The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 15, Number 2, January 8, 2012, Article 17


The Daily Mail published an article about a metal detectorists' recent find along the Thames rover: a roman brothel token. -Editor

Roman brothel token size

A Roman coin that was probably used by a lustful legionary has washed up on the banks of the Thames.

Made from bronze and smaller than a ten pence piece, the coin depicts a man and a woman engaged in an intimate act.

Historians believe it is the first example of a Roman brothel token to be found in this country.

It lay hidden in mud for almost 2,000 years until it was unearthed by an amateur archaeologist with a metal detector.

On the reverse of the token is the numeral XIIII, which experts say could indicate the holder handed over 14 small Roman coins called asses to buy it. This would have been the equivalent of seven loaves of bread or one day's pay for a labourer in the first century AD.

The holder would then have taken the token to one of the many Londinium brothels and handed it to a sex slave in exchange for the act depicted on the coin.

The token was found by pastry chef Regis Cursan, 37, who used a metal detector to scan the banks of the Thames near Putney Bridge in West London.

The token has been donated to the Museum of London, where it will be on display for the next three months.

Curator Caroline McDonald said: ‘This is the only one of its kind ever to be found in Great Britain.

‘When it came in, it had to be cleaned up before we could make out what it was.

‘When we realised it was a saucy picture, we had a bit of a giggle but there's also a sad story behind it because these prostitutes were slaves

Similar tokens have been found elsewhere in the Roman Empire, but this is the first time one has been unearthed in this country. Experts say there is a possibility it could also be a gaming token – although it would be the only one in Britain to display such an explicit illustration.

Historians believe that the use of a specific image was necessary because many of the brothel slaves would not have been fluent in Latin so needed a picture to know what service their client required.

It is also thought that tokens were a way of ensuring none of the customers' money went directly to the prostitutes.

Experts say it was also illegal to take Roman coins into a brothel during the reign of first century emperor Tiberius as they carried his image.

The finder was a member of the Thames and Field metal detecting society. See this week's Features Web Site for more information of the group, including an upcoming History Channel program about them. -Editor

To read the complete article, see: Dug out of the Thames mud, a token Romans used to pay for their pleasure (

A blogger at The Guardian commented on the story. -Editor


One of the oldest pieces of British pornographic art has just been discovered beside the river Thames. At first sight, the bronze disc found near Putney Bridge in London looks like an old coin – until you notice that it depicts a sex scene.

This type of bronze token with its erotic imagery was specially made to spend in ancient Roman brothels. The example found near Putney Bridge and given to the Museum of London is evidence that brothels in Roman Londinium were just as busy as they were in ancient Pompeii, where brothels and their lewd wall paintings are among the well-preserved everyday shops of a Roman town.

Yet this is not just a hint of life in Roman Britain. It is also a glimpse of a hidden art history. These Roman tokens, with their detailed depictions of sex acts, had a dramatic influence on the birth of modern pornography. While the Putney token has been hailed as a rare discovery from Roman Britain, such artefacts showing similar scenes were actually well known in Renaissance Italy.

To read the complete article, see: Porn yesterday: Roman brothel tokens and the rise of erotic art (

And here's a follow-up article from The Daily Mail with most information on the Roman sex trade. -Editor

So unabashed were the people of Pompeii that they inscribed graphic images of genitalia on the paving stones, probably acting as signposts to the nearest brothel.

Prostitutes advertised their wares by carving their names, together with their sexual specialities, on walls around the town.

Everything from public arches to amphitheatres — both bustling with people — were popular pick-up spots, as were the baths, where archaeologists have uncovered explicit murals of different sexual acts between men and women, and men and men.

In the steamy atmosphere, where men and women — rich and poor — mingled naked, erotic tension ran high and it is likely that in the rooms upstairs, these tensions were released.

Bizarrely, the sex trade was aided by strict moralist Augustus when he became Emperor of Rome in 63 BC. He promoted family values and criminalised adultery.

This meant that anyone wanting extra-marital sex had to pay for it, because, in Roman eyes, paid sex did not constitute cheating. Prostitution and sex with slaves boomed even more so as a result.

To read the complete article, see: After an explicit coin used to pay for pleasure is found in the Thames, the X-rated story of the Roman sex slaves of Britain (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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