarified. It is determined that gender stereotypes in ancient Roman phallocentric culture were often defined by such concepts as male and female, power and weakness, passivity and activity. However, while examining Pompeii frescoes, we can find the relationships going beyond the traditional norms. Men and women portrayed as sexual objects challenged the traditional Roman mentality of sexual identity from the point of view of active and passive partners. As a result, the emancipation of elite Roman woman (matron), increasing of her significance not only in sexual but also in public life has been revealed. In the pictures and epigraphy, matrons get into forbidden practices (cunnilingus and fellatio) and become more active in the intercourse (on-top sex position).

The author also expands the framework of studying ancient Roman sexuality beyond elite strata. He refers to such deviant figures as effeminated men (cinaedus), rough women (tribas, fricatrix) and prostitutes of various types (fallatrix, cunnilinctor). The specificity of the images of this stratum on Roman frescoes and ceramics has been studied.

In addition, the researcher draws attention to the peculiarity of the perception of sexual images by the ancient Romans as a part of their culture. After all, this kind of art was not considered «pornographic» in the modern context and had a fairly wide range of spreading: from public to private constructions.

How to Cite
Fedchenko, Y. (2018). Standards and Deviance: Sexual Images in the Art of Ancient Rome. EMINAK: Scientific Quarterly Journal, 1(4 (24), 74-81. Retrieved from
World History and International Relations