Ancient Graffiti: Famous For All The Wrong Reasons

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In 79 AD, outside a tavern in Pompeii, a man named Restitutus scribbled “Take off your tunic, please, and show us your hairy privates” on a Roman column creating one of the world’s oldest examples of bathroom stall style graffiti.

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Days later Mount Vesuvius erupted burying Pompeii in a pyroclastic flow of ash forever preserving his poetic writing.

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The eruption perfectly froze the city of Pompeii in time. How could this man, Restitutus, have known that 2,000 years later his amusingly obscene graffiti would be read by millions? His etched writing is spoken of by University professors in seminars, TV shows, books, and in little known blogs on the internet.

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Anyone who says “surely, nothing I do will ever be remembered” should think of Restitutus.

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Ancient graffiti is extremely rare because it is shallowly scribbled and is exposed to the elements for millennia. The only writings and records that survive from antiquity are nearly always written by nobles and scholars. The rare preservation of these delicate graffiti sketches gives deep insight into the culture of the common man. As usual, humanity should be embarrassed.

The etchings are generally inappropriate:

“Phileros is a eunuch!”

“Chie, I hope your hemorrhoids rub together so much that they hurt worse than they ever have before!”

“I screwed the barmaid”

My personal favorite: Written 3 separate times in one spot is “Secundus defecated here”. Classic Secundus.

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I read the scribbles on a bathroom stall, and know that we are no smarter or dumber than we were 2,000 years ago. It makes me think communicating with someone from 2,000 years ago would not be so difficult after all. Some of the writings reveal that life today is only superficially different. We have better technology, but the same underlying desires and concerns:

“The man I am having dinner with is a barbarian”. I must reiterate – these are all real words written by average people 2,000 years ago in Pompeii. This is not embellished for dramatic effect. The walls of Pompeii speak these exact words.

I imagine a modern day person texting this to a friend, and realize texting our banal frustrations is an ancient urge. On the cities’ basilica wall is scribbled: “O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin.”

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