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Pompeii's Safaitic Graffiti

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 June 2021

Kyle Helms*
St. Olaf College


In 1987, nine groups of graffiti written in Safaitic were published from Pompeii's theatre corridor (VIII.7.20). Safaitic, a south Semitic script used to record a dialect of Old Arabic, had never previously been documented in the West, and the appearance of these inscriptions at Pompeii since their publication has largely remained a mystery. I argue that Pompeii's Safaitic graffiti were inscribed by nomads from the Ḥarrah who had been incorporated into the Roman army, and who marched into Italy with Legio III Gallica during its campaign to install Vespasian as emperor.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies

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I thank audiences at the University of Puget Sound, St. Olaf College and CAMWS (2019 annual meeting) for feedback on earlier versions of this project. Thanks also to Rebecca Benefiel, Hannah Cochran, Jacqueline DiBiasie-Sammons, Ian Haynes, Matthew Loar, Holly Sypniewski, and especially to Bill Barry, for his encouragement and support at a critical moment. Finally, I offer my gratitude to the editor, Peter Thonemann, and the Journal's anonymous readers for their invaluable feedback. Any remaining errors or misunderstandings are, of course, my own.


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