Postcard from Rome, Italy: Few clues for archaeologists of future times

The war against graffiti within the historic center in Rome is constant, but it is amazingly successful. “Divieto d’Avissione.”

The penalties must be high, because most of what is of any interest at all obviously is executed rapidly by stencil or pasted on a wall by someone on the run. The center is pretty much devoid of any authorized street art as well.

That was not the case in ancient Rome:

But, unlike today, Roman graffiti was not forbidden—and it was practically everywhere, from the private dining rooms of wealthy homes (domi, where friends sometimes left messages for the hosts) to the public forum. In fact, according to Kristina Milnor, more 11,000 graffiti images have been found in Pompeii—which is just about the size of the population at the height of the town….

Without this threat of punishment, it seems that graffiti was readily practiced by people at all strata of society, making it perhaps the most valuable text we have from the ancient world. Man, woman, child, slave, poor, rich, illiterate—it did not matter, so long as there was an empty spot on a wall. Which means that, through graffiti, we are able to hear the voices of those who have been traditionally voiceless, granting us the possibility of astounding insights into lives and minds we’ve never been able to access….

Naturally, all of these works have slowly changed ideas on what Roman life was like at the time.

“Why ancient Roman graffiti is so important to archaeologists,” Susanna Pilney, Red Orbit

The majority of these images are fleeting, soon to be eradicated by graffiti police. Surely not Super Papa Francis?

How will archaeologists of the future ever understand what Romans of today think about politics, sex, love, religion?

If the #qwerty from the featured image were all that remained, the keyboard reference would only confuse them. Who could figure out any Latin-based alphabet based on that?

Postcard from Rome, Italy: Palatine perch facilitates time travel

If zip codes were used in ancient Rome, Palatine Hill is the one you wanted during those B.C. years. The twins purportedly were born there, and Romulus settled right there in the neighborhood after disposing of his brother Remus.

The legendary she-wolf-nursed founders of Rome gave the city its birthdate a while back. Rome celebrated turning 2,771 on April 21, 2018 – kind of a humbling experience after experiencing events heralding San Antonio’s Tricentennial this year.

Anyway, Cicero (106-43 B.C.) resided there, as did the first emperor of the Roman Empire, Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.). While Augustus’ abode was relatively humble, subsequent emperors erected more elaborate quarters.

The great fire of year 64 left fiddling Nero (37-68 A.D.) some major cleared real estate on the hill available for construction of his new palace, Domus Aurea, or the Golden House, so named because many of its walls were covered with gold leaf. Recent archaeological digs have revealed remnants of the emperor’s over-the-top revolving dining room.

That’s obviously an oversimplified, superficial glimpse of the history of Palatine Hill. But we were really in search of a way to sense some of Rome’s ancient past above the hoards swarming into the Coliseum below. The crowds thin out, and much of the spacious hilltop turns into almost a pastoral setting for contemplating the vestiges of ancient civilization.

Now let us, by a flight of the imagination, suppose that Rome is not a human habitation but a psychical entity with a similarly long and copious past – an entity, that is to say, in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the later one. This would mean that in Rome the palaces of the Caesars and the Septizonium of Septimus Severus would still be rising to their old height on the Palatine….

Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud, 1930

Analogies often distract me, and the above one does as well. Sorry, Dr. Freud, but you left me on the hilltop without traveling down your desired psychical paths.

Derailed, I flew off to pondering that Palatine Hill is indeed a place where phases of development from 2,000 years ago still exist in the midst of a city creeping toward 3,000,000 people. A peaceful place where your imagination easily can time-travel deep into multiple layers of the city’s past and then fast-forward to view today’s Rome spreading out all around you.