Monday, December 11

Ancient Roman Graffiti: History on a Piece of Wall

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History

The habit to craft letters or images on properties later known as “graffiti” had begun since prehistoric time when our prehistoric ancestor made cave paintings using animal bones and natural pigments to mark territory, record successful hunting expedition, or simply to describe wildlife scene.

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Modern-style graffiti can be traced back to the time of Ancient Greek and Roman Empire two thousand years ago. Numerous graffiti from Ancient Rome can still be seen today in the Catacombs of Rome, Pompeii ruins, ancient Greek city in Turkey and some in Egypt. Ancient Roman is very prolific in making their graffiti. They write or draw just about anything from public matter to private passion on their city wall. Various thought and feeling were expressed without boundaries, without limitation. The habit had become part of ancient Rome pop culture. For us today, their works had become a window back onto ancient Rome’s civilization.

What the Graffiti tells you

People at the time of Roman Empire used graffiti as mean to provide information, as advertisement, to say curses and magic spells and also to display literally quotes. Things which did not differ much from the graffiti we can find in today’s city wall including ones used to express political message. Skip the boring political issue; below are some of the more interesting graffiti carved during the Roman Empire era.

Ode to the God of Love

“Rufus loves Helen”, sound familiar right? This is not the carving on our children’s school wall, this one is found at the ruins of Pompeii. Such love declarations were scattered in many cities from Italy to Egypt. Some are highly romantic, for example “if one doesn’t believe in the Goddess of Love, one shall look at my girlfriend”. But others are vulgar and contain pornographic materials, for example, a writing goes on saying that the writer, obviously a man, will penetrates men’s behind. Not much different from graffiti found in our public toilet wall today. There is also a bizarre declaration of loyalty of a wife who wrote “I will not sell my husband” . Surely the public wall provided a perfect media for lovers of the Ancient Rome to express their feelings.

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Still related with love business, ancient Roman graffiti also tell us how wall carving was used in prostitution industry as marketing tool. Prostitutes and their pimp used graffiti to advertise their service. Names of great beauty and where to find them were written on the wall. Some satisfied customer usually also left some writings on the wall in favor of the prostitute.

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The wall also had been a place for the heartbroken to have a say about their feeling. A text on the wall said this “she can break my heart, why can’t I smash her head?”

Ode to the God of Wine

Ancient Roman loves wine. To avoid having too many drunken customers, owner of a tavern often mix wine with water. This may cause dissatisfied customers to write their disappointment over the quality of the wine on a tavern wall. Some customers even write curses and bad luck wishes for the tavern owner.

Ode to the Gladiators

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Ancient Roman graffiti provides interesting facts on the life of the gladiators. Winning gladiators were sometimes treated like a hero, despite the fact that they were slaves and were forced to fight in the arena. Fans would usually write their names and their winning record on the wall. From the graffiti made by mourning widows, girlfriends, friends or parents, we know that most gladiators died before the age of 27. It statistically informs us too that on the average gladiators can only win 10 battles.

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