The following summary of  an article entitled "Women and Eros" by Louise Zarmati in Jean-Paul Descoeudres' Pompeii Revisted (Meditarch) was summarized by Regan Murphy and Lori Neal, students enrolled in Prof. Tom Sienkewicz' Ancient Societies class at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois, in 1997. If you have any questions or comments, you may contact him at

Women and Eros

Women in Pompeii had a variety of roles in society. Upper class girls were taught to read and write by slave tutors in their homes. Some men frowned upon the education of women, but men like Pliny the Younger supported it. Women who obtained their wealth through inheritance or prostitution owned their own private houses. Some women earned money by owning and operating taverns, inns and brothels. Surprisingly, there were female doctors and midwives who were slaves. Female slaves also worked as nannies, wet-nurses and personal attendants. Lastly, a small segment of the female population served as priestesses. One of the most popular cults amongst women was the cult of the Egyptian goddess Isis. It is believed that the cult was brought to Italy by foreign women. Most of the followers of Isis were prostitutes who used the temple as a meeting place. Incidentally, brothels were usually located near the temple.

Moral values in Pompeii were set by men and especially restricted the upper-class women. These women were to be virgins when they married and could have sex only with their husbands. Adultery was a crime only for women and could result in death or divorce. Prostitution was not a criminal offence and was, rather, treated as a business like any other. There were many types of prostitutes and a lot can be inferred by the graffiti and wall paintings found in brothels. Sexual relationships between the upper-class and their slaves was not uncommon yet, if it was a rape, it was impossible to prosecute because a man had to initiate and legal action (p. 112). Not much is said about the romantic love but a woman had to be married by age 20 and remarry after the death of a spouse or be penalized. Contraception was practiced more often than abortion due to the related complications and pain of an abortion.

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