Babylonian Women Must Be Prostitutes Once

Herodotus (1.199) explains a bizarre ritual of mandatory religious prostitution:

“This is the most shameful of the Babylonian customs. Every native woman must once in her lifetime sit near the shrine of Aphrodite and have sex with a foreign man. There are many women who surpass the others in wealth and do not think it worthy of themselves to mingle with the others, so they are driven to the shrine in carriages while a large entourage of attendants follows them behind. Most Babylonian women, however, do it this way: They sit in the area of Aphrodite’s temple having a crown of string upon their heads. Some approach this area, and others leave. Marked-off paths lead every way through the crowd of women, past whom the foreign men go and make their pick. Once a woman sits in this spot, she does not return home before one of the foreign men throws a silver coin to her legs and copulates with her in the shrine. When the man throws the coin, he is supposed to say ‘I call upon the goddess Mulitta,’ because the Assyrians call Aphrodite Mulitta.

The size of the coin required is whatever it happens to be; it will not be rejected, because that would be unlawful, and the silver coin itself becomes sacred. The woman follows the first man who throws a coin to her, and does not spurn him, whoever he is. Once she has lain with him, she has discharged her duty to the goddess and returns home, and after this gifts are no great thing by which she may be seduced. Those who possess beauty or height are quickly released, but those who are ugly remain there for a lengthy time because they are unable to fulfill the requirements of the law. Some even remain there for three or four years. In some places in Cyprus the custom is roughly the same.”

     ῾Ο δὲ δὴ αἴσχιστος τῶν νόμων ἐστὶ τοῖσι Βαβυλωνίοισι ὅδε· δεῖ πᾶσαν γυναῖκα ἐπιχωρίην ἱζομένην ἐς ἱρὸν ᾿Αφροδίτης ἅπαξ ἐν τῇ ζόῃ μιχθῆναι ἀνδρὶ ξείνῳ. Πολλαὶ δὲ καὶ οὐκ ἀξιούμεναι ἀναμίσγεσθαι τῇσι ἄλλῃσι, οἷα πλούτῳ ὑπερφρονέουσαι, ἐπὶ ζευγέων ἐν καμάρῃσι ἐλάσασαι πρὸς τὸ ἱρὸν ἑστᾶσι, θεραπηίη δέ σφι ὄπισθε ἕπεται πολλή. Αἱ δὲ πλέονες ποιεῦσι ὧδε· ἐν τεμένεϊ ᾿Αφροδίτης κατέαται στέφανον περὶ τῇσι κεφαλῇσι ἔχουσαι θώμιγγος πολλαὶ γυναῖκες· αἱ μὲν γὰρ προσέρχονται, αἱ δὲ ἀπέρχονται. Σχοινοτενέες δὲ διέξοδοι πάντα τρόπον [ὁδῶν] ἔχουσι διὰ τῶν γυναικῶν, δι’ ὧν οἱ ξεῖνοι διεξιόντες ἐκλέγονται. ῎Ενθα ἐπεὰν ἵζηται γυνή, οὐ πρότερον ἀπαλλάσσεται ἐς τὰ οἰκία ἤ τίς οἱ ξείνων ἀργύριον ἐμβαλὼν ἐς τὰ γούνατα μιχθῇ ἔσω τοῦ ἱροῦ. ᾿Εμβαλόντα δὲ δεῖ εἰπεῖν τοσόνδε·  «᾿Επικαλέω τοι τὴν θεὸν Μύλιττα.» Μύλιττα δὲ καλέουσι τὴν ᾿Αφροδίτην ᾿Ασσύριοι.

 Τὸ δὲ ἀργύριον μέγαθός ἐστι ὅσον ὦν· οὐ γὰρ μὴ ἀπώσηται· οὐ γάρ οἱ θέμις ἐστί· γίνεται γὰρ ἱρὸν τοῦτο τὸ ἀργύριον· τῷ δὲ πρώτῳ ἐμβαλόντι ἕπεται οὐδὲ ἀποδοκιμᾷ οὐδένα. ᾿Επεὰν δὲ μιχθῇ, ἀποσιωσαμένη τῇ θεῷ ἀπαλλάσσεται ἐς τὰ οἰκία, καὶ τὠπὸ τούτου οὐκ οὕτω μέγα τί οἱ δώσεις ᾧ μιν λάμψεαι. ῞Οσαι μέν νυν εἴδεός τε ἐπαμμέναι εἰσὶ καὶ μεγάθεος, ταχὺ ἀπαλλάσσονται, ὅσαι δὲ ἄμορφοι αὐτέων εἰσί, χρόνον πολλὸν προσμένουσι οὐ δυνάμεναι τὸν νόμον ἐκπλῆσαι· καὶ γὰρ τριέτεα καὶ τετραέτεα μετεξέτεραι χρόνον μένουσι. ᾿Ενιαχῇ δὲ καὶ τῆς Κύπρου ἐστὶ παραπλήσιος τούτῳ νόμος.

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