Did the ancient Greeks ban the gastraphetes?

Did the ancient Greeks ban the gastraphetes?

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From what I remember, Galántai Zoltán once claimed in a lecture (at Budapest University of Technology and Economics) that in ancient Greek times, some people mutually agreed to outlaw the use of the gastraphetes (large crossbow) in wars against each other. According to him, this ranged weapon was very efficient in killing, yet it could be used by soldiers with very little training compared to other similar weapons like bows. It had turned the wars too deadly, which is why such an agreement was made.

What is the truth in this? Was there ever such a treaty? If so, who agreed to it, and when?

There have been bans of missile weapons in the past, but I don't find any indication that there was any particular action against the gastraphetes.

There is indication of a Greek ban on the use of bows during the Lelantine War

During the the Lelantine War that took place between them it is stated that the two city-states made an agreement banning the use of 'missile weapons'. If this prohibition of a specific type of weapon is true it stands unique and would be the earliest example of arms limitation in history.

  • above from: ancientgreekbattles.net

The problem with respect to the Gastraphetes is that this ban and war occurred about 300 years before its invention. (Note that this ban, and indeed the entire battle, has been considered by some to be fictional.)

One other ban which did include both bows and crossbows, was enacted during the Second Council of the Lateran,by Pope Innocent II in 1139.

The wounds caused by the crossbow in warfare were however considered so barbarous that its use except against infidels was interdicted by the second Lateran Council in 1139 under penalty of an anathema as a weapon hateful to God and unfit for Christians. This prohibition was confirmed at the close of the same century by Pope Innocent III Conrad III of Germany 1138 152 also forbad the crossbow in his army and kingdom. The employment of crossbowmen nevertheless again became common in English and Continental armies in the reign of Richard II 1189-1199…

  • the above from The Crossbow, Mediæval and Modern, Military and Sporting: Its Construction, History and Management, with a Treatise on the Balista and Catapult of the Ancients

    Once again, however, not really relevant to the Gastraphetes, as it takes place over 1500 years later.

Magic in the Greco-Roman world

The study of magic in the Greco-Roman world is a branch of the disciplines of classics, ancient history and religious studies. In classical antiquity, including the Hellenistic world of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, historians and archaeologists view the public and private rituals associated with religion as part of everyday life. Examples of this phenomenon are found in the various state and cult temples, Jewish synagogues, and churches. These were important hubs for ancient peoples, representing a connection between the heavenly realms (the divine) and the earthly planes (the dwelling place of humanity). This context of magic has become an academic study, especially in the last twenty years. [1]

How Christians Destroyed the Ancient World

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The Christian Destruction of the Classical World
By Catherine Nixey
Illustrated. 315 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $28.

Vandalizing the Parthenon temple in Athens has been a tenacious tradition. Most famously, Lord Elgin appropriated the “Elgin marbles” in 1801-5. But that was hardly the first example. In the Byzantine era, when the temple had been turned into a church, two bishops — Marinos and Theodosios — carved their names on its monumental columns. The Ottomans used the Parthenon as a gunpowder magazine, hence its pockmarked masonry — the result of an attack by Venetian forces in the 17th century. Now Catherine Nixey, a classics teacher turned writer and journalist, takes us back to earlier desecrations, the destruction of the premier artworks of antiquity by Christian zealots (from the Greek zelos — ardor, eager rivalry) in what she calls “The Darkening Age.”

Using the mutilation of faces, arms and genitals on the Parthenon’s decoration as one of her many, thunderingly memorable case studies, Nixey makes the fundamental point that while we lionize Christian culture for preserving works of learning, sponsoring exquisite art and adhering to an ethos of “love thy neighbor,” the early church was in fact a master of anti-intellectualism, iconoclasm and mortal prejudice. This is a searingly passionate book. Nixey is transparent about the particularity of her motivation. The daughter of an ex-nun and an ex-monk, she spent her childhood filled with respect for the wonders of postpagan Christian culture. But as a student of classics she found the scales — as it were — falling from her eyes. She wears her righteous fury on her sleeve. This is scholarship as polemic.

