The pornographic playing cards you found in your grandfather’s basement may seem ancient, but nothing compares to this. Ancient Roman coins have been found with depictions of some racy sex acts.
Known as “spintriae”, these coins were made from bronze or brass. They date as far back as the first century CE.
One side of the coin has a picture bound to make you blush while the other side has a Roman numeral. (Unless you have a Roman numeral fetish, in which case both sides of the coin are bound to make you blush.)
So, were spintriae used as regular currency? It seems kind of embarrassing to use it at your everyday toga store. No, spintriae may have been used to pay prostitutes or were used in brothels.
See that? Even prostitutes have their own currency!
The Roman numeral on the coin is thought to be the cost of the corresponding sex act depicted on the other side of the coin. The idea behind this was that prostitutes did not speak the same language as their client. Therefore these coins made it easier for clientele to inform the prostitutes what (ahem) services they desired.
While it makes sense that these coins would be used in exchange for sex acts, there are some discrepancies. First of all, there are coins with different Roman numerals that depict the same sex act. Secondly, spintriae were never found in ruins of Roman brothels. They were commonly found in bathhouses.
Furthermore, there are no mention of spintriae in any Roman writings. The closest mention of spintriae appear in the writings of Roman historian Cassius Dio.
Normal Roman coins had an image of the emperor. However, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius, it was an act of treason to use a coin with his image inside brothels. Therefore, spintriae may have been used by Romans looking to avoid trouble.
Our language, architecture and a plethora of other innovations derive from the advances of ancient Roman civilization. Now, we can add dirty pictures to the list. Thank you, ancient Rome!