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Classical Studies Professor Receives Major Grant

by Web on October 5, 2017

(Pictured above, from left: Brittany Hardy, B.A. 2017; Jace King, B.A. 2016; Isabelle Dillard, Class of 2018; and Dr. Holly M. Sypniewski, associate professor of classical studies at Millsaps)

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded a Millsaps College professor, whose research focuses on preserving ancient graffiti buried in Pompeii during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, a major grant of $149,500.

Dr. Holly M. Sypniewski, associate professor of classical studies at Millsaps, and Dr. Rebecca Benefiel, associate professor of classics at Washington and Lee University, have received the grant for the Ancient Graffiti Project: An Open-Access Critical Edition of First-Century Pompeian Wall Inscriptions.

Since 2014, Sypniewski has spent summers on site in Italy to detect and decode, measure and photograph ancient wall inscriptions. She has led numerous trips to Italy that provided Millsaps students with the experience of helping preserve and disseminate hand-written documents one of the great windows on Roman culture.

Composed of Latin inscriptions and drawings, graffiti ranges from the everyday message such as greetings to friends to drawings of gladiators with records of their wins and losses. Graffiti are often small and faint, difficult to find and decipher, and no easy feat to capture in a photograph, Sypniewski said.

The graffiti provides perspectives onto family structure, religion, the economy, and the nature of the Roman house, and insights onto the realities of spoken versus written language—and is important to capture before it further deteriorates.

The grant will be used to produce critical editions of the graffiti that will be published in special databases available to scholars and the general public ( and The editions will include transcriptions of the written texts and pictographs along with bibliographies and contextual notes.

“To have the National Endowment for the Humanities note the value and quality of this research through such a large grant really shows what incredible work Dr. Sypniewski, her students, and her research partners at Washington and Lee University are doing,” said Dr. Laura Franey, associate dean for the arts and humanities at Millsaps.

Sypniewski said she is honored that the National Endowment for the Humanities has recognized the Ancient Graffiti Project with significant support for the next phase of research in Pompeii. “I’m especially grateful for funding it provides for students at Millsaps and Washington and Lee to work alongside us on this research,” she said.