The Ancient Graffiti Project

Welcome to The Ancient Graffiti Project, a website that provides a digital resource and search engine for locating and studying graffiti of the early Roman empire from the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Ancient graffiti, inscriptions that have been incised or scratched into wall-plaster, comprise a special branch of epigraphy. They differ from inscriptions on stone in several respects. An inscription on stone may be commemorative, dedicatory, sacred (to name just a few classes of inscription), but in almost all cases forethought has gone into the preparation of the text and the inscribed monument. Graffiti, by contrast, are more often the result of spontaneous composition and are the handwritten creation of the “man on the street.” Since graffiti are scratched into friable wall-plaster, they are more easily perishable, but when they do survive they are almost always found in situ, unlike many stone inscriptions that have survived to the present day through re-use.

Our search engine complements traditional, text-based search engines, allowing different types of searches that focus on characteristics specific to ancient handwritten inscriptions, or graffiti.

  • You can search for graffiti by their location, clicking directly on a map of the city or searching by city-block, or
  • You can search specifically for figural graffiti (graffiti drawings), browsing all examples or choosing the category of drawing that interests you, or
  • You can combine searches with our filters, choosing from a number of search options (including Language, Property Type, or Writing Style).

This is a growing project that has now involved more than fifty talented team members over the past two years. In summer 2014, our team surveyed and documented graffiti still extant in Herculaneum. In summer 2015, we led a workshop on the ancient Greek graffiti of Herculaneum and Pompeii at the Center for Hellenic Studies. We will return to the field in summer 2016.

At present, the search engine and database are under construction, so searches are limited to two city-blocks in Pompeii (Regio I, Insula 8 and Regio VII, Insula 12), and a representative sample from Herculaneum (ca. 80 graffiti from across the site). As of September 2015, our team has edited and digitized more than 600 ancient graffiti. We are now bringing them online as we continue to refine further search capabilities. More will be available as the project progresses. Check out also the copyright-free, open access, freely editable map of Herculaneum we created for OpenStreetMap.

The Ancient Graffiti Project is a contributing member to, and works in conjunction with, the Epigraphic Database Roma and EAGLE Europeana. We are grateful to the Soprintendenza Speciale di Beni Culturali for allowing us to work with this material.