Damnatio memoriae

Damnatio memoriae is a modern Latin phrase meaning "condemnation of memory", i.e., that a person is to be excluded from official accounts. There are and have been many routes to damnatio, including the destruction of depictions, the removal of names from inscriptions and documents, and even large-scale rewritings of history.

It was a form of dishonor that could be passed by the Roman Senate on traitors or others who brought discredit to the Roman State. The term can be applied to other instances of official scrubbing; the practice is seen as long ago as the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut in the fourteenth century BC.

Portrait of family of Septimius Severus - Altes Museum - Berlin - Germany 2017
The Severan Tondo, a circa AD 199 tondo of the Severan family, with portraits of Septimius Severus, Julia Domna, and their sons Caracalla and Geta. The face of one of Severus and Julia's sons has been erased; it may be Geta's, as a result of the damnatio memoriae ordered by his brother Caracalla after Geta's death.


In Latin, the term damnatio memoriae was not used by the ancient Romans. The first appearance of the phrase is in a dissertation written in Germany in 1689. The term is used in modern scholarship to cover a wide array of official and unofficial sanctions whereby the physical remnants of a deceased individual were destroyed to differing degrees.[1][2]

Römermuseum Osterburken (DerHexer) 2012-09-30 008
Damnatio memoriae of 'Commodus' on an inscription in the Museum of Roman History Osterburken. The abbreviation "CO" was later restored with paint.


Damnatio memoriae, or oblivion, as a punishment was originally created by the peoples of Ephesus after Herostratus set fire to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of antiquity. The Romans, who viewed it as a punishment worse than death, adopted this practice. Felons would literally be erased from history for the crimes they had committed.

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 they had never existed, in order to preserve the honour of the city. In a city that stressed 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.

In ancient Roman society, "a Roman's house was perceived as an extension of the self, signaling to divine protectors and social and genealogical status to the world outside."[3] Similarly, just as the house would have been seen as an extension of the self, memory was thought of as one of the best ways to understand the self. In a society without much written documentation, memory training was a big part of Roman education.[3] Orators, leaders, and poets alike used memory training devices or memory palaces to help give speeches or tell long epic poems. In The Natural History, Pliny writes,

It would be far from easy to pronounce what person has been the most remarkable for the excellence of his memory, that blessing so essential for the enjoyment of life, there being so many that were celebrated for it. King Cyrus knew all the soldiers of his army by name: L. Scipio the names of all the Roman people.

Memory palaces were used to provide an aid for remembering certain key ideas. By assigning locations in their homes for different ideas, poets or the like, could walk back and forth through their house, recalling ideas with every step. Many times, memory training involved assigning ideas to wall paintings, floor mosaics, and sculptures that adorned many ancient Roman homes. The punishment of damnatio memoriae involved altering the rooms, many times destroying or tampering with the art in their homes as well, so that the house would no longer be identifiable as the perpetrator's home. This would in turn, erase the perpetrator's very existence.[3]

Sejanus Damnatio Memoriae
Lucius Aelius Sejanus suffered damnatio memoriae following a failed conspiracy to overthrow emperor Tiberius in A.D. 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 obliterated.

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 his property seized, his name erased and his statues reworked. Because there is an economic incentive to seize property and rework statues, historians and archaeologists have had difficulty determining when official damnatio memoriae actually took place, although it seems to have been quite rare.

It is unknown whether any damnatio memoriae was totally successful as it 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. It was difficult, however, 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, historians often wrote about the deposed emperors. Finally, many coins with the images of the discredited person continued to circulate. A particularly large number exist with Geta's image.[4]

The practice was applied to Elagabalus after his assassination.[5]

Examples of damnatio memoriae in modern times include the removal of statues of Stalin and other Communist leaders in the former Soviet Union. Ukraine successfully dismantled all 1,320 statues of Lenin after its independence, as well as renaming roads and structures named under Soviet authority.[6]

Looking at cases of damnatio memoriae in modern Irish history, Guy Beiner has argued that iconoclastic vandalism entails subtle expressions of ambiguous remembrance and that, rather than effacing memory, such acts of decommemorating effectively preserve memory in obscure forms.[7][8]

