Were There Any Other Ancient Cultures That Tolerated Homosexuality?

I think it is a well-known fact that the ancient Greeks tolerated what we would call homosexuality. This seems to be the only ancient culture that is mentioned for this (or at least the only one I have ever heard of).

Does anyone know any other ancient cultures that tolerated being gay? By ancient, I mean around at the same time the ancient Greeks and Romans were.


The Greeks tolerated bisexuality. Exclusive homosexuality was looked down upon, and even within tolerated bisexual relationships the passive partner in sexual intercourse was considered inferior and subject to ridicule. In any event, recent scholarship suggests that even this bisexuality for which the Greeks were long known was probably limited to the elites.


Kind of like the British.

(Come on - we all know about the “public schools”.)

I don’t know too much about Japanese history, but from reading Tagakure and a translation of Bushido, it seems that homosexuality was a non-issue to the Samurai, other than it might distract them from utter loyalty to their lord.

I know at least one polynesian culture (I don’t remember which island I read about) had men that wore women’s clothes and “serviced” other men. But they were looked down upon as well.

Ancient India seemed not to have minded bisexuality, either.

I believe atleast one chapter of the Kamasutra details the sexual congress between persons of the same sex. Further, many kings were documented to have “kept” eunuchs and male servants.

I’m pretty sure that Odinoneeye’s thinking of Samoa. The men involved are called fa’afene (not sure of the spelling) and they’re basically brought up as women.

Ancient Rome had its share of homosexuals too. Can’t find a cite right now, but, if not tolerated, it was at least accepted as inevitable.

I think that in film about Gauguin/Tahiti this was mentioned too, but I don’t remember any of the details.

Indeed… I had one history teacher tell the class that ancient Romans believed that a man could only truly love another man.

This is actually true. It stemmed from their somewhat questionable belief that men were inherently “better” than women, so abviously love between two men was “better” than love between a man and a woman.:rolleyes:

And this civilization was so advanced that they managed to invent cement that would set under water.

Makes you wonder…

Petronius’ Satyricon c. 60 CE.

Someone correctly mentioned Japan, there is a decent overview here. (Despite the fact that the author writes samurai as samarai.)

If you like period movies and are curious about the subject, I’d recommend Nagisa Oshima’s beautiful filmGohatto (Taboo).

Yes, indeed. But there was a lot of stuff in the “Satyricon” that was tongue in cheek - just as in Apuleius’ “The Golden Ass”. I was thinking more along the lines of Suetonius (who god only knows wasn’t averse to telling the odd lie) “The Tweleve Caesars”.

Thanks anyhoo

I did a paper on cross-cultural comparisons of attitudes towards male homosexuality among preliterate cultures in college. Attitudes ranged all the way from sin punishable by death on one side to what could almost be deemed a preference for homosexual sex on the other, with heterosexual sex being limited to certain times of the year, and not around the fields. Among the Sambia of New Guniea engaging in oral and anal sex with an older man of the tribe is a rite of passage. There were probably numerous ancient cultures that tolerated or promoted homosexuality that we don’t know about because they left no written records.

The vikings had some tolerance for homosexuality.

Ancient Egypt, probably: see the tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, two men who cohabited and shared the title of Overseer of the Manicurists in the Palace of the King.

I’m surprised no one has mentioned Sodom and Gomorrah.

Yeh, and Siegfried and Roy.:smiley:

I’m reading a biography of Leonardo daVinci at the moment, which of course deals with his homosexuality throughout the book. It seems that during the Renaissance, while technically illegal by most Italian city-state rules and of course the Catholic Church, homosexuality was an accepted practice in the more elite and artistic classes of society. The main reason being is that the Renaissance was all about discovering the lost wisdom and civilization of the ancient Romans and Greeks, so it was not uncommon for the Renaissance man to accept the social tendencies of the ancient cultures. In fact, the book describes a young Leonardo being very flamboyant wearing revealing, brightly colored cloths for the time and it being accepted. It also describes the societal acceptance of the artistic apprentice system where it was known that there were many homosexual men and boys living under one roof.

As an aside, Leonardo was actually put on trial for sodomy, but the biographer links it more to a convenient law used to apply political pressure on Leonardo, than society actually disproving of homosexual relationships.

An interesting quote from the book also gives some indication to the Renaissance acceptance of homosexuality:
“An indication of how homosexuality was viewed in fifteenth-century Florence may be seen in the fact that in Germany during the 1470’s the popular word for homosexual was Florenzer.” - Leonardo, the First Scientist by Michael White

A similar situation appears to have existed among the upper-class in many of the central Islamic regions during the High Middle Ages. Technically frowned on by Shari’a, it nonetheless was sufficiently common in that class ( which obviously held the reigns of secular power and could dominate the ulema ) that there seems to have been little attempt to conceal it. In some ways it appears to have mirrored Athenian practices, with no shame being attached to the dominate, older partner but less ( if any ) respect being accorded the younger, submissive partner ( or slave, as sometimes this was an adjunct of the harem system ). Hodgson in fact explicitly contrasts it with the Spartan system, where the younger partner was supposed to develop manly virtues from being in such a relationship.

In fact as a cultural phenomena it seems to have entered popular culture in the form of lyric love poetry, especially in Persia, where it became almost conventional for it to be written by a male and addressed to a male subject. In part, perhaps, because this was a period where women became more submerged in the upper-class, becoming more sequestered and invisible.

The above according to Marshall Hodgson, anyway ( whose work is a little dated in at least some areas ). I haven’t seen any of the more recent and specific works on the topic of homosexuality in Islam ( and there are some ).

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