Monday, January 18, 2010

Graffiti on the Walls of Pompeii

Graffiti is an excellent archaeological source of information for those studying Pompeii. A number of excellent publications including Alison Cooley's Pompeii: A Sourcebook will outline in detail much of the Graffiti found on the walls of the ancient city. Those who have had a chance to go to Sydney University's HSC Study Day's over the past couple of years will have also seen Dr. Peter Keegan speak on the topic.

The information that follows comes from the recent Archaeological Institute of America Conference in Anaheim California (January 2010)

Graffiti on the walls in Pompeii
News from the Archaeological Institute of America's annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif.
By Bruce Bower
January 30th, 2010; Vol.177 #3 (p. 14)

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Well-off homeowners living in the Roman city of Pompeii more than 2,000 years ago could read the writing on their own walls, and apparently didn’t mind the spontaneous scrawling. Citizens of Pompeii scratched out graffiti on the walls of private residences to share creative greetings, welcomes and salutations to friends, Rebecca Benefiel of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., reported on January 8.

Many elite Pompeii dwellings bear dozens of graffiti messages on their walls, Benefiel notes. She studied 41 examples of written graffiti spread across two stories of one such house. Most graffiti appeared on walls in well-traveled areas, such as an entrance area and near stairways. Different people wrote messages back-and-forth to one another on the walls, sometimes in the form of poetry, Benefiel says. Graffiti writers intended to have their product read by an audience, she suggests.

Graffiti in the Pompeii house are generally small and unobtrusive. “Defacement did not motivate those who wrote on these walls,” Benefiel says. She also identified 12 instances of graffiti images in the ancient house. These drawings portrayed boats, animals, a palm frond and a man. A few areas contained graffiti consisting of a series of Roman numerals that were possibly used in number games, in Benefiel’s view