pornocracy: rule by whores in tenth-century Italy

colored woodcut of Pope Joan

Gynocentrism typically operates with front men as nominal rulers. Occasionally gynocentrism reveals itself in direct gynokratia, or in a variant, pornocracy (rule by whores). The leading historical example of pornocracy is tenth-century Italy.

Sharing a name with the celebrated Byzantine Empress Theodora, Theodora I was the matriarch of tenth-century Italian pornocracy. A learned and nearly contemporary official characterized her as a “shameless harlot {scortum impudens}.” Wife of Theophylact I, Count of Tusculum, Theodora I became a senatrix, a female member of the Roman Senate.[1]

In addition to being a sentatrix, Theodora apparently was also a rapist. She fell in love with Giovanni da Tossignano (John), an attractive member of the clergy at Ravenna. As a politically powerful woman, Theodora apparently thought that she had the privilege of having sex with John without his freely given consent:

Theodora {I} — as I testified, a quite shameless prostitute — inflamed with the heat of Venus because of his {John’s} beautiful appearance, blazed ardently for him, and she not only desired but actually — O shame! — forced him to fornicate with her over and over again.

{ Theodora — ut testatus sum meretrix satis impudentissima — Veneris calore succensa, in huius spetiei decorem vehementer exarsit secumque hunc scortari solum non voluit, verum — pro! — etiam atque etiam compulit. } [2]

Literary scholars and historians, like today’s thought-leaders and policy-makers, have largely ignored the reality of women raping men. At least in the tenth century, church officials didn’t further victimize John for being raped. They allowed him to be elevated to Bishop of Bologna, and then Bishop of Ravenna. Like Harvey Weinstein groomed superstar actresses, Theodora I helped to propel John’s career forward while she was raping him:

Theodora, with the perverted mind of Glycerium, lest she should enjoy her lover only in very rare beddings on account of the length of the two hundred miles that separate Ravenna from Rome, pushed him to desert the see of the archbishopric of the Ravennans — O wickedness! — and to usurp the pontificate at Rome.

{ Theodorae autem Glycerii mens perversa, ne amasii sui ducentorum miliariorum interpositione, quibus Ravenna sequestratur Roma, rarissimo concubitu potiretur, Ravennatae hunc sedis archipraesulatum coegit deserere Romanumque — pro nefas! — summum pontificium usurpare. } [3]

The rape victim John thus became Pope John X.

Theodora produced two strong, independent daughters: Marozia and her younger sister Theodora II. Compared to their mother, these daughters were “not just her equals but if anything even faster in the exercise of Venus {sibi non solum coaequales, verum etiam Veneris exercitio promptiores}.”

Marozia, also called a “shameless harlot {scortum impudens},” married three times and probably had many lovers. With the help of her mother, Marozia had a sexual affair with Pope Sergius and gave birth to son named John. She married Alberic I of Spoleto, whom she probably cuckolded with Pope Sergius. When Alberic I was killed, Marozia quickly remarried. She married the powerful military commander Wido (Guy) of Tuscany. Working together in the medieval ideal of marriage as a conjugal partnership, Marozia and Wido smothered to death Pope John X with a cushion.[4] They then installed Leo VI as pope. Marozia subsequently promoted Stephen VII into the papacy in 929. She successfully guided her own extra-marital son John to the top of the church. John became Pope John XI in 931.

When Wido of Tuscany died, Marozia quickly propositioned Wido’s half-brother, the Italian King Hugh of Arles. The great defier of gynocentrism Liudprand of Cremona complained and lamented:

Why, Marozia, do you rage, urged on by Venus’s sting?

Now there comes to you, like a desired bull led under yoke,
King Hugh, moved more to rule the Roman city.
What does it profit you, O wicked woman, to ruin such a holy man?

{ Quid Veneris facibus compulsa Marozia saevis?

Advenit optatus ceu bos tibi ductus ad aram
Rex Hugo, Romanam potius commotus ob urbem.
Quid iuvat, o scelerata, virum sic perder sanctum? } [5]

King Hugh needed Marozia’s authority to rule over Rome. A modern historian working to buttress gynocentrism explained:

An extraordinary women {Marozia}, her importance lies not in her paramours, but in the fact that she continued the tradition of the Theophylact clan in maintaining stability in Rome and the Patrimonium. … She understood that the sexual was political and was able to use this to her advantage in a patriarchal {sic} world. Obviously beautiful and alluring to men, she was also intelligent, strong-willed, and independent like her mother. [6]

With the formative efforts of educational institutions, media, tech giants, and government, more women will grow up to be like Marozia and her mother. Pornocracy can be re-established, but much work remains to be done.

Marozia’s success in seducing King Hugh had a worthy pedigree in King Hugh’s mother Bertha. She married Adalbert II, the Margrave of Tuscany. Bertha came to rule on her own many castles and cites “by craftiness, gifts, and the sweet exercises of copulation {cum calliditate, muneribus, tum hymenei exercitio dulcis}.”[7] Bertha’s daughter Ermengard followed her mother’s example and was her “equal in the sweetness of Aphrodite {Afroditis dulcedine coaequalem}.” Ermengard came to rule all of Italy through her skills in sexual trading:

she engaged in carnal transactions with everyone, not just with princes, but even with non-noble men.

