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The role of brothels in ancient history.

Prostitution is dated back to the 18th century before Christ and the ancient culture of Babylon, which is why it has gained recognition as “the world’s oldest profession”. Along the Tigris and Euphrates river, in the Ancient Near East, were built many shrines and temples, called “houses of heaven”, where prostitution was held as a common and sacred practice. It came to an end when Emperor Constantine came to contact with Christianity in the fourth century AD. There is even data that prostitution existed in ancient Egypt, although it was forbidden. It was also a common practice in ancient Greece, including both men and women, and similarly widespread in Ancient Rome, where it was a legal act. Every man, from the lowest to highest social status, was free to go to brothels without moral disapproval, as long as they demonstrated self-control and moderation in the frequency and enjoyment of the practice.  

Although adultery and any other form of sexual activity outside of marriage was seen as sinful for the Roman Catholic Church, prostitution was actually tolerated, since it helped to prevent the greater evils of rape, sodomy, or masturbation. Augustine of Hippo even said that if prostitution was expelled from society, it will “unsettle everything on account of lusts”. It was, therefore, seen as a necessary evil.

After the decline of organized prostitution in the Roman Empire, many prostitutes were held as slaves, however, many campaigns against slavery turned prostitution back into a business. By the high Middle Ages, it was common to tolerate brothels outside of the jurisdiction of the authorities. In places such as France or Germany, there were certain streets and areas where brothels were, if not legal or permitted, tolerated. It became common in major towns and cities of Southern Europe to establish civic brothels, while any prostitution outside of these places was forbidden. Right through to the crusades it appeared as an abundant market.

However, things started to get harder by the end of the 15th century. An outbreak of syphilis in Naples by 1494, which later spread across Europe, shook an alarm of sexually transmitted diseases. By the 16th century, the association between prostitution, plagues, and contagion, began to rise, causing brothels to be outlawed. The female prostitute was seen as “a promiscuous woman, regardless of financial elements”, and someone who encouraged men’s’ lust. This stigma is still standing to this day.

Even though brothels go against the norm in many countries, and prostitutes are seen as marginal members of society, with the aura of being lost in life and encouraging bad habits on people, there are also many countries that have legalized prostitution, or at least become tolerant it in certain areas. By the beginning of the 20th century, brothels were popular in Paris, making prostitutes’ part of the popular culture and the bohemian way of life. Today, in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland, brothels are legal to ensure safety in the sexual business. The act is only illegal if the woman is being held against her own will. In other countries, such as Sweden, Norway and Iceland, prostitution is illegal, but it is only punishable by a fine which is to be paid to the government. There are still many countries where prostitution is illegal, where brothels work against any regulation, encouraging unsafe sexual practices, mistreatment of the workers, and even human trafficking.

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