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Tondo of the Severan family, with portraits of Septimius Severus, Julia Domna, Caracalla, and Geta. Geta's face has been erased, because of the damnatio memoriae ordered by his brother. In the picture, the only mark of Geta is a grey circle.

Damnatio memoriae is the Latin phrase literally meaning "damnation of memory" in the sense of removal from remembrance. It was a form of dishonor that could be passed by the Roman Senate upon traitors or others who brought discredit to the Roman State.

Contents

Overview

Etymology

The sense of the expression damnatio memoriae and of the sanction is to cancel every trace of the person from the life of Rome, as if he had never existed, in order to preserve the honour of the city; in a city that stressed the social appearance, respectability and the pride of being a true Roman as a fundamental requirement of the citizen, it was perhaps the most severe punishment.

Lucius Aelius Sejanus suffered damnatio memoriae following a failed conspiracy to overthrow emperor Tiberius in 31. His statues were destroyed and his name obliterated from all public records. The above coin from Augusta Bilbilis, originally struck to mark the consulship of Sejanus, has the words L. Aelio Seiano erased.

Practice

In Ancient Rome, the practice of damnatio memoriae was the condemnation of Roman elites and Emperors after their deaths. If the Senate or a later Emperor did not like the acts of an individual, they could have their property seized, their names erased and their statues reworked. Because there is an economic incentive to seize property and rework statues anyway, historians and archaeologists have had difficulty determining when damnatio memoriae actually took place.

The practice of damnatio memoriae was rarely, if ever, an official practice. Any truly effective damnatio memoriae would not be noticeable to later historians, since by definition, it would entail the complete and total erasure of the individual in question from the historical record. However, since all political figures have allies as well as enemies, it was difficult to implement the practice completely. For instance, the Senate wanted to condemn the memory of Caligula, but Claudius prevented this. Nero was declared an enemy of the state by the Senate, but then given an enormous funeral honoring him after his death by Vitellius. While statues of some Emperors were destroyed or reworked after their death, others were erected. Historians sometimes use the phrase de facto damnatio memoriae when the condemnation is not official. Among those who did suffer damnatio memoriae were Sejanus, who had conspired against emperor Tiberius in 31, and later Livilla, who was revealed to be his accomplice. The only emperors that are known to have officially received a damnatio memoriae were Domitian and later the co-emperor Publius Septimius Geta, whose memory was publicly expunged by his co-emperor brother Caracalla, in 211.

