The best books on love and sex in ancient Rome

Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by the ancient world. Some of my happiest childhood memories involve trips to Roman villas in Britain, theatres in Sicily, and museums across Europe. After studying Classics at Oxford, I completed a Masters and then a Ph.D., eager to gain as strong a grounding in the ancient world as I could before pursuing a career as an author. Ancient history has a reputation for being complicated. When I write books, I strive not to simplify the past, but rather to provide an engaging, memorable, and above all enjoyable path into it. 

I wrote...

Catullus' Bedspread: The Life of Rome's Most Erotic Poet

By Daisy Dunn,

Book cover of Catullus' Bedspread: The Life of Rome's Most Erotic Poet

What is my book about?

A vivid narrative that recreates the life of Gaius Valerius Catullus, Rome’s first “modern” poet, and follows the young man’s journey through a world filled with all the indulgences and sexual excesses of the time, from doomed love affairs to shrewd political maneuvering and backstabbing—an accessible, appealing look at one of history’s greatest poets.

Born to one of Verona’s leading families, Catullus spent most of his young adulthood in Rome, mingling with the likes of Caesar and Cicero and chronicling his life through his poetry. Famed for his lyrical and subversive voice, his poems about his friends were jocular, often obscenely funny, while those who crossed him found themselves skewered in raunchy verse, sudden objects of hilarity and ridicule. These bawdy poems were disseminated widely throughout Rome. Many of his poems recall his secret longstanding affair with the seductive ‘Lesbia’.

The books I picked & why

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Roman Passions: A History of Pleasure in Imperial Rome

By Ray Laurence,

Book cover of Roman Passions: A History of Pleasure in Imperial Rome

Why this book?

Ray Laurence begins this wonderful book with the bold view that the passions of first-century Rome were more developed than those of earlier times. Examining the connections between pleasure and power in the imperial household; the role pleasure played in art and landscape; and what really went on in the Roman baths, the resulting account is as wide-ranging as it is surprising.

Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250

By John Clarke,

Book cover of Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250

Why this book?

This book is truly a staple for the study of Roman sex through Roman art. Clarke, a professor at the University of Texas, draws attention to the kind of details in ancient paintings and everyday objects we may miss when viewing them from behind museum glass, and interprets them to cast new light upon how the Romans viewed themselves as sexual beings. The pictures are also great. 

Sex in Antiquity: Exploring Gender and Sexuality in the Ancient World

By Mark Masterson (editor), Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz (editor), James Robson (editor)

Book cover of Sex in Antiquity: Exploring Gender and Sexuality in the Ancient World

Why this book?

This volume contains essays on sexuality in all corners of the ancient world, from the Near East to Athens and Israel. But Part III is dedicated to Rome and offers a smorgasbord of discussions on everything from ‘The bisexuality of Orpheus’ to erectile dysfunction. The perfect book for dipping in and out of.

The Art of Love

By Ovid, James Michie (translator),

Book cover of The Art of Love

Why this book?

This is my ancient choice. The most notorious of Ovid’s poetry books, the Ars Amatoria, as it was known in Latin, provides an eye-popping view of what was considered permissible by certain individuals in Rome. The poet provides plenty of tips for the would-be lover, from how to get a date at the races, to how to communicate privately with someone across the dinner table. It’s a useful and readable source – even if the modern reader can find little to praise in Ovid’s outlook.

Sexual Morality in Ancient Rome

By Rebecca Langlands,

Book cover of Sexual Morality in Ancient Rome

Why this book?

We often assume that the Romans were in love with love but, actually, they could be very divided over it. Love, for some, was not only destructive, it was practically criminal. The author of this academic book looks at the ethics of love and sex in Rome and considers the surprising appeal of ‘sexual virtue’, abstention, and chastity in ancient society. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in ancient Rome, Rome, and gender roles?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about ancient Rome, Rome, and gender roles.

Ancient Rome Explore 122 books about ancient Rome
Rome Explore 204 books about Rome
Gender Roles Explore 70 books about gender roles

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like 24 Hours in Ancient Rome, Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day, and Hannibal if you like this list.