Pompeii gay couple embrace

Pompeii’s Famous Embracing ‘Maiden’ Couple Are Actually Two (Possibly Gay) Men

This post is also available in: French

Sometime around Aug. 25, 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted for two days, covering the coastal Roman city of Pompeii in volcanic ash and pumice, encasing approximately 1,105 of its citizens’ bodies. Archaeologists in the 20th century made plaster casts of many of these bodies, and one in particular, known as “the two maidens,” became iconic for its loving, protective embrace between a same-sex couple. A new CAT scan and DNA evidence however has revealed that the “maidens” were in fact men, leading some to speculate whether Pompeii’s most famous couple were gay.

Archaeologist Vittorio Spinazzola helped find the “Two Maidens” while excavating a structure called the House of Cryptoporticus sometime around 1914. The embrace shows a crouching “maiden” resting his head on the protector’s chest as the protector shields the frightened man from the volcanic blast with his arms. The pair are just one of 86 preserved casts that researchers began studying in 2015 to learn more about Pompeians and their lives.

Bones and teeth exams revealed that one the “maidens” was around age 18 while the other was 20 years or older; a DNA test also determined that they were not related. Despite their loving embrace, there’s no way to know whether they were gay. But archaeologists have also Pompeian frieze sculptures and murals depicting sex and orgies between same-sex couples, both male and female, as well as graffiti discussing gay sex.

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The news naturally reminded us of Bastille’s 2013 pop-rock song “Pompeii.” The music video below is largely unremarkable, but the song’s lyrics remain poignant as they recall a disastrous relationship preserved by memory.

Its second half sings:

We were caught up and lost in all of our vices
In your pose as the dust settled around us

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Grey clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like
You’ve been here before?

We’re not crying, there’s just a bit of volcanic dust in our eyes.

  • Jason Valentine

    May be they were, may be they weren’t, but if everything were burning around you, screams and fumes and flames…the end of the world as you know it, wouldn’t you want to die holding someone too??