{ carnale cum omnibus non solum principibus, verum etiam ignobilibus, commercium exercebat. }

This was a time of great turmoil in churches:

within them people used to hold dinners, make lewd gestures, sing bawdy songs, have parties; and — most hideous! — women actually prostituted themselves there.

{ In his namque simbolam faciebant, gestus turpis, cantus ludicres, dibachationes; sed et mulieres eodem publice — pro nefas! — prostituebantur. }

With Marozia and King Hugh relishing marital sex, Marozia’s son contemptuously denounced his mother’s promiscuity and men’s stupidity:

The dignity of the Roman city is led to such depths of stupidity that it now obeys the command of a prostitute.

{ Romanae urbis dignitas ad tantam est stultitiam ducta, ut meretricum etiam imperio paroeat. } [8]

That’s pornocracy in action. As the ancient Greeks understood, Eros often becomes the most important god. That’s true even in the era following Paul of Tarsus’s solemn warning.

Pornocracy is less recognized as a social danger than that many men might come to prefer porn to real women. Governments should address gender inequalities in sex compensation as well as gender inequalities in sexual welfare. Pornocracy isn’t the natural and inevitable destiny of gynocentric democracies.[9]

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Update, 31 Jan. 2019: Errors in an earlier edition of this post were corrected thanks to an informative and highly disparaging comment from Richardis Roe.

[1] Theodora soon eclipsed her husband Theophylact in political influence:

the “monarchy of Theodora” was undoubted fact: From the year 900 onward it is her name, not her husband’s, that predominates in the sparse annals of the city {Rome}.

Chamberlin (1986) p. 27. For Theodora being a scortum impudens, Liudprand of Cremona, Antapodosis {Retribution} 2.48, Latin text from Chiesa (1998), English translation from Squatriti (2007). All subsequent quotes from Antapodosis are similarly sourced. For the subsequent quote on Theodora’s daughters being equally Venusian, Antapodosis 2.48.

[2] Antapodosis 2.48. Many men recall being sexually harassed and raped by today’s standards, but the dominant gynocentric media largely ignores men’s actual life experiences.

[3] Antapodosis 2.48. In Terence’s Andria, Glycerium is a sister of a prostitute. She and Pamphilus have an extramarital child that creates turmoil among Pamphilus’s extended family and friends.

[4] Antapodosis 3.43. Almost all the historical details in the above paragraph are based on Liudprand’s Antapodis. While Liudprand was a rhetorically sophisticated writer, he likely had good sources concerning the relevant events. Moreover, he had much less of a gynocentric bias than other historians, including most modern ones.

[5] Antapodosis 3.44. The previous short quote (Marozia as scortum impudens) is also from 3.44.

[6] Collins (2013) p. 66. For a more neutral account of Marozia’s life, Schaff (1918) § 63 and Chamberlin (1986) pp. 25-38. With the modern intensification of gynocentrism, Liudprand of Cremona has been unfairly devalued as a historical witness. For some biographical information on major figures of the pornocracy era, Brook (2003).

[7] Antapodosis 2.55. Subsequent quotes in the above paragraph are from Antapodosis 2.56 (sweetness of Aphrodite), 3.7 (carnal transactions), 1.33 (prostitution in churches), 3.45 (rule of prostitutes).

[8] Alderic subsequently overthrew King Hugh. Alderic apparently drove his mother Marozia from Rome. Antapodosis 3.44, 46. Marozia may have died in a convent. Schaff (1918) § 63, under “The Demoralization of the Papacy.” Marozia was probably confined to a convent as a form of house arrest. Punishment for seditious men is typically much harsher, e.g. “hard” imprisonment, castration, execution.

[9] The tenth-century Italian “pornocracy” was first directly characterized in the sixteenth century by Cardinal Baronius in his Annales Ecclesiastici. See The Church Review and Ecclesiastical Register, Volume 54, pp. 167-8, which doesn’t provide a citation to Annales Ecclesiastici. But see, e.g. Annales Ecclesiastici vol. 16, year 908 GC, sec. 5.

[image] Colored woodcut of Pope Joan in a book probably published in Germany in the sixteenth century. Pope Joan is a mythic figure that has served a variety of interests. See, e.g. Rustici (2006) and Noble (2013). included this image, without any source reference, in a post about the pornocracy.


Brook, Lindsay, 2003. “Popes and Pornocrats: Rome in the Early Middle Ages.” Foundations (a publication of the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy). 1(1): 5-21.

Chamberlin, E. R. 1986. The Bad Popes. New York: Dorset Press.

Chiesa, Paolo, ed. 1998. Liudprand of Cremona. Antapodosis; Homelia pachalis; Historia Ottonis; Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana. Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis, 156. Turnholt: Brepols.

Collins, Paul. 2013. The Birth of the West: Rome, Germany, France, and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century. New York: PublicAffairs.

Noble, Thomas F. X. 2013. “Why Pope Joan?” The Catholic Historical Review. 99 (2): 219-238.

Rustici, Craig. 2006. The Afterlife of Pope Joan: Deploying the Popess Legend in Early Modern England. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Schaff, Philip. 1918. History of the Christian church. Vol. IV. Mediaeval Christianity: from Gregory I to Gregory VII, A.D. 590-1073. New York: Scribner.

Squatriti, Paolo, trans. 2007. The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona. Washington: Catholic University of America Press.

Wright, F.A., trans. 1930. The Works of Liudprand of Cremona. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

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