The Roman Festival Where Prostitutes Offered Sexual Favors

December 15, 2016

rome spring prostitute festival

In ancient times there was a time in spring when prostitutes were hailed as goddesses and a festival was made around sex and wine. While this sounds like a plot from some B-movie, the concept takes a different meaning when we find out that sex was one of the ways people would worship their god. If this tradition would have remained to this day, we’d have at least one calendar day devoted to going out to the street naked and having sex with the first person we encountered.

rome spring prostitute festival 1

This sex tradition started in ancient Greece. To honor Dionysus, the people would get together to drink wine and have huge orgies. An example of these Greek bacchanals can be seen at the end of the film Perfume, when the people are so hypnotized by the protagonist’s perfect scent that they feel a desperate need to be with each other.

The sexual-divine rite was then passed on to the Romans under the name Floralia, a reference to Flora the goddess of spring. This day symbolized the restart of the cycle of life, which came with a cheerful spirit free of judgment. It was full of dancing, drinking, and flowers. The one out-of-place element, if we consider how rampant casual sex was in ancient times, was that the main participants were "public women," that is, prostitutes.

rome spring prostitute festival 2

The festival was comprised of two types of games. The first part revolved around theatrical and mime representations within an environment of praise and raunchy humor. The actresses would do all sorts of dancing and interpretation that would unleash lewd attitudes the audience would identify with.

Then the circus games would begin; animals related to fertility such as rabbits and goats would be released for the people to catch. Spectators would also start sharing vegetables and plants related to fertility.

rome spring prostitute festival 3

This whole story brings the following question up: why would prostitutes be turned into goddesses for the festival? Ancient rituals of fertility believed female nakedness was a fundamental element to incite contact with nature. In Roman times, no respectable woman would agree to appear naked in public, since prostitutes were the only ones who perpetuated that tradition.

Translated by María Suárez