They don't call it the "oldest profession in the world" for
nothin'. The "art of prostitution" and "the cult of the
prostitute" are two of the sacred treasures given to the Sumerian
goddess Inanna by her father Enki, the god of wisdom. Inanna took these
gifts back to Sumer, where the folks dedicated hymns to her and openly
practiced these bequests to please the gods. The first written texts
date back to 4000 BC, and there's reason to believe the practice had
its genesis much earlier.
Far too young to be engaged in such practices, several historians tell
us. Emperor Tiberius, the archetypal lecher and sadist, got his kicks
by pedophile the historian Suetonius tells us in The Twelve Caesars,
aspects of his criminal obscenity are almost too vile to discuss, much
less believe. Imagine training little boys, whom he called his "minnows,"
to chase him while he went swimming and get between his legs and lick
and nibble at him. Or letting babies not yet weaned from their mother's
breast suck at him—what a filthy old man he had become!
form of infantile prostitution became fashionable among the unsavory
upper class, until officially given the boot by Emperor Domitian in
84 AD, who declared that no child can be prostituted until the age of
Poliorcetes. Silver tetradrachm (294 - 288 BC)
In Demetrius, the great historian Plutarch writes of how Demetrius
Poliorcetes, king of Macedonia (337? - 283 BC) paid for the services
of Lamia, a beautiful Greek courtesan:
all the disreputable and flagitious acts of which he [Poliorcetes] was
guilty in this visit, one that particularly hurt the feelings of the
Athenians was that, having given command that they should forthwith
raise for his service two hundred and fifty talents, and they to comply
with his demands being forced to levy it upon the people with the utmost
rigor and severity, when they presented him with the money which they
had with such difficulty raised, as if it were a trifling sum, he ordered
it to be given to Lamia…
talent is approximately equal to 25.8 kg. of gold, which is currently
being traded at $313 a (troy) ounce. Hence, Poliorcetes shelled out
the equivalent of $64.9 million.
Spanish signora La Belle Otero (1868-1965), said by many to be the last
great courtesan, earned $25 million during her lifetime. A compulsive
gambler, she threw it all away at the casinos and died penniless. Asked
on her deathbed how she might have spent it differently she replied,
"I might have endowed a university for prostitutes. Think of the
variety of classes we might have had."
In the town of Petrapole on the border of Bangladesh the local women
and girls offer carnal pleasures for as little as 10 rupees (a measly
$0.28). Thanks to the flourishing trucking industry, 5 million drivers
regularly frequent the women while waiting to cross the frontier. "It
is common", the report notes, "for a man to buy sex every
day, sometimes several times a day" from local courtesans, averaging
about 150-200 sexual encounters a year. (The New York Times 9-22-96
Taking time off from papal declarations, absolving sin, and blessings
to handle the truly important matters, Pope Clement II (who reigned
1046-1047) issued a bull requiring anyone who had ever engaged in prostitution
to leave half of her property (50%) to the Church.
The Chinese seem to have invented the concept in the Sung Dynasty
(960-1279). "Wine houses," many of which were run by the Imperial
Board of Revenue, displayed a red light to inform the public of their
side business as brothels. "Such special wind houses," a contemporary
writer observed, "have bamboo lamps of red [silk] suspended on
their front doors; they are displayed both in dry and rainy weather,
being protected by covers of plaited bamboo leaves; for it is by those
lamps that such special wine houses can be recognized."
Though prostitution is technically illegal in Indonesia,
the government continues to run and operate the Kramat Tunggak,
a red-light district in North Jakarta. The largest in the world, the
district spans 28 acres, with more than 220 brothels populated by between
1,000 to 2,000 girls. Regular health checks are mandatory, as is the
use of condoms. Prices are said to be one of the best in the world,
a mere $15 for short time (subject to negotiation, of course). Officially,
the 27-year-old complex was built to "rehabilitate" girls;
while they ply their trade at night, by day the government provides
job training to prepare them for different vocations. The government's
aim is to encourage girls to develop a life independent of prostitution.
idea¾in theory. The recent souring
of the Asian economy, coupled by the devaluation of Indonesia's currency,
has sent prices plummeting. With the economic turmoil its not surprising
most girls find they can earn more money lying flat on their back in
a brothel than sitting in some factory.
you wish to add Kramat to your travel itinerary, you're a bit late:
officials have closed all the brothels as of the end of 1999.
