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three pairs of lovers with space



Here are assembled hopefully all the ancient texts on the practice of pederasty in Persia. They are all Greek, except for two in Latin. They are arranged in chronological order of what they describe.

Where necessary, the translators' Latinisation of Greek names has been amended in favour of literal romanisation of the Greek, but Persian names (the original Old Persian forms of which are not always known) have been left in their conventional Latin forms.


Xenophon, The Cyropaedia I 4 xxvii-xxviii

The Athenian soldier and philosopher Xenophon recounted the following story in his Κύρου παιδεία (The Education of Cyrus) in ca. 370 BC.  The Cyrus (Old Persian Kūruš) in question was the founder of the Persian Empire who lived from ca. 600 to 530 BC.  The story took place after one in which Cyrus had been 15 or 16[1], but while he was still a pais (boy)[2], so in about 584 BC.

The translation is by Walter Miller in the Loeb Classical Library volume LI (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1914), with one correction footnoted.

Now, if we may relate a boy-love[3] story, we are told that when Cyrus was going away and they were taking leave of one another, his kinsmen bade him good-bye, after the Persian custom, with a kiss upon his lips. And that custom has survived, for so the Persians do even to this day. Now a certain Median[4] gentleman, very noble, had for some considerable time been struck with Cyrus's beauty, and when he saw the boy's kinsmen kissing him, he hung back. But when the rest were gone, he came up to Cyrus and said: “Am I the only one of your kinsmen, Cyrus, whom you do not recognize as such?”

“What,” said Cyrus, “do you mean to say that you, too, are a kinsman?”

“Certainly,” said he.

“That is the reason, then, it seems,” said Cyrus, “why you used to stare at me; for if I am not mistaken, I have often noticed you doing so.”

“Yes,” said he, “for though I was always desirous of coming to you, by the gods I was too bashful.”

“Well, you ought not to have been—at any rate, if you were my kinsman,” said Cyrus; and at the same time he went up and kissed him.

And when he had been given the kiss, the Mede asked: “Really, is it a custom in Persia to kiss one's kinsfolk?”

“Certainly,” said he; “at least, when they see one another after a time of separation, or when they part from one another.”

“It may be time, then, for you to kiss me once again,” said the Mede; “for, as you see, I am parting from you now.”

And so Cyrus kissed him good-bye again and went on his way. But they had not yet gone far, when the Mede came back with his horse in a lather. And when Cyrus saw him he said: “Why, how now? Did you forget something that you intended to say?”

“No, by Zeus,” said he, “but I have come back after a time of separation.”

“By Zeus, cousin,” said Cyrus, “a pretty short time.”

“Short, is it?” said the Mede; “don't you know, Cyrus,” said he, “that even the time it takes me to wink seems an eternity to me, because during that time I do not see you, who are so handsome?”

Then Cyrus laughed through his tears and bade him go and be of good cheer, for in a little while he would come back to them, so that he might soon look at him—without winking, if he chose.

[27] Εἰ δὲ δεῖ καὶ παιδικοῦ λόγου ἐπιμνησθῆναι, λέγεται, ὅτε Κῦρος ἀπῄει καὶ ἀπηλλάττοντο ἀπ᾿ ἀλλήλων, τοὺς συγγενεῖς φιλοῦντας τῷ στόματι ἀποπέμπεσθαι αὐτὸν νόμῳ Περσικῷ· καὶ γὰρ νῦν ἔτι τοῦτο ποιοῦσι Πέρσαι· ἄνδρα δέ τινα τῶν Μήδων μάλα καλὸν κἀγαθὸν ὄντα ἐκπεπλῆχθαι πολύν τινα χρόνον ἐπὶ τῷ κάλλει τοῦ Κύρου, ἡνίκα δὲ ἑώρα τοὺς συγγενεῖς φιλοῦντας αὐτόν, ὑπολειφθῆναι· ἐπεὶ δ᾿ οἱ ἄλλοι ἀπῆλθον, προσελθεῖν τῷ Κύρῳ καὶ εἰπεῖν, Ἐμὲ μόνον οὐ γιγνώσκεις τῶν συγγενῶν, ὦ Κῦρε;

Τί δέ, εἰπεῖν τὸν Κῦρον, ἦ καὶ σὺ συγγενὴς εἶ;

Μάλιστα, φάναι.

