Friday, July 14, 2017

Damnation of Memory

The Roman Severan family, with
Geta "erased" from lower
left by orders of Caracalla
[link]
Memory is a tricky thing: it cannot easily be controlled, but steps can be taken.

The Roman Senate had a practice reserved for traitors to the state: Damnatio memoriae [Latin: "Damnation/Condemnation of memory"]. It was intended to remove any mention of that person from official records. On 21 April 395, the Senate condemned Eugenius (blamed for a recent civil war) to Damnatio memoriae, claiming "Let that time be reckoned as if it never was." Another famous example is when the Emperor Caracalla erased the memory of his brother, Geta, which involved physically removing his likeness from artworks. (See the image to the left.)

Damnation of memory was not strictly Roman. Queen Hatshepsut was almost wiped from Egyptian history by her ungrateful stepson, Thutmose III, in the 15th century BCE. Akhenaton promoted his brand of monotheism by removing images of the god Amon. Modern Egypt isn't immune to this practice: witness the recent removal of the name of President Hosni Mubarak and his wife from monuments and public spaces after his downfall.

Snorri Sturluson, mentioned here, tells us that the 10th century earl Hákon Sigurdarson was referred to solely as "the evil earl" long after his death.

The 55th Doge of Venice, Marino Faliero, was executed in 1355 after a failed coup, after which his portrait was removed from the Doge's palace in Venice and the space painted black. The blackened space still exists.

And Magnus Maximus was condemned with Damnatio memoriae, for all the good it did (see the previous two days' posts). Stories have a way of surviving; memory is like that.

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