Remains of ancient graffiti are able to present a history of the people living in ancient civilizations such as Pompeii, Herculaneum and Egypt that may not have been recorded by the scholars, religious and royal classes of their time. Instead of being narrated by these reigning forces, graffiti tells the life of everyday people by everyday people. By studying these writings on the walls, we found that their themes reflect the same themes of graffiti: self-expression, social commentary and claiming space.
Social Commentary and NetworkingBefore there was Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, citizens of Pompeii held open forums by literally writing on building walls. Much like bathroom stall conversations, these markings included strung out conversations between friends and strangers.
This image of a Pompeii wall shows an interactive graffiti conversation preserved by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
Like today’s graffiti, writers were carving quotes, signatures and drawings into the walls of friends’ houses and public spaces. Graffiti content could span from romantic declarations to “_____ was here” bombs aside public buildings and spaces.
This particular example of graffiti was drawn on the walls of the Coliseum.
According to National Geographic, the graffiti features the letters “VIND” as part of the word vindicatio, meaning vengeance. This phrase is written in red, along with a drawing of a palm, a symbol of victory. Using the context that the Coliseum was a public space used to watch warriors battle each other and dangerous animals, its safe to say this graffiti bomb could be marked by a victor or one of his fans.
How does this relate to Graffiti and Hip-hop?
These examples of ancient graffiti show how people have been claiming spaces and expressing themselves in unconventional ways for over 2,000 years. While the history books have recorded the life and times of these cities from an elitist perspective, ancient graffiti tells the stories of regular people and their underground cultures.