Some things in life never change. While some may think of graffiti as something of the adolescents of our time, that is far from the truth. Graffiti has been around just about for a long has written language, and graffiti is sometimes a valuable archeological tool in learning about peoples of long ago.
Graffiti can provide a better understanding of the daily life and attitudes of the Roman and other ancient people and allow scholars to understand how everyday people talked, where they spent their time, and their interactions within those spaces.
Graffiti of Ancient Phoenicians and Aramaic
Abydos Graffiti In Egypt:
Abydos is one of the oldest cities in ancient Egypt and was once the capital of the kingdom. One of the main attractions there today is the Temple of Seti I. This ancient temple was built by Pharaoh Seti I and finished by his son, the great Ramasses II.
But inscribed on its ancient walls is the ancient Abydos graffiti. This graffiti is ancient Phoenician and Aramaic graffiti (the Phoenicians were from today's Lebanon). Much of the graffiti represents prayers and votive dedications (so perhaps not what one would expect on the streets from today's teens).
- Name: The Inscriptions Are Known Archaeologically as KAI 49, CIS I 99-110 and RES 1302ff.
These inscriptions are particularly significant as to the discovery of the Abydos graffiti, very few Semitic inscriptions had been found in Egypt.
Abu Simbel Phoenician graffiti:
There is more ancient Phoenician graffiti to be found in Egypt, this time in southern Egypt at the famous Abu Simbel rock-cut temples. These are the iconic temples that have four giant Pharaoh Ramesses II statues seated and guarding the temples out the front.
- Name: The Inscriptions Are Known Archaeologically As CIS I 111–113
- Colossal Ramesses II Statues: Have A Variety of Graffiti, Including From Both Phoenicians and Greeks
They were first noticed by Jean-Jacques Ampère in 1845 (actually Richard Lepsius had noticed them two years earlier, but his work was published later). The two inscriptions are on one of the legs of the great Ramesses II.
In fact, there is a variety of graffiti on the colossal statues of Ramesses II and much of it is Greek. The best known is a five-line Ionic Greek inscription that mentions both Psamtik I and Amasis II.
What To Know About Roman Graffiti
There are many Roman examples of graffiti that have been discovered (although in archaeological terms, graffiti is a mark, image or writing scratched or engraved into a surface). Predictably, many of these tend to be rude and derogatory like today. They include insults, phallic images, and various erotic pictures.
But not all Roman graffiti was to the tune of "Lucilla made money from her body" (another example in Pompeii). Much of it was more innocent in nature and was just simple pictures or games. Other examples of Roman graffiti are indecipherable today.
The formal writing we have of the Roman language was not how they actually spoke (no more than people today actually talk in the language of a business contract.
"The Vendor hereby agrees to provide the following services for the Event in exchange for financial compensation outlined below..." - yeah, no one talks like that.
The Roman Graffiti of Pompeii and Herculaneum
Much of the Roman graffiti at Pompeii and Herculaneum have been preserved thanks to being covered up by volcanic ash. As the cities and towns were destroyed abruptly, they can be dated to (or before) 79 AD.
Sometimes the graffiti is about prostitutes, others about being a food critic, others about becoming gay, still others the obligatory so-and-so was here, and everything else one can think of.
The following are from Kashgar.com.au, most are too obscene to be repeated, here. See their website for the full list. Some of the graffiti inscriptions here include:
- House of Cuspius Pansa: The finances officer of the emperor Nero says this food is poison (a 2000-year-old restaurant critic!)
- Bar: We two dear men, friends forever, were here. If you want to know our names, they are Gaius and Aulus.
- Gladiator barracks: 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.
- House of Cosmus and Epidia: Aufidius was here. Goodbye
- House of Sextus Pompeius Axiochus and Julia Helena: Hectice, baby, Mercator says hello to you
- Vico degli Scienziati: Cruel Lalagus, why do you not love me?
- Atrium of the House of Pinarius: If anyone does not believe in Venus, they should gaze at my girlfriend
- Vicolo del Panattiere, House of the Vibii Merchants: Atimetus got me pregnant
- House of Caprasius Primus: I don't want to sell my husband, not for all the gold in the world