Were Marcus Aurelius’ views on sex ancient?

By Jens Haberlein
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Were Marcus Aurelius' views ancient when it came to sex?
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The unforgettable sex orgies

Marcus Aurelius, born Marcus Catilius Severus, was a Roman emperor who ruled in the second century AD between 161 and 180. He was born in Rome in 121 as the grandson of the consul Marcus Annius Verus and was educated by him. From an early age he was interested in philosophy, especially Stoicism and Epictetus. After the death of Antoninus in 161, he comes to power. Especially in terms of sex he should be remembered until today.

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Marcus Aurelius – his brother and Roman orgies

Marcus Aurelius had a foster brother, Lucius Aurelius Verus. The latter took on the role of a lieutenant. He got his money’s worth in it, as he had more desire for pleasure than power. It is said that through him Rome relived some of Nero’s debauched scenes: Roman orgies in the cheap taverns, nocturnal street fights, lavish spectacles, games of chance and feasts.

Waren die Ansichten des Marc Aurel antik, was den Sex angeht?

Up to 6 million sesterces were spent in one day. Moreover, Marcus Aurelius’ earnestness made up for everything and covered the honor of the imperial house, which was perhaps less in danger than is claimed.

So were like orgies in ancient Rome

Ancient sexual practices are often part of the sordid anecdotes and fantasies reported about Rome. They are exacerbated by the images of the Pompeian lupans on display in the Secret Cabinet of the Archaeological Museum in Naples. Similarly, Roman orgies also excite the imagination.

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The luxury on display fascinates, while the assumed freedom from morality violates morality. The Roman orgies and their alleged excesses in the time of Marcus Aurelius thus serve to denounce the faults of our contemporary societies, like a mirror into which one looks shamefacedly. But Roman orgies are not pure inventions, and some ancient texts contain descriptions of this kind at times when Marcus Aurelius was in power.

After the orgy: the return to sanity

Waren die Ansichten des Marc Aurel antik, was den Sex angeht?Reality, however, shattered these images. Roman orgies under Marcus Aurelius were by no means self-indulgent moments in which everything was permitted. On the other hand, the ancient orgy must be brought back to its true reality, which corresponds to a modern construction and differs from what it could mean in the Roman world.

Indeed, the orgy of Marcus Aurelius is not sexual in nature, nor is a meal where food is eaten without limits. Rather, it is religious in nature. Certain ceremonies could provoke this kind of debauchery, sometimes exaggerated by their reporters, such as the Bacchanalia, a feast of sultry repute in which the participants put themselves in a trance state.

Read also: This is how Roman orgies really used to be

However, this was a religious ceremony dedicated to Bacchus, in which the excessive consumption of wine allowed osmosis with the deity.


In ancient paintings of erotic relations found in the bedrooms of Pompeii or in lupanaria(brothels), one sees that the genitals of women are split. In contrast, the bodies of Venus do not have split genitals, for the simple reason that they were not designed to arouse the desires of citizens. So they should not be penetrable.

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In ancient times, even cunnilingus did not have a good reputation: the man who practiced it was considered a “dog”… Cunnilingus is frowned upon by Marcus Aurelius as one breaks out of phallocentricity. One uses the tongue instead of the penis. This is unimaginable! Ultimately, the most “sexually” free individuals are still the slaves. Because they have no “dignity” to protect.

Luperkalia – Background

Whatever the history of Valentine’s Day may have been, in reality it served to forget the luperkalia. This was a festival whose origin was considered mythological even then. It was one of the most archaic ceremonies, which many experts agree dates back to the time of chaos, long before the founding of Rome, and was undoubtedly associated with human sacrifice.

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Officially, the festival was celebrated in the same cave (the Lupercal) where a she-wolf is said to have suckled the founders of Rome (Romulus and Remus). From this cave, the Lupercals were inaugurated by a priest who began the festival with the sacrifice of a ram in honor of Faunus (the god of nature).

Waren die Ansichten des Marc Aurel antik, was den Sex angeht?

Then, with the same knife, the priest smeared the faces of two “lupercos” or “luperci” (young men who had to undergo the ritual) with the blood of the animal. After they were cleaned, the boys had to laugh to mimic Romulus and Remus’ victory over death.

In conclusion – What became of Marcus Aurelius

The philosopher and new emperor, who converted to Stoicism, experienced a reign marked by wars, persecution of Christians, natural disasters and the “Pax Romana”. This was a period of peace that the Roman Empire was able to establish in the regions under its control. In 175 and 176, Marcus Aurelius traveled to Athens and established a council to reflect on the city.

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Concerned about public health and the recruitment of philosophical teachers, he established chairs for philosophical instruction and took measures to contain the spread of the plague. Despite his great wisdom, the emperor was not spared from wars and consolidated the Praetorian Guard. He died at Vindobona (Vienna) on March 17, 180, during a campaign on the Danube, possibly from the Antonine plague. Roman orgies therefore existed rather because of his brother.

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