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Prostitutes and Courtesans

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    a short summary from Wikipedia: Mary Boleyn Spouse(s) : Sir William Carey, Aldenham William Stafford, of Chebsey Issue: Catherine Knollys, Lady Knollys Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon A...
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  • Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, marquise de Pompadour (1721 - 1764)
    Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson (1721–1764), often known by nicknames Reinette and Madame de Pompadour, was a well-known courtesan and the famous mistress of King Louis XV of France. Online biography By ...
  • Heidi Fleiss (the "Hollywood Madam")
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  • Tamar . (deceased)
    Genesis 38:6-30 Wikipedia: Tamar & תמר. Tamar was a childless widow, who was given to her brother-in-law after her husbands death. By this marriage, her offspring would continue the name of & inher...

Prostitution is said to be one of the oldest professions in history. This is a list of some of the famous and infamous prostitutes on

Read the Cultural History of Prostitution to see the significant shifts in attitude towards the oldest profession through the ages.

Courtesans & Prostitutes


Courtiers & Pimps


A Cultural History of Prostitution


The Hebrew Bible uses two different words for prostitute, zonah (זנה)‎ and kedeshah (קדשה)‎. The word zonah simply meant an ordinary prostitute or loose woman But the word kedeshah literally means "consecrated (feminine form)", from the Semitic root q-d-sh (קדש)‎ meaning "holy" or "set apart". In the story of Tamar at Genesis 38, the two words seem to be being used effectively interchangeably.


Babylonian texts depict Lilith as the sacred prostitute of the goddess Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian counterpart to the Sumerian Inanna. The Canaanite equivalent of Ishtar was Astarte.

According to the contemporary Christian writer Eusebius temple prostitution was still being carried on in the Phoenician cities of Aphaca and Heliopolis until closed down by the emperor Constantine in the fourth century AD.


In ancient Greek society, prostitution was engaged in by both women and boys. The Greek word for prostitute is porne (Gr: πόρνη), derived from the verb pernemi (to sell), with the evident modern evolution into pornography.

Female prostitutes could be independent and sometimes influential women. They were required to wear distinctive dresses and had topay taxes


In ancient Rome, a registered prostitute was called a meretrix while the unregistered one fell under the broad category "prostibulae". Prostitutes were often foreign slaves, captured, purchased, or raised for that purpose, sometimes by large-scale "prostitute farmers" who took abandoned children.

Enslavement into prostitution was sometimes used as a legal punishment against criminal free women. Buyers were allowed to inspect naked men and women for sale in private and there was no stigma attached to the purchase of males by a male aristocrat.


The prophet Muhammad sanctioned a "temporary marriage"—sigheh in Iran and muta'a in Iraq— which can provide a legitimizing cover for sex workers.

In the early 17th century, there was widespread male and female prostitution throughout the cities of Kyoto, Edo, and Osaka, Japan. Oiran were courtesans in Japan during the Edo period. The oiran were considered a type of yūjo (遊女?) "woman of pleasure" or prostitute.

Middle Ages

Courtesans: In Renaissance Europe, courtiers played an extremely important role in upper-class society. It was customary for royal couples to lead separate lives — marrying simply to preserve bloodlines and to secure political alliances — men and women would often seek gratification and companionship from people living at court.

The verb to court originally meant to reside at court", and later came to mean to behave as a courtier and then to pay amorous attention to somebody. The most intimate companion of a ruler was called the favorite.

During the Middle Ages, although all forms of sexual activity outside of marriage were regarded as sinful by the Roman Catholic Church, prostitution was tolerated because it was held to prevent the greater evils of rape, sodomy, and masturbation (McCall, 1979).

Augustine of Hippo held that: If you expel prostitution from society, you will unsettle everything on account of lusts". The general tolerance of prostitution was for the most part reluctant, and many canonists urged prostitutes to reform.

16th–17th centuries

By the end of the fifteenth century attitudes seemed to have begun to harden against prostitution. An outbreak of syphilis in Naples 1494 which later swept across Europe, may have been causes of this change in attitude. With the advent of the Protestant Reformation, numbers of European towns closed their brothels in an attempt to eradicate prostitution.

18th century

According to Dervish Ismail Agha, the Turkish baths, the masseurs were traditionally young men, who helped wash clients by soaping and scrubbing their bodies. They also worked as sex workers.

The Ottoman texts describe who they were, their prices, how many times they could bring their customers to orgasm, and the details of their sexual practices.

19th century

In the 19th century, legalized prostitution became a public controversy as France and then the United Kingdom passed the Contagious Diseases Acts, legislation mandating pelvic examinations for suspected prostitutes.

This legislation applied not only to the United Kingdom and France, but also to their overseas colonies. In 1839, in London, a city of two million inhabitants, there were between 9,409[28]–80,000 prostitutes.

A similar situation did in fact exist in the Russian Empire; prostitutes operating out of government-sanctioned brothels were given yellow internal passports signifying their status and were subjected to weekly physical exams. Leo Tolstoy's novel Resurrection describes legal prostitution in 19th-century Russia.

20th century

Originally, prostitution was widely legal in the United States. Prostitution was made illegal in almost all states between 1910 and 1915 largely due to the influence of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union which was influential in the banning of drug use and was a major force in the prohibition of alcohol.