Augustus decided to protect the Roman race. Between 2 BC and 4 AD as the population declined and the rise of foreign immigrants and slaves increased, Augusts enacted family laws that he hoped would reduce inter-breeding between Romans and non-Romans. These laws also prohibited an indiscriminate emancipation of slaves, prohibited freed slaves from marrying Latins and prohibited Senators from marrying freed women.
The Romans believed in the family, and held that adultery should be illegal. They believed that the virtue of their women helped win their city favor from their gods. This is where much of our moral beliefs come from. With the rising wealth of Rome came the lower Latin birth rate reducing Rome’s population to a level lower than ever before in history. Augustus saw having children as moral. He used his powers as tribune-for-life to initiate legislation that he hoped would encourage marriage. Infanticide remained legal and at a husband’s discretion, but people who remained single or married without children after they were twenty were to be penalized through taxation.
To further what he saw as morality, Augustus had prostitution taxed, and he made homosexuality a punishable offense. According to Suetonius, carrying a ring or a coin bearing the emperor’s image into a latrine or brothel could be the basis for an accusation of treason (maiestas) under Tiberius (14-37AD). Under Caracalla (198-217AD), an equestrian was sentenced to death for bringing a coin with the emperor’s likeness into a brothel; he was spared only by the emperor’s own death. It is generally believed that a spintria (plural, spintriae ), which is a small bronze or brass Roman token, was possibly for use in brothels, depicting sexual acts or symbols and were used to pay the prostitute and thus no coin with the image of an emperor would be used. The sexual act was depicted on the obverse and the reverse displaced the cost in a Roman As.
There is no direct ancient evidence, however, to support the theory that spintriae (sex tokens) were created as tokens for exchange in place of official coinage or for anything other than sex. Some scholars argue they were tokens for games, but with an equal lack of any evidence. This is even questionable since tokens exist with the numerical value on the reverse but with the portrait of the emperor, which are more likely to have been used as gaming tokens.
Both forms of tokens seem to have been produced for only a short period, mostly in the 1st century AD. Pictured here is an extremely rare token depicting youth playing. Moreover, a sex token has even been discovered in England. This tends to support the theory that they were related due to legislation and are most likely the result of Augustus’ family laws and his banishment of Ovid (43 BC–17/18 AD) concerning moral values. Hence, it may indeed been due to the proposition that one could not pay a prostitute with a coin that displayed the image of the emperor. In such a case, these tokens with the picture of Augustus and Tiberius would also have been barred to be used to pay a prostitute. Indeed, Adultery remained a crime, but it was no longer commonly punished by death. An adulterous wife and her lover could now be banished to different islands, with the woman obliged to wear the kind of short tunic worn by prostitutes.
Augustus’ crusade for moral regeneration satisfied those who feared that evil would come with abandoned religious traditions. Many females continued to grow up patriotically and dutifully moral, and virginity before marriage continued to be seen as highly desirable and moral. But his moral crusade was hardly a success in changing behavior. Married men continued to look other than to their wives for sexual passion. With unmarried women endeavoring to remain virgins and married women constrained by the tough laws against adultery, males, married and otherwise, continued to seek sexual gratification and to some extent affection from prostitutes..
Augustus had his own daughter, Julia, punished for adultery. After Julia’s two previous husbands had died (each of whom had been designated as heir to Augustus’ power) Augustus arranged a marriage between Julia and his adopted son and heir, Tiberius. This involved Tiberius leaving a happy marriage. The marriage between Tiberius and Julia turned out to be an unhappy match. Tiberius was often away, and Julia searched for love and sexual gratification outside her marriage. Augustus heard of her infidelities, and he threatened her with death. Instead, he sent her to an island prison from which she was never to return, and he spoke of her as a disease of his flesh.
Roman bath houses became associated with prostitution in the later centuries. Thus as Rome collapsed, “bathing” fell out of fashion for it became associated with going to a brothel (lupinar). It was not until the Crusades that bathing returned to Europe as crusaders enjoyed Turkish baths and brought the practice back to Europe.