Roman Propaganda

Throughout the annals of history men and women of great importance have strived to gain the support and undying allegiance of their countrymen in order to accomplish their goals.  In order to do such, countless figures have utilized various forms of propaganda to sway the general public to their side.  Whether it be the despicable likes of Joseph Goebbels who was the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 and his propaganda campaign in support of Adolf Hitler, the line of North Korean dictators making their people believe their country is the peak of civilization while they starve and are sent to labor camps in droves, stations like Fox News inciting fear and hatred against Muslims, every single politician lying and slinging mud at each other to get into office regardless of how far left or right, or even more beneficent instances such as Allied propaganda against the axis, or American propaganda against communism.  All of these groups and people utilized the powerful tactic of propaganda, but this statement may cause one to ask where does that leave the Romans? Well in response to said question, the Romans not only applied this strategy, they were masters of it; almost everything done by the citizens of Rome in the upper echelons of their social order was done to further their own reputation whilst discrediting others.  Glory and honor were there goals and in order to obtain them the Romans spend countless amounts of currency on a multitude of forms of propaganda to see themselves into positions of higher laudation and influence.

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The political scene in the Rome throughout its existence was riddled with various forms intrigue and propaganda; one such form that exists and actually greatly benefited the citizens of Rome was the construction of public buildings solely to increase the creator’s reputation among the citizens and their peers.  Nearly every large structure in Rome was constructed with this ulterior motive in mind and therefore they generally bear the name of their financier.  Some structures worthy of nothing that were created in such a manner are as follows: The Baths of Caracalla, which was an absolutely massive complex, was ornately decorated and complete with baths, gymnasiums, a swimming area, and even libraries containing both Latin and Greek texts.  This massive structure required thousands upon thousands of tons of materials and what has been estimated at approximately 21,000 laborers to construct, all for sake of propaganda by the Roman Emperor nicknamed “Caracalla” for the sole reason that he desired the approval of the general public and wanted history to remember his name.  Perhaps one of the most renowned Roman structure where blood stained the sand and countless men and beasts die to the cheers of thousands was also quite simply another masterfully executed piece of a propaganda campaign.  The Colosseum as it’s commonly known, was actually referred to as the Flavian Amphitheatre.  This monumental structure of such noteworthiness is known around the world by scholar and child alike, was constructed by and (of course) in honor of the Flavian dynasty of emperors in Rome (Emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian) who reigned over Rome from 69-96 AD.  This was such a well-executed bit of propaganda that much of the world today knows of it.  This is partially due to the fact that the structure is so massive and is such a feat of engineering and construction, however it also owes much of its fame due to the entertainment value that it possessed, which I will discuss a t a later point. Additionally, the city of Rome’s first aqueduct, the Aqua Appia was built by the same man who built the Via Appia, censor Appius Claudius Caecus. This aqueduct at the time was one of the only external sources of water for the city of Rome and was approximately 16.4km long, and of course bore the name of Appius.  Now at this current moment in time this may currently just seem like a list of random structures built in the name of powerful Romans, however its purpose is to show that many of the buildings constructed weren’t just constructed as a display of someone’s power, they were also to be a display of their benevolence.  In other words, every time a Roman citizen went to the baths of Caracalla, games  at the Flavian Amphitheatre, or even got drinking water for their families or travelled on the road to another city, they knew exactly who to thank and love for it, the men who paid for them to be built. In turn, whether it was simply a small wealthy family of little significance or even the great Roman emperors of old this practice was commonplace for the nobility of Rome as a way to show the Roman people how generous they were and to earn their devotion and they used this method to perfection.

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                Earlier it was noted that part of the reason the Flavian Amphitheatre is so synonymous with our modern day visualization of Rome is due to not only the structure itself but due to the service it provided to the Roman people, entertainment.  As Rome continuously grew, it needed methods to placate its civilian masses not during times of peace, but also during times of strife, and what better way to keep people occupied than by entertaining them? Whether it be from the theatre to chariot races, from gladiatorial combat to recreations of naval battles the Roman nobility was able to draw the attention of the public and to keep their ear long enough to get a message across to the masses.  The construction of buildings such as the Flavian Amphitheatre or the Circus Maximus were forms of propaganda in themselves as talked about before, but in addition to this the events held within them also served as excellent opportunities to win the favor of the people; prior to attempting to climb the social ladder, Roman nobility would often sponsor games for the public to attend at no cost.  In turn prior to, during, and after the events, they would make sure that those in attendance would be reminded of who funded such a wonderful event for them to partake in.