See also


  1. ^ Eric R. Varner (2004). Monumenta Graeca et Romana: Mutilation and transformation : damnatio memoriae and Roman imperial portraiture. BRILL. p. 2.
  2. ^ Elise A. Friedland; Melanie Grunow Sobocinski; Elaine K. Gazda. The Oxford Handbook of Roman Sculpture. Oxford. p. 669.
  3. ^ a b c Bergmann, Bettina (June 1994). "The Roman House as Memory Theater: The House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii". The Art Bulletin. 76 (2): 225. doi:10.2307/3046021. ISSN 0004-3079.
  4. ^ Geta: The One Who Died Archived December 3, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Hans Willer Laale, Ephesus (Ephesos): An Abbreviated History From Androclus to Constantine XI (2011) p. 269
  6. ^ "Ukraine has removed all 1,320 statues of Lenin". The Independent.
  7. ^ Guy Beiner, Remembering the Year of the French: Irish Folk History and Social Memory (University of Wisconsin Press, 2007), p. 305.
  8. ^ Guy Beiner, Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster (Oxford University Press, 2018), pp. 369-384.

External links


Adandozan was a King of the Kingdom of Dahomey, in present-day Benin, from 1797 until 1818. His rule ended with a coup by his brother Ghezo who then erased Adandozan from the official history resulting in high uncertainty about many aspects of his life. Adandozan took over from his father Agonglo in 1797 but was quite young at the time and so there was a regent in charge of the kingdom until 1804. Dealing with the economic depression that had defined the administrations of his father Agonglo and grandfather Kpengla, Adandozan tried to increase slave raiding, increase European trade, and when these failed reform the economy to focus on agriculture. Unfortunately, these efforts did not end domestic dissent and in 1818 at the Annual Customs of Dahomey, Ghezo and Francisco Félix de Sousa, a powerful Brazilian slave trader, organized a coup d'état and replaced Adandozan. He was left alive and lived until the 1860s hidden in the palaces while he was largely erased from official royal history.


Caracalla (; Latin: Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Augustus; 4 April 188 – 8 April 217), formally known as Antoninus, was Roman emperor from 198 to 217 AD. He was a member of the Severan Dynasty, the elder son of Septimius Severus and Julia Domna. Co-ruler with his father from 198, he continued to rule with his brother Geta, emperor from 209, after their father's death in 211. He had his brother killed later that year, and reigned afterwards as sole ruler of the Roman Empire. Caracalla's reign was marked by domestic instability and external invasions from the Germanic people.

Caracalla's reign was notable for the Antonine Constitution (Latin: Constitutio Antoniniana), also known as the Edict of Caracalla, which granted Roman citizenship to nearly all freemen throughout the Roman Empire. The edict gave all the enfranchised men Caracalla's adopted praenomen and nomen: "Marcus Aurelius". Domestically, Caracalla was known for the construction of the Baths of Caracalla, which became the second-largest baths in Rome; for the introduction of a new Roman currency named the antoninianus, a sort of double denarius; and for the massacres he enacted against the people of Rome and elsewhere in the empire. Towards the end of his rule, Caracalla began a campaign against the Parthian Empire. He did not see this campaign through to completion due to his assassination by a disaffected soldier in 217. He was succeeded as emperor by Macrinus after three days.

Caracalla is presented in ancient sources as a tyrant and cruel leader, an image that has survived into modernity. Dio Cassius and Herodian present Caracalla as a soldier first and emperor second. In the 12th century, Geoffrey of Monmouth started the legend of Caracalla's role as the king of Britain. Later, in the 18th century, Caracalla's memory was revived in the works of French artists due to the parallels between Caracalla's apparent tyranny and that of King Louis XVI. Modern works continue to portray Caracalla as a psychopathic and evil ruler. His rule is remembered as being one of the most tyrannical of all Roman emperors.


