When I took latin classes, I remember studying texts about the virtus romana. When you were a man in Rome, it seems like you were expected to be the first in battle, to be courageous, and to have many manly qualities that you find in the modern stereotype of a man. Although I perfectly understand that fighting with your lover risking your life by your side is an incentive to fight more fiercefully, it is kind of a paradox for the 21st century man that homosexuality and virility were so linked at that time.

I would really appreciate more insights on the matter and details about how homosexuality between men and soldiers was envisioned in Ancient Rome.

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    " Although I perfectly understand that fighting with your lover risking your life by your side is an incentive to fight more fiercefully" This is a greek practice. Not a roman one. – Jeroen K Jun 11 '14 at 16:42
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    I concur with @JeroenK, this is a Greek notion. The Romans had a different view. Start with wikipedia - although I think that it overstates the prevalence of homosexuality, and then try asking the question again. But at a fundamental level, bravery in combat has as much to do with sexuality as a fish has to do with a bicycle. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 11 '14 at 17:58
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    It was envisioned by the Romans with the death penalty. – Oldcat Jun 12 '14 at 0:02
  • Sorry, I only saw the French version, which is much less detailed. – Florian Jun 12 '14 at 14:54

Roman soldiers generally did not fight with their lovers by their side. Remember, Roman soldiers weren't even allowed to marry during for the first two centuries of the Principate.

Periodic scandals involving officers abusing their subordinates were attested in the armies of the mid and late Republic. Valerius Maximus, the main source of these incidents, reported that the military tribune Marcus Laetorius Mergus was condemned for molesting his adjutant. During this period at least, it seems clear that relations between fellow soldiers were punished - often with death. Apparently, Romans did not like the thought of "one of their own" being penetrated.

However, homosexuality with male slaves was quite mainstream in Roman society. Or at least, penetrative (on the part of the Roman) sex with his own slaves were quite acceptable. In this regard it seems the military did not function differently from the rest of their society. For example, Marcus Valerius Martialis wrote a poem commemorating a centurion friend, Aulus Pudens, and his relationship with his slave boy Encolpos. Unlike the case of a Roman being penetrated, here the passive partner/victim was already considered degraded and further defiling wasn't of concern.

Additionally, it was common and probably expected that soldiers would rape captives in a war. This included both women and the boys. That also extended subjected peoples. For example, the Revolt of the Batavi was said to be in part provoked by the Roman military's sexual assault of Batavi boys. In this scenario and that of the sex with male slaves, the homosexuality would seem to be an expression of manly virility.

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This isn't really a paradox. "Maleness" and any one particular sexual orientation are really completely orthogonal concepts. If anything, it is weirder that modern western society has come to conflate them.

Strip your mind of that, and it isn't really all that difficult to picture a society where aggression in general, and sexual aggression in particular (regardless of the target), come to be seen as indicators of maleness.

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