The legend tells that Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome, were adopted by a
she-wolf (lupa) hence ‘she-wolf’ became the symbol of Rome. She-wolf is an
ambiguous word by which the roman prostitutes were referred and the word
‘lupanare’ (brothel) is also derived from lupa.
The legend suggests that Acca Laurentia, the wife of Faustulus, shepherd of
Numitor, saved the lives of Romulus and Remus. The shepherd’s wife who had
found the twins and who very likely adopted them, was she-wolf, a prostitute.
The populace passed on the origins of the Eternal City with many tales; we can say
metaphorically, that Rome is born with an inclination towards chaos. Ancient
Rome, both republican and imperial, had plenty of brothels, even though they
were placed in the suburbs of the town. Romans paid frequent visits to the
brothels mainly for erotic purposes. They favoured the mercenary love intended
as a peculiar pleasure, and in their turn, many women –honest matrons –
disguised themselves as ‘she-wolves’ in order to attend the brothels and enjoy
the unidentified services. Messalina, the wife of, Emperor Claudius, camouflaged
herself under false names and common dresses in order to participate in the
brothels’ life.
Not to overly dwell on dark images of sexuality, this form of ‘eroticism’, besides a
state of heritage of the origins of Rome, was due to the cult of Venus Ericina, who
was the symbol of fertility, therefore, of sensual love and as such, was the reason
why she was worshipped, unlike the Hellenic Venus who was the symbol of beauty
and chastity.
According to Aristotle and his syllogisms, the practice of the prostitution in Rome
at the time of its Empire comes from religious reasons.
Grazia Brasi
Centro Guide Roma