Ταῦτ᾿ ἄρα, εἰπεῖν τὸν Κῦρον, καὶ ἐνεώρας1 μοι· πολλάκις γὰρ δοκῶ σε γιγνώσκειν τοῦτο ποιοῦντα.

Προσελθεῖν γάρ σοι, ἔφη, ἀεὶ βουλόμενος ναὶ μὰ τοὺς θεοὺς ᾐσχυνόμην.

Ἀλλ᾿ οὐκ ἔδει, φάναι τὸν Κῦρον, συγγενῆ γε ὄντα· ἅμα δὲ προσελθόντα φιλῆσαι αὐτόν.

[28]  Καὶ τὸν Μῆδον φιληθέντα ἐρέσθαι, Ἦ καὶ ἐν Πέρσαις νόμος ἐστὶν οὗτος συγγενεῖς φιλεῖν;

Μάλιστα, φάναι, ὅταν γε ἴδωσιν ἀλλήλους διὰ χρόνου ἢ ἀπίωσί ποι ἀπ᾿ ἀλλήλων.

Ὥρα ἂν εἴη, ἔφη ὁ Μῆδος, μάλα πάλιν σε φιλεῖν ἐμέ· ἀπέρχομαι γάρ, ὡς ὁρᾷς, ἤδη.

Οὕτω καὶ τὸν Κῦρον φιλήσαντα πάλιν ἀποπέμπειν καὶ ἀπιεναι. καὶ ὁδόν τε οὔπω πολλὴν διηνύσθαι2 αὐτοῖς καὶ τὸν Μῆδον ἥκειν πάλιν ἱδροῦντι τῷ ἵππῳ· καὶ τὸν Κῦρον ἰδόντα, Ἀλλ᾿ ἦ, φάναι, ἐπελάθου τι ὧν ἐβούλου εἰπεῖν;

Μὰ Δία, φάναι, ἀλλ᾿ ἥκω διὰ χρόνου.

Καὶ τὸν Κῦρον εἰπεῖν, Νὴ Δί᾿, ὦ σύγγενες, δι᾿ ὀλίγου γε.

Ποίου ὀλίγου; εἰπεῖν τὸν Μῆδον. οὐκ οἶσθα, φάναι, ὦ Κῦρε, ὅτι καὶ ὅσον σκαρδαμύττω χρόνον, πάνυ πολύς μοι δοκεῖ εἶναι, ὅτι οὐχ ὁρῶ σε τότε τοιοῦτον ὄντα;

Ἐνταῦθα δὴ τὸν Κῦρον γελάσαι τε ἐκ τῶν ἔμπροσθεν δακρύων καὶ εἰπεῖν αὐτῷ θαρρεῖν ἀπιόντι, ὅτι παρέσται αὐτοῖς ὀλίγου χρόνου, ὥστε ὁρᾶν ἐξέσται κἂν βούληται ἀσκαρδαμυκτί.

A drawing of a relief of Cyrus as King of Kings


Herodotos, The Histories I 135

Herodotos wrote this in ca. 425 BC. The translation is by A.D. Godley in the Loeb Classical Library volume CXVII (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1920).

But the Persians more than all men welcome foreign customs. They wear the Median dress, thinking it more beautiful than their own, and the Egyptian cuirass in war. Their luxurious practices are of all kinds, and all borrowed: the Greeks taught them pederasty. Every Persian marries many lawful wives, and keeps still more concubines. Ξεινικὰ δὲ νόμαια Πέρσαι προσίενται ἀνδρῶν μάλιστα. καὶ γὰρ δὴ τὴν Μηδικὴν ἐσθῆτα νομίσαντες τῆς ἑωυτῶν εἶναι καλλίω φορέουσι, καὶ ἐς τοὺς πολέμους τοὺς Αἰγυπτίους θώρηκας· καὶ εὐπαθείας τε παντοδαπὰς πυνθανόμενοι ἐπιτηδεύουσι, καὶ δὴ καὶ ἀπ᾿ Ἑλλήνων μαθόντες παισὶ μίσγονται. γαμέουσι δὲ ἕκαστος αὐτῶν πολλὰς μὲν κουριδίας γυναῖκας, πολλῷ δ᾿ ἔτι πλεῦνας παλλακὰς κτῶνται.


