Ancient Graffiti: Famous For All The Wrong Reasons


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.


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


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.


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


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.

pompeii columns

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.”



Who Is Your Santa Claus, and What Does He Do?


If you visit Bari, Italy you can meet the real Santa Claus! Unlike most saints, Saint Nikolas’ earthly remains were never dispersed to various churches – this is usually done to make pilgrimages a more economic and feasible endeavor for the masses.

It was found that Saint Nick was approximately 5ft tall, and in 2005 a facial reconstruction was done. Amazing as it is, we know what Santa Claus looked like, even though he passed away some 1,670 years ago.

How We Built Saint Nick


He lived in a tumultuous time of civil war for the Roman Empire and spent many years in prison because of his defense of his Christian faith. This all changed in February 313 when Emperor Constantine drafted the Edict of Milan, which put an end to prosecution of all religions, allowing citizens to worship whichever deity they chose.


Constantine is noted as the first Christian Emperor, and the founder of the Holy Roman Empire, but he tactfully paid homage to a number of gods and goddesses depending on what event or region he was visiting.

As we all know, Santa Claus is based on the Turkish St. Nikolas of Myra. He is best known as the patron saint of sailing, but is also the patron saint of banking, pawnbroking, pirating, butchery, thievery, children, gift giving, orphans, royalty, and New York City.


Early illustrations of St. Nicholas depict him as stern, commanding, and holding a birch rod. He was more a symbol of discipline and punishment than the jolly, overweight elf children know today.

It was the period from 1200-1500 that he really hit his stride as a joyful gift giver. After the Protestant Reformation of 1517 he fell out of favor, and it was at this time that the giving of gifts transitioned from his day, December 6th, to December 25th.


Nat Geo Recaps His Life and Cultural Evolution

Up until ~1517 the gift sharing of Christmas was done on December 6th because it was a tradition associated purely with Saint Nick. Once he lost his mojo people still loved getting gifts, so the tradition became tied to the birth of Christ simply due to the proximity of the dates.

The image of Santa Claus we have come to know and love was established, but not necessarily invented, by the Coca Cola Company in the 1920s.



Ultimately, the story of our modern image of Santa may have been solidified by Coca-Cola, but the image they used wasn’t original – it was one of several that had been floating around for several decades. What Coca-Cola did was to eliminate the uncertainty, and instill in the public conscience a single image of what Santa Claus looks like.

Want more detail about the history of the modern image of Santa?