Talkative walls: graffito research in the Terrace House 2 of Ephesos

Around 500 incised inscriptions and drawings have remained on the numerous wall paintings of Terrace House 2 and they offer unique insight into the feelings and the daily life of its inhabitants. The spectrum reaches from attestations of love to financial transactions and even adds to the understanding of the book of Revelations. 

In contrast to the formed and often filtered texts by writers and poets these scribbles on the wall are direct statements about the former lived environment that resulted from a momentary whim, emotion, or necessity. Contrary to the stone inscriptions they were never intended for permanent preservation; this is why they are even more valuable as direct testimonies of ancient attitudes to life.

Expenditure lists 

Around thirty lists show expenditures from individual days. The underlying process can be imagined as follows: The property manager sent a slave to the market with the assignment to run certain errands. Following his return he had to account for the spent amounts on the wall. All kinds of goods are listed: Wine, bread, meat, sausage, olive oil, detergents, firewood, etc. providing insights into the daily needs of an upscale household. Interestingly the item »admission to the baths« appears in the lists regularly confirming the statements of ancient authors about the daily visit to the baths in the imperial period.

The polis of Ephesos and the Roman state

The wealthy equestrian C. Vibius Salutaris established a foundation in 104 with a capital of over 20,000 denarii and stipulated that gold statuettes of the Emperor Trajan and his wife Plotina must be put on display in the theater during sessions of the public assemblies; the remaining time the statues will be honored in his private apartment. A Latin graffito permits the identification of residential unit 2 in Terrace House 2 as this city apartment. The identification of the Ephesians with the Roman state is likely best expressed with the following hexameter: Ῥώμη πανβασίλια, τὸ σὸν κράτος οὔποτ’ ὀλyται (»Rome, you all-dominant, may your power never fade!«).

Erotic puzzles and the book of Revelation

On the walls there is also a series of five graffiti with attestations of love that are all designed according to the following scheme: »I love whose number is ΩΞΕ (= 865).« This puzzle is based on the fact that each letter of the Greek alphabet also has a numerical value and, therefore, each name can be encrypted with the sum of the values of its individual letters. This is reminiscent of the famous passage in the Book of Revelation 13, 18 where the following is said about the monstrous ›beast‹: »Whoever has wisdom, calculate the number of the beast; for it is the number of a person; and its number is six hundred and sixty-six.« With the help of a calculation program developed for this purpose and subsequent research has shown that this number corresponds with the gentile name »Ulpius« of the emperor Trajan. Thus, a new basis has been created for the dating and interpretation of the apocalypse.