Solon, a Grecian law-maker, showed his genius for public relations by
establishing the first publicly administered brothel in Athens in the
year 549 BC. Operated and inhabited by imported slaves, the bordello
simultaneously solved several problems: it provided a means of sustenance
for the lower classes, it generated tax revenues, and it created an
outlet for virile men to satisfy their lustful impulse. The measure
met with widespread approval by the (male) populace. Wrote one
young men in Athens are doing absolutely shocking things, and there's
no excuse for it. For there are very fine-looking girls available
at the brothels. And you can see them standing there outside,
breast bared in the bright sunshine, almost naked and lined up conveniently
one after another. From these anybody can pick out a favorite:
skinny or fat; curvy, lanky, or bent over; young or old; firm or
lush...These girls just about drag you in, calling the old men "Daddy,"
and the younger ones "Lover Boy." And you can have
her, cheap and without any risk, available day and evening--and
any way you want her.
design was quickly copied and instituted in other cities.
The difference between a public and temple brothel is that in the latter
men arrive not just to frolic but also to cleanse the soul, and all
income generated is handed over to the priests for temple maintenance.
And what do the women get out of it? Well, free room and board, free
meals, and, I suppose, that special pride you feel when you know you're
serving a higher purpose. The first recorded instance of such a temple
occurred in 2300 BC in Mesopotamia, and from there the practice spread
to the surrounding regions.
Along the coastline of San Francisco in the late 19th century
prostitution flourished, with thousands of women working in structures,
called "cow yards" for reasons I blush to confess are not
entirely clear to me. These were U-shaped buildings, up to four stories
high, that were partitioned into numerous cubicles that the women lived
and operated out of. The Twinkling Star Corporation in the summer of
1899 erected the largest cow yard ever seen, called the Nymphia. It
had 450 rooms, 150 of them occupied by so-called "nymphomaniacs."
Voyeurs were well accommodated; a window was cut in each door, and dropping
a coin into a mechanism could automatically raise the shade covering
it (this novel feature was phased out when the mechanisms became flooded
with cheap slugs). As is so often the case when big business muscles
in to deliver a large volume of goods at cut-rate prices, the appearance
caused most of the smaller competitors to close their doors, even the
up-scale sybaritic brothels.
day incarnations aren't quite as impressive. In Bangkok, Thailand there
exist a dozen or so major "massage parlors," facilities about
the size of a department store at the mall. Often 3-4 stories tall,
it includes cafes, bars, and other rooms in addition to the private
massage rooms on the upper floors, and employs over 100 young women
to cater to male sexual needs. The going price for "the works,"
I hear, runs about $60—just in case you want to forgo visiting your
in-laws in favor of something more exciting.
Turkish Harem, as imagined by British artist Thomas Rowlandson
Tamba of Banaras (6th century BC)—16,000
According to the Jataka, a
collection of Vedic legends dating from the arrival of Buddhism,
his royal seraglio had a population of 16,000 inmates, an almost
certainly exaggerated figure. Guarding over this bevy of women was
his chief queen, Sussondi, "a woman of surpassing beauty"
whom legend has Tamba met while playing dice.
Ghiyas-ud-Din Khilji (15th century)—15,000
Having frittered away the first 48
years of his existence as a commander in his father's army, upon
assuming the throne Ghiyas was determined to spend the remainder
of his life pursuing his two main interests: hunting and acquiring
new women. Whenever he heard of a girl possessing beauty, he never
rested till he had obtained her. The multitude of women he procured
was so vast they overflowed the spacious capacity of the opulent
Jahaz Mahal, so he built an entirely separate city to house his
Amazons. He must have been triumphant in his hedonistic pursuits,
for on his deathbed he proclaimed "I have passed in ease and
prosperity and in a state of pleasure such has been the lot of no
Mongkut of Siam (1804-1868)—9,000
His harem was so immense it encompassed
an entire city, called the Nang Harm ("Veiled Women").
Surrounded by a high wall to keep out the local goyim, the city
housed the royal princesses, wives, and concubines of the king.
It was a self-contained world: complete with judges, police, prisons,
and executioners; recreational facilities such as a gymnasium and
a theater; and the lavish royal palace, described as "brilliant
as sapphire in the sunlight." Here the women carried out their
connubial duty to produce an heir. They served admirably in the
role, for when Mongkut died he left behind 66 offspring.
Khan of the Mongols (1215-1294)—7,000
Supreme ruler of one of the largest
empires ever created, Khan was attended to by an enormous assemblage
of servants and slaves in his gloriously bedecked palace. Each of
his four empresses is said to have no less than 10,000 attendants,
including 300 picked virgins and swarms of "ladies of the bedchamber",
including eunuchs and pages. The sovereign himself disposed of between
4 to 500 subsidiary wives and concubines, replaced every two years
to keep a fresh supply for his amorous attention.
Jahangir of India (1569-1627)—6,300
The fourth Mogul emperor, he inherited
and enlarged his father's already considerable estate (see #6).
His harem included 300 royal wives and 5,000 additional damsels,
all considered the emperor's concubines. Also included were 1,000
young men, in case he grew tired of the parade of female flesh and
wanted to try alternative pleasures.
