The first brothels proper seem to have been in ancient Egypt. Some historians suggest prostitution was not common until the influence of Greek and Mesopotamian travellers took hold. But, in the times of the later Pharaohs, dancing women and musicians were used to recruit men into brothels. Herodotus said a Greek prostitute called Rhopopis was so successful in Egypt she built a pyramid from her takings.
But certainly it was the Greeks who first put the brothel on an official footing. The celebrated Athenian lawmaker and lyric poet Solon founded state brothels and taxed prostitutes on their earnings in the 5th century BC. They were staffed by hetaerae (companions) who ranged from slaves and other lowclass women to those of the upper ranks. The cost of sex was one obole, a sixth of a drachma and the equivalent of an ordinary worker's day salary. For that you got intercourse but nothing oral, which Greek women had a distaste for, although hetaerae were commonly beaten for refusing.
The Romans were keen on sex. There can be few languages richer than Latin in the pornographic, with dozens of terms for prostitutes and different sexual acts. Waitresses in taverns usually sold sexual services. Prostitutes set themselves up at the circus, under the arches (fornices - hence fornication). Official prostitutes were registered by the police and their activities were regulated. Rent from a brothel was a legitimate source of income for a respectable man.
Not all brothels were the same. Those in the Second District of the City were very dirty but the brothels of the Peace ward, were sumptuously fitted. Hairdressers stood by to repair the ravages of amorous combats. Aquarioli, or water boys, waited by the door with bidets for ablution. The superior prostitutes had immense influence on Roman fashions in hair, dress and jewellery.
To attract trade, the houses had an emblem of Priapus in wood or stone above the door "frequently painted to resemble nature more closely" as one ancient historian delicately put it.
Several such advertising standards have been recovered from the ruins of Pompeii where a large brothel was found called the Lupanar - lupae (she-wolves) were a particular kind of sex worker known to be skilled with their tongues.
Among the fossilised ruins were what our delicate historian called "instruments used in gratifying unnatural lusts" which "in praise of our modern standards of morality, it should be said that it required some study and thought to penetrate the secret of the proper use of several of these instruments".