“Graffiti is beautiful; like a brick in the face of a cop.” Hunter S. Thompson
Graffiti is mostly known as marking or painting walls without the property owner´s consent and is considered vandalism, and thus a punishable crime, although graffiti made by artists such as Banksy and Bambi are seen as an art form.
But graffiti is not a modern phenomenon and examples can be dated back to ancient times, like Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Those early examples are quite different from modern graffiti, although the idea has remained the same: leave a personal mark in places where they were not supposed to. This ancient graffiti is very informative and there are Egyptologists who specialize in studying these ancient inscriptions trying to obtain more insight into (everyday) ancient Egyptian life.
The first known example of modern graffiti can be found at the ancient Greek city of Ephesus in Turkey (built in the 10th century BC), which is an advertisement for prostitution, according to local guides.
The ancient Romans used walls and monuments for their graffiti and they showed birth announcements, obituaries, sayings, love declarations and political speeches. Language specialists use them to trace how Latin, the official Roman language, developed at street level. Historians use them to learn more about the daily concerns and issues of local communities, their recreations, how much everyday items cost, even who was angry with who, and why. In Rome many graffiti has been lost, but in Pompei numerous scribbles still survive. Many examples of graffiti are catalogued in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, a huge database maintained by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Theodor Mommsen, a German historian, started the database in 1853.
Also the Mayan in Central America liked their graffiti. Maya graffiti consist of thin incisions into stucco surfaces of walls, benches, and floors and the best place to find them is the ancient site Tikal.
Contemporary graffiti knows some specific words, such as a tag (the most basic writing of an artist´s name, his signature). A piece is a more elaborate way of writing one´s name, and a roller or blockbuster is a large piece.
pictures or words painted or drawn on a wall, building, etc. (source: Merriam Webster).
The English graffiti, Dutch graffiti and Spanish graffiti come from Italian graffiti, plural of graffito, a scribbling, a diminutive formation from graffito, a scratch or scribble, from graffiare, to scribble, from Greek graphein, to scratch/draw/write (compare: -graphy) (source: etymonline.com).
Graffii in other languages:
Dutch: de graffiti
Spanish: el grafiti
Italian: i graffiti