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Graffiti Unearthed at Hadrian’s Wall Reveals a Hilarious Ancient Insult

(Photo Credit: 	DEA / G. WRIGHT / Contributor & DeAgostini/Getty Images)
(Photo Credit: DEA / G. WRIGHT / Contributor & DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Many of the artifacts discovered at Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site reflect the history of Roman occupation in England. Swords, sculptures, and jewelry are a large part of the growing collection of Roman artifacts at the ancient site, but one recently unearthed artifact reveals a cheekier side of Roman settlers.

Hadrian’s Wall

The ruins of Hadrian's Wall
The ruins of Housesteads Roman Fort at Hadrian’s Wall date back to the 2nd century, AD. (Photo Credit: De Agostini/G. Wright via. Getty Images).

Hadrian’s Wall was built almost 2,000 years ago in what is now Northumberland, England. The wall stretches 73 miles from coast to coast, protecting Roman villages from attack. Emperor Hadrian himself came to the area in 122 AD and proposed building a network of walls and forts which would take six years to complete.

The forts along the wall were occupied for 300 years, leaving behind a snapshot of Roman life in England. Artifacts like fragments of game boards and old ovens were commonly found, but something a bit more shocking can also be seen at Hadrian’s Wall.

An ancient insult

A phallus carved into the stone at Hadrian's Wall
A similar phallus carved on a flagstone near the ceremonial well in the headquarters, Chesters Roman Fort (Cilurnum), Hadrian’s Wall. (Photo Credit: Carole Raddato via. Wikimedia Commons)

At the Roman fort Vindolanda along Hadrian’s Wall, a retired biochemist named Dylan Herbert recently discovered a stone carved with a phallus and the words: SECVNDINVS CACOR which translates to “Secunidus the sh*tter.” The stone dates back to the 3rd century AD, and while whoever created the insult is unknown, they made sure to immortalize it forever.

Herbert found the insult while doing volunteer excavation work. “I’d been removing a lot of rubble all week and to be honest this stone had been getting in my way, I was glad when I was told I could take it out of the trench,” he told BBC. “It looked from the back like all the others, a very ordinary stone, but when I turned it over, I was startled to see some clear letters. Only after we removed the mud did I realise the full extent of what I’d uncovered, and I was absolutely delighted.”

A phallus carved into a stone wall
A phallus on the Roman Empire walls of Ampurias, Spain. (Photo Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Phallic symbols are surprisingly common in ancient Roman architecture. They were thought to bring good luck, protection, and fertility. In fact, Hadrian’s Wall contains 59 phallic carvings – likely thanks to the large population of soldiers stationed along the wall. But the recently discovered stone subverts this positive symbol to make a strong statement.

More from us: Viking Graffiti – Personalized Messages Left all over Europe

We can only imagine how Secunidus felt seeing the graffiti along Hadrian’s Wall, but the inscription is just as hilarious today as it was 1,700 years ago!

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

The Digital Dust Podcast