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This paper uses rock-cut graffiti to examine territoriality and claims of belonging in the Attic countryside. It argues that the large number of short textual and pictorial graffiti which appear across the Attic landscape represent ways in which both citizens and non-citizens laid claim to space and negotiated personal identities. Examination of this material questions current ideas about territoriality within demes and also provides new ways to think about mobility within Attica.

Most studies of rupestral inscriptions in Attica have focused on horoi (boundary markers) and have situated these within political or economic contexts, interpreting them as ‘quasi-official’ or ‘authoritative’ texts which delineate deme boundaries (Lauter; Traill; Stanton) or private property (Ober 1981). As such, they have become integral to the debate on the territoriality of demes and closely linked to the political machinery of Athens (Thompson; pace Langdon 1985b; Lalonde 2006). But horoi are not the only form of epigraphic material which appear within the Attic landscape, and arguably not the most common: the past twenty-five years have revealed large quantities of graffiti dating to the Archaic through Hellenistic periods (Langdon 1985a; Langdon and van de Moortel; Langdon 2004, 2005). These comprise personal names, kalos inscriptions, sexual insults, abecedaria, ships, horses, dogs, footprints and phalluses carved into rocks in a variety of locations. If horoi have a quasi-official function (which is by no means certain: Ober 1995), this corpus is, by contrast, intensely personal, and interrogating it in terms of spatial dynamics, identity negotiation, and human mobility prompts a reconsideration of the nature of territoriality within Attica.

This paper therefore compares graffiti from two different Attic contexts: hillsides (Hymettos, Vari) and on streets within demes (Thorikos). Recent work has argued that the graffiti at these sites can be interpreted as a mechanism in which communities were created over space and time (Taylor); if this is the case these two case studies raise questions about the use of space, and the movement of different types of persons between it, from a non-institutional and (probably) non-elite viewpoint. Graffiti therefore define space differently to the deme acting in an official capacity. The following questions will, therefore, be posed: Why do we find relatively large quantities of writing (textual and non-verbal) in seemingly isolated places such as hillsides? To what extent are these markings similar to or different from those within a busy deme streetscape? Are they inspired by the same cultural impulses or do they negotiate space in different ways? Does the content reveal by whom – or for whom – they were made? What do these marks suggest about temporal aspects of mobility within Attica, not only to and from busy ‘industrial’ areas, but also to what appear to be out-of-the way places?

Recent work on graffiti has shown that this mode of writing was not necessarily an anti-social activity in the ancient world (Baird and Taylor). Therefore simply arguing that these were the subversive marks of bored peasants does not interrogate this material fully enough. Instead, here it is argued that these graffiti defined space in sophisticated ways, provided a way in which personal, sexual, and religious identities were negotiated over space and time, and demonstrate contexts of mobility within Attica. They therefore suggest that territoriality was of interest to a wider group of people than the deme qua deme alone.