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Graffiti: a campaign tool in ancient Pompeii

The walls of householders in Pompeii were full of graffiti. In the ancient city, destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in 79, political candidates thought that writings scratched on the walls were the best way to reach voters.

In most cases the walls of the rich house owners were highly wanted for political advertising. The latest findings revealed that home-owners, in contrast with the current view, had a say in what sort of advertisement would be presented on their walls.

“The facades of the private houses, and even the street walks in front of them, were controlled and maintained by the owner of the house; and in that respect, the idea that the wall space could be appropriated by anyone who wanted to do it seems unlikely.” Eeva-Maria Viitanen, an archaeologist at the University of Helsinki, told LiveScience.

Graffiti were found all over Pompeii. Houses were decorated with greetings, notes of sums and literary quotes. Hundreds of political ads were also scratched into the stucco walls, even the tombs were no exception. Professional painters were often hired to make these distinctive red graffiti.

Most of these political writings are brief, showing the name and the position of the person running for office.”Sometimes there are some simple attributes such as ‘a good man,’ ‘worthy of public office,'” Viitanen said.

Viitanen and her team concentrated on political messages in order to find out where political candidates placed them. More than 1000 electoral ads were examined that were created during the last three centuries of Pompeii.

They found that Roman politicians primarily needed an audience, so campaign ads were always placed on high traffic streets. Despite these crowded public places, researchers also discovered that private houses were more preferred to put up ads. According to Viitanen there was no doubt about the bars being popular and highly visited, but guests probably would not go there to read.

Viitanen also emphasized that the presence of numerous political ads is a clear sign of the existence of early social networking in the ancient Roman world.

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