Plutarch, On the Malice of Herodotos 13

Plutarch wrote this around the beginning of the 2nd century AD. The translation is that corrected and revised by William W. Goodwin in Plutarch’s Morals IV (Boston, 1878) p. 331.

The same Herodotos, that he may still be like himself, says that the Persians learned to have sex with boys[5] from the Greeks. And yet how could the Greeks have taught this impurity to the Persians, amongst whom, as is confessed by almost all, boys had been castrated before ever they arrived in the Grecian seas? Ὁ δὲ συγγραφεὺς ἐπιμένων Πέρσας μέν φησι παισὶ μίσγεσθαι παρ᾿ Ἑλλήνων μαθόντας. καίτοι πῶς Ἕλλησι Πέρσαι διδασκάλια ταύτης ὀφείλουσι τῆς ἀκολασίας, παρ᾿ οἷς ὀλίγου δεῖν ὑπὸ πάντων ὁμολογεῖται παῖδας ἐκτετμῆσθαι, πρὶν Ἑλληνικὴν ἰδεῖν θάλασσαν;


The Persian Empire in ca. 500 BC


Xenophon, Anabasis II 6 xxviii

In this witness account, written in ca. 370 BC, of the epic march of the ten thousand Greek mercenaries who attempted unsuccessfully to help the Persian prince Cyrus the younger to overthrow his brother in 401 BC, the foregoing Xenophon gave an unattractive character sketch of the Thessalian general Menon treacherously captured and killed by a Persian satrap, including the following about him and the Persian general Ariaios , who had been Cyrus's second in command:

with Ariaios, who was a barbarian, he became extremely intimate while still young for the reason that Ariaios was fond of beautiful youths; Ἀριαίῳ δὲ βαρβάρῳ ὄντι, ὅτι μειρακίοις καλοῖς ἥδετο,


Claudius Aelianus, Historical Miscellany, XII 1.

Aelian was a Roman writer of the early 3rd century AD, who nevertheless wrote in Greek.  His Historical Miscellany is a series of anecdotes from older writers.  This anecdote is dated “some time later” than the death of Cyrus the younger, which occurred in 401 BC., so early in the 4th century.

The translation is by Nigel G. Wilson in the Loeb Classical Library volume CDLXXXVI (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997).

Some time later the eunuch Tiridates died. He had been the most handsome and attractive[6] in Asia. He ended his days still a youth, emerging from childhood, and the king [Artaxerxes II of Persia] was said to be greatly in love with him. As a result he lamented bitterly and was in great distress; there was public mourning throughout Asia as a gesture to the king from all his subjects. No one dared to approach or console him, since they believed the grief caused by the loss he had suffered was incurable.  When three days had passed, Aspasia [a much-loved wife of the King] put on mourning and, as the king departed to the baths, stood weeping, her gaze fixed on the ground. When he saw her he was amazed and asked why she had come. To which she replied: “I have come to console you in your grief and pain, Your Majesty, if it is your wish; if it annoys you, I will go away.” The Persian was greatly encouraged by her sympathy and asked her to go to the bedroom and wait for him, which she did. When he came back he put the eunuch’s cloak over Aspasia’s black dress. Somehow the youth’s[7] clothing suited her, and her beauty struck her lover even more powerfully. Once overcome by this sight, he asked her to visit him in this attire until the severity of his grief waned. In order to please him she did so, and alone of all the inhabitants of Asia, not just the women, they say, but even the king’s sons and relatives, she gave consolation to Artaxerxes and cured the suffering caused by his grief, as the king yielded to her sympathy and wisely accepted her consolation.

