The graffiti of Pompeii

Pompeii is the city frozen in time. Which means that nobody ever came through and cleaned up all the (often incredibly dirty) ancient Roman graffiti (or added their own, more modern, stuff).

So, what you find is a really cool time capsule of the way random, average puellae et pueri talked, at least in certain situations. This is colloquial Latin, and that's not something we get many chances to see.

It's also hilarious. I've seen some of these examples of Pompeiian graffiti over the years, but, as far as I'm concerned, it never gets old. (Ba-DUM-ching!) Some good examples:

From the Bar/Brothel of Innulus and Papilio: "Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men’s behinds. Goodbye, wondrous femininity!"

From the Bar of Prima: The story of Successus, Severus and Iris is played out on the walls of a bar: [Severus]: “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.”. [Answer by Successus]: “Envious one, why do you get in the way. Submit to a handsomer man and one who is being treated very wrongly and good looking.” [Answer by Severus]: “I have spoken. I have written all there is to say. You love Iris, but she does not love you.”

From the House of Pascius Hermes; left of the door: "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."

From the basilica: "The man I am having dinner with is a barbarian."

Check out more of these at the Pompeiana website

For more about average Roman life, I really recommend Terry Jones' documentary "The Hidden History of Rome". You can watch it streaming on Netflix. It's a great overview of the little bits that we know about how non-elites lived thousands of years ago.

Via The Nation

Image: Pompeii, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from editor's photostream


  1. What was the graffiti painted with?  Berries?  Ancient paint?  Taxidermied squirrel rattle cans?

    1.  You may be shocked to learn this primitive ancient tribe actually possessed the secret of paint.  Since ancient implies low IQ, we can only assume it was given to them by Ancient Astronauts.

    2. Some was painted. It’s not like they didn’t have ink, paints, and dyes back then. But a lot of it was scratched in. Pretty much like today’s bathrooms, but Romans didn’t have much of a taboo against writing stuff on public walls.

  2. And there was a little guy named Youtubulus Appelius who would transcribe all  of your graffiti into “Herpo derpo,  herpas derpas, herpamus derpamus…”

  3. Wow, I just read a bunch of these. That Secundus really gets around. He’s in love with Prima but he also screws boys, and every time he defecates somewhere he takes note of it on the wall. 

  4. Re  ‘To the one defecating here…’: Looks like ‘passive-aggressive notes’ have been around a very long time.

  5. II.7 (gladiator barracks); 8792: On April 19th, I made bread

    Don’t ever say that ancient romans didn’t know how to party.

      1. Probably. Panis means not only bread, but also loaf, or a loaf-shaped mass. Amusingly, in English there’s a similar scatological expression, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Romans had the same sense of humor.

    1. Look for “The Terry Jones Collection: Hidden Histories” (it’s one of the episodes). I can’t find it streaming. I suspect Netflix occasionally stops streaming certain movies for some period. But yeah, YouTube before it’s removed.

  6. A few of my favorites:

    Samius Cornelio suspendere (Samius Cornelio: go hang yourself)

    Miximus in lecto, fateor; peccavimus, hospes. Si dices quare — nulla matella fuit. (I confess, we have peed in bed; we have done wrong, innkeeper. If you ask why — there wasn’t a chamber pot)

    Vatiam aed. rogant Macerio dormientes universi cum… (Macerio, the United Slackers, together with… support Vatia for aedile)

    Vatiam aed. furunculi rog. (The petty thieves support Vatia for aedile)

    M. Cerrinium Vatium aed. O.V.F. seribibi universi rogant… (The United Carousers request that you voice support for M. Cerrinius Vatia for aedile)

    Marcellus Praenestinam amat et non curatur (Marcellus loves Praenestina and she doesn’t care)

    Well, if you don’t like my choices: Crucifigaris! (Go nail yourself to a cross)

  7. I always like to refer folks who whine about graffiti or declining morals to these examples, as well as to images from the “Gabinetto Segreto” that contains many of the naughty art and objects from Pompeii.

    1. Reminds me that Romans had no issue with homosexuality as long as it was not flaunted (tho at least one emperor did just that).

      1. The Romans didn’t really recognize a homosexual/heterosexual distinction, it was more of a penetrator/penetrated distinction, and the taboo was against a male citizen being in the “penetrated” category. See here or here for more info.

    2. I just like how every generation thinks the next one is corrupt and the ones previously were pure.

  8. Not only dirty graffiti; Pompeii was decorated with absolutely filthy murals and mosaics.  My anarchist grandfather smuggled a book of them through customs in the 40s.

    1.  Yep, one of the brothels basically has something of a ‘menu’ of illustrated sex acts.

  9. There’s also some fascinating wall art in Pompeii.

    A friend of mine’s father was stationed in Pozzuoli, just outside Pompeii, during World War II, so he had to see the ruins. He was told, by his hosts, to make sure to ask the guide to see the balange, the balance or scale. Apparently this was a wall painting of a guy weighing his testicles against a weight of gold.

    One of the gyms in Pompeii had a mural of women in bikinis working out with hand weights. The New York Times used this – hey, public domain – to illustrate an article on fitness. A friend of mine saw it and said it had to be bogus. But no, it was real.

  10. As much as I enjoyed these, I question the authenticity. Especially when I read “Gaius Pumidius Dipilus was here on October 3rd 78 BC.” Was he a time traveller?

    1. Presumably the translator converted the date from ad urbe condita to the equivalent BC date.

  11. (Bar of Salvius) By the door of the bar, another picture shows a short man driving a group of men out.  Above his head are the words, “Go on, get out of here!  You have been fighting!”

    A barkeep’s woes never change..

  12. Ancient tweets and passive aggressive notes. Love the one where the fellow is sick of people pooping in his yard. :D Some things in human nature never change. I can SO see this posted on Twitter:  
     “The man I am having dinner with is a barbarian.”

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