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                Another ingenious method of improving one’s standing in the realm through propaganda in ancient Rome was so simple yet so brilliant it ensured nearly every Roman would know its creators name or even some of their feats of glory; the minting of coins.  Just like today, money was constantly exchanging hands for both the purchasing all kinds of everyday goods and materials and the services of others.  In turn, Romans were constantly in possession of coins.  Because of this fact, some of the more affluent Romans had the idea to emblazon their likenesses upon the coinage and sometimes symbols representative of their deeds such as victories over other factions of the ancient world.  In turn, every day Romans would go out and about their business and once they were paid, or had to pay someone, they would look down into the palm of their hand and only to see the face of its minter staring back at them.  Some of the more notable Romans who put their faces upon the currencies of Rome did so upon the Aureus and standardized its weight in gold when doing so.  These men include but are not limited to the dictator Julius Caesar, and the emperors Nero, Caracalla, and Diocletian.

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                In addition to the putting their likenesses on coins Romans also commissioned works that solely attests to the glory and the magnitude of their accomplishments.  These works consisted of things such as but not limited to statues and busts of themselves portrayed in different manners and monuments to their triumphs.  As far as the statues go, Romans would have themselves portrayed based on how they wanted to be viewed by the public or in a way they believed their audience would receive in the most positive manner.  One of such portrayals was that of a traditional Roman; the patron in question would be portrayed as a stern hardworking man with imperfections like wrinkles and scars to show the work they put in and how they had sacrificed their own well-being for the glory and greater good of Rome.  On the other hand, after the conquering of Corinth a large influx of Hellenistic art and stylization occurred in Roman architecture and sculpture.  In turn, some public figures chose to be portrayed in a more Hellenistic fashion in which they appeared flawless, with perfect skin and in heroic poses as opposed to the more realistic traditional Roman stylings.  In addition to sculpture, Romans also constructed things such as triumphal arches or tombs which bore tales of their achievements.  These structure were carved and ornately decorated with pictography that would detail things such as the wars won, the battles they had fought, or the lands that they had conquered for all who passed them to see.

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                While examples of the propaganda in Rome are all well and good, in order to truly understand their effectiveness in Roman society one must delve into the discussion of an actual propaganda campaign that took place in Rome and the effects that it had.  The perfect example of such exists in the propaganda war waged between the then Octavian and Mark Antony.  At this period of time in Roman history, the dictator Julius Caesar was murdered leaving a massive power vacuum in Rome.  In turn many men attempted to gain the favor of the people and rise to power, chief among them however were Caesar’s adopted son Octavian and the famous Mark Antony.  During their vies for power the two would clash for an extended period of time.  For much of their confrontation it was an exchange of propaganda; the two would craft monuments to their glories and denounce the other for their sins.  Octavian built monuments to the glory of Caesar to glorify himself; he usurped the deeds of a great man to make himself appear greater in the eyes of the Roman people.  He even went as far as to claim himself to be “Divi filius,” (the son of a God) after Mark Antony had works compare himself to the likes of Hercules.  Initially Octavian had lavish works and hundreds of sculptures of himself constructed in a Hellenistic style making himself appear as more than a man.  In turn so did Mark Antony, however realizing that the Roman people were weary of another person like Caesar taking control, Octavian quietly began removing this works of himself while denouncing Mark Antony for those he had created.  In addition to this Octavian had Mark Antony portrayed, like Hercules, as a brute and not fit for rule and utilized the fact that he lived in Egypt with Cleopatra against him, referring to him as more Egyptian than Roman.  On the other hand Mark Antony had people such as Tacitus denouncing claims against him and speaking ill of Octavian in speeches and writing.  Additionally, Octavian had thousands of coins created with his likeness on them and had them distributed throughout the populace.  Eventually, Octavian proved to be the more masterful creator and manager of propaganda and won out the favor of the Roman people and brought his legions into the fray where his right hand Agrippa led his forces to victory against Mark Antony and Cleopatra in the Battle of Actium, firmly securing his victory.  However, after doing so Octavian’s campaign did not cease, he formally adopted the name of Augustus, meaning venerable or beloved.  This in addition to acting as though he did not want power, served as part of his ploy to appear as the reluctant but necessary leader to the Roman people.  As Augustus quietly expanded his power, he so too sought to improve his status with the people of Rome and in turn spent countless tons of gold on creating civic buildings and turning Rome into the city it should have been.  To conclude this segment about Augustus, it can clearly be seen that he truly embodied the usefulness and effectiveness that propaganda provided in Rome.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aqua_Appia

http://www.rome-guide.it/english/monuments/monuments_caracalla.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/colosseum_01.shtml

http://www.jstor.org/stable/637113?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circus_Maximus

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Augustan_building_projects

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Actium

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aureus

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