Election campaigning the Roman way


Election campaign inscription on the wall of the building in Pompeii. © Parco archeologico di Pompei

During excavations in Pompeii, archaeologists discovered an ancient election advertisement on the inside wall of a building. The inscription extols the virtues of a candidate named Aulus Rustius Verus, who was running for the post of aedile - a Roman official responsible for, among other things, buildings, infrastructure and public order. Such election advertisements were usually placed on the outside wall of buildings, but placing them on an inside wall could indicate that potential sponsors of the candidate were entertained and courted there, as the archaeologists explain.

Like no other place, the remains of the ancient city of Pompeii provide deep insights into everyday life in ancient Roman times. Because the city and many of its residents were buried and preserved under the ash, pyroclastic flows and lava of the erupting Vesuvius in 79 AD. To this day, archaeologists are working to excavate and research the remains of ancient Pompeii. Excavations are currently taking place primarily in the so-called Regio IX in the northern part of Pompeii. In the summer of 2023, archaeologists discovered a mural of a pizza-like bread and a wine goblet in a building with an attached bakery.

home altar
Back wall of the house altar. © Parco archeologico di Pompei

A house altar and an election campaign inscription

Now there are new finds from another room in the same building. The so-called Lararium, the villa's house altar, stood there. During their current excavations, the archaeologists of the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, led by Chiara Comegna, uncovered the back wall of this house altar, which was decorated with two snake reliefs and painted in color. They were also able to recover remains of the last offerings that the residents of the house had dedicated to their gods on the day of the volcanic eruption. According to the analysis, these were figs and dates that were burned on the altar as part of a ritual along with olives and pine cones. Remnants of earlier offerings in the form of wine, fish and meat were also still detectable.

In the same room, archaeologists discovered an inscription on the wall that was unexpected at this location. Because it was an election advertisement - an ancient version of our current election posters. The inscription promotes the election of a certain Aulus Rustius Verus, who ran for the position of aedile. These Roman officials were responsible for the public buildings and infrastructure in their district, controlled public order and issued permits for public festivals. “I ask you to make Aulus Rustius the true aedile, he is worthy of this position,” reads the inscription on the wall, which can still be deciphered despite a few missing letters.

Political connections

“The election programs of Pompeii are valuable sources for reconstructing the history of the city,” explain Comegna and her colleagues. “With their help, we can reconstruct the careers of people who once shaped the political events of this city.” Election advertisements like the inscription that has now been discovered not only provide information about who ran for which position in Pompeii and when, they also provide information about their supporters and patrons. “This in turn helps to reconstruct the social relationships and also the reasons why they supported one or the other candidate,” say the researchers.

This is also the case with the newly discovered election advertising inscription: Normally, such election advertising was found on the outer wall of buildings, as the archaeologists explain. The fact that this inscription was on the wall of an interior room suggests that the homeowner was one of the candidate's supporters. The baker may have been a former slave of the candidate or a close friend who invited potential voters and patrons to meals in this room, thereby promoting Verus. However, there is also evidence that he acted for more than just altruistic motives: the candidate's initials - ARV - can be found on a millstone in the bakery's atrium. According to archaeologists, this could indicate that Verus financially supported the bakery. As a thank you or out of dependence, the homeowner then campaigned for him in return.

Source: Parco archeologico di Pompei; Specialist article: E-Journal of Scavi di Pompei

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