In modern times, paint, particularly spray paint and sharpies are the most commonly used for graffiti. In most countries, marking or painting property without the property owner’s consent is considered defacement, which is a punishable crime. However, sometimes graffiti expresses a social ,political, or even personal messages. Graffiti has been welcomed as a genre of artistic expression in certain areas of the world. Graffiti has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to both Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.
Ancient graffiti, like modern graffiti, displays phrases of love, political rhetoric, or simple words of thought or messages of social and political ideals. Graffiti, also, includes Latin curses, magic spells, alphabets, political slogans, and famous literary quotes, providing insight into ancient Roman street life.
The introduction theme of HBO’s Rome has a nice collection of Roman inspired Graffiti with images and words.
Some of the best examples of ancient Roman graffiti can be seen at the Coliseum and public bathhouses in Pompeii and Herculaneum, since they were preserved so well by the ash from Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption. It is important to note that most graffiti were not transcribe by the wealthy upper-class, because an upper-class citizen would have no “lingering” business at the Coliseum, public bathhouses, or even the Lupanar (famous brothel in Pompeii).
Ten ancient Roman graffiti inscriptions explained and compared to modern graffiti
Prepare to “Ridere clara voce” or “Laugh Out Loud” or “LOL”
Translation: “Lucius painted/wrote this.”
The original “Kilroy was here,” which is explained here.
APOLLINARIS, MEDICUS TITI IMPERATORIS HIC CACAVIT BENE.
Translation: “Apollinaris, doctor to the emperor Titus, had a good crap here.”
Well, I guess everyone- even imperial physicians- need to go.
HECTICE, PARVE, MERCATOR DICIT SALVE AD VOS.
Translator: “Hector, baby, Mercator says “hello” to you.”
This is common in public restrooms to see sharpie inscriptions saying “Hello” or even entire conversations.
DOMINUS EST NON GRATUS ANUS RODENTUM!
Translation: “The boss isn’t worth a rat’s ass!”
Thousands of year later and people are still saying this!
MIXIMUS IN LECTO. FAETOR, PECCAVIMUS, HOSPES. SI DICES: QUARE? NULLA MATELLA FUIT.
Translation: “We have wet the bed. I admit, we were wrong, my host. If you ask ‘why?’ There was no chamber pot.”
Well, I guess if a grown man wets the bed- leaving a reason is polite.
SUSPIRIUM PUELLARUM CELADUS THRAEX.
Translation:” Celadus, the Thracian, makes the girls sigh.”
A Thracian is a type of Gladiator- If I had to guess either Celadus or one of his girls wrote this.
IN PECUNIIS AUTEM MAGISTRATUS NERONIS PRINCIPIS HOC DICIT CIBUS EST VENEUM.
Translation: “The finances officer of the emperor Nero says this food is poison.”
Everyone is a critic when it comes to food.
IN NONIS APRIL 19TH, EGO PANIS FIAT.
Translation: On April 19th, I made bread
Well, this inscription was found in a gladiator’s bathroom stall; so it must be a euphemism-
or a boast of culinary skills.
NTIOCHUS PEPENDIT DE HIC CUM MARCUS AMICAM CITHERA.
Translation: “Antiochus hung out here with his girlfriend Cithera.”
This inscription is similar to the idea of carving names or initials in tree bark.
Not every ancient graffiti was lewd, sexual, or humorous; here is an example of “disappointed love” explained quite elegantly:
- 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?
- Whoever loves, may go (to hell). I want to break ribs of Venus
- with a club and debilitate goddess’ lions.
- If that woman can break my tender heart
- why can’t I hit her over the head?
- – Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum IV, 1284.
Let’s not forget that even if we are going to commit the crime or art of Graffiti- we should do so with proper grammar.