Χρόνῳ δὲ ὕστερον Τηριδάτης ὁ εὐνοῦχος ἀποθνῄσκει, κάλλιστος τῶν ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ καὶ ὡραιότατος γενόμενος· κατέστρεψε δὲ ἄρα οὗτος τὸν βίον μειρακιούμενος καὶ ἐκ τῆς παιδικῆς ἡλικίας ἀνατρέχων, ἐλέγετο δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐρᾶν ὁ βασιλεὺς ἀνδρειότατα. ἐκ δὴ τούτων ἐπένθει βαρύτατα καὶ δριμύτατα ἤλγει καὶ δημοσίᾳ κατὰ πᾶσαν τὴν Ἀσίαν πένθος ἦν, χαριζομένων ἁπάντων βασιλεῖ τοῦτο. ἐτόλμα τε οὐδεὶς αὐτῷ προσελθεῖν οὐδὲ παραμυθήσασθαι· καὶ γὰρ ἐπίστευον ἀνιάτως αὐτὸν ἔχειν ἐπὶ τῷ συμβεβηκότι πάθει. τριῶν δὲ ἡμερῶν διελθουσῶν, στολὴν ἀναλαβοῦσα ἡ Ἀσπασία πενθικήν, ἀπιόντος τοῦ βασιλέως ἐπὶ λουτρόν, ἔστη δακρύουσα καὶ ὁρῶσα εἰς γῆν· ὁ δὲ ἰδὼν αὐτὴν ἐξεπλάγη καὶ ἤρετο τὴν αἰτίαν τῆς ἀφίξεως. καὶ ἐκείνη φησί· “λυπούμενόν σε, βασιλεῦ, καὶ ἀλγοῦντα ἀφῖγμαι παραμυθήσασθαι, εἴ σοι βουλομένῳ ἐστίν· εἰ δὲ χαλεπαίνεις, ἀπαλλάττομαι ὀπίσω.” ὑπερήσθη τῇ κηδεμονίᾳ ὁ Πέρσης καὶ προσέταξεν εἰς τὸν θάλαμον ἀνελθοῦσαν ἀναμεῖναι αὐτόν· ἡ δὲ ἔδρασε ταῦτα. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἐπανῆλθε, τὴν τοῦ εὐνούχου στολὴν ἐπὶ τῇ μελαίνῃ περιῆψε τῇ Ἀσπασίᾳ· καί πως ἔπρεψεν αὐτῇ καὶ τὰ τοῦ μειρακίου, καὶ ἔτι μᾶλλον τὰ τῆς ὥρας αὐτῇ πρὸς τὸν ἐραστὴν ἐξέλαμψεν. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἅπαξ ἐχειρώθη τούτοις ἐκεῖνος, ἠξίωσεν αὐτήν, ἔστ᾿ ἂν ἀπομαρανθῇ τοῦ πένθους αὐτῷ ἡ ἀκμή, οὕτως ἐσταλμένην ὡς αὐτὸν παριέναι [αὐτήν]. καὶ ἐκείνη χαριζομένη ἐπείσθη αὐτῷ· καὶ μόνη τῶν κατὰ τὴν Ἀσίαν οὐ γυναικῶν μόνον, φασίν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν τοῦ βασιλέως υἱῶν καὶ τῶν συγγενῶν παρεμυθήσατο Ἀρταξέρξην, καὶ τὸ ἐκ τῆς λύπης ἰάσατο πάθος, εἴξαντος τοῦ βασιλέως τῇ κηδεμονίᾳ καὶ τῇ παραμυθίᾳ πεισθέντος συνετῶς.

Artaxerxes II on a gold daric


Xenophon, Agesilaos V 4-7

The author of the above-cited Cyropaedia also wrote a biography of the Spartan King Agesilaos, whom he had known well and fought under. It was written between Agesilaos’s death in 360/1 BC and Xenophon’s own death in 354. The incident described, the only one of Greek love interest in this work, took place in 395, as is clear from the context given to the same story by Plutarch in his Life of Agesilaos.

The translation of the first paragraph is by Thomas Hubbard in his Homosexuality in Greece and Rome (University of California Press, 2003),  pp. 67-8; the second, not translated by him, is by E.C. Marchant in the Loeb Classical Library volume CLXXXIII (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1925).

