While mankind has certainly come a long way, a few things seem to remain firmly enshrined in basic human nature — things like our need for love and acceptance, our quest to fulfill our physiological needs, and our propensity to draw penises on walls.
Hadrian’s Wall (the inspiration for Game of Thrones’ Great Wall) was built in what is today northern England, during Roman times. Emperor Hadrian had it built starting AD 122, to defend the Ancient Britons from peoples living in today’s Scotland, such as the Picts. It was designed to keep the “barbarians” away from the Romans.
The Wall was largely successful — not that it stopped or prevented all attacks, but it was a noteworthy display of power by the Romans and was effective in controlling the flow of people in and out of Roman Britannia. Roman soldiers, however, showed their appreciation by drawing dozens and dozens of penises on it.
Newcastle archaeologist Rob Collins says he has identified 57 other etchings of male genitalia scattered across the length of Hadrian’s Wall. But it wasn’t necessarily that they were disrespectful — the penises had a very specific meaning.
Penis inscriptions and talismans were quite common in Rome. They were meant to ward off evil spirits and bring about good fortune. Simply put, in Rome, penises were a good luck charm. But outside of Rome, they were more of a symbol of status, a simple message that everyone could get: “here there be Romans, and we rule this place”.
“These inscriptions … are probably the most important on the Hadrian’s Wall frontier,” Collins says in a Historic England statement. “They provide insight into the organisation of the vast construction project that Hadrian’s Wall was, as well as some very human and personal touches.”
As if it weren’t impressive enough that these etchings have been around for 1,800 years, researchers will now immortalize them digitally. They are working on producing a 3D model of these penis etchings, offering viewers a detailed view into this phallic past. You know, for science.