There is no good proof that the “Roman debauchery” which is so loved by Hollywood and modern popular culture even exists. For all the advantages the idea of Roman debauchery has been held in popular culture, the evidence for them is just lacking. Either this debauchery didn’t happen at all or it happened so rarely and in secrecy that we didn’t have a reliable record. Almost certainly more debauchery is happening today than has ever happened in ancient Rome.
The idea of Roman debauchery has a complicated history. It has been encouraged by the uncritical reading of the first century AD erotic novel, Satyrica, which contains portrayals of wild sex scenes, but which are nothing more than a fantasy and almost as accurate as depictions of Roman sexuality as The Romance of Lust (published 1873-1876) are Victorian English sexuality .
This has also been triggered by blatant imperial propaganda from the biography of the Roman empire Suetonius, who was employed as a secretary by the emperors Trajan (ruling 98 – 117 AD) and Hadrian (ruling 117 – 138 AD) and apparently intentionally exaggerating the story of the emperor’s debaucheries previously to make the emperor where he worked look better by comparison.
The end of anti-pagan Christian propaganda, especially from apologist Lactantius (around 250 – 325 BC), claimed that pagans were fun-perverts, but, ironically, previous Roman writers had said almost the same thing about Christians and Christians. the accusations involved in debauchery seem to be nothing more than stock smears.
The discovery of many erotic artworks from the city of Pompeii made the Victorian people consider Roman decadent deviations, but Pompeii was a famous party town, like Las Vegas today, and, furthermore, greater Roman openness to portrayal of sex does not necessarily mean they actually having more sex.
Finally, perhaps the biggest promoter of this “Roman debauchery” idea is Hollywood. Massively, historically inaccurate (not to mention terrible) films like Caligula (1979) have shaped the public notion of seeing ancient Rome far more than any ancient text.