Is it not worth mentioning his self-control in erotic matters if for no other reason than one's amazement at it? One would say that his holding off from those he did not desire was merely the act of an ordinary human. But he loved Megabates, the son of Spithridates, just as the most intense character would love the most beautiful boy. When Megabates tried to kiss Agesilaos (since it is the custom among the Persians to kiss those whom they honor), Agesilaos struggled with all his might not to be kissed. Isn't this a mark of temperance and exceptional high-mindedness? 

Since Megabates took it as a slight and no longer attempted to kiss him, Agesilaos spoke to one of his friends and asked him to persuade Megabates to "honor" him again. When his friend asked whether he would kiss the boy back, if Megabates should be persuaded, Agesilaos fell silent for a moment and then said, "Not by the twin gods, not even if I were to become the most handsome, strong, and swift man alive! Indeed, I swear by all the gods that I would rather fight the same struggle again than have everything I see turn to gold."

I am not ignorant of what some people suspect in regard to these matters. But I at least think I know that more men are able to gain mastery over their enemies than over such appetites. No doubt when these things are known to few, many have a right to be sceptical: but we all know this, that the greater a man's fame, the fiercer is the light that beats on all his actions; we know too that no one ever reported that he had seen Agesilaos do any such thing, and that no scandal based on conjecture would have gained credence.

For it was not his habit, when abroad, to lodge apart in a private house, but he was always either in a temple, where conduct of this sort is, of course, impossible, or else in a public place where all men's eyes became witnesses of his rectitude. If I speak this falsely against the knowledge of the Greek world, I am in no way praising my hero; but I am censuring myself.

[4] Περί γε μὴν ἀφροδισίων ἐγκρατείας αὐτοῦ ἆρ᾿ οὐχὶ εἰ μή του ἄλλου ἀλλὰ θαύματος ἕνεκα ἄξιον μνησθῆναι; τὸ μὲν γὰρ ὧν μὴ ἐπεθύμησεν ἀπέχεσθαι ἀνθρώπινον ἄν τις φαίη εἶναι· τὸ δὲ Μεγαβάτου τοῦ Σπιθριδάτου παιδὸς ἐρασθέντα, ὥσπερ ἂν τοῦ καλλίστου ἡ σφοδροτάτη φύσις ἐρασθείη, ἔπειτα ἡνίκα, ἐπιχωρίου ὄντος τοῖς Πέρσαις φιλεῖν οὓς ἂν τιμῶσιν, ἐπεχείρησε καὶ ὁ Μεγαβάτης φιλῆσαι τὸν Ἀγησίλαον, διαμάχεσθαι ἀνὰ κράτος τὸ μὴ φιληθῆναι, ἆρ᾿ οὐ τοῦτό γε ἤδη τὸ σωφρόνημα καὶ λίαν γεννικόν;

[5] ἐπεὶ δὲ ὥσπερ ἀτιμασθῆναι νομίσας ὁ Μεγαβάτης τοῦ λοιποῦ οὐκέτι φιλεῖν ἐπειρᾶτο, προσφέρει τινὶ λόγον τῶν ἑταίρων ὁ Ἀγησίλαος πείθειν τὸν Μεγαβάτην πάλιν τιμᾶν ἑαυτόν. ἐρομένου δὲ τοῦ ἑταίρου, ἢν πεισθῇ ὁ Μεγαβάτης, εἰ φιλήσει, ἐνταῦθα διασιωπήσας ὁ Ἀγησίλαος εἶπεν· Οὐ τὼ σιώ, οὐδ᾿ εἰ μέλλοιμί γε αὐτίκα μάλα κάλλιστός τε καὶ ἰσχυρότατος καὶ τάχιστος ἀνθρώπων ἔσεσθαι· μάχεσθαί γε μέντοι πάλιν τὴν αὐτὴν μάχην ὄμνυμι πάντας θεοὺς ἦ μὴν μᾶλλον βούλεσθαι ἢ πάντα μοι ὅσα ὁρῶ χρυσᾶ γενέσθαι.

