Graffiti

peregrinus

bozo texino

Graffiti refers to images or lettering scratched, scrawled, painted, or marked in any manner on property. Examples date back to Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. The word ‘graffiti’ and the singular, ‘graffito,’ are from the Italian word ‘graffiato’ (‘scratched’).

The first known example of modern graffiti survives in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey). It is an advertisement for prostitution. Located near a mosaic and stone walkway, the graffiti shows a handprint that vaguely resembles a heart, along with a footprint and a number. This is believed to indicate that a brothel was nearby, with the handprint symbolizing payment and the number indicating the price.

The ancient Romans carved graffiti on walls and monuments, examples of which also survive in Egypt. Graffiti in the classical world had different connotations than it carries today. Ancient graffiti displayed phrases of love declarations, political rhetoric, and simple words of thought compared to modern messages of social and political ideals. The eruption of Vesuvius preserved graffiti in Pompeii, including Latin curses, magic spells, alphabets, political slogans and famous literary quotes, providing insight into ancient Roman street life.

In contemporary times, graffiti has long appeared on railroad boxcars and subways. The one with the longest history, dating back to the 1920s and continuing into the present day, is Bozo Texino, a hand-drawn cowboy logo that has been scrawled on the sides of trains by hobos for nearly a century. During World War II and for decades after, the phrase ‘Kilroy was here’ with accompanying illustration was widespread throughout the world, due to its use by American troops and its filtering into American popular culture.

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