HISTORY – Male prostitution in ancient Greece

The Greeks also had an abundance of male prostitutes; πόρνοι pórnoi. Some of them aimed at a female clientele: the existence of gigolos is confirmed in the classical era. As such, in Aristophanes‘s Plutus (v. 960–1095) an old woman complains about having spent all her money on a young lover who is now jilting her. The vast majority of male prostitutes, however, were for a male clientèle.

Contrary to female prostitution, which covered all age groups, male prostitution was in essence restricted to adolescents. Pseudo-Lucian, in his Affairs of the Heart (25–26) expressly states:

“Thus from maidenhood to middle age, before the time when the last wrinkles of old age finally spread over her face, a woman is a pleasant armful for a man to embrace, and, even if the beauty of her prime is past, yet

“With wiser tongue Experience doth speak than can the young.” But the very man who should make attempts on a boy of twenty seems to me to be unnaturally lustful and pursuing an equivocal love. For then the limbs, being large and manly, are hard, the chins that once were soft are rough and covered with bristles, and the well-developed thighs are as it were sullied with hairs.

The period during which adolescents were judged as desirable extended from puberty until the appearance of a beard, the hairlessness of youth being an object of marked taste among the Greeks. As such, there were cases of men keeping older boys for lovers, but depilated. However, these kept boys were looked down upon, and if the matter came to the attention of the public they were deprived of citizenship rights once come to adulthood. In one of his discourses (Against Timarkhos, I, 745), Aeschines argues against one such man in court, who in his youth had been a notorious escort.

As with its female counterpart, male prostitution in Greece was not an object of scandal. Brothels for slave-boys existed openly, not only in the “red-light district” of Piraeus, the Kerameikon, or the Lycabettus, but throughout the city. The most celebrated of these young prostitutes is perhaps Phaedo of Elis. Reduced to slavery during the capture of his city, he was sent to work in a brothel until noticed by Socrates, who had his freedom bought. The young man became a follower of Socrates and gave his name to the Phaedo dialogue, which relates the last hours of Socrates. Males were not exempt from the city tax on prostitutes. The client of such a brothel did not receive reprobation from either the courts or from public opinion.

Prostitution and citizenship

The existence of male prostitution on a large scale indicates that pederasty was not restricted to a single social class. If some portions of society did not have the time or means to practice the interconnected aristocratic rituals (spectating at the gymnasium, courtship, gifting), they could all satisfy their desires with prostitutes. The boys also received the same legal protection from assault as their female counterparts.

Sexual relations with slaves does not appear to have been a widespread option; first mention of it does not occur until 390 BC. Another reason for resorting to prostitutes was sexual taboo: fellatio was considered degrading by the Greeks. In consequence, in a pederastic relationship, the erastes (adult lover) could not properly ask his future citizen eromenos (young lover) to perform this act, and had to resort to prostitutes.

As a consequence, though prostitution was legal, it was still socially shameful. It was generally the domain of slaves or, more generally, non-citizens. In Athens, for a citizen, it had significant political consequences, such as the atimia (ἀτιμία); loss of public civil rights. This is demonstrated in The Prosecution of Timarkhos: Aeschines is accused by Timarkhos; to defend himself, Aeschines accuses his accuser of having been a prostitute in his youth. Consequentially, Timarkhos is stripped of civil rights; one of these rights being the ability to file charges against someone. Conversely, prostituting an adolescent, or offering him money for favours, was strictly forbidden as it could lead to the youth’s future loss of legal status.

The Greek reasoning is explained by Aeschines (stanza 29), as he cites the dokimasia (δοκιμασία): the citizen who prostituted himself (πεπορνευμένος peporneuménos) or causes himself to be so maintained (ἡταιρηκώς hētairēkós) is deprived of making public statements because “he who has sold his own body for the pleasure of others (ἐφ’ ὕβρει eph’ hybrei) would not hesitate to sell the interests of the community as a whole”. According to Polybius (XII, 15, 1), the accusations of Timaeus against Agathocles reprise the same theme: a prostitute is someone who abdicates their own dignity for the desires of another, “a common prostitute (κοινὸν πόρνον koinòn pórnon) available to the most dissolute, a jackdaw, a buzzard  presenting his behind to whoever wants it.”


As with female prostitutes, fees varied considerably. Athenaeus (VI, 241) mentions a boy who offers his favours for one obolus; again, the mediocrity of this price calls it into some doubt. Straton of Sardis, a writer of epigrams in the 2nd century, recalls a transaction for five drachma (Palatine anthology, XII, 239). A letter of pseudo-Aeschines (VII, 3) estimates the earnings of one Melanopous at 3,000 drachma; probably through the length of his career.

The categories of male prostitution should be recouped; Aeschines, in his The Prosecution of Timarkhos (stanza 29, see above) distinguishes between the prostitute and the kept boy. He adds a little later (stanzas 51–52) that if Timarkhos had been content to stay with his first protector, his conduct would have been less reprehensible. It was not only that Timarkhos had left this man—who no longer had the funds to support him—but that he had ‘collected’ protectors; proving, according to Aeschines, that he was not a kept boy (hêtairêkôs), but a vulgar whore (peporneumenos).

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