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Phallus symbol in Pompeii, Naples, Italy

Dirty Pictures Discovered in an 1,800-Year-Old Men’s Loo Hold the Seeds Of ‘Locker Room’ Talk

Revealing images have been discovered on rare 1,800-year-old floor mosaics in a mens’ toilet in the coastal city of Antiochia ad Cragum in modern-day Turkey.

The rare second-century mosaics were discovered at Antiochia ad Cragum, an ancient city first established in the 1st century in the era of Emperor Nero. With an estimated population at its peak of more than 6,000 people, it was abandoned by the 11th century. Illustrating ‘rude twists’ on famous myths, one of the mosaics shows Narcissus, with what a report in Live Science article calls “an uncharacteristically long nose, which would have been considered ugly by the beauty standards of the time.”

A Twist on Narcissus: Fascinated by his own Phallus

But in the newly discovered images, Narcissus is not seen mesmerized by his own reflection in water, as normally occurs in the classic version of the myth, but rather, “he is fascinated his own conspicuous phallus,” according to Michael Hoff, an archaeologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who is co-director of the excavation. "You have to understand the myths to make it really come alive, but bathroom humor is kind of universal as it turns out,” Hoff told reporters at Live Science.

Mosaic found in 2nd century latrine in Antiochia ad Cragum (today in Turkey). Credit: Antiochia ad Cragum Excavations

Mosaic found in 2 nd century latrine in Antiochia ad Cragum (today in Turkey). Credit: Antiochia ad Cragum Excavations

Roman Toilet Humor

In another mythological depiction in the latrine, where Zeus normally disguises himself as an eagle to kidnap the adolescent Trojan Ganymede, who is himself often shown playing with a stick and hoop as a toy, Ganymede instead “holds tongs with a sponge.” Hoff says this is a reference to “toilet cleaning sponges” and Zeus is not an eagle but a heron, with a long beak grasping a sponge and dabbing Ganymede's penis.” Hoff explained that back in ancient Rome "Instantly, anybody who would have seen that image would have seen the [visual] pun… Indicative of cleaning the genitals prior to a sex act or after a sex act? That's a question I cannot answer, and it might have been ambiguous then."

Reconstruction drawing of the communal latrines at Housesteads Roman fort (Vercovicium) on Hadrian's Wall. This site is now in the care of English Heritage (2010).

Reconstruction drawing of the communal latrines at Housesteads Roman fort (Vercovicium) on Hadrian's Wall. This site is now in the care of English Heritage (2010).

These rare mosaics were revealed during “the last couple days of this past summer's excavation” forcing the archaeologists to cover up the toilet art for protection, but Hoff said the researchers will re-expose the mosaics next summer for conservation work.

It is suspected the public bathrooms were frequented by more than women, and according to Birol Can, a mosaic expert at Uşak University in Turkey, who worked on the excavation in the live Science article,

“it is known that it shared a wall with the grand bath next to the bouleuterion, or council house, and should have served the large crowds with its location.” In an earlier Live Science article, Hoff and his colleagues reported having previously uncovered “a  huge mosaic  next to a pool in the bath complex, but this artwork featured only geometric patterns.” These latrine artworks, however, are "the only examples of  figurative mosaics  found at Antiochia ad Cragum,” which makes them exceptionally rare.

2018 Certainly is the Year Of The Penis: A Lot Have Popped Up In The Funniest Of Places

Only two months ago, I wrote a news article on Ancient Origins called Priapus Fresco Tips the Scales in Pompeii about an archaeological dig at a residence on the slopes of Regio V, overlooking Via del Vesuvio in Pompeii. Director General Massimo Osanna said in a report on  Pompeii - Parco Archeologico  's Facebook Page “In elegantly decorated rooms a fresco was discovered of Priapus, a god of Graeco-Roman mythology, weighing his massive member on a scale.”

Fresco of Priapus with erect penis, Vettii houses (BlackMac / Fotolia)

Fresco of Priapus with erect penis, Vettii houses ( BlackMac / Fotolia)

An article in  Forbes explained that Priapus' penis was held to be “the origin of life,” and as such it was believed to have had the power to ward off evil and to promote fertility, health, good business and wealth. In an article published on All That Is Interesting called Why The Ancient Romans Drew Penises On Everything?, journalist Andrew Milne set out to answer that question. In conclusion, Milne said “Of course, ancient Roman phalluses were also the favorite subject of graffiti. Cobblestones in Pompeii are marked with the symbol to indicate the way to a brothel, not to mention the myriad of phalluses ribboned around messages like “I screwed the barmaid.”

Image of phalluses on the wall of a brothel in Pompeii (scaliger / Fotolia)

Image of phalluses on the wall of a brothel in Pompeii ( scaliger / Fotolia)

Humans, according to Milne, “Haven’t changed all that much from Hadrian’s day, penises still represent many things, from weapon to fertility icon. And like today, sometimes people just thought drawing penises on things was funny.” This is an echo of what Hoff told reporters when he said: “bathroom humor is kind of universal as it turns out.” Who would have known back then that ancient Roman toilet humor would evolve into what we know today as “locker room talk”.

Top image: Phallus symbol in Pompeii, Naples, Italy ( Vlada Z / Fotolia)

By Ashley Cowie

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