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Ancient Roman Graffiti

'Roman graffiti would not be preserved if not for an environmental catastrophe – the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D – when they were covered by the blanket of ash. As visible from the remnants of Pompeii and Herculaneum, scribbling graffiti was not an unusual practice centuries ago. In fact, it was quite common and widespread. Romans liked to scrawl their admonitions, jokes, political opinions, pleas, and existential ramblings on the walls of communal and private buildings. Their scribbles are usually bawdy, lewd, full of profanity, and vulgar defacements, but at the same time they are the testimonies of a life lived in that period, and of the way public and private spheres were negotiated and expressed.

Graffiti have long history reaching several millennia in the past. First scribbles go back to Egypt’s late Middle Kingdom. Homoerotic scribbles were also discovered on Thera at the Sanctuary of Apollo Karneios from 7th to 6th century B.C, and in later periods on the walls of early Christian catacombs and medieval churches.[1] Until the development of the so-called ‘spraycan art’ in New York’s subway in the late 1970s, graffiti did not possess a specific style, but with development of urban cultures scribbles and drawings soon became a part of a broader street art milieu. In what follows, we will chart the characteristics of Roman graffiti, discuss their significance and make links to today’s scene.'

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