This 2,500-Year-Old Erotic Graffiti Found On A Greek Island Is Among The World’s Oldest

Published April 16, 2024
Updated April 17, 2024

A depiction of a steamy encounter between two men on the island of Astypalaia, Greece, this ancient graffiti provides a glimpse into literacy among ordinary Ancient Greeks.

Erotic Graffiti

Helena SmithThe erotic graffiti features two phalluses carved into rock.

In 2014, an archaeologist and his students were exploring the Greek island of Astypalaia when they stumbled upon some erotic graffiti carved into limestone. Now, archaeologists consider it among the oldest ever found.

Dated to the 5th or 6th century B.C.E., the carvings detail a sexual encounter between two men, giving researchers a glimpse into the personal lives of ordinary Ancient Greeks on some of the region’s most remote islands.

Discovering The Erotic Graffiti

In 2014, archaeologist Dr. Andreas Vlachopoulos was giving his students a tour of Astypalaia, a Greek island in the Dodecanese, when he discovered some strange images carved into the limestone outcroppings overlooking Vathay Bay.

One carving featured the phrase, “Nikasitimos Was Here Mounting Timiona.” Another work nearby featured two phalluses alongside the name “DION” (ΔΙΩΝ). Further research dated the carvings to the 5th or 6th centuries B.C.E.

At first, the location of the carvings shocked Dr. Vlachopoulos. Not only is Astypalaia is a remote island, but it’s highly exposed to erosion by the island’s strong winds and sea. To find such a sophisticated historical relic there was unlikely.


freeartist / Alamy Stock PhotoAstypalea (Astipalaia) in Greece, where archaeologists discovered the erotic graffiti.

The find was “monumental in scale,” as Dr. Vlachopoulos told The Guardian in a 2014 interview.

“They were what I would call triumphant inscriptions,” he explained. “They claimed their own space in large letters that not only expressed sexual desire but talked about the act of sex itself… And that is very, very rare.”

The Graffiti In Context Of Ancient Greek Society

Historians acknowledge that same-sex relations between men were not taboo in Ancient Greece. Several examples of relationships and sexual encounters between men exist in the historical record. But the finding at Astypalaia is among the oldest.

Additionally, the wording of the inscription implies that the two men were in an ongoing relationship rather than a brief tryst.

“This graffiti… is not just among the earliest ever discovered,” Dr. Vlachopoulos told The Guardian. “By using the verb in the past continuous [tense], it clearly says that these two men were making love over a long period of time, emphasizing the sexual act in a way that is highly unusual in erotic artwork.”

The erotic graffiti also provides a glimpse into the literacy level of ordinary Ancient Greeks.

“Whoever wrote the erotic inscription referring to Timiona was very well trained in writing,” Angelos Matthaiou, a longtime general secretary at the Greek Epigraphic Society, told The Guardian. “The letters have been very skillfully inscribed on the face of the rock, evidence that it was not just philosophers, scholars, and historians who were trained in the art of writing but ordinary people living on islands too.”

“We know that Greek islands were inhabited by the third millennium [B.C.E.], but what we have found is evidence that, even then, people were using a coded language of symbols and imagery that was quite sophisticated,” Dr. Vlachopoulos stated.

Researchers say this discovery provided fresh insight into the complex lives of Astypalaia’s ancient inhabitants, suggesting that there are more secrets to be discovered there.

“Few Greek islands have been properly explored or excavated,” Dr. Vlachopoulos concluded. “These findings are testimony to why it is so important that they are.”

After reading about this ancient graffiti, view 29 photos of the world’s most erotic art. Then, dive into the history of shunga, Japan’s erotic art from the Edo period.

Amber Morgan
Amber Morgan is an Editorial Fellow for All That's Interesting. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in political science, history, and Russian. Previously, she worked as a content creator for America House Kyiv, a Ukrainian organization focused on inspiring and engaging youth through cultural exchanges.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
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Morgan, Amber. "This 2,500-Year-Old Erotic Graffiti Found On A Greek Island Is Among The World’s Oldest.", April 16, 2024, Accessed June 21, 2024.