Everyone is now familiar with the release of quite explicit photos and service charges found on the walls of a brothel excavated at Pompeii, the resort town destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CCE. Now for your viewing pleasure comes a list of bawdy graffiti scrawled on the walls of Herculaneum and Pompeii, which confirm, if we didn't already know it, that the Romans were people exactly like us, albeit slightly more obsessed with defecation...or on second thoughts, maybe not. Here is a summary of some of the funniest and rudest graffiti translated so far:
Tavern of Verecundus: Restitutus says: "Restituta, take off your tunic, please, and show us your hairy privates".
Bar/Brothel of Innulus and Papilio: Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men's behinds. Goodbye, wondrous femininity!
House of the Citharist, below a drawing of a man with a large nose: Amplicatus, I know that Icarus is buggering you. Salvius wrote this.
House of Cuspius Pansa: The finances officer of the emperor Nero says this food is poison ( a 2000 year old restaurant critic!)
Bar: We two dear men, friends forever, were here. If you want to know our names, they are Gaius and Aulus.
House and Office of Volusius Luvencus: Secundus says hello to his Prima, wherever she is. I ask, my mistress, that you love me.
Bar of Athictus: I screwed the barmaid ( that's just boasting)
Pottery Shop or Bar of Nicanor: Lesbianus, you defecate and you write, 'Hello, everyone!' ( the Romans really were obsessed with scatology)
Gladiator barracks: Floronius, privileged soldier of the 7th legion, was here. The women did not know of his presence. Only six women came to know, too few for such a stallion.
Gladiator barracks: Antiochus hung out here with his girlfriend Cithera.
House of Pascius Hermes: Watch it, you that shits in this place! May you have Jove's anger if you ignore this. ( wow, more defecating!)
Street wall: Theophilus, don't perform oral sex on girls against the city wall like a dog ( reasonable advice methinks)
Exterior of a small house: Gaius Sabinus says a fond hello to Statius. Traveler, you eat bread in Pompeii but you go to Nuceria to drink. At Nuceria, the drinking is better ( second ever restaurant critic?)
House of Cosmus and Epidia: Aufidius was here. Goodbye ( classic but boring)
Just outside the Vesuvius gate: Shitter, may everything turn out okay so that you can leave this place ( shitting again! What is it with these guys? Although as I get older, I do appreciate this advice)
Barracks of the Julian-Claudian gladiators: Celadus the Thracian makes the girls moan! ( there's no praise like self praise)
On the Street of Mercury: Publius Comicius Restitutus stood right here with his brother ( and did you take a shit?)
House of Sextus Pompeius Axiochus and Julia Helena: Hectice, baby, Mercator says hello to you ( right back at ya)
Vico degli Scienziati: Cruel Lalagus, why do you not love me?
House of Orpheus: I have buggered men
Wood-Working Shop of Potitus, next to a bar: Would that you pay for all your tricks, innkeeper. You sell us water and keep the good wine for yourself ( nothing's changed in 2000 years – today it's a glass full of ice and nothing else)
Atrium of the House of Pinarius: If anyone does not believe in Venus, they should gaze at my girlfriend ( awww)
House of Caesius Blandus: It took 640 paces to walk back and forth between here and there ten times ( ah, the voice of the pissed resonates across time)
Vicolo del Panattiere, House of the Vibii Merchants: Atimetus got me pregnant ( oops)
House of Caprasius Primus: I don't want to sell my husband, not for all the gold in the world ( what about for the insurance money?)
Eumachia Building, via della Abbondanza: Secundus likes to screw boys.
The Lupinare: I screwed a lot of girls here ( uh huh)
The Lupinare: On June 15th, Hermeros screwed here with Phileterus and Caphisus ( obviously a popular place for casual sex)
The Lupinare: Sollemnes, you screw well! ( more sex at the Lupinare)
Vico d' Eumachia, brothel: Gaius Valerius Venustus, soldier of the 1st praetorian cohort, in the century of Rufus, screwer of women ( well you're in the right place)
Vico d' Eumachia, brothel: Vibius Restitutus slept here alone and missed his darling Urbana ( awww again...)
