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Classics Professor’s Study of Ancient Graffiti Gets Worldwide Audience

A Walk Around Ancient Pompeii

DiBiasie-Sammons and Anne Acevedo in Pompeii

DiBiasie-Sammons and Anne Acevedo in Pompeii.

Dr. Jacqueline DiBiasie-Sammons’ interest in Pompeii ignited when she discovered her birth date was on the same day as the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Now she spends summers walking ancient streets, exploring 2,000-years-old graffiti, and listening to the voices of the underrepresented. Watch DiBiasie-Sammons’s TED presentation.

Jacqueline DiBiasie-Sammons, an assistant professor of classics, has been interested in Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius since childhood, when she first discovered her birth date and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD were on the same date—August 24. That volcanic event helped preserve the artifacts on which her scholarly career focuses: ancient Roman graffiti. Now she spends summers walking the streets of the ancient Roman city looking for scribblings of Pompeians who lived nearly 2,000 years ago.

Dibiasie-Sammons’ current research investigates the aesthetics of ancient graffiti made using charcoal. She has also pioneered the application of several digital technologies to record and visualize ancient Roman graffiti. For the past several years she has included students in this research as part of the Ancient Graffiti Project, for which she served as field director.

She is a leader in research productivity in the Department of Classics, a colleague noted: “In traditional article-based scholarship, in digital publications, and in her chairing of a prestigious research symposium in Italy, Dr. DiBiasie-Sammons is clearly establishing herself as an international expert in her field.”

College of Liberal Arts Dean, Lee Cohen (left) and Jacqueline DiBiasie-Sammons at teaching awards presentation

College of Liberal Arts Dean, Lee Cohen (left) and Jacqueline DiBiasie-Sammons at teaching awards presentation.

The scholar’s efforts are paying off. “Jackie DiBiasie-Sammons has had a banner year—she won the Cora Lee Graham Award for Outstanding Teaching of Freshmen this year and the Dr. Mike L. Edmonds New Scholar Award in Humanities last year. She has an NEH Summer Stipend for this summer, and her UM TEDx talk has been picked up by the national platform, TED,” said Molly Pasco-Pranger, chair and associate professor of classics.

“I am honored that my work has been recognized,” said DiBiasie-Sammons. “Specifically, my work applies modern technologies to visualize and read these ancient inscriptions. My recent work has focused on charcoal graffiti, which I have studied using the field notebooks of one of the original excavators of ancient Herculaneum.

“Though separated from us by nearly 2,000 years, the ancient Romans expressed many of the same desires, hopes and fears that we do today. Understanding ancient graffiti helps us understand a bit more about ourselves, too.”

A few examples of ancient Roman graffiti found by DiBiasie-Sammons: As a new mother, one charcoal graffito has really stood out to me: “Iuvenilla was born on Saturday, August 2nd around 9:30PM.” This was a birth announcement — likely written by the proud mama or papa to tell the happy news to their neighbors.

Another charcoal message is more poetic: “learn this: while I live, death, you come as an enemy.” The writer of this message, while cognizant of their own mortality, almost seems to presage the disaster that would befall all the Pompeians in 79 AD.

There are also greetings between men and women, just like we might use social media:

“Primogenius Proculus says hello to Pierus”

“Apronia says hello to Pierus”

“Pierus says hello to Apronia Secundina”


Jacqueline DiBiasie-Sammons’ research on ancient Pompeii featured on TED, awarded NEH funding

The talk, “A Walk Around Ancient Pompeii,” by Jacqueline DiBiasie-Sammons is being broadcast to the world through the popular thought-leadership platform TED.
Watch DiBiasie-Sammons’s TED presentation.

Earlier this spring, the assistant professor of classics received the university’s 2022 Cora Lee Graham Award for Outstanding Teaching of Freshmen. Most recently, she received a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend Award. Read the full University of Mississippi news story.