Scattered around Pompeii are the electoral programmata, which were posters urging people to vote for a certain candidate. They are one of the remarkable unique things about Pompeii and the extreme amount found (more than 2500) allow us to learn a lot about Pompeian Politics.


helvius sabinus

The electoral posters were painted onto walls around the city, they have been found clustered on the walls of the most frequented places in the city but they also appear in less commonly attended places. We can also find these electoral notices inside some buildings and even on tomb facades. The candidates name was often written in large red writing and the rest of the message usually followed in a smaller script.


The posters would’ve been painted by a professional (Aemielius Celer was a sign-writer who commonly signed his name on electoral programmata) but commissioned by a range of different people in society. [1] It was common for a relative (friend or family member) or a client of the candidate to set these posters up around town. The supporters of the candidate would be mentioned in the graffito itself and we see examples such as ‘neighbor of’ or ‘client of’ very often. This also offers us extra insight into the patron/client relationship in Pompeii.[2]


CIL IV 3775

 Neighbours beg you to elect Lucius Statius Receptus duumvir, a worthy man. Aemilius Celer wrote this a neighbor. You jealous one who destroys this, may you fall ill.

–          What was patron/client relationship?

A patron/client relationship in the Ancient Roman World was the relationship between two people in society, the patron having a higher social status than his client. A client would go to a patron for something they needed and in return the client would then do something beneficial (usually monetary, social or political) for their patron. We can see from the electoral programmata that commissioning posters would’ve been a way to repay a patron/client debt.

Stating support for a candidate did not only benefit the person running for office. The supporters themselves would also benefit socially. Backing a candidate and displaying it through electoral programmata was a way for the supporters to increase their social visibility in Pompeii. Some posters were even aimed at other political personalities, with the formula ‘vote for X and he will vote for you’.[3]

CIL IV 7733

Loreius, vote for Cn. Helvius Sabinus, an honest man, as aedile, and he will vote for you.

Surprisingly even women commissioned electoral posters to be painted and there are over 50 women’s names as supporters in electoral programmata found in Pompeii. Although on the surface this seems to suggest that women were prominent in some way in Pompeian politics, it is hardly the case. Most of these women are in fact family members or were personally loyal to the candidate in some way.

CIL IV 7469

I, Taedia Secunda, earnestly entreat you to make Lucius Popidius Secundus aedile. His Grandmother asks this and she made [this].

Another use of electoral programmata was in the way of propaganda. For example some posters ironically display the support of those you wouldn’t want to support you; ‘late drinkers’ and ‘dice throwers’ to name a few.[4] Marcus Cerrinius Vatia seemed to be often terrorised by these ironic supporters, with ‘those asleep’ and ‘the little thieves’ on his side.[5] The presence of women’s names are also thought to be used in this same way as negative ironic propaganda, as the female supported are suspected to be barmaids from inside the building on which the posters were painted. [6]

Slaves are also mentioned in inscriptions, however, not in an ironic way. The slaves who worked in public baths would have been well known and it was deemed a good thing to have their support.[7]


The Pompeian elections, on the surface, seem remarkably modern in terms of their democratic fashion. However the politics of Pompeii were in fact very different. The candidates had nothing of a modern manifesto and the electoral posters were more interested in the social reputation of a candidate rather than their political aims and ideas. The posters themselves were very formulaic when describing the candidates, often hinting on their personalities rather than their abilities to withhold a political position. One of the most common words that crops up is dingus, meaning ‘worthy’ and they often used this type of campaign, often describing the candidate as a ‘good man’ or ‘suitable’. [8] This shows that the voters were far more interested in the reputation of the candidate more than his ability to be a politician, which suggests that the magistrates were primarily put in place to implement the Ordo’s decisions, rather than to hold their own unique political importance. All those running, however, would be the type of man who you would want to be a member of the Ordo Decurionem of Pompeii. Like the Senate in Rome, the Ordo was indeed full of the crème de la crème of society.

This information shows us that the role of the programmata was far more declaratory than persuasive. The posters themselves, showing the supporters clearly, suggest that everyone had already decided who they were going to vote for already, be it through family ties or patron/client relationships. As you can see by looking at the benefactions section of this website, the Ordo was very concerned in making its magistrates give generously to benefit public Pompeii and therefore it seems the voters were electing the best benefactors rather than the best politicians. The fact that some posters were found within buildings and on tombstones supports the idea that they were declaratory as these surely could not be aimed at the electorate of Pompeii as they would not often be seen.

AMBITIONE TOT FRAUDES  – so many lies for the sake of ambition.

It seems not all Pompeians were satisfied with the lack of political stimulation as this graffito shows.



[1]See Cooley,Cooley,2013:216 for Celer

[2]Beard,2008: 192

[3]Welling,1983: 235

[4]Beard,2008: 191

[5]Cooley,Cooley,2013: 115

[6]Beard,2008: 191

[7]Castren,1975: 115

[8]Beard,2008: 192