Ways for Teachers to Use the Ancient Graffiti Project
It is our goal as Latin teachers to help our students create a personal connection to Latin and the ancient Romans. While we can get them to relate to the sentiments of Latin literature and lessons learned from ancient Roman history, it is sometimes difficult to make connections to the real, everyday lives of Romans. We do not have photographs of actual events or perfectly preserved buildings. We must be creative and bring a fragmented ancient world to life for our students.
The preservation and excavation at the archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum are as near as we can get to a perfectly preserved Roman town, and are an excellent resource for teachers. The Ancient Graffiti Project provides a wealth of information to help teachers utilize the graffiti written by the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum. To incorporate these graffiti into our curriculum, we have to change our mindset about what it meant to be literate in ancient Rome. The elite 10-15% of the Roman population were highly educated, learning to read from ancient texts that would have been the equivalent of an elementary school student learning to read from Shakespeare. If a Roman knew their alphabet and could write their own name, which is incredibly powerful in a society where a greater number of children did not learn to read Latin fluently than did. If you could read a name, you would know for whom to cast your vote, who was putting on the games, who built this statue dedicated to a god.
The graffiti of Pompeii and Herculaneum are an excellent way to build these real-world connections into our Latin curriculum. Your students can learn about Roman names, ways that Romans greeted one another, advertisements for gladiator games and records of gladiatorial successes and losses, political advertisements, and beyond by reading what the Romans themselves wrote.
Under the Teacher Resources section, there are lesson plans created by middle and high school Latin teachers. Although these plans could be used separately, an example sequence of lessons could begin with the alphabet (both Latin and Greek), progress to Latin names, and advance to Latin greetings. See all lesson plans at:
We’ve highlighted some of the most interesting graffiti from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Explore by theme. If you have a cultural topic in mind, whether it be gladiators, love, food, or poetry, you can find the most relevant graffiti for each topic here:
Search the database
If you want to explore your own idea, you can simply begin by entering a key word either in Latin or English (e.g. gladiator, amat) in the search box on the home page.
There are also maps of Herculaneum and Pompeii, which are interactive. You can click on the map and explore the graffiti present in a particular building, multiple properties, or area of the city. We have created a copyright-free map of Herculaneum that is also printable for your students.
Learning about graffiti
When looking at a particular graffito, you will find a wealth of information in the listing. This includes a brief description, the Latin (or Greek) text, a translation into English, bibliography, commentary in Latin (critical apparatus) and more.
- If the graffito still exists, there will be a picture of it attached to the entry or there will be a link to the pictures on EDR (Epigraphic Database Roma). This an exciting way for students to view the graffito. I often print out and laminate class sets of the graffiti I use in class so that the students can trace over it and see if they can figure out what the letters and words are.
- There is always a link to the site where the graffito was found. If it is in Herculaneum, you can follow the link to the wealth of pictures on the Herculaneum Panoramas site and view the ruins.
- If the graffito is in Pompeii, you can follow the link to view pictures of the site and ruins on Pompeii in Pictures.
Thank you to Nicole Wellington of Dana Hall School for creating materials and guiding development of teacher resources.