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Sex sells

Sex sells. It has been proven by very brainy people like ourselves, that if something is straddled by a busty blond in a skimpy bikini with legs up to her ass, chances are high the guy will buy. Women need a little extra stimulus, apparently, but hand them a pair of boxer shorts to fondle, and they max out those credit cards faster than you can blink. And you probably won’t be getting those boxers back either.

(I’ve been dying to test if this is true. I want a new iPhone, mine’s hanging on a thread since I dropped it one to many times. But they’re so damn expensive, I keep putting it off. So I’ve been hanging around the local superstore’s phone department the past couple of weeks, waiting for a husky sales guy to flash me the rim of his tighty wighties while reaching for something on the top shelf so I can casually brush my fingers against it, hoping this will tip me over the edge. But no luck so far. The main reasons being a) husky guys don’t work in geeky chain stores, and b) if there were a husky sales guy, I’d be too shy to ask him to reach for something on the top shelf).

So, like I said in the previous post: my first idea for the YouReCa challenge was sex. With only six minutes to entertain and educate the audience, we needed something everyone was familiar with. Luckily, Romans loved sex. And luckily, there are some Romans everyone knows. So I started setting up this who-slept-with-who-in-the-Late-Republic network, starting with Caesar, and snowballing from there*. Added some other important people, to span the entire first century BC, and got the following graph (fig. 1):

Fig. 1: original network (nodes are sized according to degree centrality)

A blue edge means two people were married (and so probably slept together at least once…), a pink edge means they were lovers. Oh, those two red ones on the left? Yeah, that guy P.C. Pulcher Sr. was humping his sisters…
So we’ve got four more or less chronologically divided components: the generation of Sulla vs Caesar vs Octavian vs Tiberius. Two things stand out:
– the Roman elite was a big fan of serial monogamy
– these people didn’t shy away from an affair or two either. Or seven, in the case of some…

The size of the nodes is based on their degree: the bigger the blob, the more important it is. Or actually, in this case it simply means that he or she had a high sex drive. Funny thing: Octavian was really old fashioned, passing through all these marriage laws and stuff. Adultery even became a crime under his watch, something the elite wasn’t exactly waiting for, and when you look at the graph you can probably guess why. Ironically, his own daughter, Julia Augusta, was one of the most promiscuous of her generation (the names listed here are the ones we actually know of)!

So, we’ve got our network, now what? Let’s say someone in this network had an STD, like gonorrhea. Say Caesar, after horsing around in the east as ambassador to king Nicomedes, caught it. Marries one after the other, has a couple of affairs in between. The transmission probability per partner is about 60%. And as far as we know, condoms weren’t around yet back then. But even though Caesar seemed to have had a pretty high testosterone level, chances that the disease would spread among the Roman elite are pretty low, since he’s only connected to two limited branches of the network (Cleopatra was still in Egypt at the time). All of his other links are dead ends.

Now this network only presents us with the relationships we know of through our sources, of course. A while back, the Belgian National Bank estimated that 10% of the male population visits a prostitute at an average of 15 times per year (yeah you do, you dirty pig). Ok, we know that this is a serious exaggeration, but in those days, for men at least, it was more or less acceptable to whore around. Say there was this really classy whore, more of an expensive escort, if you will. With only a limited amount of strategically located customers (see fig. 2), she could do much more damage than a Caesar or a Sulla with all those links could. This is a very different kind of centrality (anyone remember which one?), depending not so much on how many people you sleep with, but on who you do the dirty with. Bigger isn’t always better, gentlemen, no matter what those penis enlargement ads tell you.

Fig. 2: network with sex worker (nodes are sized according to betweenness centrality)

Although our no doubt very charming lady-friend has only four links, she’s the bridge between three separate components of our network. Once she’s infected, chances are this thing goes viral and soon the entire Roman senate will be screaming in agony while peeing in the public latrines outside the Forum.

One of the reasons for this widespread crooked humpy dumpy✝ is probably that in those days marriage was mainly a political thing. Children were often just strategic pawns in their parents’ struggle for power. And since most STDs can be transmitted to the fetus during pregnancy, they form an extra threat to the stability of our elite network. When adding the links between mothers and their children to this network (fig. 3, green links), the last unconnected component is linked to the rest, and things really go haywire.

Fig. 3: network with family relations (nodes are sized according to degree centrality)

Notice how almost all central nodes are women? Depending on where you’re situated on the feminism spectrum, you can interpret this as:

a) the first sexual revolution in history, or
b) women welcoming such unbridled madness are vile creatures seized by demons.

Fortunately, there’s no decisive evidence for major STDs in antiquity, so it seems that everyone could hump around in the Forum as much as they liked with no real harm done. Except for Julia Augusti’s lovers, they were forced to commit suicide, those poor sods.

* In social sciences, snowballing is a sampling method where you start out with a person or a group of people and ask them to nominate other possible candidates that meet the criteria. Of course, we couldn’t ask Caesar anything, so we chose for him. In porn movies, snowballing means something else, apparently.

✝ There is no funny way to say ‘scheefpoeperij’ in English. For all you non-Dutch speaking barbarians out there: scheef = crooked and poeperij = fucking and shitting. Come to think of it, this is not the best publicity for our tiny glorious nation. What a dirty dirty collective conscience we have to invent such terms. Oh well, at least we’re not as in-your-face about it as those ancient Greeks were; those buggers strolled around carrying humongous dildo’s:

sex sells ancient_dildo


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