Nixey writes up a storm. Each sentence is rich, textured, evocative, felt. Christian monks in silent orders summoned up pagan texts from library stores with a gagging hand gesture. The destruction of the extraordinary, frankincense-heavy temple of Serapis in Alexandria is described with empathetic detail thousands of books from its library vanished, and the temple’s gargantuan wooden statue of the god was dismembered before being burned. One pagan eyewitness, Eunapius, remarked flintily that the only ancient treasure left unlooted from the temple was its floor.

Christians became known as those “who move that which should not be moved.” Their laudable appeal to have-nots at the bottom of the pile, both free and unfree, meant that bishops had a citizen-army of pumped-up, undereducated young men ready to rid the world of sin. Enter the parabalini, sometime stretcher-bearers, sometime assassins, who viciously flayed alive the brilliant Alexandrian mathematician and pagan philosopher Hypatia. Or the circumcellions (feared even by other Christians), who invented a kind of chemical weapon using caustic lime soda and vinegar so they could carry out acid attacks on priests who didn’t share their beliefs.

Debate — philosophically and physiologically — makes us human, whereas dogma cauterizes our potential as a species. Through the sharing of new ideas the ancients identified the atom, measured the circumference of the earth, grasped the environmental benefits of vegetarianism.

To be sure, Christians would not have a monopoly on orthodoxy, or indeed on suppression: The history of the ancient world typically makes for stomach-churning reading. Pagan philosophers too who flew in the face of religious consensus risked persecution Socrates, we must not forget, was condemned to death on a religious charge.

But Christians did fetishize dogma. In A.D. 386 a law was passed declaring that those “who contend about religion … shall pay with their lives and blood.” Books were systematically burned. The doctrinal opinions of one of the most celebrated early church fathers, St. John Chrysostom — he of the Golden Mouth — were enthusiastically quoted in Nazi Germany 1,500 years after his death: The synagogue “is a den of robbers and a lodging for wild beasts … a dwelling of demons.”

Actions were extreme because paganism was considered not just a psychological but a physical miasma. Christianity appeared on a planet that had been, for at least 70,000 years, animist. (Asking the women and men of antiquity whether they believed in spirits, nymphs, djinns would have been as odd as asking them whether they believed in the sea.) But for Christians, the food that pagans produced, the bathwater they washed in, their very breaths were thought to be infected by demons. Pollution was said to make its way into the lungs of bystanders during animal sacrifice. And once Christianity became championed by Rome, one of the most militaristic civilizations the world has known, philosophical discussions on the nature of good and evil became martial instructions for purges and pugilism.


Still, contrary to Nixey, there was not utter but rather partial destruction of the classical world. The vigorous debates in Byzantine cultures about whether, for example, magical texts were demonic suggest that these works continued to have influence in Christian Europe. The material culture of the time also lends nuance to Nixey’s story: Silverware and dining services in Byzantium were proudly decorated with images of the “Iliad” and “Odyssey.” And while 90 percent of all ancient literature has been lost, paganism still had a foothold on the streets.

In Constantinople, the spiritual headquarters of Eastern Christendom, the seventh-century church was still frantically trying to ban the Bacchanalian festivities that legitimized cross-dressing, mask-wearing and Bacchic adulation. I read this book while tracing the historical footprint of the Bacchic cult. On the tiny Greek island of Skyros, men and children, even today, dress as half human, half animal they wear goat masks, and dance and drink on Bacchus’ festival days in honor of the spirit of the god. It seems that off the page there was a little more continuity than Christian authorities would like to admit.

But the spittle-flecked diatribes and enraging accounts of gruesome martyrdoms and persecution by pagans were what the church chose to preserve and promote. Christian dominance of academic institutions and archives until the late 19th century ensured a messianic slant for Western education (despite the fact that many pagan intellectuals were disparaging about the boorish, ungrammatical nature of early Christian works like the Gospels). As Nixey puts it, the triumph of Christianity heralded the subjugation of the other.

And so she opens her book with a potent description of black-robed zealots from 16 centuries ago taking iron bars to the beautiful statue of Athena in the sanctuary of Palmyra, located in modern-day Syria. Intellectuals in Antioch (in ancient Syria) were tortured and beheaded, as were the statues around them. The contemporary parallels glare. The early medieval author known as Pseudo-Jerome wrote of Christian extremists: “Because they love the name martyr and because they desire human praise more than divine charity, they kill themselves.” He would have found shocking familiarity in the news of the 21st century.

