A 1,700-year-old graffitied stone found at Roman Vindolanda (all images courtesy the Vindolanda Charitable Trust)

We tend to romanticize the past, reveling in the glamour of Marie Antionette without acknowledging how bad everyone smelled, or sighing over the sexual tension of Jane Austen novels without considering how terribly confining it would have been to live in Regency-era England. Certainly, we never think of olde tyme folks as the type of people who would, say, graffiti a dick on a wall — but a hilarious discovery at Vindolanda last month proves that at least one ancient Roman was about as immature as the rest of us.

Vindolanda is an ancient Roman fort located just south of the Hadrian’s Wall defensive fortification that dates back to Roman occupation of Britannia under the reign of emperor Hadrian, which began in the second century CE. Remains of the wall run roughly 73 miles across northern England, and the ruins of the Vindolanda fort are still being carefully excavated with the help of a corps of volunteers and researched to this day. Carved stones from the site offer a window into the life of third-century citizens, including one person who really, really hated someone named Secundinus.

“I’d been removing a lot of rubble all week and to be honest this stone had been getting in my way, I was glad when I was told I could take it out of the trench,” said Dylan Herbert, a retired biochemist from South Wales, in a statement from the Vindolanda Charitable Trust, which manages the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Herbert made the discovery during volunteer excavations in May.

“It looked from the back like all the others, a very ordinary stone, but when I turned it over, I was startled to see some clear letters,” Herbert continued. “Only after we removed the mud did I realize the full extent of what I’d uncovered, and I was absolutely delighted.”

Volunteer Dylan with the carved stone

The full extent turned out to be a carved phallus (read: dick drawing), accompanied by the words “SECVNDINVS CACOR.” According to specialists in Roman epigraphy Alexander Meyer, Alex Mullen, and Roger Tomlin, this translates roughly to “Secundinus cacator” (“Secundinus, the shitter”) — just in case the penis image might be taken as an affirmative fertility symbol instead of a grave insult.

“The recovery of an inscription, a direct message from the past, is always a great event on a Roman excavation, but this one really raised our eyebrows when we deciphered the message on the stone,” said Andrew Birley, director of excavations and CEO of the Vindolanda Trust. “Its author clearly had a big problem with Secundinus and was confident enough to announce their thoughts publicly on a stone. I have no doubt that Secundinus would have been less than amused to see this when he was wandering around the site over 1,700 years ago.”

Lest we imagine that this dick-pic vandal is an outlier, over nearly 100 years of active excavation Vindolanda, the site has uncovered more phallus carvings than any other location along the line of Hadrian’s Wall, now totaling 13 with the new addition. Through time immemorial, humans have always loved to draw penises on stuff for comedic effect or insult. Ancients, they’re just like us!

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Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit —...

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