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Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society, Sixth Edition
Marvin Perry, Myrna Chase, James R. Jacob, Margaret C. Jacob, Theodore H. Von Laue
Primary Sources

Introduction | Questions to Consider | Source  

Voices of the People:
Graffiti from the Walls of Pompeii
(A.D. 79)

This selection features an unusual source of material: graffiti. Taken from the walls of the popular resort Pompeii, which was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in a.d. 79, these pieces of popular culture provide fascinating insight into the daily life, cares, and crimes of the times. Ranging from market announcements to local politicians' pleas for votes to lovers' laments, this graffiti, revealed by archeological digs, opens a door into the everyday existence of Roman men and women of the first century after the birth of Christ.

Questions to Consider
  • Based upon the graffiti presented here, what issue and events seem to have been of greatest concern to the people of Pompeii

  • Given the prevalence of political appeals, speculate on the importance of local politics to urban dwellers of the early Roman Empire.

The fruit dealers together with Helvius Vestalis unanimously urge the election of Marcus Holconius Priscus as duovir with judicial power.

I ask you to elect Gaius Julius Polybius aedile. He gets good bread.

The muleteers urge the election of Gaius Julius Polybius as duovir.

The worshippers of Isis unanimously urge the election of Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus as aedile.

Proculus, make Sabinus aedile and he will do as much for you.

His neighbors urge you to elect Lucius Statius Receptus duovir with judicial power; he is worthy. Aemilius Celer, a neighbor, wrote this. May you take sick if you maliciously erase this!

Satia and Petronia support and ask you to elect Marcus Casellius and Lucius Albucius aediles. May we always have such citizens in our colony!

I ask you to elect Epidius Sabinus duovir with judicial power. He is worthy, a defender of the colony, and in the opinion of the respected judge Suedius Clemens and by agreement of the council, because of his services and uprightness, worthy of the municipality. Elect him!

I ask you to elect Marcus Cerrinius Vatia the aedileship. All the late drinkers support him. Florus and Fructus wrote this.

The petty thieves support Vatia for the aedileship.

I ask you to elect Aulus Vettius Firmus aedile. He is worthy of the municipality. I ask you to elect him, ballplayers. Elect him!

I wonder, O, wall, that you have not fallen in ruins from supporting the stupidities of so many scribblers.

Twenty pairs of gladiators of Decimus Lucretius Satrius Valens, lifetime flamen of Nero son of Caesar Augustus, and ten pairs of gladiators of Decimus Lucretius Valens, his son, will fight at Pompeii on April 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. There will be a full card of wild beast combats, and awnings [for the spectators]. Aemilius Celer [painted this sign], all alone in the moonlight.

Market days: Saturday in Pompeii, Sunday in Nuceria, Monday in Atella, Tuesday in Nola, Wednesday in Cumae, Thursday in Puteoli, Friday in Rome.

6th: cheese 1, bread 8, oil 3, wine 3

7th: bread 8, oil 5, onions 5, bowl 1, bread for the slave[?] 2, wine 2

8th: bread 8, bread for the slave[?] 4, grits 3

9th: wine for the winner 1 denarius, bread 8, wine 2, cheese 2

10th:1 denarius, bread 2, for women 8, wheat 1 denarius, cucumber 1, dates 1, incense 1, cheese 2, sausage 1, soft cheese 4, oil 7

Pleasure says: "You can get a drink here for an as [a small coin], a better drink for two, Falernian for four.

A copper pot is missing from this shop. 65 sesterces reward if anybody brings it back, 20 sesterces if he reveals the thief so we can get our property back.

The weaver Successus loves the inkeeper's slave girl, Iris by name. She doesn't care for him, but he begs her to take pity on him. Written by his rival. So long.

[Answer by the rival:] Just because you're bursting with envy, don't pick on a handsomer man, a lady-killer and a gallant.

[Answer by the first writer:] There's nothing more to say or write. You love Iris, who doesn't care for you.

Take your lewd looks and flirting eyes off another man's wife, and show some decency on your face!

Anybody in love, come here. I want to break Venus' ribs with a club and cripple the goddess' loins. If she can pierce my tender breast, why can't I break her head with a club?

I write at Love's dictation and Cupid's instruction;

But damn it! I don't want to be a god without you.

[A prostitute's sign:] I am yours for 2 asses cash.