The Romans took their graffiti seriously – especially the phalluses | Tom Holland

In Rome they signalled good luck, but in occupied territories such as Britain they were meant to intimidate the natives

Leave an image of a penis up long enough, and it will become part of our national heritage. The rush to record inscriptions made in a Cumbrian quarry in AD 207 has cast a spotlight on the rich legacy of graffiti in Britain by the Romans. Masons sourcing stone blocks for the nearby fortifications of Hadrian’s Wall carved a date, a phallus and the caricature of an officer. They were not alone in leaving their mark. Hunting for images of phalluses is one of the great pleasures of walking the wall. Look attentively enough, and they can be found repeatedly along its line.

Graffiti was always a mark of Roman life. In Rome, the right to draw it was widely regarded as a civic prerogative. In a society rigidly stratified by wealth and rank it provided an essential safety valve. Slogans scrawled across the city served up to everyone who could read such a relentless dishing of dirt that people fretted that its sheer weight might bring walls crashing down. Even the illiterate would defecate on the monuments of those who had offended them. Soldiers, by virtue of the oath of duty they swore when signing up to the army, had abdicated the rights that were the essence of citizenship – but many were the legionaries who sought to ease their boredom by scratching doodles on quarry walls. Tiles stamped with a unit’s name would often bear graffiti. Ferocious though military discipline invariably was, it did not serve to iron out all the habits of civilian life.

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Source : The Romans took their graffiti seriously – especially the phalluses | Tom Holland