This page cannot be viewed in frames

Go to page

If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Profanity in ancient Rome

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman fresco depicting a sex scene
Roman fresco depicting a sex scene

Profanity is not just the domain of modern language. In the ancient and Roman times, vocabulary considered indecent was widely used. In ancient times and Roman times, descendants of “she-wolf” were commonly used in conversations, and less often in texts considered indecent.

The fresco from Pompeii shows us the god Mercury with a huge penis (sopio).

Profanity was more likely to occur in speech than in writing. In literary works we know the following cases of use of profanity:

  • writers: satirical poets, especially Catullus and Martialis. In addition, Horace in their early poems. Another type of song was “Priapeia”, dedicated to the god Priapus, a Roman fertility deity providing fertility.
  • speakers and lawyers: e.g. Cicero in Epistulae ad Familiares.
  • medical, especially veterinary, texts using anatomical expressions that were offensive over time.
  • graffiti and inscriptions written on the walls of Pompeii and Herculaneum.


  • Mentula, verpus – penis
  • Colei – kernels
  • Cunnus – pussy
  • Landica – clitoris
  • Culus – anus
  • Merda – feces
  • Futuere – sexual intercourse
  • Futuo – fuck
  • Cevere or crisare – the first probably refers to riding a penis or anal sex for a passive person, and second to fuck.
  • Cacare – send
  • Pedo, pedere, pepedi (or pepidi) – fart
  • pelusia magna! – “young lady!”; offensive to men
  • Mingere or meiere – pee
  • cinaede, pathice, sceleste , perfide, barbare, inepte – words emphasizing slowness, lack of skills, cowardice, weakness

Although every text spoken in Latin sounds dignified, it should be clearly stated that the Romans knew a lot of profanity and used them eagerly. And it is not about the Latin equivalent of the word “curve”, for which we call vulgarisms “Latin”. In real, ancient Latin, one could encounter numerous profanities referring to sexual activities. Who would have thought that eminent Romans in gowns liked texts such as the famous Catullus poems, entitled: Pedicabo vos et irrumabo…

As for prostitution – the most common term for a prostitute was: scortor, scortari, which mainly occurs in Plautus. The term may come from the word scorteus (“made of leather”). Prostitutes were also referred to as meretrix (“earner”) or loupe (“she-wolf”). The brothel was called lupanar. The word prostituo meant “to put up for sale”.

An example of Roman graffiti on a wall in Pompeii.
Image credit: Flickr user Roller Coaster Philosophy

Roman graffiti

When in 79 CE Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed by the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius, no one expected anything to survive there. However, as it turned out after many years, volcanic ash has perfectly preserved the remains of the Roman world. To this day, archaeologists are discovering amazing inscriptions, inscriptions and graffiti left by the Romans on the walls. Many of them prove to us that the Romans were not just luminous and cultural speakers.

Examples dirty words on Roman graffiti

Philiros spado

  • “Phileros is a eunuch”

Lucius Pinxit

  • “Lucius painted this”

Apollinaris, medicus Titi Imperatoris hic cacavit bene

  • “Apollinaris, doctor to the emperor Titus, had a good crap here”
  • description: an inscription on the wall of the Casa della Gemma in Herculaneum

Oppi, emboliari, fur, furuncle

  • “Oppius, you’re a clown, a thief, and a cheap crook”

Miximus in lecto. Faetor, peccavimus, hospes. Si dices: quare? Nulla matella fuit

  • “We have wet the bed. I admit, we were wrong, my host. If you ask ‘why?’ There was no chamber pot.” Found inside an inn”
  • description: found in the inn.

Virgula Tertio su: Indecens es

  • “Virgula to Teritus: You are a nasty boy”

Epaphra, glaber es

  • “Epaphra, you are bald”

Vatuan aediles furunculi rog

  • “The petty thieves request the election of Vatia as adele”
  • description: in Pompeii, an “adele” was an elected official who supervised markets and local police, among other things.

Suspirium puellam Celadus thraex

  • “Celadus makes the girls moan”

Admiror, O paries, te non cecidisse, qui tot scriptorium taedia sustineas

  • “I wonder, O wall, that you have not yet collapsed, so many writers’ clichés do you bear”
  • description: popular record; often appears on the walls in different places.
  • Adams James N., Seksualizmy łacińskie
  • Alberto Angela, Pompeje. Trzy ostatnie dni, Warszawa 2017
  • Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum
  • Graffiti from Pompeii
  • Tucker T. G., Etymological Dictionary of Latin

IMPERIUM ROMANUM needs your support!

If you like the content that I collect on the website and that I share on social media channels I will be grateful for the support. Even the smallest amounts will allow me to pay for further corrections, improvements on the site and pay the server.



Find out more!

Check your curiosity and learn something new about the ancient world of the Romans. By clicking on the link below, you will be redirected to a random entry.

Random curiosity

Random curiosity

Discover secrets of ancient Rome!

If you want to be up to date with newest articles on website and discoveries from the world of ancient Rome, subscribe to the newsletter, which is sent each Saturday.

Subscribe to newsletter!

Subscribe to newsletter

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: