The walls of Pompeii: the inscriptions and the graffiti

The walls of the houses in Pompeii are frequently covered with inscriptions: these are electoral propaganda messages that urge the citizens to vote for one or other of the candidates. At times an entire category of workers (goldsmiths, marble-cutters, bakers) holds the candidacy.

At other times an aspiring magistrate puts himself forward to the people for a particular organization. They are written in red or in black and for the most part in capital letters. The professional scribes who also dealt with official communications, the sentences of the tribunal, the buying and selling of slaves and public decisions executed them.

There are around 3000 electoral inscriptions in Pompeii.

It would have been the Roman equivalent of posting a Facebook message, hiring an advertising hoarding or sticking a campaign poster in a front window.

For example in Via Consolare, the plasterwork features an exhortation to vote for two candidates for aedile, M. Cerrinius Vatia and A. Trebius Valente. We come across the latter, 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.

 

Roman-graffiti-on-building-
Paid advertising Roman style

 

The graffiti are the messages which were made by scratching on the walls of the houses: these relate to the most disparate subjects and tint an extremely vivid and frank picture of contemporary social life: they include jokes, comments on a particular person or event, caricatures of famous people, reflections on love, as well as appreciative remarks about a beautiful woman or the pleasure experienced in the privacy of one of the rooms in the brothel. In addition there are several which are concerned with the buying and selling of materials or livestock and the calculation of merchandise. Many refer to the entertainments on offer in the city or are in praise of the champions put to the test in the gladiatorial games.

 

In the past fifteen years, the graffiti of the brothel called Lupanare, at few steps from the Forum, have entered the scholarly arena, usually as part of works devoted to surveying or analysing erotic graffiti at Pompeii. For example, some of the brothel’s sexual graffiti were treated by Antonio Varone’s Erotica pompeiana: Iscrizioni d’amore sui muri di Pompei (1994; translated into English in 2002 as Erotica pompeiana: Love Inscriptions on the Walls of Pompeii). Varone surveys a wide range of erotic and love graffiti from all over Pompeii, grouping them into motifs like “Preghiere d’amore” and “L’arma d’amore.”

Pompeii Graffiti
Graffiti on the west wall that mentions the market held at Pompeii, Nuceria, Atella, Nola, Cumae, Puteoli, Rome and Capua

 

Varone analyzes the status and sexual practices of the individuals in the brothel through close reading of its graffiti, demonstrating the potential gains of a contextual or locus-specific approach. The graffiti are more than just records of sexual liaisons or advertisements of the services of prostitutes; they represent an interactive discourse concerning masculinity. Clients and prostitutes could and did add their thoughts to the corpus over time, which encouraged multiple viewings. In addition, even illiterate viewers could be exposed to the graffiti through someone else’s recitation.

 

Graffiti preserved in Pompeii covers all sorts of sentiments, from wishing friends well to the bawdiest of observations.

Pompeii graffiti
“NOTHING CAN LAST FOREVER: THE MOON, THAT A WHILE AGO WAS FULL, IS NOW A CRESCENT. OFTEN THE FEROCIOUS WINDS CHANGE INTO THE LIGHTEST BREEZE” Giulio Polibio Domus

 

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“Sarra, you are not being very nice, leaving me all alone like this”

(in the Basilica)

 

“O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin.”

(in the Basilica)

 

“At Nuceria, look for Novellia Primigenia near the Roman gate in the prostitute’s district”.

(near the rear entrance vestibule of the House of Menander)

 

Satura was here on September 3rd

exterior of the House of Menander)

 

“Secundus says hello to his Prima, wherever she is.  I ask, my mistress, that you love me”

(House and Office of Volusius Iuvencus; left of the door);

 

“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”

(gladiator barracks)

 

“Antiochus hung out here with his girlfriend Cithera”

(gladiator barracks)

 

“Let water wash your feet clean and a slave wipe them dry; let a cloth cover the couch; take care of our linens”

(House of the Moralist)

 

“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”

(House of Pascius Hermes; left of the door)

 

“Sabinus says a fond hello to Statius.  Traveler, you eat bread in Pompeii but you go to Nuceria to drink.  At Nuceria, the drinking is better

(exterior of a small house of Gaius)

 

“Daphnus was here with his Felicla”

(House of Valerius Flaccus and Valerius Rufinus; right of the door)

 

“Whoever loves, let him flourish.  Let him perish who knows not love.  Let him perish twice over whoever forbids love”

(House of Caecilius Iucundus)

 

“Celadus the Thracian gladiator is the delight of all the girls”

(barracks of the Julian-Claudian gladiators; column in the peristyle)

 

The city block of the Arrii Pollii in the possession of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius is available to rent from July 1st.  There are shops on the first floor, upper stories, high-class rooms and a house.  A person interested in renting this property should contact Primus, the slave of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius”.

