Original question was this:

Were there any ancient cultures (say more than 500 years old) that were accepting of open or partially open homosexuality in either men or women? For the purposes of this question, I don't count pedophilia.

Reworded question:

I see from the answers that pedophilia can't be completely separated from ancient concepts of sexuality. Sex with children was not considered a sexual orientation, it appears. A more relevant concept was the role that a person took in the relationship (or possibly sex act), with children or slaves of either gender considered the more passive role, or the younger man was more passive, or a freeman was the more active role, and so forth. If anyone would like to amplify or clarify that, feel free.

  • 3
    You mean like the Greeks? That seems to fit the bill. And the Romans. You should read any number of ancient poets...
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 6, 2016 at 23:37
  • It's worth noting also the ancient myths about the island of Lesbos. Jun 8, 2016 at 4:36
  • 1
    I vote to close because it is a trivial question. You should do some preliminary search before asking.
    – Alex
    Jun 8, 2016 at 16:34

3 Answers 3


A note: it's important to draw a distinction between modern and ancient concepts of sexuality. Our paradigm where one is classified as somewhere on a spectrum between hetereosexual and homosexual simply doesn't apply to other periods. As other commenters have noted, attitudes towards men having sex with men varied in classical antiquity, but much of it had to do with social status, age, and "masculine" versus "feminine" roles, and not male/female preference as we would understand it. So it may be better to ask if there were ancient cultures that accepted same-gender romantic or sexual relationships (which, of course, there were many of).

  • Why on earth was this downvoted? +1
    – Ne Mo
    Jun 7, 2016 at 7:52
  • 1
    maybe because it doesn't seem to answer the question, but rather suggest an alternative one. (i.e. should be a comment)
    – CGCampbell
    Jun 7, 2016 at 13:35
  • @CGCampbell I could see that, but I also think this is (or has the makings of) a good answer. It seems to me to be answering in the affirmative, while qualifying that by addressing how the question misrepresents or misinterprets the situation. I think this question would be greatly improved by including some examples of accepted behaviors through time which would now be considered homosexual behavior.
    – Era
    Jun 7, 2016 at 15:01

At least some ancient Greeks accepted homosexuality. Thebes and Sparta are both reported to have military units made up of homosexual couples, the reasoning basically being that this would inspire them to fight harder to protect their lovers. Some sources say that Sparta considered homosexuality superior to heterosexuality because they believed women were inferior to men and thus not worthy of true love -- a woman was only good for reproduction. For the most part Greek homosexuality appears to have been pedophilia, at least, they routinely talked about the older man as the "lover" and the younger as the "beloved", though I don't know what the upper limit on the age of the beloved was. Plato quotes Socrates as saying that when he was a boy he was proud of his abilities to seduce older men.

Homosexuality was certainly known and practiced by the Romans, but it was widely condemned. Or at least, the surviving history books were written by people who condemned it. But for example, according to Plutarch, when Julius Caesar was a young man, he was appointed ambassador to Illyria, and had a homosexual affair with the king of Illyria. But Plutarch says this brought widespread criticism, opponents taunting him as the "Queen of Illyria" and the like.

According to the Bible, Sodom and Gomorroh accepted homosexuality.

I don't know of any other ancient cultures who accepted it. Of course that doesn't prove there were no others: I don't claim to know all about every culture that ever existed.

  • IMHO this should be the accepted answer, you just need to add more reference to make it "scientific" :D
    – fikr4n
    Jun 10, 2016 at 4:20
  • I agree. This answer is definitely the best. If the lighter side of a serious subject is allowed here, this is where to find it: m.imdb.com/title/tt1073498
    – cvr
    Jun 10, 2016 at 5:26
  • "Plato quotes Socrates as saying that when he was a boy he was proud of his abilities to seduce older men" Where?
    – Xeno
    Jun 21, 2017 at 18:17

As you might know, the myth that Alexander, David, Jonathon, Shakespeare, etc were homosexual is a complete falsehood. It's a fanciful retelling of history.

You might be aware of this since you said you "do not count pedophilia", but the Greeks practiced pederasty. Virgil recounts something very similar to pederasty in The Aeneid and it's very likely almost all open homosexual relationships in classical antiquity were of this nature.

Quoting from this article:

"Same sex intercourse with prostitutes, slaves or war captives was considered totally acceptable as it did not threaten a freeborn’s masculinity as long as the Roman citizen took the active role in penetration. Same sex activity amongst soldiers of equal status was punishable by death."

  • 1
    -1 Your source supports your quote only and not your entire first paragraph. Jun 7, 2016 at 14:36
  • @called2voyage Curious criticism. I've never heard anyone suggest before that EVERY citation in a scholarly discussion must support the ENTIRE thesis. When someone gives a quote and then a citation, I expect the citation to be the source of the quote, not of everything preceding it.
    – Jay
    Jun 8, 2016 at 3:39
  • @Jay That makes sense if there is sufficient evidence to support the thesis. That is unknown in this case without further reference. Jun 8, 2016 at 4:37

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