When Did Prostitution Start? History of the Oldest Profession

Prostitution is as old as humankind. Therefore, stone-age is the time when prostitution started. However, if we seek to track the beginning of the oldest craft in a sophisticated form and peek into the first brothel, Sumerian civilization around 4000 B.C. is the right time and place to explore.

Where Was the First Brothel? City of Uruk

Mesopotamia, a part of fertile crescent situated between Tigris and Euphrates rivers on the soils of today’s Iraq, is the place where the first recorded brothels emerged. Around 3200 years B.C. Sumerians came to these lands inhabited by Ubaid people and established their dominion. They lived in city-states from which Uruk, today’s Warka, was the biggest and strongest. Records dating back to 2400 B.C. describe temple-brothels across the Uruk city-stated operated by Sumerian priests.

Ancient Babylonian prostitute from the temple-brothel represented in a form of terracotta relief.
Terracotta Relief of Babylonian Temple Prostitute

What Were Temple Brothels?

Temple-brothels were places of sacred-prostitution. Herodotus, the Greek historian considered to be the father of this science, wrote of foul customs and events that took place inside these buildings.

What Happened In Temple Brothels?

In the temples of Innana, Sumerian goddess of love, every woman had a duty to at least once, engage in sexual intercourse with an unknown man. This custom wasn’t a matter of choice but rather enforcement conducted over all of the female population. Woman, regardless of her status and wealth, was obliged to go to the temple and sit inside together with other ladies while men make their choice. A man would throw a coin into a woman’s lap saying that he invites her in the name of the goddess. Regardless of the offered amount, a woman would accept an invitation as it was her sacred duty to do soo. Sexual intercourse with a stranger would take place outside the temple. After it was done, a woman was allowed to go home.

What Happened to Ugly Women?

Fair and tall women were picked quickly. They would discharge their duty towards the goddess and go back home in a matter of days. However, those less fortunate born with a higher discord with beauty standards could stay in temples for many years.

The History of Prostitution – Illustrated Edition

Who Invented Regular Brothels?

While the above described sacred sex was a form of prostitution as women received money to provide sexual pleasure in exchange, the old era was also known for brothels which had nothing to do with anything but sexual urges. Both old Greeks and Romans were well known for their hedonism and orgies.

Prostitution In Ancient Greece

In ancient Greece, prostitution was an everyday occasion. Every bigger city had a brothel. This especially applied to ports that couldn’t be imagined without prostitutes prepared to provide pleasures for sailors after long sea voyages. The popularity of the oldest profession was so high that money circulation in brothels represented a notable part of the economy. This is the reason prostitution was regulated by law. Solon, the statesman and a poet put a lot of effort into developing this economic branch during seventh and sixth century B.C. Old Greece became the first state that created brothels and regulated their prices.

Fresco of Pompeii man having sex with prostitute in a brothel.
Pompeii Brothel Fresco

What Was the Position of Prostitutes in Ancient Greece?

In the old world, besides women’s rights in Viking societies, female rights were reduced to almost nothing. Being a prostitute did not make life any easier. Both men and women of all ages worked as prostitutes. While men were allowed to freely engage in sexual intercourses with prostitutes, if they would attempt and succeed in seducing a married woman, the husband was allowed to kill them both. Pornai were prostitutes at the bottom of the social scale. They were owned by pimps and were entitled to receive a portion of their earnings.

Prostitution in the Old Rome

While they did not invent it, Romans might have been the nation that reached the highest peeks when it comes to the development of prostitution. In the Roman Empire prostitution was both legal and licensed. The nature of the customers sprawled to all classes of citizens. Even the most influential individuals were capable of visiting brothels without incurring the moral judgment of others. However, that applied only to those capable of controlling themselves during fulfilling of their urges. In old times, men were prone to violence during sexual intercourse. Being rough was one of the most usual fetishes which often included the beating of prostitutes. Sometimes, such acts would leave scars as well as other aesthetic deformations. It would mean that prostitute would be no good anymore. Law enforced restitution to owners of prostitutes, which, in most of the cases, were slaves. The same rules applied for the raping. If one was to rape a prostitute on the street, and damaged her looks, he had to pay a certain amount of money to his/her owner.

Prostitution During the Middle Ages

Despite Christianity becoming the prevalent religion during the times of middle ages, brothels were kept as a necessary evil. It was done so due to a fear that men were going to jeopardize virgins in pursuit of satisfying their urges. Most of the European states stipulated strict rules about how brothels were going to be managed. Women would be set in charge and they were entitled to conduct severe punishments in order to discipline prostitutes that worked for them. Houses of ill repute, how they used to call them, were often positioned at the entrances of the city, near the city walls where the traffic of people was high. While this would be the extraction of most common practice, the regulation of brothels in middle-age Europe varied from one place to another.

Modern Day Prostitution

People standing in front of brothel in Red Light District in Amsterdam
Red Light District

Present equally as ever, prostitution remains to be a profession in almost every society of the modern world. However, what is interesting is that in most of the places, prostitution is now illegal. Still, it does not prevent it from happening.

Today, the first place we think of when the oldest craft is mentioned is the Netherlands. The city of Amsterdam is described as a heaven of vice. Smoking weed and engaging in sexual intercourses with ladies selling their pleasure services is an every-day occasion. Red Light District is the place where brothels, sex-shops, and museums stand one next to other. However, they are managed much differently than it was the case in the old times. Prostitutes have full rights and are, by all means, protected from being harmed in any way by both the security and severe legal punishments. They can also refuse a customer or quit their job whenever they please.

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