Was graffiti illegal in ancient Rome?

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Mudassir Ali
Jan 19, 2020 05:16 PM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Jan 19, 2020 05:16 PM

It was illegal (and sacrilegious) to deface a temple, as several surviving laws attest.

Other places in a Roman city, to judge from Pompeii and Herculaneum (our best sources of evidence) were well-established “billboards” with many layers of political and commercial advertisements. These areas – which seem to have evolved naturally at highly-visible places like intersections – were probably protected by custom. The fact that many of the graffiti in these places were commissioned by public officials (or candidates for office) indicates that writing here was certainly legal.

Most walls in a Roman city, however, were probably neither sacrosanct nor sanctioned. Property owners certainly didn’t appreciate graffiti appearing on the outer walls of their homes (which were regularly whitewashed), and may have sometimes complained to officials. I am not aware, however, of any Roman vandal being prosecuted.

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