Roman soldiers drew penises all over Hadrian’s Wall more than 1,800 years ago
Drawing penises in the sky or on the inside of a bomber cockpit may earn you a stiff punishment in the U.S. military, but phallic graffiti is apparently a tradition as old as warfare
Drawing penises in the sky or on the inside of a bomber cockpit may earn you a stiff punishment in the U.S. military, but phallic graffiti is apparently a tradition as old as warfare.
A cadre of cocksure Roman soldiers deployed in 207 A.D. to repair parts of Hadrian’s Wall—the 73-mile-long stone fortification erected to keep Celtic Britons at bay in the Roman empire’s most northern border — apparently took time to scrawl some, uh, explicit graffiti at a nearby quarry.
Here are the turgid details, per Smithsonian:
Two shallow relief busts spotted on the rock ledge could represent self-portraits left by the soldiers, or perhaps a mocking caricature of the men’s commanding officer.
A third marking is less open to interpretation.
But the unabashedly phallic symbol isn’t simply a reminder of mankind’s enduring juvenile tendencies: Michael Collins, Historic England’s inspector of ancient monuments for Hadrian’s Wall, tells Cahal Milmo of I News that the Romans generally viewed the phallus as a good luck charm.
Indeed, the Rock of Gelt phallus is just one of many associated with the Roman Empire’s sprawling 73-mile northern border. In an interview with CNN‘s Emily Dixon, Newcastle archaeologist Rob Collins says he has identified 57 other etchings of male genitalia scattered across the length of Hadrian’s Wall.
This is hilarious for obvious reasons, but it’s worth noting that not all Roman-era grunt humor was relatively harmless: a Roman soldier once sparked a riot by mooning unsuspecting civilians, per Slate.
According to Josephus’ account in The Wars of the Jews, a Roman soldier bared his rear to an audience of Jews celebrating Passover, and thereby incited a furious riot that killed “upwards of thirty thousand.” However, a closer examination of Josephus’s account shows that the soldier was not mooning the crowd, but rather farting in their general direction. Josephus puts it more delicately: “One of the soldiers, raising his robe, stooped in an indecent attitude, so as to turn his backside to the Jews, and made a noise in keeping with his posture.
Roman soldiers: They’re just like us!