Here's why you should never get your history lessons from a film produced by Penthouse : It appears the stories of Roman sex festivals were mostly the result of nasty rumors made up after the fact. Or awesome rumors, depends on where you're coming from. The reality is the ancient Romans actually went to insane lengths to have the exact opposite of orgies. We're talking prudery to the highest degree -- couples had sex at night, in complete darkness, and with most of their clothes on. Sure, wealthy Romans had sex in front of their servants, but to them house servants were like furniture that could bring you stuff.
As it turns out, the Romans had trouble even imagining an orgy. In one of our favorite Hercules myths, our refractory-period-free hero deflowers all 50 daughters of a Greek king in a single night. In keeping with the times, though, the king sent one daughter in at a time. One in, one out, just like a nightclub ... where your father's the doorman, and also the guy who pimps you out to get all inseminated up with a half-god's "li'l heroes."
But if the movie Caligula isn't as accurate as we'd hoped, who invented the Roman orgy? Early Christians, that's who. Christian proselytizers knew their audience, and nothing stirs up the blood of an entire culture of super-prudes like the idea that somewhere, someone is having sex differently from everybody else. So, to promote their nascent religion to the Roman masses, early Christian writers crafted lurid tales of debauchery that were "Hey, no kidding, totally happening -- but only at those rich guys' houses." In a culture that celebrated solemnity and virtue, nothing defamed the traditional religion of the day like being associated with well-lit nudity and sex parties.