Similar practices in other societies

Before
After
A photograph of Stalin with Soviet commissar Nikolai Yezhov was retouched after Yezhov fell from favor and was executed in 1940.
  • Herostratus set fire to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus to become famous. To discourage such acts, the Ephesus leaders decided that his name should never be repeated again, under penalty of death.
  • Ancient Egyptians attached the greatest importance to the preservation of a person's name. The one who destroyed a person's name was thought somehow to have destroyed the person[1] and that this carried forward beyond the grave.
  • The cartouches of the heretical 18th dynasty pharaoh Akhenaten were mutilated by his successors. Earlier in that same dynasty, Thutmose III carried out a similar attack on his stepmother Hatshepsut late in his sole reign. However, only engravings and statuary of her as a crowned king of Egypt were attacked. Anything depicting her as a queen was left unharmed (and the campaign ended after his son by a secondary queen was crowned co-regent), so this was not strictly speaking damnatio memoriae.[2] There is also some debate whether this defacement was Thutmose's doing at all, since most of the damage is estimated to have happened some 47 years into this reign.
  • In Judaism, the curse, "May [his / her] name and memory be obliterated," (Hebrew: ימח שמו וזכרו , yimach shmo ve-zichro) is the worst curse that a Jew can pronounce on another.
  • Adandozan, king of Dahomey in the beginning of the nineteenth century, had imprisoned his brother Gakpe. Once the latter became king Ghezo, he took revenge by erasing the memory of Adandozan. Till today, Adandozan is not officially considered as one of the twelve kings of Dahomey.
  • Marino Faliero, fifty-fifth Doge of Venice, was condemned to damnatio memoriae after a failed coup d'état.
  • More modern examples of damnatio memoriae in actual practice was the removal of portraits, books, doctoring people out of pictures, and any other traces of Joseph Stalin's opponents during the Great Purge. (For example in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.) In an ironic twist of fate, Stalin himself was edited out of some propaganda films when Nikita Khruschev became the leader of the Soviet Union, and the city of Tsaritsyn that had earlier been named Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd in 1961.
  • In Argentina, it was forbidden to say "Juan Domingo Perón" after the coup that deposed him in 1955, and the media often referred to him as the "Deposed Tyrant". Additionally, hospitals and other public buildings named after him during his presidency were quickly renamed by the Liberating Revolution. Photographs and other representations of the Argentine leader were also prohibited.
  • A similar fate befell jarl Hákon Sigurðarson in 10th century Norway; according to Snorri Sturluson, after his death, "So great was the enmity of the Throndhjem people against Earl Hakon, that no man could venture to call him by any other name than "the evil earl"; and he was so called long after those days."[3]
  • In the United States, the official portraits of disgraced Maryland governors Spiro Agnew and Marvin Mandel were absent from the Maryland State House Governor’s Reception Room for periods of time.[4]
  • Memorials to Continental general Benedict Arnold at the Saratoga National Historical Park and the United States Military Academy do not bear either his name or his likeness, as a result of his treachery.
  • After the disbanding of the Soviet Union and abandonment of any officially sanctioned ideology, most of the places renamed after Communist personalities and leaders, including entire cities such as Leningrad, were restored to pre-union names, or given a different non-socialist name. Additionally, statues of communist heroes like Lenin were removed and/or destroyed (except the one in Moscow, which has been retained for historical significance).
  • In 2007 the Spanish Parliament passed the Act on Memoria Historica (Historical Memory of Spain) to remove the traces of the nationalist faction in the Spanish Civil War. Public buildings and streets named after nationalist personalities were renamed and statues of Franco and other nationalist leaders were removed.

Damnatio memoriae in fiction

Many contemporary novels and films mention a form of damnatio memoriae. Two early examples are the "vapourization" of "unpersons" in George Orwell's 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four ("He did not exist; he never existed"); and the reference to the Egyptian practice in the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments, in which the Pharaoh Seti orders the name of Moses be struck from every building and never mentioned by anyone.

More recent authors who have used damnatio memoriae as a plot device include Milan Kundera in his 1979 novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, R.A. Salvatore in the 1990 novel Homeland, Lois Lowry in her 1993 novel The Giver (a version in which the damned name is never given to any new baby ever again), and Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson in their 1999 Prelude to Dune trilogy. Another occurrence of this plot device is prevalent in the fantasy novel Prince of the Blood by Raymond E. Feist.

The device has also appeared in the American television series Star Trek: The Next Generation as the Klingon practice of discommendation; as a threat in Ancient Greek and Persian culture in Frank Miller's 1998 comic book series 300 and its 2007 film adaptation; and in the 2004 role playing game Vampire the Requiem.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ "Egyptian Religion", E.A Wallis Budge", Arkana 1987 edition, ISBN 0-14-019017-1
  2. ^ Peter F. Dorman, "The Proscription of Hapshepsut", from Hapshepsut: From Queen To Pharaoh, ed. Catherine H. Roehrig, Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY), pp. 267–69
  3. ^ "Varð hér svá mikill máttr at fjándskap, þeim er Þrœndir gerðu til Hákonar jarls, at engi maðr mátti nefna hann annan veg en jarl hinn illa; var þetta kall haft lengi síðan." Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar, ch. 56.
  4. ^ As reported, respectively, in Press Conference statement, April 13, 1995, http://www.msa.md.gov/msa/stagser/s1259/121/7044/html/7044.html and the Baltimore Sun, October 14, 1993, http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/bal-portrait101493,0,134817.story.

External links


of the Severan family, with portraits of Septimius Severus, Julia Domna, Caracalla, and Geta. Geta's face has been erased, because of the damnatio memoriae ordered by his brother.]]

, Munich]] Damnatio memoriae is the Latin phrase literally meaning "damnation of memory" in the sense of removal from remembrance. It was a form of dishonor that could be passed by the Roman Senate upon traitors or others who brought discredit to the Roman State.

