5 Resurrected Ancient Messages That Are Still Super Relatable Today
Ancient people — they were just like us! True, they didn’t know much about how germs work, and they had no strong opinions on which earbuds are best, but when you look at their random thoughts and deepest beliefs, you’ll find a bunch of kindred spirits. To delve into their ancient minds, take a look at the messages they left behind, sometimes carefully carved for posterity and sometimes just doodled on a wall somewhere.
Pompeii Graffiti Is Full of Sex Boasts
A few years ago, we were excited to discover the remains of a man in Pompeii, volcanically frozen in the act of masturbating. Shortly after, and with less fanfare, it was revealed that, whoops, reports were mistaken, that man had not been masturbating and he was simply frozen in the act of dying horribly. But never fear: If you want proof that the people of Pompeii were a horny lot, just look to all their horny graffiti, drawn 2,000 years ago and neatly preserved for us all.
On the walls of the Lupanar — a word that meant both “brothel” and “wolf den” — we have dozens of notes left by proud patrons. Hic ego puellas multas futui, says one. Translated, this means “Here, I fucked many girls.” “Sollemnes, you screw well!” reads one client’s positive rating, while another is translated by modern scholars as “Mola is a fucktress.”
These sexual boasts were not restricted to buildings designed specifically for such matters. At the gladiators’ barracks, we found this message: “Celadus the Thracian makes the girls moan.” The author, presumably, was Celadus the Thracian. On a bar, one graffito read, “Apelles Mus and his brother Dexter each pleasurably had sex with two girls twice.” “I have buggered men,” says another, while one street wall offers this directed bit of advice: “Theophilus, don’t perform oral sex on girls against the city wall like a dog.”
Some of these romantic messages really were touching. “If anyone does not believe in Venus, they should gaze at my girlfriend,” says one. Another supportive lover wrote, “I don’t want to sell my husband, not for all the gold in the world.” In the time of slavery, this might have been more than just an idle promise. This was also a time of democracy, however. “Vote for Isidorus,” said one political graffito. “He gives the best cunnilingus.”
A Hidden Hebrew Message Was a Demand for Booze
In 1965, archaeologists were digging through the desert west of the Dead Sea, and they unearthed the archeologist’s favorite toy: a shard of pottery. The shard was what’s called an ostracon, meaning it was used as a writing surface. It dated back to the start of the seventh century, and people back then wrote on stuff besides pottery as well, but not too much papyrus survived.
Fifty years later, we had the technology to analyze the writing more closely. The shard contained a message from one household to another, saying to send money and send oil. The message also mentioned one other commodity not to send, but this text was illegible. All fascinating stuff, but then analysts had an inspiration. What if they pointed their 890-nanometer lasers at the back of the shard? There may be additional text there, which no one had ever noticed before. They were right.
On the verso side of the ostacon is this request: “If there is any wine, send it.” Next, the sender magnanimously says, “if there’s anything else you need, write to me about it.” But then, the wine returns, with this final line: “And Ge’alyahu has taken a bat of sparkling wine.” That’s not a typo for “vat,” by the way; “bat” was an ancient measure of liquids. This accounting of who owes whom booze shall be remembered, after all else is forgotten.
The ancient Greeks, with no access to firearms, used that classic projectile weapon known as a sling. A length of rope contained a pouch, the pouch could hold a stone and you’d swing the rope to throw the stone. Confusingly, the British call this weapon a slingshot, which refers to a different weapon in America, one that launches projectiles using elastic. The British refer to that elastic-powered weapon as a catapult, while Americans use the word “catapult” to refer to a huge siege weapon.
From around the fourth century B.C., we found the below bullets made for throwing using a sling. We’re calling them bullets, not stones — these were manufactured, out of lead. Those Greek letters, DEXAI, offer a message to whomever this Greek fighter targeted. You might translate the word as “Catch!” Or, as “Take that!”
Did an opponent have a chance to read the message before it hit him in the skull? Probably not, but the instinct to label missiles is universal. Think about how, in March 1945, American soldiers wrote the following on artillery shells: “Happy Easter, Adolph!”
One Roman Mused About a Really Good Butt He Once Grabbed
Let’s now return to the subject of horny Romans. This next message deserves special attention because it wasn’t drawn on any old street corner but on the inside of a tomb.
Ther Isola Sacra Necropolis contains lots of detailed art that revealed what Romans wanted to highlight about the lives of the departed. One tomb shows an engraving of a doctor treating a patient’s leg, while another shows a midwife delivering a baby. A toolmaker’s tomb shows him making tools; a relief of a mill probably marks the dead as a miller.
In the designated “Tomb 42,” archaeologists discovered the following written on the wall: “I remember touching the buttocks of a certain girl, whose ashes cover the golden earth.” We do not know if the tomb was a monument to the girl or to the Roman who remembered her so fondly. The message may even have been written by a corpse post-mortem, because some memories are stronger than death.
Other Romans Just Really Loved Their Dogs
To really connect with the Romans, look not to their own tombs but to the tombs they built to their dogs. Yes, some Romans built tombs for their dogs, with headstones and carvings and epitaphs to the beloved pets.
“I am in tears, while carrying you to your last resting place, as much as I rejoiced when bringing you home in my own hands fifteen years ago,” reads one epitaph. “So now, Patrice, you will no longer give me a thousand kisses, nor will you be able to lie affectionately round my neck. You were a good dog.” Another says, “This guard of the coaches never barked unsuitably. Now he is silent, and his shade protects his ashes.” Here’s an entire poem written for a dog named Midge:
We trust that you can all read the Latin, but let’s also partially translate it: “You would only bark if some rival took the liberty of lying up against your mistress. What a shame, Midge, that you have died! The depths of the grave now hold you, and you know nothing about it. You cannot go wild nor jump on me, and you do not bare your teeth at me with bites that do not hurt.”
You’ll see stuff like that written to dead pets on Instagram every day, if you have especially tragic friends. Would those friends be so wordy with their tributes if they had to carve them into stone instead of just typing? You know, we think they really would.