A timeline of the linnen-lifting tribe

A timeline of the most celebrated, notorious and memorable sex workers throughout history.

This is a historical overview of the lives of many who earned their livelihoods in the sex trade. I hope that if you notice an omission, you will bring it to my attention and we can include them too. ;xNLx;;xNLx;The timeline is interactive and if you would like to make an addition, just email me at kate@whoresofyore.co and I will give you a password.

0020-12-17 00:00:00


Valeria Messalina married the Roman Emperor Claudius. A powerful and influential woman with a reputation for promiscuity, she allegedly conspired against her husband and was executed on the discovery of the plot. Her notorious reputation arguably results from political bias, but works of art and literature have perpetuated it into modern times. Accusations of sexual excess were a tried and tested smear tactic and most accounts about Messalina come from Tacitus and Suetonius, some 70 years after the fact; but, two accounts especially have added to her notoriety. Pliny the Elder wrote that Messalina challenged Rome’s top sex worker, Scylla, to a competition to have the most partners in a single night. Poets also record Messalina would secretly work in Rome’s brothels under the name ‘she-wolf’. Her husband eventually had to order the execution of Messalina and her lover, who had secretly marriage each other and planned to kill Claudius. The truth in such tales will never be known, but Messalina has gone down in history as a woman of spectacular power and sexual appetites.

0330 BC-12-01 00:00:00

Thaïs instigates the burning of Persepolis

Thaïs (Greek: Θαΐς) was a famous Greek hetaera who lived during the time of Alexander the Great and accompanied him on his campaigns. She is most famous for instigating the burning of Persepolis. At the time, Thaïs was the lover of Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander's generals. It has been suggested that she may also have been Alexander's lover, on the basis of Athenaeus's statement that Alexander liked to "keep Thais with him", but this may simply mean he enjoyed her company. She is said to have been very witty and entertaining. Athenaeus also says that after Alexander's death Ptolemy married Thaïs, who bore him three children.

0371 BC-12-01 00:00:00


Phryne was a famous Greek hetaira. She is best known for her trial for impiety, where she was defended by the orator Hypereides. Phryne means “toad” and was her stage name (apparently, she had a yellowish complexion). Yellow or not, Phryne was widely celebrated for her beauty, and was the model for several contemporary paintings and sculpture, including a statue of Aphrodite by her client Praxiteles. Phryne was so successful at what she did hat she became so fabulously wealthy in her own right. When Alexander the Great destroyed the walls of Thebes, she offered to pay for their repairs, on the condition the words “destroyed by Alexander, restored by Phryne the whore” be inscribed upon them; the government of Thebes refused her. Angered by her growing popularity, politicians conspired to have Phryne charged for blasphemy. She was defended by Hypereides, who, when it looked like the court was going to find her guilty, tore off her gown to show her body to the judges and asked “How could a festival in honour of the gods be desecrated by beauty which they themselves bestowed?” The judges viewed her beauty as a gift from the gods and acquitted her.

0425 BC-12-01 00:00:00

Lais of Corinth

Lais of Corinth was a famous courtesan of ancient Greece who was probably born in Corinth. Little is known about her beyond a few passing references in ancient texts. She lived during the Peloponnesian War and was lover to the philosopher Aristippus (two of his alleged writings were about Lais) and the Olympic champion Eubotas of Cyrene.

0470 BC-12-01 00:00:00


Aspasia was the daughter of the wealthy Axiochus and was well educated. Her beauty and education allowed her to become a hetaerae (a high class of courtesan in ancient Greece). Plutarch wrote that Athenian men would bring their wives to visit her in hope that they would learn the art of conversation. She became Pericles’ mistress, and after he divorced his wife in 445 BCE she moved in with him, bearing his son, Pericles the Younger, a few years later. Aspasia was well respected for her intellect and political acumen; Socrates praised her as a teacher and for being a positive influence in government. Aspasia was charged with “corrupting the morals” of Athenian women to entice them into “satisfying Pericles’ perversions”, but was acquitted. After Pericles died in 429,Aspasia became the mistress of another general and statesman named Lysicles. Little is known of Aspasia’s life after this point, but most historians believe she died around 400 BCE.

0500 BC-12-01 00:00:00


Amrapāli was an Indian royal courtesan, in the republic of Vaishali. Following the Buddha's teachings, she became an arahant. She is mentioned in the old Pali texts and Buddhist traditions, particularly in conjunction with the Buddha staying at her mango grove, Ambapali vana, which she later donated to his order and wherein he preached the famous Ambapalika Sutta. Her name means ‘mango’, as legends has it she was found under a mango tree, in the royal gardens as a baby. Her beauty was legendary and Kings fought wars to win her favour. Amrapali she renounced her position as courtesan, accepted the Buddha’s teachings way, and became an active supporter of the Buddhist order.

