Ancient Roman Graffiti Wasn’t All That High-Minded

The Telegraph recently published this look at the surviving graffiti of ancient Rome.

Good news: Some things — like unsolicited depictions of penises popping up in public places — truly are timeless.

In the Domus Tiberiana in Rome, there survives a crudely-drawn man with an oversized penis for a nose. Graffiti artists also liked drawing dogs, donkeys and horses, but they liked phalluses most. In a bar on Pompeii’s Via di Mercurio (so named by archaeologists – we don’t know what the streets were called in antiquity), there is an extremely graphic painting of a man and a semi-naked woman, making love while balancing on a tightrope. Hard enough to do when sober — but they’re both drinking huge glasses of wine at the time.

Taking things beyond artwork and to the written world didn’t intellectualize things much more. Professor Brian Harvey of Kent State University curated this collection of scribbles from Pompei. The aesthetic could probably be described as pretty raunchy.

For example, there are requests…

Restituta, take off your tunic, please, and show us your hairy privates.


Floronius, privileged soldier of the 7th legion, was here. The women did not know of his presence. Only six women came to know, too few for such a stallion.


To the one defecating here. Beware of the curse. If you look down on this curse, may you have an angry Jupiter for an enemy.


I screwed a lot of girls here.

…statements of fact…

On June 15th, Hermeros screwed here with Phileterus and Caphisus.


Sollemnes, you screw well!

…and, actually, some really vile rape talk.

Take hold of your servant girl whenever you want to; it’s your right

Eesh. That got a little less fun there at the end.

The Telegraph does point out that it wasn’t all sex for Roman taggers. Take, for instance, this political plea in Pompeii: “C. Iulium Polybium aedilem oro vos faciatis. Panem bonum fert.” Or, “I beg you to make C. Julius Polybius aedile [a magistrate]. He makes good bread.” Seems reasonable.

photo credit: garyt70, Creative Commons/flickr