Akbar the Great of India (1542-1605)—5,000
The third Mogul emperor, Akbar acquired
an almost incalculable number of mistresses and marital partners
through a steady stream of marriage alliances with neighboring royalty,
all contracted to expand his empire. The population of his harem
soon grew immense: around 5,000 maidens, many of them older women,
but there were also young servant girls and Amazons from Russia
or Abyssinia to serve as armed guards, all relegated to the status
of slaves. Though the Koran limits the number of wives a man can
have to four, Akbar possessed over 300 wives. Ironically, he later
decreed that "it was best for ordinary men to have only one
Achyuta Deva Raya of the Vijayanagar Empire (reigned 1529-1542)—4,000
Achyuta is believed to have around
12,000 women serving him, though only 4,000 lived within the palace
and were reserved for reproductive purposes. The remaining carried
on the everyday tasks. Some served as armed guards, some wrestled
and danced, and others played trumpets, pipes, and other instruments.
And then there were the bois (bearers) who ceremoniously
carried the emperor's wives about palanquins and were gloriously
bedecked in jeweled uniforms. The sheer magnitude of femininity
around him awed visitors to his realm, who left amazed a man could
possess such an assemble of enchantresses.
Mulai Ismail of Morocco (1646-1727)—4,000
"His Majesty", wrote the
historian Ockley, "is said to lie with a Virgin every Night."
As the supreme ruler of Morocco, the merciless Mulai could well
afford to fulfill his habit, the consequences of which resulting
in an admirable feat of reproduction (see Most Offspring). His collection
was as varied and cosmopolitan as a Miss Universe roster, including
women of Spanish, Italian, Georgian, Arabic, English and lesser
known nationalities, who, under torture, had renounced Christianity.
In spite of the shabby treatment, Ismail's cruelty was actually
a source of masochistic pleasure among his women, who is said to
preserve in tiny boxes anything that came from him.
Yang Ti of the Sui Dynasty (569-618)—3,083
As emperor he enjoyed 1 empress,
2 deputy queens, 6 royal consorts, 72 royal madams, 3,000 palace
maidens, plus 2 of his late father’s concubines—a total of
3,083 beautiful women, most of them teenagers, to satisfy his carnal
appetite. Among his more novel methods of lovemaking was his "virgin
wheelchair." As soon as the unsuspecting young woman was seated,
"clamps would automatically spring up to hold her arms and
spread her legs apart, while the mechanized cushion would place
her body in the proper position to receive the royal favor."
When he traveled, he took with him a caravan of ten special chariots,
each carrying a naked beauty awaiting his attention.
Shah of the Tughluq Sultanate (reigned 1351-1388)—3,000
Not withstanding the onerous duties
of his high office, he was entirely devoted to the pleasures of
his harem and eagerly sought out new recruits. Firuz employed an
army of merchants to scour the world, purchasing women of all nationalities,
from which he made selections to fill vacancies left empty by death.
His harem became comprised of Arab, Circassian, Georgian, Turkish,
Russian, European, and Afghanis women, along with 2000 men he imported
from Asia minor and China. Afraid of infringing on Islamic Law,
he consulted some mullahs (scholars), who informed him he
could marry 300 wives. Delighted, he achieved the total in a single
day. In spite of his extraordinary excesses, he lived more than
80 years and left behind "a great number of children."
Quli Khan, Mogul Noble (16th century)—1,200
A noble during Emperor Akbar's reign,
Ismali had a penchant for riotous living and debauchery. He was
so suspicious of his harem that, whenever he went to court, he sealed
the strings attached to their night-drawers. His jealous ways ultimately
did him in: the harem women poisoned him out of frustration.
Murad III of the Ottoman Empire (1546-1595)—1,200
A renowned womanizer exceptional
even among sultans, Murad preferred to remain comfortably ensconced
in his harem while his reign deteriorated. His harem, guarded over
by some 400 eunuchs, was among the largest and prestigious in the
world, filled with the most beautiful girls available at slave markets.
Among his favorite pastimes were watching naked girls frolic as
they bathed, sometimes inventing new games for them to play. The
voyeurism must have had a stimulating effect, for he sired over
word “eunuch” is from the Greek eunouchos and Latin eunuchus,
meaning “keeper of the bedchamber,” an allusion to the eunuch’s traditional
role as a harem keeper.
process for creating a eunuch remains relatively unchanged. The
unfortunate victim was strapped spread-eagled to a table. A thin
cord was knotted tightly around his genitals, and, with a sharp razor,
the organs were amputated. The wound was then cauterized by the
application of either a red-hot poker or molten tar. The mutilated
youngster or adult was deprived of water for several days to prevent
urination, which could infect the healing region.
he was forced to drink enormous amounts of water, until the pressure
in his bladder literally punctured a hole in the layers of scar tissue,
which he will use for the rest of his life. Assuming he survived
the process—and not many did, as the fatality rate was an appalling
90 percent*—he would begin his new life as a docile slave.
you may resume your breathing.