Facts about Ancient Greek Weapons 5: Sarissa

Another spear was Sarissa. It was a long Greek spear used for the attack. The length of this Sarissa is 4 till 7 meters. This type of spear was mostly used during the reign of Philip II of Macedon. He was the father of Alexander the Great. Get facts about Alexander The Great here.

Facts about Ancient Greek Weapons 6: Kopis

The ancient Greek sword was called Kopis. The length is around 36 inches. It features the blade which was very functional for the cavalry.

Great Dionysia

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Great Dionysia, also called City Dionysia, ancient dramatic festival in which tragedy, comedy, and satyric drama originated it was held in Athens in March in honour of Dionysus, the god of wine. Tragedy of some form, probably chiefly the chanting of choral lyrics, was introduced by the tyrant Peisistratus when he refounded the festival (534/531 bc ), but the earliest tragedy that survives, Aeschylus’ Persai, dates from 472.

The festivals were attended by all Athenian citizens (likely women as well as men) and visitors from throughout Greece. In the tragic competition, each of three tragic poets wrote, produced, and probably acted in three tragedies on a single theme. Each poet also presented a satyr play, which treated some heroic subject in burlesque fashion. Judges, chosen by lot, awarded a prize to the best poet. In comedy, introduced in 486, five poets competed for the prize, each with one play. The satyr play was always the work of a tragic poet, and the same poet never wrote both tragedies and comedies. In 440 comedy was also introduced into the Lenaea, the minor festival of Dionysus held in January, and tragedy was added 10 years later.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Chelsey Parrott-Sheffer, Research Editor.

The Olympic Games

For the ancient Greeks, the Olympic games existed since mythical times, but no definitive time of their inauguration can be identified with any certainty. The first Olympiad was held in 776 BCE, and this is the year that provides the first accurate chronology of Greek history. That's because after that date, the names of all Olympic winners were officially recorded. Koroibos, a cook from Elis, had his name saved for posterity as the first winner of the games in the one-stade race. The athletic games were held every four years during the second (or possibly the first) full moon in August, and the festivities lasted five days.

Only free male Greeks were eligible to participate in the games, and they came from all corners of the Mediterranean, including colonies from Magna Grecia and the Pontus. Athletes competed nude, in an atmosphere of respect for for their opponents and above all, reverence for the rules. Slaves and women were banned from the sanctuary under penalty of death. Women however were allowed to sponsor events, teams, athletes, and votive offerings. In addition, maidens competed in their own athletic competition in Olympia which also was held every four years, and a competition with exclusive events for boys were introduced in 632.

In essence, from their conception in the early days, the Olympic games reflected the values that were to characterize Greek civilization for the next five hundred years. First, during the games warring Greeks had to cease all hostilities because it was mandatory to participate in peaceful assembly. To this end, officials from Olympia traveled ahead of time throughout Greece to announce the assembly and to proclaim the ekecheiria, the ceasing of all hostilities (for up to three months) so all participants can find safe passage to the sanctuary.

More importantly, the games reflected the Greek's ideals that have won them admiration for millennia to come: the free individual who aspires to achieve excellence through an agon (struggle, or contest) governed by just laws. Just like the games, Greeks in their everyday lives competed intensely with each other in the political realm, in the economy, and in the battlefield. They competed by placing enormous importance on the value of the individual, and by respecting the rule of law that was above all.

Initially, the games were a local affair and the only event was the sprinting race, but in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE wrestling, boxing, and equestrian events were added, as well as the pentathlon (an event that combined running, long jump, discus and javelin throwing, and wrestling), and the pancration which was a vicious form of boxing with little to no rules. The Olympics in ancient Greece also included poetry and writing competition, and it provided a peaceful ground where Greeks discussed and forged agreements on military, commercial, and political matters.

Olympia declared the games and chose a group of hellanodikai (game officials) who supervised preparations of the event and the athletes. Competitors prepared for the events for ten months, and they resided and trained in Olympia during the last month before the games began. During the games, thousands of visitors traveled to Olympia, creating a crowded scene with folk camping wherever they could find a space to spread their blanket. Most did not even get to see the athletic events since the limited capacity stadium was completely occupied by the early squatters.

