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Giacomo Casanova 

Sex bomb: History's greatest seducers

Image: Giacomo Casanova | Public Domain

Sex: A Bonkers History explores how sexual behaviour through the ages has shaped civilisation in ways we are only now beginning to discover. Host Amanda Holden shines a light on history's most unknown and risqué sex stories. The show premieres on Sky HISTORY on Monday, 18 September at 9pm.

Many try but few ever master the art of seduction. However, some people from history can claim to have not only conquered the art but helped write the playbook!

Let us discover some of history’s greatest seducers.

Giacomo Casanova

When it comes to famous seducers, none are more notorious than the 18th-century Italian adventurer whose name has quite literally come to personify the art of seduction.

Casanova heralded from Venice, where he demonstrated from an early age his intellectual mind equipped with a quick wit. As he grew older, these attributes combined with an insatiable desire and curiosity towards women.

‘Cultivating whatever gave pleasure to my senses was always the chief business of my life’, Casanova wrote. ‘I never found any occupation more important. Feeling that I was born for the sex opposite of mine, I have always loved it and done all that I could to make myself loved by it.’

As Casanova’s fame grew, so did the notches on his bedpost. The great seducer once claimed to have made love to over 130 women ranging from aristocrats to nuns. He documented his sexual escapades in great detail in his autobiography Histoire de ma vie (‘Story of My Life’).

So what was his secret? He looked for women in trouble that he could ‘save’, he’d then extricate them from their difficult position before seducing them. Lavishing them with attention, alluring words, and extravagant gifts, Casanova employed the many seductive techniques at his disposal. As time went on, he'd become bored of the affair and wiggle his way out, utilising a variety of excuses.


Cleopatra was the last Pharaoh of Egypt who reigned for over 20 years. Dedicated to her kingdom, Cleopatra was prepared to go to any lengths to protect Egypt. As the threat of Rome grew, Cleopatra decided to align herself with them by utilising the power of seduction.

Through affairs with Roman generals Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, the supreme seductress was able to consolidate her power by captivating the hearts of the time’s most powerful men.

How did she do this? Famous for her beauty, Cleopatra coupled these natural gifts with a variety of mesmeric rituals and dramatic stagecraft. One of which included rolling herself up, practically naked, in a carpet (or sack depending on the translation) and unravelling herself in the private abode of Julius Caesar. History tells us the move worked!

After Caesar was killed, she re-aligned herself with one of his generals, Mark Anthony. Again, turning to her powers of seduction, Cleopatra made an immediate impression on the Roman general by entering the city of Tarsus aboard an extravagantly decorated barge, whilst she was dressed in the robes of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. Throw in her penchant for bathing in donkey’s milk, which supposedly gave her skin a radiant glow, and Mark Anthony was hooked.

However, Egypt soon fell into turmoil and Caesar’s adopted son and heir, Octavian, came for Cleopatra’s head. After her forces were defeated, she took her own life. Legend has it she died from a venomous snake bite, most likely from an asp.

Lord Byron

Described as ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’, English Romantic poet Lord Byron got hearts fluttering both on and off the page.

Regarded as one of England’s greatest poets, as well as one of the leading figures in the 19th-century Romantic movement, Byron was also known for his love of women and insatiable sex drive.

Described as devastatingly handsome with a searing intellect, Byron had an electrifying presence that could even cause women to faint with excitement. To many, his powers of seduction were quite simply irresistible, leading Byron to gain the reputation as a seducer of high-profile women. These trysts led to several illegitimate children with his only legitimate child being Ada Lovelace, who’d go on to become the world’s first computer programmer.

One of Byron’s most famous works was an epic unfinished poem called Don Juan. Reversing Byron’s life as a legendary seducer, the main character, Don Juan, is easily susceptible to seduction by women.

Byron died at the age of 36 from a fever whilst fighting in the Greek War of Independence.

Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great is one of history’s greatest female rulers, who reigned over Russia for some 34 years, heralding a 'Golden Age'. Intelligent, ruthless and ambitious Catherine expanded Russia’s borders, championed the arts and restructured its laws, revitalising Russia in the process and enabling it to become a powerhouse in global politics.

Behind the scenes, her love life was just as adventurous and it seems history has remembered her as much for this than her actual achievements on the throne.

Throughout her life, Catherine took many lovers and was famed for her sexual independence. This gave rise to several false rumours, often created and spread by her many jealous and misogynistic male rivals. The targeted smear campaign was so successful that even to this day Catherine the Great is surrounded by urban legends regarding her sex life - none more famous than the story of bestiality that supposedly ended her life.

However, she indeed had multiple lovers during her time as Empress and she used sex as a tool to garner and broaden her political power. In fact, without her considerable powers of seduction, Catherine might never have claimed power nor held it for so long.

Aligning herself with successful military generals and admirals, her favourites became lovers, men she could trust to help consolidate her power. In return, she showered them with gifts, titles and wealth even after she became bored with them. She was incredibly generous to all her lovers, the most famous of whom was military officer Grigory Potemkin.

After the pair’s romantic liaison ended, Potemkin remained involved in Catherine’s love life, selecting and vetting her new lovers ensuring they had both the physical and mental talents to hold her interest.