Indeed, at Tewasheh, a Sudanese town that was one of the largest suppliers
of eunuchs in the world, over 30,000 Africans perished yearly to meet
the annual quota of 3,000.
whole concept of eunuchs is believed to originate with the ancient Chinese.
Originally, palace guards were charged with maintaining watch over the
women, but as the size of harems grew over the following centuries emperors
became increasingly worried that they may be less inclined to just merely
watch. Their solution: employ castrated men. Unlike the
later Mid-Eastern eunuchs, indigent Chinese men willingly offered
up their privates for a chance at a cushy palace job.
first civilization to deliberately select eunuchs as officers of state
was the Assyrian Empire, which dominated the Near East during the first
millennium BC. The first documented case of the employment of eunuchs
in the harem comes in Xenophon’s description of the proceedings of Cyrus
II (590? - c. 529 BC), King of Persia, when he conquered Babylon inn
539 BC. Wrote Xenophon, “…As eunuchs were not susceptible of any
family affections he thought that they would esteem most highly those
who were in the best position to make them rich and to stand by them
if ever they were wronged and to place them in offices of honor.
when castrated, lose somewhat of their high spirit and unruliness.
But they are not deprived of their strength or capacity for work...Similarly
men, when robbed of this desire, become gentler, but no less careful
of that which is entrusted to them…Recognizing these facts Cyrus selected
eunuchs for every post of personal service to him, from the porters
last of these noble civil servants died on December 17, 1996, when Chinese
eunuch Sun Yaoting passed away just short of his ninety-fourth birthday.
Like the thousands who preceded him in Chinese history, Sun had been
castrated as a boy in the hope of finding service with the Imperial
a family would arrange for one of their sons to be emasculated as a
way to escape the crushing poverty of the Chinese peasantry. Not
only was the operation risky, but the competition was fierce--towards
the end of the Ming Dynasty, in 1644, twenty thousand castrated applicants
vied for three thousand positions. Successful eunuchs were employed
in a wide range of offices, from engineering, interior decorating, agriculture,
cleaning, cooking, music, warehousing, even making toilet paper or caring
for Imperial cats. Grunge work, in general, but even the lowliest eunuch
could inspire to one of the few lofty posts, which usually involved
direct contact with the Emperor.
was Sun Yaoting’s misfortune to be castrated during the same period
of the Chinese revolution. With the overthrow of
the Manchu dynasty in 1911, the role of the harem was gone by the wayside,
cutting eunuchs from the mass of the gainfully employable. When
an American journalist, Vicncent Starrett, toured Peking in the 1930s,
he interviewed and photographed thirty-three palace eunuchs ranging
in age from sixty to eighty. The surviving eunuchs were "thin,
hairless, fat-lipped and bejowled...with shrill voices and hair which
hangs down to their necks."
Circumcision, the minor surgical operation of cutting away the retractable
envelope of skin that sheathes the tip of the penis, is believed to
have originated in Africa and Egypt. There are hieroglyphics dating
to 2300 BC depicting one such operation (my scanner's on the blink,
so I'm afraid I can't show you). It's uncertain how widespread the practice
was, as mummified remains, statues, and paintings offer conflicting
evidence. But it does not appear to be universal, nor have class connotations:
some pharaohs were, others were not.
intriguing question is why it began in the first place. Some modern
scholars argue it was because of hygiene--clothing was loose and scanty,
they say, and grit would find its way under the foreskin and cause irritation
and damage. This theory has a certain novelty to it, but wouldn't it
have been a lot simpler to wear tight-fitting clothing before taking
up the knife? The more believable explanation is that it is exactly
what it seems to be, a fertility rite. The operation was not performed
until just before adolescence, and all of the early societies that practiced
the surgery would offer the excised skin to a fertility deity and be
What--you thought only males could be circumcised? As a ritual
it is believed to have originated c. 2000 BC, though where is a matter
of dispute. It was practiced by many ancient societies, including Egyptians,
Malayans, Africans, and virtually all Semitic peoples. In the practicing
cultures, a girl was circumcised in preparation for her first coitus,
the rite carried out by a priest, male relative, or, more commonly,
an elder woman. The severity of the ritual varied: in some cultures,
it only involved a minor nicking of the clitoris, in others it could
mean its complete removal, along with the inner and outer labia minora.
circumcision also has one quality unlike its male counterpart--it's
barbaric. The adolescent girls would be held down by men as they screamed
and struggled franticly, making the outcome of the operation haphazard
and not infrequently fatal. Medical complications include hemorrhages,
infections, urinary complications, labial adherences, clitoridal cysts,
and accidental injuries to the surrounding organs. But worse is the
psychosexual damage, as survivors discover their sexual response impaired
if not completely eliminated.