Naughty ancient inscriptions chiselled beside pictures of phalluses captured the world’s attention this week, as the Greek island of Astypalaia made headlines.

The carvings – providing a new insight into the lives of those who inhabited classical Greece – were etched on limestone outcrops on the island’s north-west tip and are thought to have been made in the fifth and sixth centuries BC.

One, believed to have been etched by a soldier, proclaims his pride in a particular sexual encounter. ‘Nikasitimos was here mounting Timion’ (Νικασίτιμος οἶφε Τιμίον) reads the bold inscription. One is left wondering whether it was Nik and Tim’s favoured spot for regular liaisons or just a one-off.

Another inscription nearby in the name of Dion, alongside two penises, suggests Nik wasn’t the only one using the location for amorous deeds.
Other rock art found at the site has a more genteel touch, with carvings depicting ships, daggers and spirals, more in keeping with traditional Cycladic motifs.

The sexually explicit works were discovered by Professor Andreas Vlachopoulos – a specialist in prehistoric archaeology – who has been conducting research on Astypalaia since 2010.

“They were what I would call triumphant inscriptions,” he told The Guardian. “They claimed their own space, in large letters that not only expressed sexual desire but talked about the act of sex and that is very, very rare.”

Experts have said that the style of writing used not only reveals the carnal antics of its authors and their wish to celebrate them, but shows the extent of literacy at a time when the Acropolis had yet to be built.

Skilfully inscribed, the Astypalaia carvings reflect a society where not only philosophers and scholars were trained in the art of writing, but island dwellers far
from Athens.

“We know that Greek islands were inhabited by the third millennium BC, but what we have found is evidence that, even then, people were using a coded language of symbols and imagery that was quite sophisticated,” said Dr Vlachopoulos.

Professor Anthony Blanshard, Chair of Classics and History at Queensland University, told Neos Kosmos that analysing the language gives a clue to the nature of the relationship depicted.

“The verb used, οἶφε, is pretty explicit, and largely reserved for bestial sex. I’m not sure that there’s evidence of a loving couple here, so much as an enjoyable one-night stand. It might even be a way of ‘slut-shaming’ one of Nikasitimos’ rivals.

“We don’t know what Timion thought of this graffiti, but Nikasitimos seems pretty proud of himself,” added Professor Blanshard – a world-renowned expert on Greek rhetoric, law, and ancient sexuality.

While the extent of sexual promiscuity in ancient Greece – particularly homosexual relations – has been documented from literary sources over many years, Blanshard says the Astypalaia finds are significant.

“The inscriptions are important because they provide evidence of homosexual relations outside of classical Athens, whereas most of our literary evidence is limited to Athens,” said the professor.

“The idea that we can document activity outside of Attica is always exciting. That said, we have examples of these types of inscriptions from other islands such as Santorini and Crete of a similar date, so visitors should always keep an eye out. They never know what they might find.”