Contents

Overview

Etymology

The sense of the expression damnatio memoriae and of the sanction is to cancel every trace of the person from the life of Rome, as if he had never existed, in order to preserve the honour of the city; in a city that stressed the social appearance, respectability and the pride of being a true Roman as a fundamental requirement of the citizen, it was perhaps the most severe punishment.

suffered damnatio memoriae following a failed conspiracy to overthrow emperor Tiberius in 31. His statues were destroyed and his name obliterated from all public records. The above coin from Augusta Bilbilis, originally struck to mark the consulship of Sejanus, has the words L. Aelio Seiano erased.]]

Practice

In Ancient Rome, the practice of damnatio memoriae was the condemnation of Roman elites and emperors after their deaths. If the Senate or a later emperor did not like the acts of an individual, they could have their property seized, their names erased and their statues reworked. Because there is an economic incentive to seize property and rework statues anyway, historians and archaeologists have had difficulty determining when official damnatio memoriae actually took place, although it seems to have been quite rare.

Historians sometimes use the phrase de facto damnatio memoriae when the condemnation is not official. Among those few who did suffer legal damnatio memoriae were Sejanus, who had conspired against emperor Tiberius in 31, and later Livilla, who was revealed to be his accomplice. The only emperors that are known to have officially received a damnatio memoriae were Domitian and later the co-emperor Publius Septimius Geta, whose memory was publicly expunged by his co-emperor brother Caracalla, in 211.

Any truly effective damnatio memoriae would not be noticeable to later historians, since by definition, it would entail the complete and total erasure of the individual in question from the historical record. However, since all political figures have allies as well as enemies, it was difficult to implement the practice completely. For instance, the Senate wanted to condemn the memory of Caligula, but Claudius prevented this. Nero was declared an enemy of the state by the Senate, but then given an enormous funeral honoring him after his death by Vitellius. While statues of some emperors were destroyed or reworked after their death, others were erected. Also, many coins with the images of the discredited person continued to circulate. A particularly large number exist with Geta's image.[1]

Similar practices in other societies

A photograph of Stalin with Soviet commissar Nikolai Yezhov was retouched after Yezhov fell from favor and was executed in 1940.
  • Herostratus set fire to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus to become famous. To discourage such acts, the Ephesus leaders decided that his name should never be repeated again, under penalty of death.
  • Ancient Egyptians attached the greatest importance to the preservation of a person's name. The one who destroyed a person's name was thought somehow to have destroyed the person[2], and it was thought that this effect extended beyond the grave.
  • The cartouches of the heretical 18th dynasty pharaoh Akhenaten were mutilated by his successors. Earlier in that same dynasty, Thutmose III carried out a similar attack on his stepmother Hatshepsut late in his sole reign. However, only engravings and statuary of her as a crowned king of Egypt were attacked. Anything depicting her as a queen was left unharmed (and the campaign ended after his son by a secondary queen was crowned co-regent), so this was not strictly speaking damnatio memoriae.[3] There is also some debate whether this defacement was Thutmose's doing at all, since most of the damage is estimated to have happened some 47 years into this reign.
  • In Judaism, the curse, "May [his / her] name and memory be obliterated," (Hebrew: ימח שמו וזכרו , yimach shmo ve-zichro) is the worst curse that a Jew can pronounce on another.
  • Despite successfully invading England in 1216, being proclaimed King Louis of England in London and conquering half the country, under the terms of the treaty of Lambeth Louis is not counted as one of the Kings of England.
  • Adandozan, king of Dahomey in the beginning of the nineteenth century, had imprisoned his brother Gakpe. Once the latter became king Ghezo, he took revenge by erasing the memory of Adandozan. To this day, Adandozan is not officially considered as one of the twelve kings of Dahomey.
  • Marino Faliero, fifty-fifth Doge of Venice, was condemned to damnatio memoriae after a failed coup d'état.
  • More modern examples of damnatio memoriae in actual practice include the removal of portraits, books, doctoring people out of pictures, and any other traces of Joseph Stalin's opponents during the Great Purge. (For example in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.) When in 1952 the Soviet Union football team lost to Yugoslavia at the Summer Olympics, Stalin ordered that all footage of the event be destroyed.[4] In a twist of fate, Stalin himself was edited out of some propaganda films when Nikita Khruschev became the leader of the Soviet Union, and the city of Tsaritsyn that had earlier been named Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd in 1961.
  • In Argentina, it was forbidden to say "Juan Domingo Perón" after the coup that deposed him in 1955, and the media often referred to him as the "Deposed Tyrant". Additionally, hospitals and other public buildings named after him during his presidency were quickly renamed by the Liberating Revolution. Photographs and other representations of the Argentine leader were also prohibited.
  • A similar fate befell jarl Hákon Sigurðarson in 10th century Norway; according to Snorri Sturluson, after his death, "So great was the enmity of the Throndhjem people against Earl Hakon, that no man could venture to call him by any other name than "the evil earl"; and he was so called long after those days."[5]
  • In the United States, the official portraits of disgraced Maryland governors Spiro Agnew and Marvin Mandel were absent from the Maryland State House Governor’s Reception Room for periods of time.[6]
  • Memorials to Continental general Benedict Arnold at the Saratoga National Historical Park and the United States Military Academy bear neither his name nor his likeness, as a result of his treachery. For example, at the United States Military Academy the names of all the governors of this site are listed except for Arnold; in his instance only the date of his tenure 1780 appears.
  • After the disbanding of the Soviet Union and abandonment of any officially sanctioned ideology, most of the places renamed after Communist personalities and leaders, including entire cities such as Leningrad, were restored to pre-union names, or given a different non-socialist name. Additionally, statues of communist heroes like Lenin were for the most part removed and/or destroyed.
  • In 2007 the Spanish Parliament passed the Ley de Memoria Histórica de España to remove the traces of the Nationalist faction in the Spanish Civil War and afterwards. Public buildings and streets named after nationalist personalities were renamed and statues of Francisco Franco and other nationalist leaders were removed.
  • In 2008, two engraved bricks on the "Wall of Fame" at Liverpool's famous Cavern Club were controversially removed because they bore the names of two members of music industry who have since been disgraced by sexual scandal: singer/songwriter Gary Glitter and record producer Jonathan King. In their place, a metal plaque was installed which simply stated that the names had been removed (albeit without actually identifying the men).(Correction the plaque does identify the men but does not give a reason for their bricks being removed 12/10/2010)
  • In 2010, all traces of Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo were obliterated from the University of Southern California after a scandal involving both accepting payment while playing for their respective USC teams.

