The sexual habits of the ancient Greeks have been some what misinterpreted over the years. This has happened because of the false influences of some religious sources and morality. People often disagree over the precise subject and readers are often then torn between two or more theories. Most controversy is because of the origin of the Greeks and the Greek alphabet, mainly in the interpretation and translation of the language - as well as the alleged homosexuality of the ancient Greek society seen on lots of artwork and artifacts.


In Ancient Greek art, there is a lot of phallus or penis worship by men. Men are generally depicted naked, including soldiers. Married or virtuous women are depicted clothed, even if illustrated in the same artwork with their naked husbands. The sexual preferences of the Greeks were often represented on  vases, dating mostly between the 6th and the 4th century B.C. Some of the illustrations leads you to wonder whether this is mere pornography or some kind of symbolism or religious-devotional character, associated with fertility that could have been hidden behind all this.


In Ancient Greece, the penis was the main symbol of fertility and they even created dildos constructed from leather and marketed them. The male idea of female sexuality was that Greek men believed that women envied their penises. Women were the guardians of citizenship. Greek men had to make sure all his wife's children were his. So to keep her away from temptation, she was locked away in the women's quarter and accompanied by a male normally a slave when she went outside. If she was caught in a 'compromising position'' with another man, he could be killed or taken to court. When the woman married she was a piece of property transferred from her father (or other male guardian) to her husband. 


In Sparta, the need for Spartan citizens was strong, but women were encouraged to bear children to a citizen who would sire well if her own husband proved inadequate. There she wasn't so much her husbands property as the state's - as were her children and her souse. Sex between husband and wife was just one of many choices available - at least to the male. There were slaves of both sexes, concubines, and 'eteras' (hetaera or hetairai), all of whom were available, if only for a small charge!

Men could also try to entice a young man just past puberty. These relationships were the ones celebrated on vases and in much of Athenian literature.


Aristophanes a comic playwright of the time, offers a very interesting explanation for why all these sexual options existed. In the beginning there were three types of double-headed humans, varying according to sex: male/male, female/female, and male/female. Zeus, angered at the humans, punished them by splitting them in half. From then on, each half has forever sought out his other half.


The father of a daughter paid another man to take the daughter off his hands in the form of a dowry. After that, the girl became the property of the husband and was usually married at the age of around 14 or 15. Spartan women waited until age 18. Spartan women, in general, had more respectability. But the rest of Greek women had low status. Women were not allowed to share in social entertainment with their husbands for instance. 


Respectable women were not to show any flesh but to keep their bodies covered, even in the art depictions of married women having sex with their own husbands, the women were clothed while their husband was naked. The wife’s sole responsibilities and duty in life was to bear the legitimate children and labour in the home. Some married women were able to escape these chores by passing them on to slaves. Women were expected to give birth to male children and female infanticide was common. In other cases, female babies were sold to brothel owners or sold into prostitution at birth. Wives constantly had to compete sexually for their own husbands with prostitutes and slaves in their own homes. There was a lot of violence against women. Some wives were very often  killed by their husbands.


A lot of women died in childbirth. In fact most young girls were taught that dying in childbirth was martyrdom. When the younger women were forced into marriage at an early age, the very young ones tended to die more frequently. Rape was common and seen by Greek men as a 'right of domination'. The Mythical God Zeus, was a master rapist and both raped and seduced many women. He raped Leda in the form of a swan. He raped Danae disguised as the rain. He raped Alkmen whilst disguised as her own husband. Zeus even raped other men, such as Ganymede.  The common man, usually hid in waiting at water wells and then raped the women when they went to collect water. 


It was also common to rape prostitutes, slaves, and even their own wives if they were not responsive. In ancient Greece, courtesans, or 'etera' were sophisticated companions, independent and sometimes influential women. The 'etera' were required to wear distinctive dresses, hired by the wealthy and the middle class to facilitate parties that were, also business meetings. These women were furthermore required to pay taxes. Unlike the woman who chose to be a wife, she travelled freely throughout the city. 


She didn't own slaves, but  hired a work force to providing entertainment at parties such as, musicians, singers, jugglers and dancers, as well as 'pornos' (prostitutes). There is evidence that, unlike most other women in Greek society at the time, the 'etera' were educated. Unlike her married counterparts, the courtesan spent most of her waking life either at the men's parties, or preparing for them. Another Greek word for prostitute usually slaves from the poorest classes, was 'earth striker' or 'chamaitype' which suggests that the prostitutes were not in beds, nor on fine couches, but had sex on the bare earth and dirt. there was a great amount of art work created depicting sexual relations with prostitutes.


