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Submitted by on Jul 9, 2022

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Graffiti is writing or sketching on a wall or other surface without authorization and in full view of the public. Graffiti has existed since ancient times, with instances reaching back to ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and the Roman Empire. It may range from simple scribbled messages to intricate wall murals.

Graffiti is a contentious topic. Marking or painting property without authorization is considered defacement and vandalism in most nations, and is a criminal offence, according to property owners and civic authorities, citing the use of graffiti by street gangs to mark territory or serve as a signal of gang-related activity. Graffiti has been portrayed as a rising urban “issue” in many cities around the industrialized globe, extending from the New York City subway system in the early 1970s to the rest of the US, Europe, and other parts of the world.

Graffiti (singular and plural) and the uncommon single form “graffito” are both derived from the Italian word graffiato (“scratched”). In art history, the term “graffiti” refers to works of art created by scratching a design into a surface. “Sgraffito” is a phrase that refers to scratching through one layer of color to reveal another underneath it. Potters typically utilized this method to glaze their products and then scratch a pattern into them. Graffiti was once etched on walls with a sharp tool, however chalk or coal were occasionally used. The term comes from the Greek v”graphein, which means “to write.”

The first documented example of “modern style” graffiti may be found at Ephesus, an ancient Greek city (in modern-day Turkey). Local guides claim it’s a prostitution advertising. The graffiti, which is near a mosaic and stone pathway, includes a handprint that resembles a heart, as well as a footprint, a number, and a carved representation of a woman’s head.

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Graffiti was etched on walls and monuments by the ancient Romans, and some may still be seen in Egypt. Graffiti had different meanings in the classical era than it has now in terms of substance. When compared to today’s prominent messages of social and political values, ancient graffiti featured love confessions, political rhetoric, and simply words of thought. The explosion of Vesuvius preserved graffiti at Pompeii, including Latin curses, magic spells, professions of love, insults, alphabets, political slogans, and renowned literary lines, revealing ancient Roman street life. One inscription lists the address of a lady named Novellia Primigenia of Nuceria, a prostitute with a reputation for beauty who was in high demand. Another depicts a phallus with the following text:

Graffiti from the past has aided in the knowledge of bygone societies’ lifestyles and languages. Errors in spelling and syntax in these graffiti reveal the level of literacy in Roman times, as well as hints on how to pronounce spoken Latin. CIL IV, 7838: Vettium Firmum / aed quactiliar rog is an example. The word “qu” is pronounced “co” in this context. The 83 graffiti pieces discovered at CIL IV, 4706-85 show that people can read and write at levels of society where literacy isn’t required. The inscriptions exist on a peristyle that was being rebuilt by the architect Crescens at the time of Vesuvius’ eruption. Both the foreman and his crew were responsible for the graffiti. More than 120 pieces of graffiti may be found at the brothel at CIL VII, 12, 18″20, some of which were created by prostitutes and their clients. The gladiator Celadus Crescens wrote graffiti on the gladiatorial academy at CIL IV, 4397. (Suspirium puellarum Celadus thraex: “Celadus the Thracian makes the girls sigh.”)

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