How many Roman emperors were gay

History of homosexuality: Same-sex love was okay, sex was forbidden


Read on one side

The satirical magazine The real Jacob sometimes disliked it in his caricatures. In a drawing from November 1907, soldiers standing at attention await their inspection. But her superior wants to take the roll call, while the soldiers turn their butts to him. "Since when have you been giving orders for inspections: The whole thing is about to turn !?" asks an officer. The answer: "... Department will be inspected by Count Hohenau today." The rejection of gays could hardly be shown more contemptuously.

The discriminatory cartoon describes the Harden-Eulenburg affair. At that time, Wilhelm von Hohenau was a confidante of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Hohenau was accused of being homosexual. Although he won a court martial, the military released him nonetheless. Hohenau was henceforth considered dishonored.

The term homosexuality itself was only a few years old at the time. "The concept of homosexuality and sexual orientation in general did not emerge until the late 19th century," says Klaus van Eickels, who teaches medieval history at the University of Bamberg. In 1869 the Hungarian writer Karl Maria Kertbeny first used the term. Not to denounce or demean same-sex lovers, however. On the contrary: he wrote to the Prussian Ministry of Justice and pleaded for the abolition of the criminal liability of allegedly "unnatural acts" - that is, sexual intercourse between men. Kertbeny invented the term for this homosexual. The derogatory term sodomite used in the Middle Ages was replaced by homosexuals. A new word, but the old prejudices that had arisen over the centuries remained.

A biblical prohibition

In ancient Greece, men who had sex with men were part of everyday life. Older men "chose" younger ones or even boys. Rightsless slaves often served their masters as mere objects of their sexual desire. Neither Greeks nor Romans knew a distinction between heterosexual and homosexual tendencies. However, same-sex relationships were usually characterized by a power imbalance: the "stronger" - often older - man was the one who was allowed to "penetrate" the partner. The "receiving" partner was seen as weaker and inferior. For this reason, relationships between peers were rare and usually frowned upon.

In ancient Greece, same-sex love among women also has an anchor. It owes its name to the island of Lesbos, on which the ancient poet Sappho lived. Little is known about lesbians during this period, although they undoubtedly existed. Artists and poets devoted themselves above all to the glorification of the male nude.



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In the Old Testament, relationships between men in particular were condemned as blasphemous: "You should not lie with a man as you do with a woman, it is an abomination". Men could end up at the stake in the late Middle Ages and early modern times; Sex with another man would violate the "laws of nature," it said. In some cases, homosexual women have also had to defend themselves in sodomy trials. But they were persecuted less severely. Perhaps also because early producers of pornographic publications from the 17th century were already "fascinated" by lesbian sex and printed corresponding drawings.

As long as gay and lesbian relationships remained platonic, they were accepted, especially among men. "Male-male friendships were very important," says Klaus van Eickels, "but that had nothing to do with sexual attraction, it created the possibility of close emotional ties and relationships between men." Men expressed their feelings for other men freely, hugging each other, even sleeping together in one bed was not frowned upon. Men officially wrote love letters to one another well into the 19th century. "Exactly what many have the biggest problems with today, namely the public statement 'I love this man', used to be taken for granted," says Klaus van Eickels. Only one thing was strictly forbidden: sex.