There is lots of artwork of anal sex with prostitutes. Doggie-style was the favourite position in their artwork. The missionary position is nowhere to be seen since usually women are shown on their knees or bent forward or lying on their back with their legs on the man's shoulders. Another rare position is a woman seated on a reclined man because the female would be the dominating part in this case and this wouldn't be acceptable by males. Men wanted something more fancy than the ordinary way of copulation they could have with their wives.


It was a common practice to beat prostitutes if they refused to provide any particular service or refused to lower their price. Travelling or nomadic prostitutes were streetwalkers soliciting Greek men on the streets. Temple or consecrated prostitutes charged the highest prices. Anal penetration used to be very popular at the time in heterosexual relations as well and it must have been a socially acceptable way of copulation. It is not known if women enjoyed having anal sex since it generally satisfies men but they surely preferred it for reasons of contraception.


Even though male homosexuality was common in Ancient Greece, it was censored in their artwork to an extent. In paintings, the homosexual men are depicted clothed together, except for homosexual prostitutes who are depicted naked. When homosexual men wrote about their love for other men the most loved boys were usually age 12-14. Some homosexual men wouldn’t even try to have sex with a boy over the age of 17. The Cretans, described by Plutarch as renowned for their moderation and conservative ways, practiced an archaic form of pederasty in which the man enacted a ritual kidnapping of a boy of his choosing, with, of course, the consent of the boy's father.


Aristotle states that it was King Minos who established pederasty as a means of population control on the island community. Classical Greece (5th-4th century B.C.) was a culture that was highly advanced and which heavily influenced the cultures of Ancient Rome and still has an enduring effect on Western Civilization.  Much of modern politics, artistic thought, scientific thinking, literature, and philosophy derives from this ancient society. The prosperity of the Classical period led to a significant increase in the population, necessitating a means of population control. The same problem the Cretans had around 630 B.C. Aristotle claims that this was the main cause for the establishment of pederasty (a relationship and bond between an adult man and an adolescent boy outside his immediate family), as a state-sanctioned institution - an action which he attributes to King Minos.


It was a tradition for which the Cretans were famous. Endorsed by ancient Cretans as the means of population control, together with delaying the age at marriage for men to thirty years of age. This custom was highly regarded, and it was considered shameful for a youth to not acquire a male lover. Cretans are also credited with introducing the myth of Zeus kidnapping Ganymede to be his lover in Olympus — though even the king of the gods had to make amends to the father. The term pederasty derives from the combination of 'pais' (Greek for 'boy') with 'erastes' (Greek for 'lover'). The Greeks considered it normal for any man to be drawn to the beauty of an adolescent boy — just as much if not more than to that of a woman. The morality of pederasty was closely investigated in ancient Greece, some aspects being considered base and others idealised as the best that life had to offer.


In the military The Sacred Band of Thebes, a separate military unit reserved only for men and their beloved youths, is usually considered as the prime example of how the ancient Greeks used love between soldiers in a troop to boost their fighting spirit. The band was composed of 150 pairs of male lovers. It was believed then that lovers in battle would fight more fiercely and therefore more invincible than soldiers who didn’t have a bond. The Thebans attributed to the Sacred Band the power of Thebes for the generation before its fall to Philip II of Macedon, and his son Alexander. When the Athenian and Theban armies gave way to the Macedonians and fled, the Sacred Band stood their ground and died. Only a few were subdued and captured. 


Of those that died, it was found that not one had been wounded in the back a sign that they had not turned away from the fight. Alexander (later known as Alexander the Great) was so moved by their nobility and courage that he asked his father to bury them with honour and raise a monument in the form of a lion over their graves. In 1881, the shattered fragments of this Lion were discovered, surrounded by the bones of 254 pairs of men with their weapons, arranged in a phalanx of seven rows, the battle formation of the Sacred Band. the monument still stands today on their gravesite. 





 More Round the Island pages
: Beaches - Western Crete : Apokoronas : Hania Town : Kournas Lake : Aptera :
: Frangokastello : Gramvousa : Spinalonga : Monasteries
: Phaestos : Knossos:



Copyright © 2009 Only Crete