While the modern Olympic games are a sort of crowded circus, improved infrastructure in transportation, sewage, architecture, and crowd control make them an almost bearable affair for the spectators. The ancient gathering however must have been a very visceral affair, vividly described by Epictetus (chapter 6):

"But you may say, 'There are some things disagreeable and troublesome in life.' And are there none in Olympia? Are you not scorched? Are you not pressed by a crowd? Are you not without comfortable means of bathing? Are you not wet when it rains? Have you not abundance of noise, clamour, and other disagreeable things? But I suppose that setting all these things off against the magnificence of the spectacle, you bear and endure."

Winning an Olympic event bestowed fame and great honor to an athlete. The winners were announced by a herald following each event, and they were rewarded with a humble wreath. At the conclusion of the games, all the winners were honored at the Prytaneion and those who had won in three events were allowed to dedicate a sculpture of their likeness in the Altis. The reverence for the winners extended to their extended family and their city of origin. The home cities of these winners basked in the fame of their Olympionkikes (the winners at the Olympics) and bestowed honors and privileges upon them, such as providing them with free dinners for life. Tradition holds that cities will welcome back their Olympic winners by symbolically demolishing part of their defensive walls.

In Roman times, Tiberius won the chariot race in 4 BCE, and in a scandalous turn of events, the 211th Olympiad was postponed until 69 CE so emperor Nero could compete in a special music competition and in the chariot race. He won the race by fielding ten horses while all competitors could use four. In the end he was declared a winner even though he had abandoned the race, but the records were later expunged.

Because the games were integrated with the worship of Zeus--a Pagan god-- they were not approved by the Christians of the late Roman empire, and were banned in 393 CE by emperor Theodosius I in his drive to purge all Pagan festivals. He also ordered the destruction of the temples of Olympia, and soon that the sanctuary along with the Olympic games were forgotten.

But 1500 years after Theodosius' ban, the modern Olympic revival began in 1896, when the first modern Olympics convened in Athens with the patronage and leadership of Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France. For the occasion, the Hellenistic Panathenaic stadium was renovated to host the games in Athens. The first Greek to win the modern games was Spyridon Louis, a water seller who won the Marathon event.

Since 1896, the Olympics have occurred every four years in different countries (interrupted only by the two World Wars), and they have become one of the largest sports entertainment events in the world, drawing billions of dollars in revenues, and enjoying wide participation by the vast majority of nations. As a tribute to their ancient roots, before each Olympic event the Olympic flame is initiated in ancient Olympia, in the temple of Hera. In an imaginative choreography that depicts the ancient Vestal Virgins, the olympic torch is ignited by sun rays concentrated by a concave mirror on its tip. From Olympia then this flame travels in a festive relay to the country which holds the games and eventually lights up an elaborate cauldron to mark the start of the games. The flame burns for the duration of the Olympics, and its extinquishing marks their closing.

Athens, Greece hosted the Olympics again in 2004. During these games the "shot put" event was held in ancient Olympia.

6. Pankration: Ancient Greek Mixed Martial Arts

In this Pankration scene, the pankriatiast on the right is trying to gouge his opponent's eye and the ref is about to beat the living tar out of him with a stick
(Photo: Jastrow [Wikimedia])

If you think that Ancient Greek boxing was violent, it's more like knitting when compared to pankration, the ancient form of mixed martial arts.

How violent was pankration? Let's just say that there were only two rules: no eye gouging and no biting (the referees carried sticks to beat those who violated the rules). Everything else - including choke holds, breaking fingers and neck - was legit. There was no weight division or time limits: the fight continued until a combatant surrendered, lost consciousness, or died.

In 564 BC, Arrhachion of Philgaleia was crowned the pankration victor . even after he had died:

Arrhachion's opponent, having already a grip around his waist, thought to kill him and put an arm around his neck to choke off his breath. At the same time he slipped his legs through Arrhachion's groin and wound his feet inside Arrhachion's knees, pulling back until the sleep of death began to creep over Arrhachion's senses. But Arrhachion was not done yet, for as his opponent began to relax the pressure of his legs, Arrhachion kicked away his own right foot and fell heavily to the left, holding his opponent at the groin with his left knee still holding his opponent's foot firmly. So violent was the fall that the opponent's left ankle was wrenched from his socket. The man strangling Arrhachion . signaled with his hand that he gave up. Thus Arrhachion became a three-time Olympic victor at the moment of his death. His corpse . received the victory crown. (Source)

Lastly, just to prove that they're bad asses, the ancient Greeks then decided to start a pankration event for the paides or youth (boys aged 12 to 17) Olympic games!

