‘It’s a brothel!’ Nearly squealing with excitement, I began to tell Zuzi (an Egyptology graduate) how, from the scene before us, I knew it was a brothel.
We were standing in a large room that had been carved into the face of one of the hills of Minya. The wall before us was covered in reliefs and paintings of two people, scantily clad, in close contact. The images definitely, definitely, belonged to a brothel.
With the rapid expansion of Rome’s provinces towards the end of the millennium, imports of foreign luxury goods and arts came flooding into The City from all four corners of the Empire.
Exotic prostitutes and artisans arrived as slaves, those seeking work or with travelling envoys. And with them came languages foreign to Rome’s Italian tongue.
To conquer the language barrier, a visitor arriving at a cosmopolitan brothel could simply point to a series of images painted on the walls.
‘It was like a visual sexual menu; you could indicate preferences of gender, number and, ahem, the type of contact.’
Then the visitor would be led to private - and some not so private - chambers for his/her enjoyment.
‘Look! The Spread Eagle! And the 69!’
Zuzi had looked at me. She had the good grace to listen to what I had said before saying quietly, ‘Han… they’re wrestling scenes.’
It was the tomb of a local elite (a nomarch), who had ruled over this area of Middle Egypt 3500 years ago. The images were of activities and pursuits he had enjoyed whilst he breathed. They were carved and painted on the walls (with some density) so he could take them with him into the afterlife and to continue enjoying them there.
Wrestling, it seems was quite a passion of his.
A donkey’s ‘Eee-HONK’ rang out in the valley 100ft below. Yeah, cheers.