Ancient/Classical History/Sacred prostitutes


Herodotus talks about "sacred prostitutes" in Babylon. He mentions in his "Histories" that unmarried women would go to the temple of Aphrodite(the local equivalent goddess of love-Ishtar?) and would sit down in the temple and wait until men, usually foreign merchants, came along. If such a man put a silver token into the woman's lap, the woman would have to have sex with him, but, afterwards, the mere possession of the silver token allowed her to freely seek marriage elsewhere. The flaw in this practice was, of course, that ugly women would have to wait much longer in the temple to find a man willing to try her. The apparent idea behind this practice was that a) virgins were undesirable as brides, experience being rather required! and b) that inbreeding could be prevented by this practice of allowing (mostly foreigners) to have sex with the local women.

Anyway, the whole notion of "sacred prostitutes" has been attacked vehemently by modern feminists who deny it ever existed. I was wondering what your view was of the controversy? I should add that, (unless I'm wrong), Babylon was supposedly a feminist society in which people believed that women were superior to men.

Thanks for any further info, Geoff.

  Good Morning, Geoff. I'm scratching my head! Here are a few excerpts:

  "The Sacred Prostitute in the Ancient World"

By Catherine Auman

It may be hard for the western mind to reconcile that the words sacred and prostitute may be linked, for the Judeo-Christian tradition holds sexuality to be profane, the antithesis of spirit. Yet in the times of the Great Goddess worship, sexuality was revered and held sacred. We find evidence of sacred prostitution throughout the ancient world, as early as the Gilgamesh Epic of 7000 B.C.E. Herodotus, a Greek historian from the third century B.C.E., wrote:

"...women of the land...sit in the temple of love and have intercourse with some stranger...the men pass and make their choice. It matters not what be the sum of money; the women will never refuse, for that were a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. After their intercourse she has made herself holy in the sight of the goddess..."

  Sacred prostitution occurred in the early civilizations of Sumer, Babylonia, Egypt, Lebanon, and Rome, and is mentioned in the code of Hammurabi. It also seems to have been common in Europe and the Middle East prior to the rise of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In fact, sacred prostitutes not only existed, they flourished and were held to be important members of society:

"...the sacred prostitutes were many in number. According to Strabo, at the temples of Aphrodite in Eryx and Corinth there were above a thousand, while at each of the two Comanas about six thousand were in residence. They were accorded social status and were educated. In some cases, they remained politically and legally equal to men."

   If you believe life existed before 1 A.D., Geoff, sacred prostitution could have existed. I can't give you a definitive answer one way or the other. It sounds logical but how can anyone prove it? Too far back in history. Modern FEMINISTS have a tendency to deny anything negative about the female gender but ... this is NOW and that was THEN. Discussing this subject DOES make for good discussion. Ain't that a HOOT?

   Hope this helps, my friend. Take care and stay SAFE!


Ancient/Classical History

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Hank Hokamp


I CAN answer almost any question that pertains to ANCIENT HISTORY! It would be a waste of time if I couldn't. I enjoy studying the people and their way of life that existed a very long time ago, especially in Greece and Rome. All history is human, my friends! Mysterious.


College, Books, Internet, Blogs

Paralegal Assns.

Champaign New-Gazette Galveston Tribune Orlando Sentinel-Star College Newspapers et al.

U. of Illinois Westminster College U. of Arkansas (BSJ Journalism Southern Career Institute Paralegal)

Awards and Honors
46 - Mostly in golf and baseball.

©2016 All rights reserved.