Saturday, January 19, 2008

Those Romans knew how to plan a good party.

An article on "The Straight Dope" came to my attention today.

"Pay for Play: Did the Romans issue sexually depictive tokens for use in foreign brothels?"
The use of tokens or other counters in various sex-for-pay setups — as advertising to prospective johns, to keep track of how many had been served and by whom, to
keep cash out of the workers' hands, etc — wasn't uncommon in the past; examples
abound from the American frontier, Boer War-era South Africa, and turn-of-the-century Manhattan. In 1919 Upton Sinclair described learning in his youth of a system under which a brothel patron would pay a cashier up front and receive a so-called "brass check," a token he could subsequently redeem for a sex worker's services.
So if something similar was going on in ancient Rome involving the racy coins known as spintriae, it wouldn't be much of a shocker. After all, the Romans, who were nothing if not well organized, enjoy a richly deserved rep for ingenuity in logistics-oriented fields including architecture, engineering, and military strategy; it makes sense to suppose they could have devised a token system to streamline the economics of prostitution, had anyone seen the need.

This makes for a rather interesting duality to consider - highly regimented organizational system for arranging kinky sex acts.
The article goes on to point out that the reverse of these coins indicated a number, suspected to be the price paid for the acts depicted on the obverse of the coin. A survey of modern sex workers did find the acts with the higher numbers on the back of the coin did match to the services for which they charged a higher rate.

These coins, however, give an interesting idea or two... Those would make for a great set of gaming chips that could be paid off after a good round of friendly gambling with various indulgences.

The rest of the article can be found at:

If you'll excuse, I need to figure out the latin for "Is that a spintria in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"

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