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Sex in the Ancient World

The art of coexistence

khroSex along with eating is one of the most natural of human activities. Our distant ancestors wore no clothing, they would have witnessed animals mating and discovered that sex was pleasurable. The pleasure that comes from having sex is natures incentive to ensure that we perpetuate our species and without that pleasure, we would likely have become extinct long ago.

Men and women are almost like two distinct species and if it was not for our need to reproduce, it seems probable as some thinkers say, that men would have killed all the women simply because they are stronger and have never understood them. Mind you women cannot understand men either, but for the most part we have learned to get along. In the very distant past when humans were just hunters and gatherers the evidence suggests that most young people were free to have sex until the time they began having children.

One must remember that in many tribal societies, the lifespan in different times might not have exceeded 30 years and girls would conceive and their children as soon as they were able. But the act of sex is also about social bonding common to many species.

It seems probable that there was never any sense of shame although sexual activities that fragmented family bonds would likely have caused some friction and conflict. It is only after the advent of agriculture that pair bonding became more significant because before then, children were the responsibility of the entire village. It is with agriculture and the development of more complex social structures that life expectancy grew and more values were placed on social bonds.

With complex social structures, language and communication also became more complex, yet before the arrival of religion and morality, there were very few constraints on sexuality. We know from the reports of the early sailors across the Pacific that many of the islanders who's only need of clothing was ceremonial enjoyed one of the most sexually free lifestyles. In those so-called primitive societies, sexual pleasure was an important part of daily life. Many of the islanders also practised contraception and without any disease, the sex lives were rich and uncomplicated.

Of course the European sailors were delighted when dozens of beautiful young women swam out to their ships and indulged the sailors desires. It seems that in many of these so-called primitive cultures, sex was a natural part of daily life and as important as food.  In the ancient polytheistic world, the human body was seen as being part of nature and a part of life in the most desirable attributes were in bodies with strength for men and ease of childbirth for women. When we look at some of the artwork from the ancient world, there is a certain reverence for the fact that new life comes from a woman's body and there are thousands of figurines found all over the world which are little more than a rather pregnant looking woman's torso without head or feet.

Human values were very basic, enough food to eat, pleasant company and a pleasant lifestyle. To enhance this lifestyle, gods were created and until the invention of morality, Judaism and Christianity, there were very few restrictions on human sexuality.

In ancient India, civilisation was more highly developed than other places. There was a larger and more urban population, and the elders recognised some essential qualities or traits in what it means to be human and they came up with what is known as the Gotra system which is essentially a method of controlling population development so that the people over time become healthier and stronger. This is known as eugenics today which some argue is wrong as we should accept life as being completely random.

A Roman brothel sign

A Roman brothel sign

In the developing ancient world, sex was always seen as something spiritual. The gods and goddesses all had sex and it was through sex that life was created. So it was recognised that sex for humans as creators was a divine right. At various times importance was placed on teaching sexual competency and there are many references to sacred prostitution where young men and women were sent to the temples and their task was to have sex with those who came to the temple seeking solace.

Over time as morality crept in, sex was removed from the realm of the sacred and to cater for the human needs, the brothel evolved. But until the 18th century, human sexuality was unregulated and even within Islam, the leaders of the Faith indulged all their carnal desires as has the leadership within Christianity.

Sexuality in ancient Egypt

Untainted by guilt, sex was an important part of life – from birth to death and rebirth. Singles and married couples made love. The gods themselves were earthy enough to copulate. The Egyptians even believed in sex in the afterlife. Sex was not taboo. Even the Egyptian religion was filled with tales of adultery, incest, homosexuality and masturbation… with hints of necrophillia! From the close family relationships in Egyptian mythology and the fact that Egyptians seemed to have no taboo against incest, many have concluded that incest was widespread and acceptable in ancient Egypt.ancntsx

The government of the Pharaohs resembled that of Napoleon, even to the royal incest. Very often the king married his own sister occasionally his own daughter to preserve the purity of the royal blood. It is difficult to say whether this incest weakened the stock. Certainly Ancient Egypt did not think so, after several thousand years of experiment with royal incest; the institution of sister-marriage spread among the people, and as late as the second century after Christ two-thirds of the citizens of Arsinoe were found to be practising the custom. The words brother and sister, in Egyptian poetry, have the same significance as lover and beloved among ourselves.

Although  marriages in the pagan world were arranged for eugenics, communal stability and personal advancement, there is ample evidence that romantic love was as important to the people as it is to those in the present day. Women in ancient time were accorded almost equal status with men in keeping with an ancient tale that creation was a process involvin the gods and goddesses who were unable to function without each other. Still, males were considered the dominant sex and predominantly male scribes wrote the literature which influenced how women were viewed, something almost unchanged today.

It is only with the affluence of civilisations that moved people into various societal roles and classes that what we regard today today as hedonism came into existence. This is simply the seeking of pleasure without any other regard. It's almost like an addiction such as gluttony or drug taking, but it can also be seen as a form of athleticism and trialling of the human body to define the various heights and possibilities for pleasure.

References:
Love Sex and Marriage in Ancient Egypt
Sacred prostitution

“From invasions and migrations to slavery and trade, history is embroidered with events that led to interactions between previously separate populations — and, in many cases, hanky-panky. By mining genetic data from living people, researchers have now created a historical atlas of instances of such mixing.

A study, published in Nature1, uses statistical methods to make inferences about which populations interbred, and when, over the past 4,000 years. The findings are also presented as an interactive map. The authors sequenced DNA from 1,490 people from 95 genetically distinct populations around the world, and tested almost 500,000 single-letter variations in DNA known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs.

Eighty of the populations showed evidence of genetic mixing. Many of the mixing events identified are consistent with historical records, validating the approach. For instance, records suggest that the Hazara people of Afghanistan and Pakistan are descended partially from Mongol warriors, and the study confirmed this, showing that Mongol DNA entered the Hazara around the time that the Mongol Empire was expanding.

Other mixing events inferred by the study were previously unknown and do not show up in historical records, but may be plausible. For instance, sequences in the DNA of the Tu people from modern China indicate that Europeans similar to modern Greeks mixed with an East Asian population around 1200 bc. The source of this European DNA might have been merchants travelling the Silk Road.

In another example, the DNA of the Kalash people, a population isolated in a remote valley in Pakistan, showed evidence of input from Europe or the Middle East (the researchers could not pin down a precise geographic location) between 990 and 210 bc — a period that overlaps with that of Alexander the Great. Local Kalash tradition holds that they are descended from Alexander the Great’s army, although there is no historical record of such a mixture”. ~ Nature

 

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