It is guessed that phallic symbols on the streets point towards nearest brothel, to direct foreign sailors who may be heavily intoxicated and/or unable to speak the local language.
It’s no big secret that the ancient Roman empire was not always the most virtuous of places. Brothels, alcohol, and pornography have been well documented and discovered amongst the ruins of ancient Rome. Pompeii was no exception! The city frozen in time from a sudden eruption of Mt. Vesuvius contained some NSFW details that can be seen even today. Here are some “dirty” secrets of Pompeii you will see in the ancient city!
This article contains some NSFW written and photographed details from my visit to Pompeii’s archaeological site. Reader discretion is advised.
One detail from visiting Pompeii that I quickly realized, is that the content of graffiti has changed very little in the last 2,000 years. Drawings of penises and graphic language can be found the ancient city. Some were even carved into the walls, similar to drawing in wet concrete today! It was an incredibly funny insight to know that no matter who you are, where you live, or WHEN you lived, phallic graffiti has always been a human experience.
Penises can be found not only as graffiti roughly drawn and carved onto public walls, but built into the roads as well. It is guessed that the phallic symbols on the streets point towards the nearest brothel, to direct foreign sailors who may be heavily intoxicated and/or unable to speak the local language.
A penis carved into the road of Pompeii, pointing to the nearest brothel.
Be careful bringing kids to the ruins of Pompeii. In my tour group, a young boy hilariously asked about the above image, “What’s wrong with Mickey Mouse’s head?”.
In the ancient Roman empire, Prostitution was legal and did not have the stigma that it has today. Because Pompeii was a port city, sailors commonly visited the brothels to blow of some steam after a long voyage.
As many of the sailors did not speak the local language or were too intoxicated to do so, the brothels had a sort of “menu” to select from. Graphic pornography paintings decorated the buildings, and sailors were thought to point and choose an act they would like to pay for, before being shown to their room.
One of many brothel paintings with an explicit sexual act depicted in Pompeii.
The brothel rooms were small and uncomfortable, and built that way on purpose. Stone beds were meant to be uncomfortable, so that visitors would not fall asleep after their time was up, wasting the prostitutes’ time and costing the brothel money.
Paintings of sexual acts and oversized phallus’ decorate the walls of public spaces (such as bathhouses) and on everyday household objects in Pompeii. These artifacts, perfectly preserved after the eruption in 79AD, were locked away multiple times by various Popes for their explicit sexual content. Popes definitely wanted to keep the sexual secrets of Pompeii hidden. However, it is now thought that the art symbolized fertility, rather than the people of Pompeii being extremely promiscuous. Either way, the art is beautifully rendered, even if the content makes some visitors blush!
One of the more subtle pieces of art exposing the male form in Pompeii.
The souvenir kiosks just outside of the park take full advantage of the sexual history of the city. Penises cover just about everything, and the brothel paintings are carved and painted onto bowls, mugs, and even playing cards!
The brothel painting souvenirs I brought home from Pompeii: a carved bowl, and playing cards with Pompeii brothel paintings!
Pompeii is an incredible site to visit, filled with history, art, and culture frozen in time. However, be advised that many of these symbols are open and present during group and individual tours. Bring children with you at your own risk!