Turns out the Romans had a whole lot of names for sexual roles, and one’s really taking off

Marble busts of Roman emperor Hadrian and his lover Antinous

These days, we’d call someone on the receiving side of gay sex a “bottom,” but ancient Rome had a whole host of words for that role, as social media users recently discovered.

A viral tweet included a screenshot of Wikipedia’s “Homosexuality in ancient Rome” article—specifically Amy Richlin’s research into sexual roles among Roman men.

As reported by Richlin, a professor in UCLA’s Department of Classics, the term “homosexuality” has no corresponding Latin word, and Romans did not distinguish same-sex sexual encounters from different-sex ones. But the term cinaedus is one of the words used by Romans to describe men who liked to be penetrated by other men, and it’s “just one of a large number of insulting terms used by non-cineaedi,” she added.

Richlin went on:

Here are some of the other names by which Romans called a sexually penetrated male: pathieus, exoletus, concubinus, spintria, puer (“boy”), pullus (“chick”), pusio, delicatus, mollis(“soft”), tener (“dainty”), debilis (“weak”), ejfeminatus, discinctus (“loose-belted”), morbosus(“sick”).

(In an aside, Richlin wrote, “Note how difficult it is to come up with a self-claiming name to translate cinaedus and its synonyms; ‘gay’ is not exact, ‘penetrated’ is not self-defined, ‘passive’ misleadingly connotes inaction.”)

On Twitter, people latched onto the term morbosus.

“I think we should start calling them ‘morbs’ instead of ‘twinks,’” one person wrote.

“‘It’s morbin’ time’ takes on new meaning,” said another, citing a meme about the movie Morbius.

And in a Reddit discussion about those terms on the r/gay subreddit, one self-identified classicist confirmed that those terms “were slurs rather than identifiers.”

Another commenter wrote, “Damn, I vaguely remember learning Latin basics in high school, and now, with this post, my Latin knowledge is, like, 50% gay slurs.”

But a third Reddit user had a different take: “IDK, I’m kind of vibing with puer delicatus.”

While you’re here, check out the trailer for Colosseum, the unintentionally homoerotic, eight-part docuseries that ran last year on HISTORY.

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