Courtesan and her client, Attican Pelike with red figures by Polygnotus, c. 430 BCE, Sex trafficking essays Archaeological Museum of Athens.
Prostitution was a common aspect of ancient Greece. In the more important cities, and particularly the many ports, it employed a significant number of people and represented a notable part of economic activity. In Athens, the legendary lawmaker Solon is credited with having created state brothels with regulated prices. Simultaneously, extramarital relations with a free woman were severely dealt with. Female adulterers, and by extension prostitutes, were forbidden to marry or take part in public ceremonies. Hellenistic era the case of young girls abandoned by their citizen fathers can be added.
They were considered to be slaves until proven otherwise. The classical Athenian statesman Solon is credited as being the first to institute legal public brothels. He did this as a public health measure, to contain adultery. Athens full of young men, with both an instinctual compulsion, and a habit of straying in an inappropriate direction, bought women and established them in various places, equipped and common to all. The women stand naked that you not be deceived.
Maybe you are not feeling well. You have some sort of pain. Tell her to go to hell. She is a stranger to you. As Philemon highlights, the Solonian brothels provided a service accessible to all, regardless of income. One obolus is one sixth of one drachma, the daily salary of a public servant at the end of the 5th century BC. By the middle of the 4th century BC, this salary was up to a drachma and a half.
It is difficult to assess whether this was the actual price or a proverbial amount designating a “good deal”. Tondo from an Attic red-figured cup, c. Independent prostitutes who worked the street were on the next higher level. They also used makeup, apparently quite outrageously. And if you go out on a summer’s day, two rills of inky water flow from your eyes, and the sweat rolling from your cheeks upon your throat makes a vermilion furrow, while the hairs blown about on your faces look grey, they are so full of white lead”. In Athens they had to be registered with the city and pay a tax.
Some of them made a decent fortune plying their trade. Their tariffs are difficult to evaluate: they varied significantly. The average charge for a prostitute in 5th and 4th century ranged from three obols to a drachma. Corinthian Lais in her prime did. Musicians and dancers working at male banquets can also undoubtedly be placed in this category.
Sexual services were clearly part of the contract, though the price, in spite of the efforts of the astynomoi, tended to increase throughout the period. More expensive and exclusive prostitutes were known as hetaerae, which means “companion”. Hetaerae, unlike pornai, engaged in long-term relationships with individual clients, and provided companionship as well as sex. Unlike pornai, hetaerae seem to have been paid for their company over a period of time, rather than for each individual sex act. This section’s factual accuracy is disputed. Relevant discussion may be found on Talk:Prostitution in ancient Greece.