The Sacrifice

Typically the animal to be sacrificed was domesticated rather than wild game (except in the case of Artemis, the huntress goddess who preferred game). It would be cleaned, dressed up in ribbons, and taken in a procession to the temple. Altars were almost always outside in front of the temple rather than inside where the cult statue of the god was located. There it would be placed on (or beside, in the case of larger animals) the altar and some water and barley seeds would be poured on it.

The barley seeds were thrown by those not responsible for the killing of the animal, thus ensuring their direct participation rather than mere observer status. The pouring of water on the head forced the animal to "nod" in agreement to the sacrifice. It was important that the sacrifice not be treated as an act of violence instead, it must be an act in which everyone was a willing participant: mortals, immortals, and animals.

Then the person performing the ritual would pull out a knife (machaira) that had been hidden in the barley and quickly slit the animal's throat, allowing the blood to drain into a special receptacle. The entrails, especially the liver, would then be extracted and examined to see whether the gods accepted this sacrifice. If so, then the ritual could proceed.

Sparta’s role

Sparta came as a liberator. That too called for money and ships, but the Spartans had neither accumulated reserves like Athens nor a proper fleet. Persia was a possible source for both, but assistance from Persia might compromise Spartan “liberation theology.” This was especially true if Sparta set foot in Anatolia, where there were Greeks with as much desire for liberation (whether from Athens or Persia or both: some communities paid tribute in both directions) as their mainland counterparts. A further difficulty lay in the kind of regime Sparta itself could be expected to impose if successful. One revealing reason for the failure of the big colony at Heraclea founded in 426, a project with a strongly anti-Ionian and propagandist element, was the harsh and positively unjust behaviour of the Spartan governors, who frightened people away. Was the Spartan stick, or bakteria, too much in use by violent Spartan officers with too little self-control?

Again a few qualifications are in order. Money could be obtained from more-acceptable sources than Persia—from the western Dorians, for instance. And subsidized piracy, of which one hears a little in the 420s, was another solution to the naval problem. Against harsh governors like those at Heraclea one has to balance Brasidas, who was as good a fighter in the battle for the hearts and minds as in the conventional sense.

Sparta’s invasion of Attica set the tone of the first half of the Archidamian War (431–421), named after the Spartan king Archidamus II, unfairly in view of the wariness he is said to have expressed at the outset. Athens moved its flocks from Attica across to Euboea, whose economic importance was thus raised further still. As if in recognition that this was a war brought about at the instance of Corinth, much early Athenian naval activity was devoted to stripping Corinth of assets in the northwest—of Sollium, Astacus, and Cephellenia. Yet there was also an Athenian raid on Methone in Messenia (the later Venetian strong point of Modon), foiled by Brasidas a morale-boosting raid on the Megarid (such raids were repeated twice a year until 424) and some successful diplomacy in the north, where the Odrysian Thracians were won over.

At the end of this first campaigning year, Pericles delivered an austere but moving speech honouring the fallen men, which has become known as the funeral oration of Pericles. This famous oration, however, is largely the work of Thucydides himself it is a timeless personal tribute to Athenian power and institutional strength but not, as has been argued, a key to unlock Athenian civic ideology. The speech, as preserved, is not peculiarly enthusiastic about democracy as such and has perhaps been over-interpreted in the light of Athens’s later cultural fame. In particular, the Thucydidean Pericles is usually taken to have said that Athens was an education to Greece, but in context he says merely that other Greeks would do well to profit from its political example.

Did the ancient Greeks ban the gastraphetes? - History

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The dildo is not a modern invention. Instead, it is an ancient tool that is believed to date back to the Stone Age.