(House of the Olii, Via Consolare)

 

 “On April 20th, I gave a cloak to be washed.  On May 7th, a headband.  On May 8th, two tunics”

(on the Vico del Labirinto)

 

“Cruel Lalagus, why do you not love me?”

(vico degli Scienziati)

 

“Whoever wants to serve themselves can go on a drink from the sea”

(Bar of Salvius; over a picture of a woman carrying a pitcher of wine and a drinking goblet)

 

“If anyone does not believe in Venus, they should gaze at my girl friend”

(atrium of the House of Pinarius)

 

 “May Love burn in some lonely mountains whoever wants to rape my girl friend!”

(Brothel of Venus; on the Vico dei Soprastanti opposite the Vicolo del Gallo)

 

 “I screwed a lot of girls here”.

(the Lupanare brothel)

 

Vibius Restitutus slept here alone and missed his darling Urbana”

(Vico d’Eumachia, small room of a possible brothel)

 

“A copper pot went missing from my shop.  Anyone who returns it to me will be given 65 bronze coins (sestertii).  20 more will be given for information leading to the capture of the thief”

(Street of the Theaters)

 

“Phileros is a eunuch!”

(in the Basilica)

 

“If you are able, but not willing, why do you put off our joy and kindle hope and tell me always to come back tomorrow.  So, force me to die since you force me to live without you.  Your gift will be to stop torturing me.  Certainly, hope returns to the lover what it has once snatched away”

(in the Basilica)

 

“Gaius Pumidius Dipilus was here on October 3rd 78 BC.”

(in the Basilica)

 

“Love dictates to me as I write and Cupid shows me the way, but may I die if god should wish me to go on without you”.

(in the Basilica)

 

“Ampliatus Pedania is a thief!”

(House of Curvius Marcellus and Fabia; in the tablinum)

 

“If you felt the fires of love, mule-driver, you would make more haste to see Venus.  I love a charming boy; I ask you, goad the mules; let’s go.  Take me to Pompeii, where love is sweet.  You are mine”

(House of Poppaeus Sabinus; peristyle)

 

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Published by Emiliano's Archaeological Tours

My name is Emiliano Tufano, I am an archaeologist and tour guide. I run an organization providing archeaological and cultural tours in Campania. When I was ten years old I found a piece of painted pottery on a small piece of land belonging to my family, which is located nearby the ancient Greek city of Paestum. For the whole of that day I kept this piece of history in my hands. I remember that it was decorated with a black figured scene of a Satyr driving a biga. The feeling I had when realized it was a genuine antique object was very strong, and I started asking myself many questions about the people who occupied that area across the centuries and, particularly, about the man who made such a beautiful piece of work. Since then I started collecting all sorts of pots and stones that I found while I wandered through the countryside. I used to divide my finds simply on the basis of their shape and color. They were the first steps of me becoming an archaeologist. At school, history was my favorite subject; therefore my decision of which degree course to choose was an easy one, Archaeology. Today, archaeology is my profession and my passion. Throughout the years I developed skills in fieldwork and academic research. I participated as a field director in several excavation projects of fundamental importance across Italy and I was engaged in significant academic research projects in Sicily, Tunisia and Libya. I now fulfill my ambition with a PhD project about the Sicilian prehistory. However, my interests go beyond just the history. I have a strong creative side and I love photography, and I write articles for a newspaper in my local area, play football and enjoy diving. I enjoy traveling and have been to many different countries, where I always make particular efforts to learn as much of the local language and culture as possible. In 2010 I became qualified to work as a tourist guide of the Campania Region, and today I offer guided tours in Italian, English and Spanish. I live my job with passion and professionalism. With me you can visit the wonders of Campania: the Vesuvian archaeological sites of Pompeii, Herculaneum and other beautiful sites, such as the historic centers of Naples, Caserta and Salerno, the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento Coast, all the major churches and museums. Through exclusive and tailor-made tours, according to your requirements, you will receive quality service and cultural enrichment.

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