0500-12-01 00:00:00

"Theodora-from-the-Brothel" becomes Empress of the Byzantine Empire

Theodora (c. 500 – 548) was empress of the Eastern Roman Empire by marriage to Emperor Justinian I. She was one of the most influential and powerful of the Eastern Roman empresses. But, Theodora’s origins were not quite as illustrious as her end. She was born to the bear-keeper of Constantinople's hippodrome in about AD500. Her mother, whose name is not recorded, was a dancer and an actress. By the age of 15, Theodora was the star of the hippodrome, and if sources are to be believed, performed highly sexualised and shocking acts on stage. Procopius's Secret History (548) calls her "Theodora-from-the-Brothel" and describes her allowing geese to peck grain from between her legs, to and has her saying she regrets God gave her only three orifices for pleasure. At 21, Theodora met and married the heir to the throne, Justinian. When Justin died and Justinian became emperor in 527, "Theodora-from-the-Brothel" became empress of Rome. The classic rags to riches story is made richer still by Theodora's achievements in power. As empress, she worked on the paper On Pimps, an attempt to stop pimps making their money from sex workers. Well aware of the impossibility of marriage and a safe life for such women, she set up a house where they could live in peace. Theodora worked for women's marriage and dowry rights, anti-rape legislation, and was supportive of the many young girls who were sold into sexual slavery for the price of a pair of sandals. Her laws banished brothel-keepers from Constantinople and from all the major cities of the empire.

0501-12-01 00:00:00

Chinese Courtesan Su Xiaoxiao Dies

Su Xiaoxiao (Chinese: 蘇小小, died c. 501),[1] also known as Su Xiaojun and sometimes by the appellation "Little Su", was a famous Chinese courtesan and poet from Qiantang City. Su Xiaoxiao died when she was only nineteenth years old. Legend has it that upon learning she would die young, Su Xiaoxiao decided her beauty was a gift to world. The many stories and poems written about her often portray her as caring for the poor and destitute with the money she has earned from her rich lovers. Su Xiaoxiao was the inspiration for many poets and artists, and is often a frequent figure for portrayal in Chinese theatre. Su Xiaoxiao's tomb was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but it was rebuilt in 2004, complete with a brand new pavilion decorated with twelve poetry posts handwritten by famous calligraphers. Su Xiaoxiao's tomb is now again a major tourist site in Hangzhou.

1003-12-01 00:00:00


Herleva (also known as Herleve, Arlette, Arletta, Arlotte, and Harlette) was mistress to Robert I, Duke of Normandy and Herluin de Conteville; she was mother to William the Conqueror (who was always known as 'William the Bastard' because of his illegitimate birth.) Herleva's background is subject to debate, but most sources (written after her death) state that she was the daughter of a tanner. According to one legend, still recounted by tour guides at Falaise, it all started when Robert, the young Duke of Normandy, saw Herleva from the roof of his castle tower. The walkway on the roof still looks down on the dyeing trenches cut into stone in the courtyard below, which can be seen to this day from the tower ramparts above. The traditional way of dyeing leather or garments was to trample barefoot on the garments which were awash in the liquid dye in these trenches. Herleva, legend goes, seeing the Duke on his ramparts above, raised her skirts perhaps a bit more than necessary in order to attract the Duke's eye. The latter was immediately smitten and ordered her brought in (as was customary for any woman that caught the Duke's eye) through the back door. Herleva refused, saying she would only enter the Duke's castle on horseback through the front gate, and not as an ordinary commoner. The Duke, filled with lust, could only agree. In a few days, Herleva, dressed in the finest her father could provide, and sitting on a white horse, rode proudly through the front gate, her head held high. This gave Herleva a semi-official status as the Duke's mistress. She later gave birth to his son, William, in 1027 or 1028. Herleva later married Herluin de Conteville in 1031. Some accounts maintain that Robert always loved her, but the gap in their social status made marriage impossible, so, to give her a good life, he married her off to one of his favourite noblemen. She had several children and died in her forties.

1079-01-17 00:00:00

Dangereuse de l'Isle Bouchard

Dangereuse de l'Isle Bouchard 1079-1151 (Also known as Dangerosa. The mistress of William IX Duke of Aquitaine, also known as William the troubadour. She received the name Dangereuse for her seductiveness. She was also known as La Maubergeonne for the tower William built for her at his castle in Poitiers. William IX was excommunicated for ‘abducting’ Dangereuse though most sources have her as a willing participant in her leaving her first husband for the Duke. Dangereuse is ancestor to Richard and John Kings of England and various other queens and nobility of Europe.

A timeline of the linnen-lifting tribe

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