Carl Andrews

Erotic activities appear on the central disc of this delicate oil lamp at Ashkelon. Depictions of explicit sexual acts have been found on lamps in every major city of Roman-period Palestine—even in Jerusalem, when it was known as Aelia Capitolina.

Second- to third-century A.D. lamps like this one reveal much about Greco-Roman attitudes toward sex. Unlike their Jewish or Christian counterparts, Romans saw nothing wrong with homosexual relations or with heterosexual liaisons outside of marriage, provided that the relations comported with their hierarchy of power and status. Thus a freeborn Roman could engage in sex with a social inferior of either sex (such as a slave or a prostitute), but not with the wife of another freeborn Roman.