[6] καὶ ὅ τι μὲν δὴ ὑπολαμβάνουσί τινες ταῦτα, οὐκ ἀγνοῶ· ἐγὼ μέντοι δοκῶ εἰδέναι, ὅτι πολὺ πλέονες τῶν πολεμίων ἢ τῶν τοιούτων δύνανται κρατεῖν. ἀλλὰ ταῦτα μὲν ὀλίγων εἰδότων πολλοῖς ἔξεστιν ἀπιστεῖν· τὰ δὲ πάντες ἐπιστάμεθα, ὅτι ἥκιστα μὲν οἱ ἐπιφανέστατοι ῶν ἀνθρώπων λανθάνουσιν ὅ τι ἂν ποιῶσιν· Ἀγησίλαον δέ τι πράξαντα μὲν τοιοῦτον οὔτε ἰδὼν πώποτε οὐδεὶς ἀνήγγειλεν οὔτε εἰκάζων πιστὰ ἄν ἔδοξε λέγειν.

[7]καὶ γὰρ εἰς οἰκίαν μὲν οὐδεμίαν ἰδίᾳ ἐν ἀποδημίᾳ κατήγετο, ἀεὶ δὲ ἦν ἢ ἐν ἱερῷ, ἔνθα δὴ ἀδύνατον τὰ τοιαῦτα πράττειν, ἢ ἐν φανερῷ, μάρτυρας τοὺς πάντων ὀφθαλμοὺς τῆς σωφροσύνης ποιούμενος. εἰ δ᾿ ἐγὼ ταῦτα ψεύδομαι ἀντία τῆς Ἑλλάδος ἐπισταμένης, ἐκεῖνον μὲν οὐδὲν ἐπαινῶ, ἐμαυτὸν δὲ ψέγω.


Xenophon, Hellenika IV 1 xxxix-xl

Xenophon’s Hellenika, a general history of Greece between 411 and 362 BC, written between 357 and Xenophon’s death in 354, included other boy-love anecdotes about the foregoing Spartan King, Agesilaos II. One of them concerned him and another Persian boy, whom he later helped in his pursuit of a love affair with an Athenian boy, and is recounted here, together with the other pederastic content of the Hellenika.


Plutarch, Life of Agesilaos XI 2-7 & XIII 1-3

Much later, at the beginning of the 2nd century AD, the Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch also wrote a biography of King Agesilaos II.  The boy-love stories he related therein are presented here, and two of them involved Persians: one of them being his retelling of Xenophon’s anecdote in his Agesilaos about the boy Megabates, recounted above, and the other being his retelling of the anecdote just mentioned as being in Xenophon’s Hellenika.


Quintus Curtius Rufus, The Histories of Alexander the Great VI 5 xxii-xxiii & 6 viii

Curtius was a Roman historian of the first century AD.  The events described took place in 330 BC soon after Darius (Old Persian Dãraya-vauš) III, the last Persian King of Kings, repeatedly defeated by Alexander, had been traitorously overthrown and murdered by a usurper with the help of Nabarzanes, a general. For what Curtius had to relate further on the subject of Alexander and his beloved Bagoas see The Histories of Alexander the Great by Curtius Rufus, and also a further anecdote recounted by the above-quoted Plutarch in his Life of Alexander LXVII.

This translation is by J. C. Rolfe in the Loeb Classical Library volume LXXXVII (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1946).

Now they had come to the city of Hyrcania in which the palace of Darius had been; there Nabarzanes, having received a safe conduct, met him, bringing great gifts.

Among these was Bagoas, a eunuch of remarkable beauty and in the very flower of boyhood, who had been loved by Darius and was afterwards to be loved by Alexander; and it was especially because of the boy’s entreaties that he was led to pardon Nabarzanes. …

Three hundred and sixty-five concubines, the same number that Darius had had, filled his palace, attended by herds of eunuchs, also accustomed to prostitute themselves.

[22] ibi Nabarzanes accepta fide occurrit, dona ingentia ferens.

[23] Inter quae Bagoas erat, specie singulari spado atque in ipso flore pueritiae, cui et Dareus assuerat et mox Alexander assuevit; eiusque maxime precibus motus Nabarzani ignovit. ...

[8] Pelices ccc et lxv, totidem quot Darei fuerant, regiam implebant, quas spadonum greges, et ipsi muliebria pati assueti, sequebantur.


