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Many graffiti from Ostia are presented here. All visitors can access the restricted version, from which all topographical indications have been removed - we do not wish to put a "shopping list" on the web for thieves. If you want to see the full version, with topographical indications and references to publications, then follow the instructions below.

Graffiti without topographical indications (access public) Graffiti WITHOUT topographical indications (access public)

Graffiti with topographical indications and additional information (access restricted) Graffiti WITH topographical indications and additional information (access restricted)
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Graffiti exhibition Poster presented at the Ostia seminar, École Française de Rome, 16-17 November 2016.

EFR poster Graffiti exhibition

PresentationThis section of the Ostia website was made by Eric Taylor (erichtaylor REMOVE @ THIS presentation

RelatedRelated: The Herculaneum and Pompeii Graffiti Project

By the end of April 2007, 387 graffiti had been described and illustrated on the website [in 2014 the total stands at 514]. Breakdown of the 201 graffiti that had been made available in January 2004 has shown that 110 graffiti are textual (55%) and that 91 are drawings (45%). Of the textual graffiti, 99 (90%) are written in Latin and 11 (10%) in Greek. The Latin ones were mostly written with uppercase letters that do not join, but some were written in cursive writing, i.e. with lowercase letters that join. This style can also be found on wax tablets, letters to soldiers at the front at Vindolanda and on papyrus fragments. The Greek ones are never in cursive writing, which may be an indication that the knowledge of Greek was restricted. The fact that both Latin and Greek graffiti appear suggests there was a merging of the two cultures, as would be expected in Ostia.

Among the textual graffiti names are most common, occuring in 17% of the texts written in Latin. Dates appear in 13% of the graffiti, although these often cluster together in particular buildings. People may thank others and pay compliments, but also insult and reprimand. There are references to commercial transactions, including the buying of a slave. "Tally marks" are common, but tend to be dispersed across the site, so it is a little difficult to imagine that they are simply records of production in a workshop or factory. There are several references to pagan gods. One or two graffiti may be Christian, and one of these brings to mind the famous Alexamenos graffito from the paedogagium in Rome. Of the graffiti written in Greek, three (27%) refer to parts of the Greek alphabet.

When one looks at the drawings, it is not really surprising that boats make up the largest proportion (23%), as Ostia was obviously a harbour city. Often the boats were very intricately drawn, but there are no convincing harbour scenes as on a famous coin minted in the reign of Nero. Three drawings of amphorae suggest trade, warehouses and bars. Humans appear in 11% of the drawings (including a few detailed portraits), to which may be added gladiators in 6.6%. Animals appear in 4.5%. Dogs could be the subject of a person's hunting or domestic interests, and other animals may reflect what has been seen at the games. Two elephants can be seen and these could be a record of the excitement and commotion which would undoubtedly have occurred as the animals arrived at the port on their way to Rome and the arena. Three dice have been found and several gaming boards appear (4.5%). Langner (2001) suggests that dice act as a reminder of some successful banquet that has taken place. Sometimes there is an obvious desire to produce a drawing of a subject whose meaning is self evident as in the case of the drawing of Trajan's Column in Rome and the lighthouse at Ostia. Graffiti of an erotic nature seem to be few and far between at Ostia. There are examples in one of the baths in the west of the city which show a sexual practice that is mentioned also in textual graffiti, and in a mosaic inscription in another of the baths.

Most of the Ostian graffiti were probably written in the second and first half of the third century AD. They are found on plaster, bricks, and stone. The perpetrators often respect wall paintings and reserve the edges of these paintings for their attention. In some cases graffiti may be quite recent, particularly in the case of drawings.

Much remains to be done in interpreting both those graffiti already on the website and those that will be added in the future. Sometimes the very nature of a graffito makes it hard to understand: a mere "reminder" was well understood by the author, but not intended to be clear to others. Problems in interpretation arise when only the initials of tria nomina are used, when abbreviation to two, three or four letters occurs, and when the last few letters of names are omitted. Furthermore there is variation in the writing of individual letters (at least six different forms of the letter A are used). Sometimes graffiti are partly written in cursive form, and sometimes ligations are used (two letters being written together, e.g. Æ). Many graffti may have been written by people with a limited knowledge of grammar and the alphabet. Finally the deterioration that is unavoidably taking place in many parts of the site (not only due to climatic conditions) does not make things easier.

Many Ostian graffiti have been published in some way or other, but we are still waiting for the definitive study. We would like to stress that for the reading and interpretation of graffiti much experience, a very good knowledge of Latin and Greek, and extensive research are required. The present collection is an overview of what has been published so far and of many unpublished graffiti, with the addition of many photographs and occasional suggestions for the interpretation. It is far removed from anything like a true publication.

Variations used in the lettering, compiled by Eric Taylor.


Variations used in the lettering, compiled by Eric Taylor.


The writing on the wall continues ...

Found and photographed by Eric Taylor.

A modern graffito?

Found and photographed by Eric Taylor.

Modern "graffiti"

The lines in the bricks are an indication by the restorers
that the bricks are modern.
Found and photographed by Eric Taylor.