Humanities › History & Culture A Look at Pornai, the Prostitutes of Ancient Greece Share Flipboard Email Print Walters Art Museum, Painter of the Florence Stamnoi / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain History & Culture Ancient History and Culture Greece Figures & Events Ancient Languages Egypt Asia Rome Mythology & Religion American History African American History African History Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By N.S. Gill Ancient History and Latin Expert M.A., Linguistics, University of Minnesota B.A., Latin, University of Minnesota N.S. Gill is a Latinist, writer, and teacher of ancient history and Latin. She has been featured by NPR and National Geographic for her ancient history expertise. our editorial process N.S. Gill Updated April 05, 2020 "Pornai" is the Ancient Greek word for "prostitute" (porne, in the singular). It may also be translated as a “buyable woman.” From the Greek word pornai, we get the English word pornography. Ancient Greek society was fairly open to the practice of the world’s oldest profession. Prostitution was legal in Athens, for example, as long as the workers were enslaved, freedwomen, or Metics (foreigners in Ancient Greece who had limited rights, not unlike illegal residents in the U.S.). These women had to register and were required to pay taxes on their earnings. The Sex Workers of Ancient Greece Pornai were generally the ordinary sex workers, from those who worked in brothels to streetwalkers who advertised their services out in the open. How open? In one innovative marketing strategy, some pornai wore special shoes that imprinted a message in soft ground saying "follow me." Male prostitutes were called pornoi. These sex workers were typically clean-shaven. Though they did sleep with women, they primarily serviced older men. Sex work had its own social hierarchy in Greek society. At the top were hetaerai, which means “female companion.” These were beautiful, often educated and artistic women who were essentially high-class courtesans. Greek literature has numerous references to famous hetaerai who cast their spells. One reason for the prevalence of sex workers — aside from the existence of enslavement, which meant women could be forced into prostitution — was that Greek men married comparatively late in life, often in their 30s. This created a demand, as younger men sought sexual experience before marriage. Another factor was that adultery with a married Greek woman was considered a high crime. Therefore, it was far safer to hire a pornai or a heaerai than to sleep with a married woman. Source Gagarin, Michael. "The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Law." Cambridge Companions to the Ancient World, Cambridge University Press, 12 September 2005.