“The Two Maidens” of Pompeii have long stood as an iconic image of Pompeii’s tragic destruction and a symbol of human love. The two bodies, seemingly holding arm in arm, were one of the hundreds of people plastered in ash following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.
As the nickname suggests, archeologists previously assumed it was two women embracing. However, new research strongly suggests these were actually two men embracing.
Scientific tests of the teeth and skeletal remains have revealed that one was an 18-year-old man and the second was probably a male aged 20 years or older.
"We always imagined that it was an embrace between women. But a CAT scan and DNA have revealed that they are men,” Massimo Osanna, director-general of the Pompeii archaeological site, told The Telegraph. “You can’t say for sure that the two were lovers. But considering their position, you can make that hypothesis. It is difficult to say with certainty.”
There is always a danger of applying modern-day labels of sexuality onto history, as ideas of homosexuality and romantic love are constantly changing. In particular, homosexuality in ancient Roman cultures, such as Pompeii, differed vastly from that of the contemporary West. Many scholars think that Roman men had sex with other men without any change in their social status or the label of being homosexual.
So, when you find two men embracing from 1,900 years ago, there are many possibilities for what could be going on. There’s a strong chance they were simply terrified. However, interestingly, the scientific research has said that they were not father and son or brothers.
“When this discovery was made, that they were not two young girls, some scholars suggested there could have been an emotional connection between the pair,” Osanna added. “But we are talking about hypotheses that can never be verified."