A Roman penis was potent, masterful, prodigious. In a city where the phallus was everywhere to be seen, protecting doorways as a symbol of good luck, guarding crossroads or scaring off birds in gardens, ramrod size was much admired. A generously endowed man hitting the bath-house might well be greeted with ‘a round of nervous applause’. A citizen equipped with such a weapon, particularly a young one, ‘in whom a degree of animal-spirits was natural’, could hardly be expected to keep it permanently sheathed. Even the sternest of moralists acknowledged this. Why else, after all, were there whores? A brothel was not so different from a latrine: dirty and disreputable, yes, but serving an essential purpose as a receptacle of human waste. A man could no more be expected to ignore his sexual needs than he could a full bladder. Not for nothing did the same word, meio, mean both ‘urinate’ and ‘ejaculate’. A thrust or two, deep and quick, like the stabbing of a sword into the guts, ‘right the way up to the hair and the hilt of the balls’, and the business would be done. Whether into the vagina, the anus or the mouth, it made no real difference – just so long as it was masterful. Nor did it greatly matter who took the penis thrust – man or woman, boy or girl – provided that one crucial qualification, one essential safeguard, was respected. Free-born Romans, male and female both: these were strictly, absolutely off-limits.

– Tom Holland, Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar (2015)


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