10 Amazingly Ancient Advertisements

Advertisements are the scourge of the modern world. They have become more clever and intrusive as people become more aware of their presence. Ads on the Internet can follow us between websites and address us by name.

They are not a modern invention, though. Whether there were dollars, dinars, or denarii jangling in your pocket, there was always someone encouraging you to spend them through the use of an advertisement.

10. Pompeii Brothels

Don’t you hate it in fast-food restaurants when people get to the front of the line and still haven’t decided what they’re having? Well, the owners of the brothels in the Roman city of Pompeii clearly faced a similar problem.

They erected paintings of people in various states of sexual congress so that customers could decide what they wanted from the many services that were offered.[1] Romans were a lot less judgmental than most modern societies when it came to sex. Brothels were not hidden away but were able to advertise their wares publicly.

For example, the Lupanare (“Wolf’s Den”) was a purpose-built brothel in Pompeii that contained 10 rooms for guests to use. Its wall paintings served as ads for its various sexual services.

As well as in the large establishments, sex could be bought on the streets. Graffiti left all over the city directs people where to find the best prostitutes and brothels. “If anyone sits here, let him read this first of all: if anyone wants a screw, he should look for Attice; she costs 4 sestertii,” reads one.

Another gives more accurate directions to follow. “At Nuceria, look for Novellia Primigenia near the Roman gate in the prostitutes’ district.”

9. Pompeii Politics

Prostitution is called the world’s oldest profession. But another profession has many similarities: politics. A politician must sell himself to the public just as assiduously as any brothel dweller, and in Pompeii, they turned to many of the same tactics. The local positions of aedile and duoviri were clearly sought after because election notices are painted all over the walls of Pompeii.

“Neighbors beg you to elect Lucius Statius Receptus duumvir with judicial power, a worthy man. Aemilius Celer wrote this, a neighbor. You jealous one who destroys this, may you fall ill.”[2]

Written in large, black, capital letters, the advertisement is hard to miss. The general formula for these ads was to state that some person supports a certain candidate and you should, too.

In one ad, a group of prostitutes urges the public to vote a certain way. Was this a genuine ad or an act of negative campaigning? “All the deadbeats and Macerius ask for Vatia as aedile” seems to be a clear attack ad.

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