Darius III at the battle of Issos, his most humiliating defeat by Alexander, 333 BC: detail from a mosaic at Pompeii


The Book of the Laws of Countries 25-27

The Book of the Laws of Countries is a dialogue written by Philip, a disciple of Bardaisan (AD 154-222), the founder of the long-lasting Bardasainite sect of Christian Gnostics. The main speaker is Bardaisan himself, whose parents came from Persia, who himself lived in Edessa, the capital of the nearby kingdom of Osrhoene, and was presumably therefore well-informed about Persia. Presented here is the comparison he drew between attitudes to pederasty in the lands east of the Euphrates (Persia implicitly included) and those elsewhere.

The Book survives in two old manuscripts, one in Syriac and the other in Greek, which vary slightly in their meaning. What follows is the Greek version with a translation into English by E. H. Gifford in his ὐσεβιου του Παμφιλου Εὐαγγελικης Προπαρασκευης λογοι ιεʹ. Eusebii Pamphili Evangelicæ Præparationis libri XV. Ad codices manuscriptos denuo collatos recensuit, anglice nunc primum reddidit, notis et indicibus instruxit E. H. Gifford (Oxford, 1903). A translation of the Syriac version is given in this footnote.[8] Everything Bardaisan said about pederasty in both versions can be read in the article The Book of the Laws of Countries.

From the river Euphrates, and as far as the Ocean towards the East, he who is reviled as a murderer, or a thief, is not at all indignant: but he who is reviled for sodomy avenges himself even to the death: among the Greeks, however, even their wise men are not blamed for having boy beloveds[9].

In the same East those who suffer outrage, if it become known, are put to death by brothers, or fathers, or kinsmen, and are not thought worthy of burial in open day.

[25] άπό Εύφράτου ποταμοί» καί μέχρι τοϋ 'Ωκεανού ώς έπί άνατολάς ό λοιδορούμενος ώς φονεύς ή ώς κλέπτης ού πάνυ άγανακτεΐ, ό δέ ώς άρσενοκοίτης λοιδορούμενος έαυτόν έκδικεΐ μέχρι καί φόνου παρ' "Ελλησι καί οί σοφοί έρωμένους έχοντεςού ψέγονται.

[26] έν τη αύτη άνατολη ύβριζόμενοι έάν γνωσθώσιν, ύπό άδελφών ή πατέρων καί συγγενών φονεύονται καί ταφής προδήλου ούκ άξιοϋνται.


The Parthian Empire


Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism I 152

Empiricus was a physician and philosopher of unknown location who wrote in Greek in the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD.  It is presumed this remark by him referred to pederasty rather than other male homosexuality simply because every other reference to ancient Persian homosexuality concerned pederasty. His concern in this book was with the evaluation of received knowledge, so it is unsurprising if some of the examples he gave of it were out-of-date.[10] The translation is by R.G. Bury in the Loeb Classical Library volume CCLXXIII (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933).

And we oppose habit to the other things, as for instance to law when we say that amongst the Persians it is the habit to indulge in intercourse with males, but amongst the Romans it is forbidden by law to do so; … Τὸ ἔθος δὲ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἀντιτίθεμεν, οἷον νόμῳ μέν, ὅταν λέγωμεν παρὰ μὲν Πέρσαις ἔθος εἶναι ἀρρενομιξίαις χρῆσθαι, παρὰ δὲ Ῥωμαίοις ἀπαγορεύεσθαι νόμῳ τοῦτο πράττειν, …


Athenaios, The Learned Banqueters 603a

Athenaios of Naukratis wrote this in the early 3rd century AD, but most of his book is a recitation and discussion of the writings of classical and hellenistic authors, which is adequate explanation of how what he reported as if it were the present state of affairs was often out of date compared with slightly earlier writers. The translation is by Thomas Hubbard in his Homosexuality in Greece and Rome (University of California Press, 2003),  p. 79.

The Persians also have sex with boys, but they learned it from the Greeks Herodotos says. Πέρσας δὲ παρ᾿ Ἑλλήνων φησὶν Ἡρόδοτος μαθεῖν τὸ παισὶν χρῆσθαι.


