The New International Encyclopædia/Graffiti
GRAFFITI, grȧf-fē'tḗ (It., scribblings). An interesting and important class of ancient inscriptions. The graffito is a rude scribbling or scratching on the plaster of a wall, a pillar, or a door-post. Such scribblings are pretty commonly found on the substructions of Roman ruins, as in the golden house of Nero, and the palace of the Cæsars on the Palatine, and in still greater numbers in Pompeii and in the Roman catacombs. Their literary value, of course, is very slight; but as illustrating the character and habits of a certain class of the ancient Romans, and what may be called the 'street life' of the classic period, they are deserving of study. They are also valuable for the light they throw on the forms of the alphabet in daily use, and the vulgarisms and corruptions existing in the speech of the common people. The graffiti of Pompeii are far the most numerous and important, forming upward of one-half the inscriptions from that place. A few are in Greek, many in Oscan, but most of them are Latin. They include nominations to office, advertisements, caricatures, single names, words of greeting or abuse; but the favorite subject of the scribblers was love, sometimes in verse quoted, adapted, or original. Of the Roman graffiti, the most famous is the one found on the Palatine, showing a man worshiping a cross on which is suspended a figure with the head of an ass; a Greek inscription says it is Alexamenus worshiping his god. Consult: Lanciani, Ancient Rome (Boston, 1887), and Wünsch, Sethianische Verfluchungstafeln (Leipzig, 1898). The interpretation of the scene as a parody of the Crucifixion is by no means certain; it is very possibly the confession of Alexamenus of his membership in the Gnostic sect which worshiped Typhon-Set. The graffiti of Pompeii are collected by Garucci, in Graffiti de Pompéi (2d ed., Paris, 1856). Consult also Fiorelli, Monumenta Epigraphica Pompeiana I. (Naples, 1854-56; 2d ed., giving the Oscan inscriptions, 1856); Corpus Inscriptionum Latinorum, vol. iv. (Berlin, 1871; supplement in preparation) . The later discoveries are scattered through periodicals, or uncollected. For Rome, consult Correra, “Graffiti di Roma,” in Bollettino della commissione municipale archcologica (Rome, 1893 et seq.).