Roman graffiti: the cute, the funny and the bawdy

If there’s anything I’ve learned during my historical research, it is that our age is really pretty prudish and uptight. Today’s illustration: the Romans. Thanks to the Vesuvius, we have some pretty good idea of Roman graffiti… and that really is something.

Roman graffiti in Pompeii

When the Vesuvius buried Pompeii and Herculaneum under a thick layer of stone and ash, it created a time capsule of Roman society. These days, archaeologists digging up the remainders of the town can reconstruct Roman daily life in quite some detail. And as it turns out, that includes a LOT of graffiti.

Now of course, we already knew the Romans loved their bawdy graffiti. (They also drew penises around Hadrian’s wall, just to name a thing…) But the walls in Pompeii were protected against the sun and the wind for thousands of years, and that means a lot more graffiti has been retained as well.

Some of these writings are really quite cute! Others are… well, let’s say, a little more explicit about the matter. Below you find a list of my favourites!

Roman graffiti: the list

Cute stuff

As I said, some of these graffiti texts are really pretty cute. For example…

  • Vibius Restitutus slept here alone and missed his darling Urbana

  • I don’t want to sell my husband, not for all the gold in the world
  • If anyone does not believe in Venus, they should gaze at my girlfriend
    Awww.
  • We two dear men, friends forever, were here. If you want to know our names, they are Gaius and Aulus.

  • Secundus says hello to his Prima, wherever she is. I ask, my mistress, that you love me.
  • Lovers, like bees, lead a honeyed life.
    Underneath this text, someone else wrote “Velle!”, which is Latin for “I wish!”

Graffiti stories

Other graffiti texts really tell a whole story. For example:

  • Successus, a weaver, loves the innkeeper’s slave girl named Iris, She, however, does not love him. Still he begs her to have pity on him. His rival wrote this. Goodbye.
    Poor Successus
  • Two friends were here. While they were, they had bad service in every way from a guy named Epaphroditus. They threw him out and spent 105 and half sestertii most agreeably on whores.
    This piece of writing was found in a bar.

Vulgar stuff

As the last text already suggests, Roman graffiti really isn’t shy about sex. As a matter of fact, much of the Pompeii graffiti is downright vulgar.

Roman graffiti
Then again, what would you expect from people who casually decorate their walls with these paintings…

Some particularly impressive examples are:

  • My life, my sweetheart, let’s play for a moment, let’s imagine that this bed is a field and that I am your horse…
  • Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men’s behinds. Goodbye, wondrous femininity!
  • Theophilus, don’t perform oral sex on girls against the city wall like a dog.
  • I screwed a lot of girls here.
    To be clear, this bragging graffiti was found on an outside wall…
  • Celadus the Thracian gladiator is the delight of all the girls
    This was found in the gladiators’ barracks, so Celadus may as well have written it down himself.
  • 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.
    I’m personally pretty sure Floronius wrote this down himself…
  • Fortunatus will fuck you really deep. Come and see, Anthusa!
  • Crescens declares his penis hard and huge
    Okay, Crescens…
  • Satyrus, don’t lick cunt inside the opening but outside the opening.
    Useful advice!
  • Veneria sucked the cock of Maximus through the whole grape harvest, leaving both of her holes empty and only her mouth full!

It’s perhaps no surprise that some Romans were  unhappy about these literary pieces on their walls… For example, the famous writer Plutarch noted that “There is nothing written in them which is either useful or pleasing – only so-and-so ‘remembers’ so-and-so, and ‘wishes him the best’, and is ‘the best of his friends’, and many things full of such ridiculousness.”

But the best summary is perhaps given by the unknown writer who scribbled the following observation on a wall:

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

The Romans were definitely not the only bawdy writers in history, by the way. For example, we also have some pretty lewd Viking graffiti! As I said, modern times are really quite prudish…

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Roman graffiti: the cute, the funny and the bawdy

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