Historic Graffiti

Although the rest of Athens and other parts of Greece are covered in tags and graffiti the practice of writing or scratching your name on ancient Greek or Roman monuments has past. It has declined since the mid-1960s. Sgraffiti of historic significance can still be found on many buildings in Greece. The letters scratched into the marble might be more legible than current taggers but it is still tagging.

There is the sgraffiti scratched into the marble by the 18th and 19th century English lords and gentlemen on their grand tours. Lord Byron, young British architects and their companions exploring classical Greek architecture carved their name on the marble remains of the major temples in Greece. There is a block of marble, preserving a good example of this sgraffiti for the future, in the small museum at the temple of Aphaia on Agenia.

Historic tagging on ancient Greek marble

There is the sgraffiti scratched by WWII British Navy crew: “BAM 44 ETON 11” in the back of a Greek Church on Agenia. It appears to be is from the BAM class Area Minesweepers in use by the British in the eastern Med in 1941-45. The AM class minesweeper was given the prefix B to designate British when they were on loan through the US lend lease for the duration of WWII. The connection with the Eton 11 cricket team is something for the WWII history buffs.

WWII tagging?

And what about the tourists who did it in the 1960s and 70s that will soon become antique?

Not yet antique tagging

These and many other examples of sgraffiti are different from the defacement of statues carried out by the barbarian Christians, who actively sought to destroy ancient Greek sculpture. The sgraffiti just tagging, in a relatively harmless way, like the kid writing his tag on a wall. Antique tourist sgraffiti in Greece amounts to the one of the least damaging human actions that these ancient buildings have suffered over the centuries. It is insubstantial compared to the damage by war and deliberate damage by Christians and Muslims.

The historic significance of the sgraffiti on ancient Greek and Roman ruins raises new questions about the claim that permission is the difference between the difference between graffiti and street art. (And Lord Elgin had permission, from then owners, to take the marble frieze from the Parthenon. But did the Ottomans have permission to damage ancient Greek sculpture just because they had won a war?) What happens to the discourse when we are talking about street art, history and permission?

These examples are just discussing historically significant tagging in Greece. There is antique and historically significant sgraffiti and graffiti in many parts of the world. The whole point of tagging is to mark your presence at a location and people have been doing that for centuries. There was controversy over the preservation of graffiti by Soviet troops in the Reichstag.

Of course, with the vast numbers of modern tourists, like myself, visiting these antique ruins, this unrestricted tagging had to stop. Along with the increased numbers of modern tourists came new attitudes towards tagging and new levels of preservation and security were added for the antiquities. The end of the sgraffiti will mark a distinct historical period on these buildings; further adding to the historic value of what sgraffiti survives.

I first mentioned historic graffiti in my blog entry on Athens Graffiti.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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