Before being entombed with ash by Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii was a thriving city. There was government, there was infrastructure — and yes, there was graffiti. Very vulgar, very explicit graffitti.
Much of that graffiti, like the rest of the city, remains well-preserved to this day. Some of it is poetic, at times even poignant; scribbled one lovestruck Pompeian:
If you are able, but not willing, why do you put off our joy and kindle hope and tell me always to come back tomorrow. So, force me to die since you force me to live without you. Your gift will be to stop torturing me. Certainly, hope returns to the lover what it has once snatched away.
That being said, a lot of it is absolutely filthy. Over at Pompeiana, classics scholars Eric Poehler, Kevin Cole and Steven Ellis have gone out of their way to curate some of the best examples of the Pompeiian equivalent to bathroom-stall scribbles and barroom vandalism. What follows is just a taste of the treasure trove that awaits you:
- From the Bar/Brothel of Innulus and Papilio: "Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men's behinds. Goodbye, wondrous femininity!"
- From Herculaneum (a bar/inn joined to the maritime baths): "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."
- From just outside the Vesuvius gate: "Defecator, may everything turn out okay so that you can leave this place."
- From the peristyle of the Tavern of Verecundus: "Restitutus says: 'Restituta, take off your tunic, please, and show us your hairy privates.'"
- From Herculaneum (a bar/inn joined to the maritime baths): "Apelles the chamberlain with Dexter, a slave of Caesar, ate here most agreeably and had a screw at the same time."
- From the basilica: "O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin."
For more on Pompeii, check out our backgrounder on its remarkable preservation, and what its excavation has revealed about what everyday life was like in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.