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See also: Pornocracy



An illustration of Pope Sergius III (c. 860 − 911) from Bartolomeo Platina’s Le vite de’ pontefici (The Lives of the Popes, 1663).[n 1] The sixty-year period beginning with Sergius III’s reign in 904 is known as the pornocracy. Sergius III reputedly ordered his two immediate predecessors, Leo V and Christopher, to be murdered, and was the only pope to have allegedly fathered an illegitimate son who himself later became Pope (John XI).

Probably borrowed from German Pornokratie, first found in the writings of Austrian-born Biblical scholar Alfred Edersheim (1825–1889), from Ancient Greek πόρνη (pórnē, female prostitute) + -κρᾰτῐ́ᾱ (-kratíā, -cracy, suffix indicating “government, rule”);[1] analysable as porno- +‎ -cracy.


Proper noun[edit]


  1. (Roman Catholicism, historical, sometimes capitalized) The period of the papacy known as the saeculum obscūrum (Latin for “dark age”), and also as the “Rule of the Harlots”, which began with the installation of Pope Sergius III in 904 and lasted for sixty years until the death of Pope John XII in 964, during which time the popes were strongly influenced by the Theophylacti, a powerful and corrupt aristocratic family. [from mid-19th c.]
    • 1855, C. Ullmann; Robert Menzies, transl., “[Second Book. John of Wesel, or The Necessity for the Reformation in Reference to Particular Things in the Church, Especially Indulgences, and the Corruption of the Clergy.] Introduction”, in Reformers before the Reformation, Principally in Germany and the Netherlands (Clark's Foreign Theological Library, New Series; VI), volume I (The Need of a Reformation in Reference to the General Spirit of the Church and Certain Particular Abuses), Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 38 George Street; London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co.; Simpkin, Marshall, and Co.; Ward and Co.; Jackson and Walford, etc.; Dublin: John Robertson, and Hodges and Smith, →OCLC, page 166:
      Under the pornocracy (government of harlots) in the first half of the 10th century, the Papacy was degraded and all Italy torn by factions.
    • 1870 July, Jean-Henri Merle d’Aubigné, “Art. VII.—Dr Merle D’Aubigne on the Council and Infallibility. The Council and Infallibility: An Address Delivered at Geneva, 10th December 1869, by M. Merle D’Aubigne, D.D. Paris: Michel Levy, 1870.”, in The British and Foreign Evangelical Review, volume XIX, number LXXIII, London: James Nisbet & Co., Berners Street; Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, →OCLC, page 591:
      Monsters of impurity, avaricious wretches, poisoners, have occupied the papal see. A learned bishop (Maret of the General Council) expresses himself with holy indignation in reference to the frightful enormities of the tenth century. This epoch deserves to be designated under the title of the Pornocracy; that is to say, the government of prostitutes, for Theodora, Marozia, and other ladies of rank at that time, placed on the pontifical throne their paramours and their sons, who were no better than themselves.

Alternative forms[edit]



pornocracy (plural pornocracies)