Street of the Theaters: A copper pot went missing from my shop. Anyone who returns it to me will be given 65 bronze coins (sestertii). 20 more will be given for information leading to the capture of the thief ( a reward poster!)
Above a bench outside the Marine Gate: If anyone sits here, let him read this first of all: if anyone wants a screw, he should look for Attice; she costs 4 sestertii.
In the bascilica: I could caress Venus's ribs with a stick, and whip her buttocks with a switch: she pierced my heart, and I would gladly break her head with a cudgel! ( something highbrow for a change)
In the basilica: Phileros is a eunuch! ( back to insults)
In the basilica: Epaphra, you are bald! ( sticks and stones...)
In the basilica: Chie, I hope your haemorrhoids rub together so much that they hurt worse than when they ever have before! ( ouch)
In the basilica: Take hold of your servant girl whenever you want to; it's your right ( my motto too)
In the basilica: Samius to Cornelius: go hang yourself!
In the basilica: The man I am having dinner with is a barbarian ( a Visigoth? Or just an asshole?) Alternative translation: Someone at whose table I do not dine, Lucius Istacidius, is a barbarian to me ( now that's just sour grapes)
In the basilica: The one who buggers a fire burns his penis ( hmmm...deep words)
In the basilica: O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed you have not already collapsed in ruin ( this is my favourite)
In the basilica: Epaphra is not good at ball games ( he probably has other skills).
In the basilica: Lucius Istacidius, I regard as a stranger anyone who doesn’t invite me to dinner ( me too)
Inn of the Muledrivers; left of the door: We have pissed in our beds. Host, I admit that we shouldn't have done this. If you ask: Why? There was no potty ( Trip Advisor contributors, take note!)
House of the Centenary; in the latrine near the front door: "Secundus defecated here" three time on one wall ( who writes about this kind of stuff?)
House of the Centenary; in the atrium: My lusty son, with how many women have you had sexual relations? ( time to have THAT talk)
Triclinium of a house: Restitutus has deceived many girls ( same Restitutus who asked Restituta to show us her hairy privates?)
Herculaneum bar: Two friends were here. While they were, they had bad service in every way from a guy named Epaphroditus. They threw him out and spent 105 and half sestertii most agreeably on whores ( so the night turned out ok?)
Herculaneum bar: Apelles the chamberlain with Dexter, a slave of Caesar, ate here most agreeably and had a screw at the same time ( not exactly at the same time I hope? Hang on, are you the guys who threw out Epaphroditus?)
Herculaneum bar, next to a drawing of a phallus: Handle with care
Herculaneum bar: Apelles Mus and his brother Dexter each pleasurably had sex with two girls twice ( you two again).
Herculaneum, on a water distribution tower: Anyone who wants to shit in this place is advised to move along. If you act contrary to this warning, you will have to pay a penalty. Children must pay [number missing] silver coins. Slaves will be beaten on their behinds ( this was obviously a very busy place)
Herculaneum, on the exterior wall of a house: Apollinaris, the doctor of the emperor Titus, shat well here ( but not, I hope, near the water distribution tower?)
Gladiator barracks: On April 19th, I made bread ( is this some sort of euphemism for something else? Like shitting?)
Read sources of these graffiti here, here and here. Oh and also here. There are many other, far more explicit graffiti to be found on the walls of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the hard part is getting someone to actually document them in writing. If you have any other examples, please share. Ps Mary Beard, I love you.
References and Further Reading
Beard, Mary 2008. Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town; ISBN 1-86197-516-3 (US title: The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found; Harvard University Press)
Harvey, Brian Graffiti from Pompeii
Ohlson, Kristin 2010. Reading the Writing on Pompeii's Walls
Addendum - an honourable mention:
Bar of Prima: ( omg, someone turn this into a movie script!)
Severus: Successus, a weaver, loves the innkeeper’s slave girl named Iris. She, however, does not love him. Still, he begs her to have pity on him. His rival wrote this. Goodbye.
Successus: Envious one, why do you get in the way. Submit to a handsomer man and one who is being treated very wrongly and good looking.
Severus: I have spoken. I have written all there is to say. You love Iris, but she does not love you.
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