The Herculaneum Graffiti Project

The entries that we are contributing to the Epigraphic Database Roma are based on fieldwork and personal autopsy. Our first season of fieldwork took place during summer 2014 with an international team of thirty participants, including undergraduates, graduate students, and professors. We will return to the field in summer 2016.


Our 2014 HGP Team!

While in Herculaneum, we measured, documented, and photographed the handwritten wall-inscriptions that still exist in situ. During fall 2014, we have been digitizing both the textual graffiti and incised drawings that we found. As of December 15, 2014, we have digitized and made available through the Epigraphic Database Roma sixty graffiti that we documented there.

We have also been creating a freely available, open-source map of Herculaneum through OpenStreetMap. We are happy to announce that map is now complete. We aim to have it clickable, fully functional, and linked to the digitized graffiti by the end of next summer.

More to come!


Description of the Herculaneum Graffiti Project field season 2014:
This unique program of archaeological fieldwork, directed by Professor Rebecca Benefiel (Washington & Lee University), has a specific focus on ancient wall-inscriptions. Participants work with handwritten, primary evidence of the first century AD, while collaborating with international partners, and contribute to a comprehensive database that makes these writings available to a broader public. The main objective of the field school is to train participants to work with wall-inscriptions at Herculaneum, which are often small and faint, difficult to find and decipher, and tricky to capture in a photograph. They will learn on-site how to detect and decode, measure and photograph these inscriptions with special equipment. Participants also make direct contributions to EAGLE Europeana, the Europeana Network of Ancient Greek and Latin Epigraphy, a large-scale project to make epigraphic material available to the broader public.

The work involved is collaborative, interdisciplinary, and needed. Participants work in teams comprising Americans and Europeans, faculty, graduate students, and advanced undergraduates, to understand the archaeology and the social context of this popular type of writing. The interdisciplinary nature of the material provides perspectives onto family structure, religion, the economy, and the nature of the Roman house, and insights onto the realities of spoken versus written language. And it is crucial. Handwritten documents from classical antiquity are found in three main locations: on wooden tablets in Britain, near Hadrian’s Wall; among the papyri of Egypt; and on the walls of Pompeii and Herculaneum. It is easier to protect papyri and wooden tablets by moving them to a climate-controlled environment, while the wall-plaster that holds or once held these writings is a fragile surface constantly exposed to the elements. By documenting these writings now with non-invasive techniques, we aim to save and preserve as much as possible and to provide access to this material to a wide network of researchers and students.