Elagabalus (), also known as Heliogabalus (Latin: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; c. 204 – 11 March 222), was Roman emperor from 218 to 222. A member of the Severan dynasty, he was Syrian, the second son of Julia Soaemias and Sextus Varius Marcellus. In his early youth he served the god Elagabalus as a priest in Emesa, the hometown of his mother's family. As a private citizen, he was probably named Sextus Varius Avitus Bassianus. Upon becoming emperor he took the name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus. He was called Elagabalus only after his death.In 217, the emperor Caracalla was assassinated and replaced by his Praetorian prefect, Marcus Opellius Macrinus. Caracalla's maternal aunt, Julia Maesa, successfully instigated a revolt among the Third Legion to have her eldest grandson (and Caracalla's cousin), Elagabalus, declared emperor in his place. Macrinus was defeated on 8 June 218 at the Battle of Antioch. Elagabalus, barely 14 years old, became emperor, initiating a reign remembered mainly for sex scandals and religious controversy.

Later historians suggest Elagabalus showed a disregard for Roman religious traditions and sexual taboos. He replaced the traditional head of the Roman pantheon, Jupiter, with the deity Elagabalus, of whom he had been high priest. He forced leading members of Rome's government to participate in religious rites celebrating this deity, over which he personally presided. Elagabalus was supposedly "married" as many as five times, lavishing favours on male courtiers popularly thought to have been his lovers, and was reported to have prostituted himself in the imperial palace. His behavior estranged the Praetorian Guard, the Senate, and the common people alike. Amidst growing opposition, Elagabalus, just 18 years old, was assassinated and replaced by his cousin Severus Alexander on 11 March 222, who ruled for 13 years before his own assassination, which marked the epoch event for the Crisis of the Third Century. The assassination plot against Elagabalus was devised by his grandmother, Julia Maesa, and carried out by disaffected members of the Praetorian Guard.

Elagabalus developed a reputation among his contemporaries for extreme eccentricity, decadence, and zealotry. This tradition has persisted, and with writers of the early modern age he suffers one of the worst reputations among Roman emperors. Edward Gibbon, for example, wrote that Elagabalus "abandoned himself to the grossest pleasures and ungoverned fury". According to Barthold Georg Niebuhr, "The name Elagabalus is branded in history above all others" because of his "unspeakably disgusting life".


Flavia Maxima Fausta (289–326) was a Roman Empress, daughter of the Roman Emperor Maximianus. To seal the alliance between them for control of the Tetrarchy, in 307 Maximianus married her to Constantine I, who set aside his wife Minervina in her favour. Constantine and Fausta had been betrothed since 293.

Gaius Julius Marcus

Gaius Iulius Marcus is the name of one of the early governors of Britannia Inferior, c. 213 -214.

His name is recorded on a milestone on the Military Way at Hadrian's Wall although it has been partially erased, suggesting that he had brought disfavour on himself sometime later. He also undertook building work at the forts of Old Carlisle and Netherby.Iulius Marcus' troops sided with Caracalla in the dispute over the throne that followed the death of Septimius Severus and erected their own dedications to their chosen candidate. The damnatio memoriae that their governor suffered may have been connected with this.

Geta (emperor)

Geta (; Latin: Publius, or Lucius, Septimius Geta Augustus; 7 March 189 – 26 December 211) was Roman emperor with his father Septimius Severus and older brother Caracalla from 209, when he was named Augustus like his brother, who had held the title since 198. Severus died in 211, and although he intended for his sons to rule together, they proved incapable of sharing power, culminating with the murder of Geta in December of that year.

Great Soviet Encyclopedia

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (GSE; Russian: Большая советская энциклопедия, БСЭ, Bolshaya sovetskaya entsiklopediya) is one of the largest Russian-language encyclopedias, published by the Soviet state from 1926 to 1990, and again since 2002 by Russia (under the name Bolshaya Rossiyskaya entsiklopediya or Great Russian Encyclopedia). The GSE claimed to be "the first Marxist-Leninist general-purpose encyclopedia".


Herostratus (Ancient Greek: Ἡρόστρατος) was a 4th-century BC Greek arsonist, who sought notoriety by destroying the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. His acts prompted the creation of a damnatio memoriae law forbidding anyone to mention his name, orally or in writing. The law was ultimately ineffective, as evidenced by mentions of his existence in modern works and parlance. Thus, Herostratus has become a metonym for someone who commits a criminal act in order to become famous.


