Children’s Drawings of Gladiators Discovered in Pompeii

Depicting violent battles and hunts, the charcoal wall sketches are believed to be the work of children aged five to seven.

May 30, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies
Children’s charcoal drawings of hunters and animals discovered at Pompeii. Source: Archaeological Park of Pompeii.


Ancient wall sketches made by young children were recently uncovered in a residential courtyard at Pompeii Archaeological Park. Gladiators face off in battle and hunters wield spears against wild animals in the drawings, which suggest that children bore witness to blood and gore in the ancient Roman city.

Children Ages Five to Seven Drew on Pompeii Walls

The outline of a small hand amidst the gladiator drawings. Source: Archaeological Park of Pompeii.


Archaeologists discovered the ancient charcoal wall drawings in the courtyard of the House of the Second Last Supper, situated in the insula of Chaste Lovers, a residential sector of Pompeii. They were made sometime before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.E. The children likely scratched the simple scenes directly onto the wall while playing in the courtyard. About 0.5 to 1.6 feet off the ground, depictions of gladiators, hunters, a ball game, a boxing match, and the head of a bird of prey were found, along with the outline of a small hand.


In a new online publication, the archaeological team responsible for the discovery explained, “Given the simplicity of the execution, naivety of the line, and the simplifications of the iconographic patterns, the drawings would appear to have been made by the hand of a child.” They estimated the children’s ages to be between five and seven. Another even older drawing, likely made by an older child using a red mineral pigment, was also found near the charcoal drawings. The red drawing was partially obscured by whitewash, suggesting the older child’s handiwork was in the process of being covered up when the city was buried under volcanic ash.


Pompeii Children Likely Witnessed “Extreme Violence”

One of the newly discovered drawings. Source: Archaeological Park of Pompeii.


The newly discovered drawings suggest that young children were among the frequent spectators of violence in Pompeii, including gladiatorial arena battles and hunting spectacles. Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park, said, “We came to the conclusion that in all likelihood the drawings of the gladiators and hunters were made on the basis of a direct vision and not from pictorial models.”


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Zuchtriegel further explained, “Probably one or more of the children who played in this courtyard, among the kitchens, latrine, and flowerbeds for growing vegetables, had witnessed fights in the amphitheater, thus coming into contact with an extreme form of spectacularized violence, which could also include executions of criminals and slaves. The drawings show us the impact of this on the imagination of a young boy or girl, subject to the same developmental stages that are still found today.” As a result of these findings, the Pompeii Archaeological Park has begun a collaboration with the Department of Child Neuropsychiatry at Naples’ Federico II University to study the drawings.


More New Archaeological Discoveries at Pompeii

The Chaste Lovers insula. Source: Archaeological Park of Pompeii.


In the vicinity of the children’s courtyard drawings, archaeologists also excavated the petrified remains of a man and woman who were killed by the volcanic eruption. The deceased couple were discovered in front of a home that was in the midst of renovations. Nearby, archaeologists also found an exceptional fresco painting of a small child wearing a hood and surrounded by grapes, pomegranates, and a small dog. The recent uptick in archaeological discoveries at Pompeii—including the children’s drawings and last month’s news of mythological banquet hall frescos—is part of a newly revived operation to preserve the ancient Roman city after some years of neglect.

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.