Novelty Stylus Pen From Ancient Rome Is Proof That We've Always Had A Goofy Sense Of Humor

Credit: MOLA

Everyone's heard of the "And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt" t-shirts, even if you are lucky enough never to have been the beneficiary of one. 

But it turns out the Romans were in on the joke 2,000 years before us. Archaeologists discovered the ancient Roman equivalent of an "I went to Rome and all I got you was this lousy stylus" buried at a site close to the River Walbrook, an ex-tributary of the Thames. 

The iron stylus is the ancient Roman equivalent of a pen and would have been used to carve words into a wax-filled wooden writing tablet. Archaeologists have dated the stylus to 70 CE – just decades after the founding of Roman London (or Londinium) in 50 CE. 

The transcription (in Latin, of course) literally translates to: 

"I have come from the City. I bring you a welcome gift...

"ab urbe v[e]n[i] munus tibi gratum adf(e)ro...

...with a sharp point that you may remember me...

...acul[eat]um ut habe[a]s memor[ia]m nostra(m)...

...I ask, if fortune allowed, that I might be able (to give)...

...rogo si fortuna dar[e]t quo possem...

...as generously as the way is long (and) as my purse is empty.”

...largius ut longa via ceu sacculus est (v)acuus"

It's a tongue-in-cheek message to remember the sender by – a sender who acknowledges the present's fundamental cheapness. It is, essentially, a 2,000-year-old example of the type of novelty gifts we continue to share today, proving (once again) that humans never change.

As the researchers point out, it even contains its share of spelling errors. For example, the scribe appears to run out of space and so leaves out the "m" in "nostram".

While the message doesn't necessarily spell out that it's from Rome, the researchers believe the City referenced is the capital of the Empire, demonstrating the close ties between the two cities, despite Londinium's place at the Empire's boundary. As the Museum of London explains on its website, the main city of Britannia was a thriving international port and important in its own right.

"This unique inscribed stylus provides a new window on Londinium’s international connections and its literary culture," Senior Roman Finds Specialist Michael Marshall at Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) said in a statement, "but it also provides us with very tangible human connection to the owner and to the person who gave them this affectionate, if inexpensive, gift."

The artifact was found during a 2012-2014 excavation at the Bloomberg European HQ in London, which unearthed more than 14,000 artifacts, 63,000 sherds of Roman pottery, and 3 tonnes of animal bone – that includes the first written reference to Londonium and 200 styluses. (Though this is the only one still baring any inscription.) 

While the ancient Romans can be painted as a collective of ruthless invaders and gluttonous foodies with an appreciation for communal bathing, blood sports, and roadmaking, this goes to show that they were more like us than you might think.

It seems humans have always enjoyed dad jokes, dirty jokes, and penis graffiti – a reminder that some things never change

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