Odds are, if you’ve ever lived or visited a city (or hey, a small town that lack excitement on Saturday nights), you’ve seen some graffiti. Some of it is beautiful artwork, some of it is illegible jumbles, and sometimes you have to wondering why the person wasted their (and your) time putting it up. But graffiti wasn’t born in the age of the spray paint and the Warped Tour. No no, humans have been defacing public spaces for millennia.
The “I was here” style
There is something about human life that is fleeting and makes us want to mark our passage through it. Some people have kids, others write book, and some people write their names on tourist traps. Such is the case at pharaoh Ramesses VI’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. About 2,000 years ago, the tomb became a hot spot for vacationing Romans who noted their visit by carving such bon mots as ““I visited and I did not like anything except the sarcophagus!” and "I cannot read the hieroglyphs!" in the walls.
The “go fuck yourself” style
The Romans were not shy when it came to slapping graffiti on walls. And they were not shy in what that graffiti was. When Mount Vesuvius blew in 79BC, it encapsulated the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum in ash which has been slowly removed by archaeologist over the last century. Not only were people frozen in time, but so too was the graffiti they put on the walls, and we are now able to look back at what some felt it was important to share with their fellow city folks. My favourites include “Theophilus, don't perform oral sex on girls against the city wall like a dog” [rude – don’t be a cock block], “Secundus likes to screw boys” [don’t out people guys], and “Chie, I hope your haemorrhoids rub together so much that they hurt worse than when they ever have before!” [that’s a nice level of petty, if I do say so myself].
The “come fuck me” style
Slams on others were common, but so to were the self-boasting ones. Also from Pompeii, specifically outside a bar (brothel?) is the line "Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men's behinds. Goodbye, wondrous femininity!" Speaking of penises, wangs were a popular art form that popped up all over the place; on the island of Astypalaia in the Aegean Sea, archaeologists recently discovered a bunch of dongs etched into limestone with boasts about their owners’ prowess. But, really – you’ve seen one schlong, you’ve seen them all. So what makes this find in the Aegean so… hmmm, impressive?.... well, it’s the fact that it’s some of the earliest examples of graffiti describing a sexual act and homosexuality. Along with the doodle was left this little description: “Nikasitimos was here mounting Timiona."
In some ways, it’s nice to get the reminder that our ancestors were like us. In other ways, it’s disappointing to see that we haven’t come all that far, really. If anything, we’ve gotten worse, because while we’re able to giggle about some really sick burns from 3,000 years ago because they’ve withstood the test of time and the elements, modern graffiti is more fleeting. I guess your overall opinion on that will be decided on whether or not someone painted a giant dick on the side of your building.
Have a great week!