Damnatio memoriae in fiction

Many contemporary novels and films mention a form of damnatio memoriae. Two early examples are the "vapourization" of "unpersons" in George Orwell's 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four ("He did not exist; he never existed"); and the reference to the Egyptian practice in the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments, in which the Pharaoh Seti orders the name of Moses be struck from every building and never mentioned by anyone.

More recent authors who have used damnatio memoriae as a plot device include Milan Kundera in his 1979 novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, R.A. Salvatore in the 1990 novel Homeland, Lois Lowry in her 1993 novel The Giver (a version in which the damned name is never given to any new baby ever again), and Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson in their 1999 Prelude to Dune trilogy. Another occurrence of this plot device is prevalent in the fantasy novel Prince of the Blood by Raymond E. Feist.

The device has also appeared in the American television series Star Trek: The Next Generation as the Klingon practice of discommendation; as a threat in Ancient Greek and Persian culture in Frank Miller's 1998 comic book series 300 and its 2007 film adaptation; and in the 2004 role playing game Vampire the Requiem.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Geta: The One Who Died
  2. ^ "Egyptian Religion", E.A Wallis Budge", Arkana 1987 edition, ISBN 0-14-019017-1
  3. ^ Peter F. Dorman, "The Proscription of Hapshepsut", from Hapshepsut: From Queen To Pharaoh, ed. Catherine H. Roehrig, Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY), pp. 267–69
  4. ^ BBC
  5. ^ "Varð hér svá mikill máttr at fjándskap, þeim er Þrœndir gerðu til Hákonar jarls, at engi maðr mátti nefna hann annan veg en jarl hinn illa; var þetta kall haft lengi síðan." Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar, ch. 56.
  6. ^ As reported, respectively, in Press Conference statement, April 13, 1995, http://www.msa.md.gov/msa/stagser/s1259/121/7044/html/7044.html and the Baltimore Sun, October 14, 1993, http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/bal-portrait101493,0,134817.story.

External links








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