Iconoclasm is the social belief in the importance of the destruction of icons and other images or monuments, most frequently for religious or political reasons. People who engage in or support iconoclasm are called iconoclasts, a term that has come to be applied figuratively to any individual who challenges "cherished beliefs or venerated institutions on the grounds that they are erroneous or pernicious".Conversely, one who reveres or venerates religious images is called (by iconoclasts) an iconolater; in a Byzantine context, such a person is called an iconodule or iconophile.

The term does not generally encompass the specific destruction of images of a ruler after his death or overthrow (damnatio memoriae).

Iconoclasm may be carried out by people of a different religion, but is often the result of sectarian disputes between factions of the same religion. Within Christianity, iconoclasm has generally been motivated by those who adopt a strict interpretation of the Ten Commandments, which forbid the making and worshipping of "graven images or any likeness of anything". The later Church Fathers identified Jews, fundamental iconoclasts, with heresy and saw deviations from orthodox Christianity and opposition to the veneration of images as heresies that were essentially "Jewish in spirit". The degree of iconoclasm among Christian branches greatly varies. Islam, in general, tends to be more iconoclastic than Christianity, with Sunni Islam being more iconoclastic than Shia Islam.

Julia Domna

Julia Domna (AD 160–217) was a Roman empress of Arab origin, the second wife of Septimius Severus (reigned 193–211). She was born in Emesa (present day Homs) in the Roman province of Syria, into a family of priests of the deity Elagabalus.

As a powerful political figure and member of the imperial family, Julia received titles such as "mother of the army camps". She was famous for her political influence.

After Severus' death in 211, his two sons with Julia, Geta and Caracalla, ruled jointly over Rome. Caracalla had Geta assassinated later that year. Julia continued to have a powerful role during the reign of Caracalla. Julia is thought to have committed suicide in 217 upon hearing of the assassination of Caracalla. After her death, her older sister Julia Maesa successfully contended for political power.

List of condemned Roman emperors

Damnatio memoriae was the ancient Roman practice of erasing the names of disgraced individuals from public memory. The emperors listed below were erased from monuments by decree of the Senate.


Claudia Livia Julia (Classical Latin: LIVIA•IVLIA; c. 13 BC – AD 31) was the only daughter of Nero Claudius Drusus and Antonia Minor and sister of the Roman Emperor Claudius and general Germanicus, and thus the paternal aunt of the emperor Caligula and maternal great-aunt of emperor Nero, as well as the niece and daughter-in-law of Tiberius. She was named after her grandmother, Augustus' wife Livia Drusilla, and commonly known by her family nickname Livilla ("little Livia"). She was born after Germanicus and before Claudius.

She was twice married to the potential successor in the Julio-Claudian dynasty, first to Augustus' grandson Gaius Caesar (died 4 AD) and later to Tiberius' son Drusus the Younger (died AD 23). Allegedly, she helped her lover Sejanus in poisoning her second husband and died shortly after Sejanus fell from power in AD 31.


Macrinus (; Latin: Marcus Opellius Severus Macrinus Augustus; c. 165 – June 218) was Roman Emperor from April 217 to 8 June 218. He reigned jointly with his young son Diadumenianus. Macrinus was by origin a Berber from Mauretania Caesariensis. A member of the equestrian class, he became the first emperor who did not hail from the senatorial class and was the first emperor from Mauretania. Before becoming emperor, Macrinus served under Emperor Caracalla as a praetorian prefect and dealt with Rome's civil affairs. He later conspired against Caracalla and had him murdered in a bid to protect his own life, succeeding him as emperor.

Macrinus was proclaimed emperor of Rome by 11 April 217 while in the eastern provinces of the empire and was subsequently confirmed as such by the Senate; however, for the duration of his reign, he never had the opportunity to return to Rome. His predecessor's policies had left Rome's coffers empty and the empire at war with several kingdoms, including Parthia, Armenia and Dacia. As emperor, Macrinus first attempted to enact reform to bring economic and diplomatic stability to Rome. While Macrinus' diplomatic actions brought about peace with each of the individual kingdoms, the additional monetary costs and subsequent fiscal reforms generated unrest in the Roman military.

