Graffiti Reveals Daily Life Then as Well as Now
The ancient artifacts buried by the Mt. Vesuvius volcano temporarily preserved for us a glimpse into life of Romans in the period of the early Roman Empire. The inscriptions that Wallace treats are the informal ones -- like ones defacing public spaces today -- signs whose topics range from political slogans to attempts at poetry, from illustrated gladiatorial announcements to illegible scrawl.
Dipinti vs. Graffiti
Wallace distinguishes two types of wall inscriptions -- dipinti and graffiti. Both of these are distinct from the class of inscription used for memorials like tombstones and official public carvings. Graffiti was imposed on walls by means of a stylus or other sharp instrument and dipinti were painted on. Dipinti were announcements or programs following standard formats, while graffiti were spontaneous.
Standard Elements in Wall Inscriptions
Since they were standard in many ways, there are predictable elements in many of the dipinti. Wallace provides a list of abbreviations and explains how to interpret them. The abbreviation d r p, for example, stands for dignum rei publicae (worthy of public office) and was a standard epithet of candidates, rather than the characteristics of a particular person.
What You'll Find in "Wall Inscriptions"
Following the basics, bibliography, and a brief look at Vulgar Latin, Wallace provides transliterations of inscriptions from both Pompeii and Herculaneum, in the dipinti categories of electoral and gladiatorial announcements, and what we might call classified and unclassified notices, and in the graffiti categories of curses, gladiators, soldiers, entertainers, lists, erotica, poetry and miscellany. Wallace augments the selections with notes to help with the Latin syntax, as well as a Latin-English vocabulary. There are also facsimiles of twenty-four of the inscriptions which reveal that ancient graffiti looked like the modern stuff: some elegant calligraphy, some illegible scrawl, and stick figure drawings, which here are of gladiators, perhaps depicting particular favorites.
An Introduction to Wall Inscriptions from Pompeii and Herculaneum does not presuppose a great understanding of Latin -- or perhaps I should say an understanding of how to read Classical Latin is not a big help in deciphering inscriptions, but in his introduction to wall inscriptions, Wallace provides the keys.