Around 2000 BCE, a man by the name of Erramalik filed one of the earliest known cases for divorce. His evidence? Upon finding his wife having sex with another man, Erramalik tied the man onto the bed, his wife still under her adulterer, and proceeded to carry the bed to court.
Relationships have changed little throughout the course of history. Obviously we no longer resort to carrying our cheating partner mid-copulation into the courtroom, but the act of adultery is still prevalent as ever. The envy and deceit underlying many relationships are traits that have coexisted with marriage since the time of the early Romans. (And possibly before this too; only lack of written documents makes it difficult to know with certainty).
Humans have an innate desire to be bound to one person for life, so why the need for infidelity? Perhaps we become bored in our relationships, perhaps we have married the wrong person, or maybe we just want to make them jealous.
In Ancient Rome, sex was power for the aristocratic women. One woman was particularly good at using her sexuality to manipulate – Agrippina the Younger. When she was a girl, she seduced her uncle Claudius to marry her, as he was the emperor at the time. Later, when Agrippina’s son, Nero, was Emperor and Agrippina could feel her power over him was waning, she seduced him too. When travelling around in a litter (a chair or bed supported by poles, carried by other men), Agrippina would commit incest with her son, evidenced by the state of his clothes when leaving the litter.
While incest is not openly practiced or condoned by contemporary society, sex and adultery are both still means of gaining power. However, sex these days is not so much about gaining political, but rather social power. In modern society, celebrities are replacing the aristocracy once revered in Ancient Rome. We are able to increase our own social notoriety through relationships with people higher up on the social ladder, be they footballers or Geoffrey Edelsten. For many, it is a sign of superiority to appear in the social pages of a magazine or on the Brownlow red carpet. We’ve even given footballer’s partners their own title – WAGs – and we are all abuzz in deciding whose dress is stunning and whose looks like a tablecloth. I wonder if we’ll ever be able to escape the confines of these clichés?
Ancient Romans believed that sex was a health benefit for women. In fact, women needed to have sex regularly, or else their uteruses would begin to wander around their body. And if they abstained from sex for an extended period of time, their uteruses would wander right up to their throats and choke them.
But are beautiful men attracted to powerful women? A 2007 study from Indiana University conducted a number of speed dates in the hope of discovering what men and women each seek in a partner. The results showed that women sought rich men, and men sought beautiful women. While I am sure there are instances of attractive men marrying women purely for their wealth and power, more often than not it occurs in the reverse.
In Ancient Rome, men manipulated women into believing that a lack of sex would kill them. Women would manipulate men into sleeping with them in order to gain political control and escape from their subordination. Women’s rights have progressed exponentially since imperial times, but sex still exists to be abused. We can laugh at how corrupt and incestuous sex was in Ancient Rome, but have we really changed?