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Graffiti of the Ancients: Pompeii

Graffiti of the Ancients: Pompeii

Street art and graffiti are nothing new. Mankind has been leaving his (or her) mark on walls and in the streets since time immemorial, and great examples of ancient street art are still able to be seen in the ancient Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Both of these cities were destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79C.E. yet thanks to the almost pristine preservation of the architecture, much of the graffiti is still able to be clearly seen.

As well as artistic wall frescoes, there is also an abundance of funny, silly, and offensive writing on walls, made by common folk two thousand years ago. More than eleven thousand samples of graffiti have been uncovered in Pompeii alone, on street walls, in homes and taverns, and on pottery. Bawdy text, erotic pictures, and ubiquitous phallic symbols are common.

Ancient Roman graffiti is in the form of painted public notices and inscribed graffiti, and includes Political statements, Advertisements for gladiatorial matches, Poems, Greetings, Jokes, Offensive or Lewd messages, and Images.

Much of the graffiti is equivalent to modern-day bathroom scribbles. Much of it is too offensive to repeat here! But it is hilarious.

Some that can be repeated includes:

  • “Restituta, take off your tunic please and show us your … privates” – on a tavern wall.
  • “Sheep-faced Lygnus, strutting about like a peacock and giving himself airs”
  • “Marcus loves Spendusa”
  • “O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin” – on the basilica wall.
  • “Gaius Pumidius Diphilus was here on October 3, 78 (BC)”
  • “Sanius to Cornelius: Go Hang Yourself!”
  • “Atimetus got me pregnant”
  • “O, Epaphras, thou art bald!”
  • “Staphylus was here with Quieta”
  • “Pyrrhus to his chum Chias: I’m sorry to hear you are dead, and so, goodbye!”
  • “Health to you, Victoria, and wherever you are may you sneeze sweetly”.

While not up to the artistic standard of some street art, the graffiti of the ancient Romans offers us a unique glimpse into how humans have left their mark on the world around them. Life in these towns is recreated, and the inhabitants of the time are brought to life via their ancient messages.

Here at United Streets of Art we love all things street art – from graffiti to modern urban masterpieces. Bring art into your life and wardrobe with our leather coin purses, passport holders, handmade leather belts, messenger bags and much more…

And Happy New Year!

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