Ancient Graffiti by hedongchenchen



         graffiare = to scratch
Graffiti: inscriptions and figure drawings found on
  the walls of ancient sepulchers or ruins

Usage of the word has evolved to include any
decorations (inscribed on any surface) that one
can regard as vandalism; or to cover pictures or
writing placed on surfaces, usually external walls
and sidewalks, without the permission of an owner.
              Quo modo?
dipinti                   graffiti
painted                   scratched
planned                   spontaneous
large                     smaller
conspicuous               obscure
public                    private
• Mostly men
• All classes, but probably moreso low(er)
• Travelers
• Children
• Prostitutes and their lovers
     Types of Graffiti in Pompeii
•   Electoral/On behalf of candidates
•   Advertisements (1/3)
•   Warnings
•   Curses
•   Admirations/Boasts
•   Writing Practice
•   Pictoral
•   “hīc          erat”
Pompeian electoral graffiti
           Electoral Graffiti
• There are around 3000 electoral
  inscriptions in Pompeii and most of them
  can be dated to the city's final year of
  existence, given that it was customary to
  rub out the old inscriptions to make way
  for new ones.
A caricature
of a man
scratched into
a wall.
       What does graffiti tell us?
•   Literacy rate
•   Frequented roads
•   Social customs and activities
•   Pronunciation

• Origin of travelers
• Adds human element to ruins…
There is evidence of Pompeians’ ability to read
and write among classes of people

e.g. the 83 graffiti found at CIL IV, 4706-85 (a
  peristyle which had been undergoing remodeling
  at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius) were
  executed not only by the architect Crescens, but
  also by most of the members of the work crew
  for whom he served as foreman.
        Frequented Roads
• The number of messages written on walls
  has given scholars the indication that
  certain roads were travelled more than
• This could also be connected to the
  amount of wall space available for
  messages…as well as the availability of
  roads at certain times of the day.
         Frequented Roads
 Map of Pompeii

Occurrences of messages
every 0-4
every 4-8
       Social Customs/Activities
•   Warnings
•   Declarations of Love, hate, et cetera
•   Politics
•   Thievery
•   Food and Drink
•   Schooling
               Warning - Love
Quisquis amat. veniat. Veneri volo frangere costas
fustibus et lumbos debilitare deae.
Si potest illa mihi tenerum pertundere pectus
quit ego non possim caput illae frangere fuste?
   • -CIL IV, 1284.

Whoever loves, let him go. I want to break Venus's ribs
with a club and deform her hips.
If she can break my tender heart
why can't I hit her over the head with a club?
Electoral Graffiti
                     Via Consolare
                     A request to vote for
                     two candidates for
                     aedile, M. Cerrinius
                     Vatia and A. Trebius
                     Valente, who was
                     elected in 71 A.D.,
                     again in 75 A.D. as
                     candidate for the
                     duumvirate. Other
                     similar electoral
                     messages with the
                     same two candidates'
                     names were found
                     along Via del Foro.
Fragment of a Roman wall
painting containing an electoral
inscription from the officina of
Verecundus. Depicts Mercury
with caduceus and petasus
emerging from a little
Etruscan-Italic temple. He
holds a purse of money in his
right hand. One inscription:
"Holconium Priscum / IIvir(um)
I(ure) d(icundo) d(dignum) r(ei)
p(ublicae) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis)"
or "I ask you to elect Holconius
Priscus as duovir. He is worthy
of holding office." H 214 cm, W
88 cm.
The brothel at CIL VII, 12, 18-20 contains
over 120 graffiti, the authors of which
included the prostitutes as well as their
• the gladiatorial academy at CIL IV, 4397
  contained graffiti left by the gladiator
  Celadus Crescens (Suspirium puellarum
  Celadus thraex: "Celadus the Thracier
  makes the girls sigh.")
From the House
of Obellius
Firmus, Pompeii.
Gladiator with
shield and spear
(photo and
Errors in spelling and grammar in graffiti
inform us of the degree of literacy of the
graffiti scrawlers and give clues as to the
pronunciation of spoken Latin.
• CIL IV, 7838:
Vettium Firmum / aed[ilem] quactiliar[ii] [sic]
• Here "qu" reflects the common
  pronunciation of "co".
            When we go…
• Seek out graffiti that is now protected
  under plexiglass covers
• Graffiti in the original sense of something
  “scratched” can be found in the most
  obscure places
For practice…

To top