The erotic lives of prostitutes and their customers in the ancient city of Pompeii were recently illustrated by Western University professor, Kelly Olson.

The classical studies associate professor from London, Ont. travelled to the historic site to give David Suzuki a tour of an ancient brothel, the Lupanar, which was featured in CBC's The Nature of Things.

Olson, who specializes in Roman society and culture, has toured Pompeii several times in her career, marvelling at the city that was buried in ash about 2,000 years ago when Mount Vesuvius erupted.

She is one of several guests featured in the Oct. 6 episode of The Nature of Things, which helps bring the ancient city to life.

Pompeii Brothel

Bedrooms in the ancient Pompeii brothel, the Lupanar, were not glamorous places for prostitutes to work. (Kelly Olson)

When it comes to Pompeii, Olson focuses her research on the role of women in Roman society and the apparent open sexuality that can be seen in the many frescos and sculptures.

Olson walked Suzuki through the small rooms of an ancient brothel, illustrating the working conditions of women. Each room has a masonry bed. There are no signs any of the rooms had doors.

"It's not a very nice place to work," she told CBC's Afternoon Drive. "It's very small, dank and the rooms are rather dark and uncomfortable."

David Suzuki and Kelly Olson

Kello Olson, associate professor of classical studies at the University of Western, gave David Suzuki a tour of a Pompeii brothel for a recent episode of the Nature of Things. (Kelly Olson)

Olson explains how prostitution was legal in Pompeii, but most of the women were slaves. Her research also shows the "unsurprising" double standard between men and women when it comes to sex.

"Married men could sleep with anyone as long as they kept their hands off other men's wives," she said. "Married women were not supposed to have sex with anyone else."

Olson, like many historians, has a fascination with Pompeii because so much of the region was preserved in the ash. Many of the homes and shops remain intact.

"It really is a bit like a time machine, it's really rather stunning," she said, recognizing the devastating deaths of its residents. "The people, they died in agony, that's what's so heart wrenching about it."

Pompeii Brothels

Pompeii's brothel, the Lupanar, has many sexual images on its inside walls. (Kelly Olson)