In the excavations at the House of the Colonnaded Cenaculum in Pompeii, archaeologists have discovered a series of graffiti and drawings that, given the simplicity of execution, the naivety of the strokes, and the simplifications of the iconographic schemes, appear to have been executed by a child’s hand.

The drawings were found on the long walls (east and west) of Room M in the area. On the west wall, it is possible to distinguish at least three small outlined hands, two scenes of gladiators, a drawing that seems to depict two figures playing with a ball, an animal that can probably be recognized as a boar, and finally, a boxing scene representing one of the two boxers lying on the ground.

The combat scene, in the foreground on the left, depicts two figures facing each other, represented schematically with geometric shapes; the triangular heads topped with helmets serve as the focal point around which the rest of the figure is constructed, completed with elongated limbs arranged radially; they hold rectangular shields with an X motif.

Another of the graffiti found, with the drawings highlighted
Another of the graffiti found, with the drawings highlighted. Credit: Parco archeologico di Pompei

The venatio scene, located next to the combat scene, consists of two pairs of figures arranged in two different planes of perspective. Each pair faces a hunter with a long spear against a boar. The hunters are depicted in the same manner as the gladiators, without helmets or shields, while the boars are rendered through a trapezoidal silhouette with legs and covered in fleece, from which a round eye emerges as a realistic note.

On the east wall, there is another boxing scene, a drawing that once again captures the KO of one of the two athletes, as well as a more complex scene belonging to a different hand and an earlier period in the room’s life (still not well-defined), as the drawing is partially covered by a cream-colored stain, possibly placed to cover this drawing. Additionally, this last drawing was not done with charcoal like the others but with the help of a red mineral pigment, possibly ochre.

Another drawing depicts a marine scene in a schematic manner but with strong ironic intent, where we find two large boats surrounded by fish, objects related to fishing, and below a fish with long barbels, likely a larger mullet, and an anchor with the fin hooked.

The graffiti also depicts ships
The graffiti also depicts ships. Credit: Parco archeologico di Pompei

This refers to a deeply rooted tradition in Pompeii of depicting ships and small boats on walls, with numerous graffiti featuring similar representations, often linked to adult authors.

One of the most striking aspects of these graffiti is the depiction of combat scenes, possibly inspired by gladiator fights, a common spectacle in Pompeii. These drawings, although simple in execution, show a remarkable sense of narrative and movement, where children seem to portray complete stories, from the preparation for the fight to the victory.

The dimensions of the depicted hands suggest that the drawings were made by children around five to six years old, reinforcing the observations based on the style and content of the graffiti.

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