  1. (derogatory, often figuratively) A government by, or dominated by, prostitutes or corrupt persons.
    • 1980, James H[adley] Billington, “Schism: Marx vs. Proudhon”, in Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith, New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, →ISBN; republished New Brunswick, N.J.; London: Transaction Publishers, 1998 (2009 printing), →ISBN, book II (The Dominance of the National Revolutionaries: The Mid-nineteenth Century), page 301:
      [Pierre-Joseph] Proudhon had a consistent—many have called it reactionary—preference for smaller and more personalized social units. His passionate defense of the traditional rural family (and attendant hatred of the “pornocracy” of Paris) was part of a relentless localism that tended to prefer Burgundy to France, Franche Comité to Burgundy, and the individual family and village to Franche Comité.
    • 2001, Lenard R. Berlanstein, “Imagining Republican Actresses, 1880–1914”, in Daughters of Eve: A Cultural History of French Theater Women from the Old Regime to the Fin de Siècle, Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press, →ISBN, page 159:
      Even in the confident era of bourgeois patriarchy prior to 1848, actresses had ben, at best, disgraced women who might atone for their mistakes through self-sacrifice. In the three ensuing decades, fear of pornocracy had run high. Could views of theater women transcend fears of sexual indulgence and seduction so that actresses might become honored citizens? Would they ever take their places as members of the second sex along with bourgeois wives and mothers? Improbable before 1880, these changes were realized under the Third Republic.
    • 2006 October, John Lamb Lash, quoting Neil Asher Silberman, “Messianic Madness”, in Not in His Image: Gnostic Vision, Sacred Ecology, and the Future of Belief, White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green Publishing, →ISBN, page 78:
      The [Dead Sea] Scrolls' visions, like those of latter-day apocalyptists Jim Jones and David Koresh, of Islamic jihad and West Bank Kahanists, can become pornocracies of violence, acted out with a horrifying relish for blood.
    • 2014, Defassa, “The Meaning of Words”, in Masculism, Rothersthorpe, Northamptonshire: Defassa; Paragon Publishing, →ISBN, page 51:
      No legitimate questions concerning the abuses by pornocracies are now permitted, for those rulers who prostitute their ethical and moral values for a handful of gold and a bunch of dilapidated dwellings are only fit to shovel shit from one ship to another.
    • 2017, Rosine de Bounevialle, The Candour A.B.C. of Politics, page 87:
      It now rather unmistakably appears that pornocracy is the name that should be given to the Governments of both Great Britain and the United Sates of America in the twentieth century - and before - but the latest century will do for the enlightenment of the misindoctrinated young men and women of today.
  2. (derogatory) A societal culture dominated by pornography.
    • 1998, Leon Hunt, “Coming Clean … from Robin Askwith to Mary Millington”, in British Low Culture: From Safari Suits to Sexploitation, London; New York, N.Y.: Routledge, →ISBN, page 131:
      If the 'meritocrat' – the 'natural' aristocrat whose success is not beholden to class or background – was a key component in the 1970s mythology, was the pornocrat the 1970s cold-light-of-day equivalent? And if the pornocrat was such a key player and empire builder, does that imply the evolution of a fully fledged pornocracy, a culture organised around the economic logic of pornography? [] The pornocrat controls and selectively distributes sexual capital – thus obscenity laws both help and hinder him – knowledge, 'freedom', sexual technology, the means of stimulation and success. The pornocracy is essentially inhabited by two classes – there are the pornocrats themselves and the swinging elite surrounding them and there are the 'punters' over whom they rule benevolently.
    • 2006, Takayuma Tatsumi, “Pax Exotica: A New Exoticist Perspective on Audrey, Anna-chan, and Idoru”, in Full Metal Apache: Transactions between Cyberpunk Japan and Avant-pop America (Post-contemporary Interventions), Durham, N.C.; London: Duke University Press, →ISBN, page 123:
      [Bill] Clinton won the 1993 presidential election, strongly supported by the homosexual community, 95 percent of which voted for him—providing more than his margin of victory. If an American president is the greatest fictionist, and if it is not so much his politics as his poetics that helps structure the American popular unconscious, it is logical that up until the 1980s Clinton appealed to neither traditional macho patriarchy nor radical feminist matriarchy, but by the 1990s he was appealing to the “pornocracy” of that period.

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ Bartolomeo Platina; Onofrio Panvinio; Antonio Cicarelli; Giovanni Stringa; Abraamo Bzovio [i.e., Abraham Bzowski, known as Bzovius]; Antonio Bagatta; Nicol'Angelo Caferri (1663) Le vite de’ pontefici di Bartolomeo Platina: dal Saluator Nostro fino a Paolo II. Accresciute con quelle de’ papi da Sisto Quarto fino ad Alessandro VII., da Onofrio Panuinio, Antonio Cicarelli, Giouanni Stringa, Abraamo Bzouio e Antonio Bagatta. Con le annotationi del Panuinio, e con la Cronologia ecclesiastica dello stesso. Aggiuntoui la vita del Platina scritta dal Sign. Nicol’Angelo Caferri [The Lives of the Popes of Bartolomeo Platina: From Our Saviour to Paul II. Augmented with those of the Popes from Sixtus IV to Alexander VII, by Onofrio Panvinio, Antonio Cicarelli, Giovanni Stringa, Abraham Bzowski, and Antonio Bagatta. With the Annotations of Panvinio, and with the Ecclesiastical Chronology of the Same. Supplemented with the Life of Platina Written by Sign. Nicol’Angelo Caferri], Venice: Presso Gio, Maria Turrini, e Gio, Pietro Brigonci, →OCLC.


Further reading[edit]