One of the best known natural disasters has given us one of the most popular tourist destinations; Pompeii. This ancient Roman city and the nearby smaller town of Herculaneum was destroyed and almost completely buried in A.D. 79 with the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius. Today tourists can walk the streets of Pompeii, (as much as scale Vesuvius), marvel at chariot wheel ruts still visible in the stone roadways of the city’s remains and be visited by the requisite chilblain when gazing upon plaster casts of bodies perfectly preserved in ash.
At the EHM we are displaying Pompeii Bathhouse Tiles that originally decorated ancient Pompeii brothel walls. These artifacts are part of the larger tapestry of Pompeiian culture that tourists visiting the city have been continually treated to. As much humbled by the site of a looming Vesuvius, visitors to the ancient site are often amazed over the erotic art sculptures, wall paintings and small statuettes found among Pompeii’s artifacts, depicting an obviously open attitude to sex the people of the city held dear.
Each of the tiles the EHM has in its exhibit reveals partners engaging in a different sexual position. Prostitution was a common profession for many women in the ancient Roman city, the work paying up to three times as much as a daily labor position and in Pompeii especially, sex services were relatively inexpensive compared to the rest of Europe. Inside the brothels, each worker would have their name presented above the door with a price.
A seemingly deep vein of erotic art and artifacts were found in Pompeii during widespread archaeological digging began in the Naples area in the 18th century. As we have seen happen all too often in the historical record, the erotic depictions of Pompeii daily life were thought too pornographic when unearthed. In fact, it was King Francis I of Naples, on visiting the Pompeii exhibit at the Naples National Archeological Museum in 1819 who ordered all the sexual artifacts put away in a “secret cabinet”; accessible only to “people of mature age and respected morals”.
Opened, closed and reopened over the ensuing decades, it was only at the beginning of the 21st century that minors were allowed entry into this cabinet, and still, they could only enter accompanied by a guardian.
The Erotic Heritage Museum regards these Roman artifacts, as well as so many other pieces in our collection, as important cultural touchstones and historical markers to a healthy sex-positive approach to life.
We are proud to display the Pompeii Bathhouse Tiles.