Caracalla's aunt Julia Maesa took advantage of the unrest and instigated a rebellion to have her fourteen-year-old grandson, Elagabalus, recognized as emperor. Macrinus was overthrown at the Battle of Antioch on 8 June 218 and Elagabalus proclaimed himself emperor with support from the rebelling Roman legions. Macrinus fled the battlefield and tried to reach Rome but was captured in Chalcedon and later executed in Cappadocia. He sent his son to the care of Artabanus V of Parthia, but Diadumenianus was also captured before he could reach his destination and executed. After Macrinus' death, the Senate declared him and his son enemies of Rome and had their names struck from the records and their images destroyed.

Marcus Arruntius Aquila (consul 77)

Marcus Arruntius Aquila was a Roman senator who flourished during the Flavian dynasty. Although he was a suffect consul for the nundinium of September-October 77 with Gaius Catellius Celer, Ronald Syme notes that like the other consuls who came from Patavium (modern Padua), Aquila "failed to play a role in political life."His father was Marcus Arruntius Aquila, suffect consul in 66. Either the elder Aquila had his son at a relatively early point in his life, or he acceded to the consulship late in life.A surviving inscription provides an outline of his career. Despite an auspicious start being selected as one of the tresviri monetales for his term in the vigintiviri, and serving his quaestorship in attendance to an unnamed emperor (likely Nero whose name was commonly omitted from inscriptions due to damnatio memoriae), except for his suffect consulship, Aquila's only other recorded achievement was becoming a member of the Quindecimviri sacris faciundis, one of the more prestigious collegia of Roman priesthoods. Syme notes, "That college tended to annex senators of cultivated tastes."

Marino Faliero

Marino Faliero (1274 – 17 April 1355) was the 55th Doge of Venice, appointed on 11 September 1354.

He was sometimes referred to simply as Marin Falier (Venetian rather than standard Italian) or Falieri. He was executed for attempting a coup d'etat.

Mastiphal (band)

Mastiphal is a Polish black metal band. It has been founded in Katowice in 1992, initially named Dissolution, thanks to effort of Rafał "Flauros" Góral (later a vocalist for Darzamat) and Cymeris (in latter years associated with Iperyt). A year later the band has been renamed to Mastiphal.

They released one LP: For A Glory Of All Evil Spirits Rise For Victory (1996), two demos: Sowing Profane Seed (1994) and Promo'96; and an EP Seed of Victory (1998), after which the band split up.

It has been reactivated in 2009. In September that year a Białystok label Witching Hour Productions released a two-disk issue Damnatio Memoriae, including all past songs by Mastiphal. In 2010 the band has been joined by guitar players Damian "Daamr" Kowalski and "Opressor", and also percussist Paweł "Senator" Nowak.


A nonperson is a citizen or a member of a group who lacks, loses, or is forcibly denied social or legal status, especially basic human rights, or who effectively ceases to have a record of their existence within a society (damnatio memoriae), from a point of view of traceability, documentation, or existence. The term also refers to people whose death is unverifiable.


Savoir-Faire is a piece of interactive fiction written by Emily Short, about a magician in 18th-century France searching his aristocratic adoptive father's house. It won the Best Game, Best Story, Best Individual Player Character and Best Puzzles awards at the 2002 Xyzzy Awards, and was a finalist for four other categories.

Puzzles in the game require the player to make "leap[s] of inference" between objects with similar functions.

The game was generally praised for its unique use of magical powers (based on weaving links between similar objects, so that anything that happens to one happens to both) and its high-quality implementation. A mini-game follow-up, Damnatio Memoriae, was released in 2006.


Aelius Decius Triccianus was a Roman usurper, who revolted against Emperor Elagabalus. He revolted against Elagabalus using troops still loyal to Macrinus, the previous emperor who Elagabalus had overthrown, and who Triccianus had served under. The revolt was put down, and he was executed. A damnatio memoriae was issued against him, making it impossible to establish the date of his rebellion or death.

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