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Qui carbone rudi putrique creta scribit: The Charcoal Graffiti of Herculaneum

Jacqueline DiBiasie-Sammons

University of Mississippi

While most graffiti in Herculaneum were inscribed into the wall plaster using a sharp instrument such as a stylus or nail, others were drawn onto the wall plaster using charcoal or pigment.  Such charcoal- or pigment-drawn inscriptions were once present at Herculaneum, Pompeii and the villas nearby, though almost none survive today.  At Herculaneum, 40 graffiti were made using this method including both textual (Latin and Greek) and pictorial examples.  Of these graffiti, only one partial graffito, which was made using red pigment, survives today.   At other ancient sites, though, the ratio of incised to painted graffiti differs.  At Smyrna, for example, nearly three-fourths of the pictorial graffiti were painted with a black color derived from charcoal or soot (Bagnall et al. 2016: 25).

In this paper, I discuss the genre of charcoal- or pigment-drawn graffiti and the examples once found in Herculaneum.  These graffiti were clustered in particular areas of the city including the Central Baths (VI.1), tabernae, and the ramp leading from the Terrace of Nonius Balbus to Cardo V.  I recontextualize these graffiti in light of the other graffiti found in Herculaneum and compare them to the charcoal graffiti found at Pompeii.  I show that rather than marks of a fleeting or impermanent nature, these graffiti conform to the types and genres of their inscribed counterparts.  The delicate nature of the medium, however, has left many of these graffiti with uncertain readings.  As many more graffiti were likely produced using this method in antiquity than are recorded today, these few inscriptions from Herculaneum provide important insight into the epigraphic fabric of Herculaneum and the production of graffiti in antiquity.

Session/Panel Title

Herculaneum: Works in Progress

Session/Paper Number

77.1

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