The best books on love and sex in ancient Rome

The Books I Picked & Why

Roman Passions: A History of Pleasure in Imperial Rome

By Ray Laurence

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.


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

By John Clarke

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. 


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

By Mark Masterson, Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz, James Robson

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.


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The Art of Love

By Ovid, James Michie

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.


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Sexual Morality in Ancient Rome

By Rebecca Langlands

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. 


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