Visiting the city of Pompeii in 2020, you may feel like you’ve traveled back to a different era. Many will recognize the destination for its infamous Mt. Vesuvius volcano, which famously erupted in the year 79 A.D. The moment marks one of the world’s most talked about natural disasters as it wiped out the whole city and buried everything in a huge layer of ash. In doing so, it created an archaeological wonder, where historians for years have learned new insights about ancient life.
As a tourist, you’ll be captivated by the tiled frescoes, graffiti, sculptures, and ancient decorations that have been so artfully preserved for centuries. And if you look closely enough, you may learn a thing or two about LGBTQ+ life in ancient Roman civilization, led by a few Untold Histories you probably haven’t heard. But don’t worry, we’re here to spill the tea.
Before we get into it, it’s important we take a minute to talk about sex, specifically what we’d identify today as queer sex (is there any better kind?!?), and how these same-sex relationships were understood within the broader culture at the time. Sensuality was considered a gift from the gods (from the gawds!), and as such it was explored and enjoyed fully by all. Can’t say we disagree there! Historians have noted that homosexual relationships were common in ancient Roman life, and apparently the Latin vocabulary doesn’t even distinguish between hetero- and homo-sexual identities. Now that’s progressive.
Julius Caesar & King Nicomedes IV
One of the most powerful rulers to ever live, Julius Caesar, apparently was known to dabble in same-sex relations. Nicknamed Cicerone, the “husband to all wives and wife to all husbands,” Casear also earned the nickname “Queen of Bithynia” after he engaged in a long and deep (gulp!) relationship with none other than the Greek king Nicomedes the IV of Bithynia. Sounds hot!!
Roman Emperors Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero
Okay so we bet you didn’t know that some of the most powerful men in the world did drag? And no, we’re not talking about RuPaul. Rumor has it that one Roman Emperor, Tiberius, would host world-famous orgies on the Isle of Capri and would show up dressed as a woman. Is anyone else sweating?! Then there’s Caligula, who had a thing for dressing up as the goddess Venus. We get it. And finally, Nero, who apparently killed his pregnant wife Poppaea Sabina by kicking her in the stomach, only to regret his actions and become so depressed and remorseful that he would launch a campaign to find someone who looked exactly like her. He found the answer in a young male slave named Sporus, who he castrated (ouch!) and then married. Not sure what the lesson learned here is… but if you find it, text us!
Hadrian & Antonious
Emperor Hadrian & His Lover Antonious
Before there was Elio and Oliver, there was Hadrian and Antonious. Roman Emperor Hadrian was enamored with a beautiful young lover named Antonious, who must have been pretty dreamy because get this: once Antonious died, Emperor Hadrian founded an entire city in his name and created a religious cult in his honor, where from then on Antonious would be worshiped as a god. Did he go too far? Or not far enough?!
So if we’ve learned anything today, its that queer people have been making love for centuries, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that! If you liked getting to know these stories of LGBTQ+ themes in history, check out Quiiky’s Untold History tours, which we offer in just about every major Italian destination. We’ll take you deep into history and reveal the stories that were too scandalous, too famously sexy, and too gay for your high school history books.
Contact us today to book your next adventure!