Let’s get one thing clear before we set off down the historically dense world of escorting services; let’s have a look at what an escort is exactly. In most circumstances, an escort is deemed to be an ‘upper class prostitute’ that delivers intimate services in exchange for money or other benefits. Escorts may or may not be involved in any sexual activities with whomever hired them, and usually aren’t. Even so, whatever is decided between whoever is involved, there remains the demand for this service—so let’s all respectfully tuck away our judgements for the duration of this article, please and thank you.
Now, to go back in time when the act of exchanging pleasure for goods came about, in some form or another this is arguably one of the world’s oldest businesses. To put that time into perspective, we’re talking thousands and thousands of years. It seems that civilisation and prostitution actually hold hands.
Sumerians, which were located in Mesopotamia (a historical region of western Asia situated within the Tigris and Euphrates river system) was the first known complex civilisation that developed the first city-states around 4000 Before the Common Era (BCE). They also worshiped a goddess called Ishtar. According to their beliefs, this was the goddess of love and war who was born a virgin each day and, as the day went on, would then transform into a ‘whore’ by evening—the root of this word means desire.
The historian Herodotus who is estimated to have lived between 490 to 425 Before Christ (BC), wrote of the ‘ugliest custom’ in Babylon, which was the widespread practice of prostitution in the Temple of Ishtar. All women in the country were required to sit in the temple and expose themselves to a stranger in return for money.
Over the years, many cultures are believed to have taken part in similarly nefarious activities—the Persians on the Black Sea and tribes from Sicily to Thebes also indulged. There are about a dozen passages in the Old Testament that revolve around Qadeshes, which is a word for female and male cult practitioners. The Bible calls them “lemans” or “catamites.”
In ancient times, women wearing garish makeup and yellow shawls advertised their charms at the foot of Acropolis, Athens. There were also ‘flute girls’ that offered to play their aulos, an ancient Greek wind instrument, for their customers before offering a little extra. Rome’s street prostitutes charged what was then four aces, the equivalent of about 10 euros or 14 dollars now. There was a famous call girl called Messalina, who went on to become empress after marrying the Emperor Claudis.
Some academics shush the history and claim it to be false, others disagree boldly even in the midst of religious feuds, but to avoid going into this, we will fast forward and discuss what happened next. At that time, marriage had nothing to do with love, it was a business arrangement between two families. Thus, in a sense, prostitution was legal and socially accepted.
There were two types of sensual services in most cultures around the fourth century BC. There was a ‘pornê’ who offered her pleasures behind closed doors, and there were the ‘hetaira’, who other than offered sex, also entertained guests with poetry, music or dance. They went far beyond sexual desires, they offered a deeper intimacy and experience. Because of this, hetairas were a luxury only the wealthy could afford. That’s when escorts appeared.
Many websites are now referring to Babylon as a link to the history of escorts and how it all began. Escort Babylon, one of the most fashion online platforms using the term ‘Babylon’ reviews escorts and their agencies all around the world, from Detroit in the US and Auckland in New Zealand to London, UK.
In London, Babylon Girls uses the same reference to hint what sort of services the agency offers.
Without forgetting acknowledgement towards a dark history of abuse, on all levels, that continues to run vulnerably in parallel to this subject, the world of escorts also has another side to it. The term escort means to accompany another. An escort is then simply a temporary companion.
We could question if then we are not all escorts, but not all by profession—the space in between these two escortions is where the miscommunication adding to societal problems lie. Like anything, a lack of a willingness to understand beyond our own beliefs (taught or otherwise) breeds fear and thereon damnation.
In the age of digital social platforms, humans are lacking touch and companionship that was once a daily prescription, especially within the western world. Civilisations lived together, hence creating civilisations in the first place. Now we can live apart from each other while still being part of a civilisation, and yet there is a fundamental yearning for closeness that we have not yet out-evolved, and biologically may not for many generations.
The speculative engagement of hiring or working as an escort has not become less of an occurrence, however the controversy that surrounds it has increased with societal pressures behind belonging within a system, whether that be marriage, religion or image. Is this changing?
Cultural views around the process of finding companionship have been blurred thanks to the internet. Without applying ourselves as escorts of some sort intentionally, we do give to receive something of value to us in return on a daily basis. Some dating apps for example have the sole purpose of finding sex for sex in return voluntarily.
Erotic emphasis overshadows many other important images, but this is an invitation to dissect and understand human thirst. Generally, time holds on to the necessary and choice is fundamental. Let’s try to keep that in mind then, shall we?