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The Ubiquitous Pleasures in a Roman City

In THE DEADLIEST FEVER, the thieves who staged the jewel heist in Ephesus met in the backroom of a tavern there. One explains to Miriam:

The three of us happened to meet one night over a game of knucklebones in the backroom of a tavern in Ephesus. I remember its perfect location, on the east side of the Square Agora between a brothel and the latrine. Over a long night of loose talk and hard drinking, we became fast friends, recognizing in each other the same wicked deeds we’d kept hidden from the rest of the world.

But that could have been anywhere in the city. Brothels, latrines, and taverns were ubiquitous. Especially brothels. Going to a brothel cost very little, roughly the same as a glass of wine, so that every man could enjoy the pleasure, and the government could be assured of a docile population. And so, brothels were ubiquitous in every Roman city. (Of course, wealthy men did not visit brothels; they could afford their own mistresses or slave concubines.)

In Alexandria, travelers needed to buy an exit pass to leave the city. They’d apply in writing to the Roman governor, who would then authorize a port official to issue a pass and collect the fee, which varied according to one’s profession, status, and sometimes gender. The captain of a merchant ship paid 8 drachmas; a crewman paid 5; and an unskilled laborer paid 3-5. Now listen to what a prostitute had to pay: 100 or more drachmas, about 200 times what an ordinary laborer earned in a day! In a city of sailors and soldiers, the presence of prostitutes was vital to keeping the peace of the city.

Don’t forget to check out THE DEADLIEST FEVER. Click here for the book trailer.

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