About

Welcome to The Ancient Graffiti Project, 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 the spaces of the ancient city and on characteristics specific to ancient handwritten inscriptions.

  • 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), browse all figural examples or choose the category of drawing that interests you, or
  • You can combine searches with our filters, selecting from a number of search options (including Language, Property Type, or Writing Style).

In addition, the search bar at the top of the main page conducts a global search of the whole database. You can search using Latin terms, English translations, names of locations, or bibliography.

This is a growing project that has involved more than fifty talented team members over the past four years. During the summers of 2014 and 2016, 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, a scholarly institute of Harvard University, based in Washington DC.

The search engine and database are constantly being updated and expanded. At present, users can search nearly all the ancient graffiti of Herculaneum as well as graffiti from different areas of Pompeii, including the Lupanar, the large campus of palaestra beside the amphitehater, Regio I, Insula 8 and Regio V, Insula 1. As of July 2018, our team has edited and digitized more than 1500 ancient graffiti. We are 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 per i Beni Archeologici di Pompei ed Ercolano for allowing us to work with this material.

More documentation about our project: