The history of prostitution extends to all ancient and modern cultures. It has been described as "the world's oldest profession."However, this is only a matter of speech. Most would dispute this claim, supported by the argument that hunting and farming likely took place first in human history. This aside, hunting and farming are not professions unless done for profit. As early as the 18th century B.C., the ancient society of Mesopotamia recognized the need to protect women's property rights. In the Code of Hammurabi, provisions were found that addressed inheritance rights of women, including female prostitutes. For example, if a dowry was established by the father for his unwedded daughter, upon his death, her brothers (if she had any) would act on her behalf as her trustee. However, if the woman received the property as a gift from her father, she owned the property outright and could leave the property to whomever she pleased.
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|1 Ancient Near East |
|2 Mesoamerica |
|3 Greece |
|4 Rome |
|5 Asia |
|6 Middle Ages |
|7 16th–17th centuries |
|8 18th century |
|9 19th century |
|10 20th century |
|11 References |
Ancient Near East
One of the first forms is sacred prostitution, supposedly practiced among the Sumerians. In ancient sources (Herodotus, Thucydides) there are many traces of sacred prostitution, starting perhaps with Babylon, where each woman had to reach, once in their lives, the sanctuary ofMilitta (Aphrodite or Nana/Anahita) and there have sex with a foreigner as a sign of hospitality for a symbolic price.
Prostitution was common in ancient Israel, despite being tacitly forbidden by Jewish Law. Within the religion of Canaan, a significant portion of temple prostitutes were male. It was widely used in Sardinia and in some of the Phoenician cultures, usually in honour of the goddess‘Ashtart. Presumably under the influence of the Phoenicians, this practice was developed in other ports of the Mediterranean Sea, such as Erice (Sicily), Locri Epizephiri, Croton, Rossano Vaglio, and Sicca Veneria. Other hypotheses include Asia Minor, Lydia, Syria and the Etruscans.
The Biblical story of Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38) provides a depiction of prostitution as practiced in the society of the time. The prostitute plies her trade at the side of a highway, waiting for travellers. She covers her face; which marks her as a prostitute, available for casual sex, unlike in the Middle Eastern societies of the present day — "he thought her to be a harlot, for she had covered her face". She gets paid in kind, asking for a kid as her fee; a rather high price in a herding society, in which only the wealthy owner of numerous herds could afford to pay for a single sexual encounter. If the traveller does not have his cattle with him, he must give some valuables as a deposit, until the kid is delivered to the woman.
Though in this story the woman was not a real prostitute but Judah's widowed daughter-in-law, who had good reasons of seeking to trick Judah and become pregnant by him, she succeeds in impersonating a prostitute and her conduct can be assumed to be the real conduct expected of a prostitute in the society of the time.
A later Biblical story, in the Book of Joshua, a prostitute in Jericho named Rahab assisted Israelite spies with her knowledge of the current socio-cultural and military situation due to her popularity with the high-ranking nobles she serviced, among others. The spies, in return for the information, promised to save her and her family during the planned military invasion as...
An oiran preparing herself for a client, ukiyo-e print by Suzuki Haronubu (1765).
Albertine at the Police Doctor 's Waiting Room, 1885–87 painting by theNorwegian writer and painter Christian Krohg illustrating his then very controversial novel Albertine about the life of a prostitute
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