Research- Roman Graffiti

When speaking to Gianni (our Italian Stallian) about certain things in our Roman world he really liked our textures. He suggested we have a look into Ancient Roman graffiti- which was common around colosseums and even in Roman towns.

Image one and two- (Prince, 2013).

Image three and four- (, 2016).

A article from the telegraph gave quite a good insight into this “artwork.” They stated that to truly understand the life behind the great Roman empire, it was not from the writings of Philosophers or in the Public Records, but found in scrawls on walls around cities.

Most of the graffiti, like even that found today, was graphically rude. I mean who doesn’t like to draw a giant phallus on a white board every once and a while? Sorry Conánn..

The script itself is a mess- spirally and with no divisions between words, sometimes hard to translate. Artists didn’t just write rude comments, they drew pictures of rude items too. Men with penises for noses was quite common. Although they did draw animals such as horses and dogs, penises were the favoured subject matter.

Some of the examples, found mostly outside bars included;

  • “Sum tua aeris assibus II” — “I’m yours for two bob.” (Two asses was the price of the cheapest cucuma, or pitcher of wine, as advertised outside a bar in Herculaneum.)
  • “Lucilla ex corpore lucrum faciebat” — “Lucilla made money from her body.” This is found on the Basilica.
  • In a bar on Pompeii’s Via di Mercurio (so named by archaeologists – we don’t know what the streets were called in antiquity), there is an extremely graphic painting of a man and a semi-naked woman, making love while balancing on a tightrope. Hard enough to do when sober — but they’re both drinking huge glasses of wine at the time. (Mount, 2013).

However, some of this graffiti wasn’t so crude- some depicted actual versions of love; This engraving appears on the house of Pinarius Cerialis in Pompeii: “Marcellus Praenestinam amat et non curatur.” “Marcellus loves Praenestina, but she doesn’t care for him.”

Graffiti also took a political turn in, as with modern culture seen locally in murals for the IRA/UVF/UDA. Some of those found include;

  •  “C. Iulium Polybium aedilem oro vos faciatis. Panem bonum fert” — “I beg you to make C. Julius Polybius aedile [a magistrate]. He makes good bread.”
  •  “All the late-night drinkers are canvassing for Marcus Cerrinius Vatia to be aedile.” (Mount, 2013).

Both of the above were found in Pompeii.

Food was another thing mentioned in these engravings- including shopping lists.

  • Outside one shop, written on the wall in a mosaic, is the line, “Scaurus’s best garum, mackerel-based, from Scaurus’s manufacturer’s.”
  • One of the most important Pompeii survivals is a weekly shopping list, scratched onto the wall of one house. Next to each item is its price: eight asses for bread, two asses for bread for the slave; 40 asses for olive oil; sausage, cheese, leeks, whitebait and onions. Nothing that would look odd on a modern shopping list — except perhaps the slave.

Some of the graffitied work was actually very beautiful- carvings being those of poems or ballads, confessions of love or just live time stories.

  • ullones ululamque cano, non arma virumque.” “I sing of laundrymen and an owl, not arms and a man.”
  •  “Militat omnis amans” — “Every lover fights.”
  • “Quisquis amat valeat, pereat qui nescit amare, bis tanto pereat, quisquis amare vetat.” “Let whoever loves prosper; but let the person who doesn’t know how to love die. And let the one who outlaws love die twice.”
  • Nihil durare potest tempore perpetuo; Cum bene sol nituit, redditur oceano, Decrescit Phoebe, quae modo fuit, Ventorum feritas saepe fit aura levis.“Nothing can last for ever;/Once the sun has shone, it returns beneath the sea./The moon, once full, eventually wanes,/The violence of the winds often turns into a light breeze.”(Mount, 2013).

We really like the idea of this graffiti being displayed on the outer layer of our world- the everyday lives of people encapsulated to show hope in the world, despite them being slaughtered for energy.

It could also capture the different reactions from classes to the idea of a new city- we though of having it split up into classes. Maybe there would be an uprising against the world’s production, people defiling it against their own will. Kind of like a Banksy principle (sorry Ryan).

Banksy Principle

I think Banksy’s view on life can be summed up in the one quotation, “I used to want to save the world, but now I’m not sure I like it enough.”(The Daily Beast, 2016).

Banksy’s work has been influential since he began his distraction of brickwork- his quick timing to issues giving an edge that a few artists lack. Art critic Rachel Campbell Thompson said that he “uses his artwork as a weapon.” (The Daily Beast, 2016).

One of the things that I think is interesting about this under cover artist is his money base- his pieces sell for thousands at auction, but he gives them for free in the form of street art. Banksy isn’t represented by any gallery, but thousands view his artwork all over the world.

Some of the artwork by Banksy.

In our own work could we incorporate such an artwork into the textures on the outside? Possibly spins on some of the actual artwork of the time?


Mount, H. (2013). What can we learn from Roman graffiti?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Mar. 2016].

Prince, S. (2013). The 20 Awesomest Pieces of Ancient Graffiti. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Mar. 2016]. (2016). Ancient Olympics. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Mar. 2016].


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