Ancient Graffiti Found in Rome’s Colosseum

A facelift of the Colosseum in Rome that began last fall has revealed centuries of graffiti. Removing the accumulated grime and calcification, experts discovered layers of inscriptions on the section of a wall seen here—designs in red and faded gray from antiquity, and lettering in black left by visitors in modern times.

Built in the first century, the Colosseum may have held crowds as large as 50,000 people. Its numbered entrances and covered passages were designed to get spectators in and out quickly and to separate the high and mighty from the hoi polloi.

The wall in this picture flanked a passage that led to an upper tier. There, women, children, and slaves perched in the cheap seats to watch the bloody spectacle of gladiators and wild beasts battling for their lives on the arena floor 60 feet (18 meters) below.

Even in the dim light of this passage, the designs painted in red would have been easy to see against a background of white plaster. Today, the meaning of the designs in this particular spot is a mystery, though patches of newly cleaned plaster on other parts of the wall show a palm frond in red (a symbol of victory) and the letters “VIND,” which may be part of the word vindicatio, or vengeance.

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