The Marriage of Roman Soldiers (13 BC-AD 235): Law and Family in the Imperial Army

By Sara Elise Phang | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER NINE
HOMOSEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS

1. Introduction

The preceding chapter’s discussion of Roman soldiers’ sexual relations with slaves and prostitutes has assumed the slaves and prostitutes to be female. Roman soldiers’ homosexual practices have rarely been considered by historians of the Roman army, who have traditionally confined their commentary to Polybius 6.37.9, assuming that the army severely punished all homosexual relations.1 More recent studies of Roman homosexuality have usually discussed Valerius Maximus’s anecdotes (6.1.10–12) concerning scandals in the army of the middle and late Republic, in which officers were accused of sexually molesting young subordinates.2 The social attitudes and policy of the imperial army have not been discussed in detail; it is often assumed that the army still harshly punished homosexual relations.3 The next section will argue that imperial Roman soldiers were permitted to have homosexual relations with male slaves and prosti

1 Polybius 6.37.9 is translated only as “Unzucht” by Mommsen (1899), 30; 703
n. 2; Fiebiger (1903), col. 1178 l. 43–5; Neumann (1965), col. 151. Sander (1960),
292–3 interprets Polybius 6.37.9 as “Päderastie.” Polybius 6.37.9 will be discussed
more fully in this chapter.

2 The only independent study of homosexuality in the Roman army is Gray-Fow
(1986), 449–460. Other works mention Val. Max. 6.1.10–12 and briefly discuss the
Roman army’s attitude: Balsdon (1979), 226; Boswell (1980), 63–64; MacMullen,
“Greek love” (1982), 484–502 at 490; Lilja (1983), 107–111; Grimal (1986), 104;
Fantham (1991), 280–2; Cantarella (1992), 105–6, 158–60; C. Williams (1992);
Richlin (1993), 523–73 indiv. refs. passim; Edwards (1993); C. Williams (1995),
517–539 at 528; Friedl (1996), 231–4; Walters (1997), 29–43, at 40–42; Wesch-
Klein (1998), 110–11; C. Williams (1999), 40, 67, 102, 192–93, 307 n. 14.

3 Grimal (1967), 104: “Soldiers guilty of this practice were in principle condemned
to death.” Jung, “Rechtsstellung” (1982), 964 on Polyb. 6.37.9: “Homosexualität als
Zeichen der Verweichlichung wurde von der Soldatengemeinschaft strikt abgelehnt.”
Lilja (1983), 129: “Roman soldiers were at all times sentenced to death for
homosexual crimes.” Friedl (1996), 233: “Obwohl homosexuelles Verhalten in den
ersten beiden Jahrhunderten n. Chr. in Rom zwar akzeptiert wurde, sofern es sich
bei dem passiven Partner nicht um einen freien Bürger handelte, und mit Sicherheit
in der Oberschicht verbreitet war, war es in der Armee verboten.” McGinn, Prostitution
(1998), 40: “Homosexual behavior among the troops was severely repressed.”

-262-

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