Archaeologists have attempted to conceive of non-sexual uses for the distinctly-shaped objects of this period that they've vaguely referred to as “ice age batons.” However, scientific opinion is gradually shifting toward the idea that these objects were being used for sexual pleasure.

This changing opinion is due to the incredibly detailed nature of a few of the phalluses. For example, some of these objects have retracted or totally absent foreskin, piercings, tattoos, and scars. This specificity — along with their life-size and smooth, polished construction (from siltstone, chalk, or antler bone) — leads scholars to believe that these ancient phalluses were used as dildos.

Following the Stone Age, the ancient Greeks did not look to the outside world for sexual inspiration in terms of their artificial phalluses, but to the inside of the kitchen. One of their most notorious sexual practices is the usage of olisbokollikes, or dildos made entirely out of bread (baguettes, essentially). Images of bread dildos have been recorded in a range of sources, although it's vague on whether they were used for ritualistic purposes or everyday pleasure.

Furthermore, the Greeks used dildos in other contexts. In Aristophanes' famous play Lysistrata, for example, Greek women go on a sex strike that leads to a discussion of the use of dildos to satisfy themselves while protesting.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the jaw-dropping wealth of the Western Han dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.) led to incredibly elaborate tombs that held a variety of exquisite items — including a number of ancient sex toys.

Essentially, the Hans believed that their spirits would be living on inside these tombs in the afterlife. And Han royalty expected to maintain the same standard of "living" after death, which means that they took some of their most important possessions with them, including intricate bronze dildos.

These toys were common sexual aids among the Han elites and were products of high quality. However, although these dildos were toys, they had the additional function of being tools.

“When I say ‘tool,’ I also mean that these phalluses had a larger purpose than sheer physical pleasure,” Jay Xu of San Francisco's Asian Art Museum told Hyperallergic. “The Han believed that the balance of yin and yang, the female and male spiritual principles, could be achieved during sex…In this regard, sex, especially if it was pleasurable and lasted for a sufficient amount of time, had a real spiritual dimension.”

Thus, for the people of the Han dynasty, the inclusion of these lavish sex toys in their tombs was not a naughty afterthought. Instead, it was a vital step meant to ensure that the deceased would have a peaceful and loving afterlife.

However, moving forward to 16th-18th-century Europe, dildos became more scandalous. For example, Italian writer Pietro Aretino recorded how nuns began to use dildos in the 1500s to “quell the gnawing of the flesh.”

A century later, dildos began to be more readily available to the wealthy, but their increasing ubiquity did not mean that they were condoned in polite society. When the daring John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, imported dildos into England for his sex club in 1670, for example, they were destroyed immediately.

Nevertheless, plenty of people apparently ignored the Wilmot episode and continued to attempt to get their hands on dildos. English women began making their own dildos, in fact, only to be penalized for it once it was made illegal.

At about this same time in Edo-period Japan, people had a far different, and decidedly relaxed, attitude about sex toys. The Japanese depicted these sexual aids in their erotic books and images known as “shunga.” In shunga, women were depicted purchasing and enjoying dildos.

In general, in this type of literature, women were shown as being incredibly sexual, even to the point of being the aggressor. Even after the Japanese government banned shunga in 1722, it flourished in underground markets.

In modern times, the dildo has been made out of a number of materials, but the most successful material by far is the silicone dildo, created by Gosnell Duncan. In 1965, Duncan sustained an injury that left him paralyzed below the waist. His accident inspired him to become active in the disability movement and advocate for improved and safer options for penile substitutes.

During the 1960s and 1970s, dildos were largely made out of rubber, which was a poor material for the job, as it could not stand a strong washing or heating without losing structural integrity. Moreover, dildos were only sold as medical aids and intended only for straight couples that were struggling with sexual intercourse.

But, in the early 1970s, Duncan created the silicone dildo. He did do so as a medical aid for people with disabilities. However, as we all know, it took off as a product for anyone looking to improve or simply augment their sex lives.

Since Duncan and long before, phallic sex toys throughout history have remained fairly consistent in look, shape, and length — and remained a hidden staple in many of the world's cultures for millennia.

Today, sex toys are more out in the open and part of an industry that pulled in about $15 billion dollars in 2015 according to Forbes. It's safe to say that the dildo has come an incredibly long way since the days of stone and antler horn.