Sassanian Persia (AD 224-651)

Ammianus Marcellinus, History,
XXIII 6 lxxvi

Ammianus Marcellinus was a Greek of Antioch who, between AD 378 and 391, wrote in Latin a history of the Roman empire entitled Rerum Gestarum Libri XXXI. In the years 359-363, he had served as an officer in the Roman armies fighting against the Persians, and was thus far better informed than most ancient Greek or Roman writers on Persian practices in his day. In the following passage, he is describing their “customs in general.” The translation is by J. C. Rolfe in the Loeb Classical Library volume CCCXV (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1940), p. 391.

Most of them are extravagantly given to venery, and are hardly contented with a multitude of concubines;​ they are free from immoral relations with boys. Each man according to his means contracts many or few marriages,

Effusius plerique soluti in venerem, aegreque contenti multitudine pelicum, puerilium stuprorum expertes, pro opibus quisque adsciscens matrimonia plura vel pauca.



Editor's commentary

As can be seen from their presentation here, the surviving sources are unanimous in presenting pederasty as popular amongst the Persians of the 6th to 4th centuries BC. Equally, once the accounts of Sextus Empiricus and Athenaios are recognised as probably merely recalling much earlier accounts, and those of Bardaisan and Ammianus Marcellinus are acknowledged as witness accounts of the state of affairs in their day, it is apparent that in the 2nd to 4th centuries AD, pedication (with which pederasty was generally so closely associated that it would be disingenuous to treat them as distinct) was reviled by the Persians.

What is glaringly missing from all the sources presented here as an obvious explanation of the dramatic change is the virulently anti-sodomitical role of rising Zoroastrianism, which enters recorded history in the 5th century BC. and clearly became the state religion of Persia in the third century AD. The relevant Zoroastrian doctrine, described here, was so exceptionally vociferous in its denunciation of pedication that some have contended that, through influencing the Jews, who were exiles in Babylon in the sixth century BC, it could have been the effective source of Jewish and consequently Christian hostility to Greek love. There is considerable uncertainty as to the date at which it became influential, but the evidence presented here suggests strongly that it had little effect on Persian attitudes to Greek love (except perhaps amongst the ranks of rural devotees in the south) until around the middle of the time Persia was the centre of the Parthian Empire (247 BC-AD 224).


[1] Xenophon, Cyropaedia I 4 xvi

[2] ibid., I 5 i.

[3] Miller’s presumably deliberate mistranslation of “παιδικοῦ” as “sentimental” has here been corrected to “boy-love”.

[4] The Medes were a people closely related to the Persians and later assimilated by Cyrus into his new Persian Empire.

[5] “to have sex with boys” is substituted here as the literal translation of “‘παισὶ μίσγεσθαι” in place of Goodwin’s “the defilement of the male sex”, a typical example of deliberate Victorian mistranslation.

[6] Wilson‘s invented “man” has been deleted here; there is no noun in the Greek and, if there is need of one in English, “person” would be a much fairer insertion.

[7] The Greek word used here is “μειρακίου”, meaning “adolescent’s” or “youth’s”.  The latter is accordingly used here rather than ‘s “young man’s”, for which the Greek is “νεᾱνῐ́ου”.

[8] The equivalent sentences in the Syriac version were translated into English by Mrs. G. E. van Baaren-Pape in The Book of the Laws of Countries: Dialogue on Fate of Bardaişan of Edessa (Assen, the Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1965) as:

On the further side of the Euphrates, towards the East, no man called a thief or a murderer will become very angry. But if a man is accused of having had sexual intercourse with boys, he revenges himself and does not even shrink from murder. Laws ……………….. among ………………………. boys ………………… us and the law does not accuse them. Further, all over the Orient those who are openly reviled (therefore) and are known to be such, are killed by their fathers and brothers, and usually these do not even let their graves be known. These were the Laws of the Orientals.

[9] Instead of “boy beloveds” adopted here, Gifford translates “έρωμένους” as “favourites”, an old-fashioned euphemism too vague for present purposes.

[10] Or perhaps out-of-date with respect to cultures alien to him. Empiricus III 199 shows he was aware of changing values on this topic, referring to sex between males having not been considered shameful in Thebes “long ago.”




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