Ancient Greece and Rome: Public Relations for a Civic Identity

The Roman Colosseum, located east of the Roman Forum, in Italy. 

Before the good stuff, how did these fledgling civilizations develop a civic identity?

Previous to these civilizations, monuments were built to exalt rulers and to impress upon the population and foreign rulers a powerful image of strength and authority.

The same holds true for the ancient Greeks and Romans, as the Parthenon and Trajan’s Column are monuments that venerated gods and rulers of that time. However, ancient Greek and Roman architects also created public spaces that promoted republic and democratic ideals while encouraging participation in civic life, but more importantly promoted a civic identity.

For example….

  • Stoas functioned in ancient Greece like our modern-day malls. Stoas were pretty much walkways that functioned as marketplaces where merchants sold their wares.
  • Stadiums in Greece and The Colosseum in Rome were places where sporting events were held.
  • Olympia, the site of ancient Olympian Games, was a place where Roman citizens gathered to watch sporting events.

So, what is civic identity?

Civic duty of Ancient Roman citizens. (EmpireRome)

Leaders of these civilizations recognized the role of social interaction as a catalyst in creating cultural identity. More specifically, they recognized the importance of creating spaces where people could gather, socialize, and form opinions about their world and government.

By creating these spaces where people could relax and enjoy public events, whether it was sporting events, theater, or a day in the market place, they created a space where politics of the day could be discussed or a place where information could be disseminated among the masses.

As a result, populations that existed over a great land mass became a collective body of people who participated in their government. These people developed a set ideals and values related to public life and community, or a civic identity.

But what do buildings have to do with public relations in this time?

Simply stated, one of the basic tenets of public relations is the development of a relationship between business and their target publics (populations). One objective of public relations is to develop a two-way relationship where the population being served invests in the product or idea being promoted.

And for civic-minded Grecians and Romans of antiquity,

…public spaces where citizens could freely roam,

…public spaces that invited community-minded citizens,

...public spaces that were the civic center of government policy

functioned as an adhesive that brought citizens together.

Governments achieved another public relations objective in getting the public to connect these spaces with their identity, as these buildings became symbols of both democratic and republican governments.

Architects in ancient Greece and Rome helped their respective governments with getting these populations to buy into democratic and republican ideals by erecting buildings that welcomed them and encouraged them to participate in civic life.

Civic centers in Greece like….

  • Treasuries where people could deposit their money.
  • The agora, literally meaning assembly, a place that was the center of political life.

And in Rome….

  • Functional buildings and public roads that allowed citizens to move freely throughout the empire.
  • The Roman Forum, a place that held shops, offices and temples but functioned as a place where civic and political announcements were made.
The north face of the White House, which was inspired from ancient Roman architecture, during the Lincoln Administration in the 1860s. (Wikipedia commons)

Ultimately, architecture connected people to their government. Greek and Roman rulers gained the public trust of Greek and Roman citizens by building civic-minded structures whose designs became symbols of government rule and authority and republican and democratic ideals. These buildings were press for a civic identity!

And the legacy of classical architecture in today’s America …. Architecture of ancient Greece and Rome is reflected in the designs of numerous government buildings in and around our country. In the same way citizens who belonged to these ancient societies connected the ideas of authority, strength and more importantly, government ideals to the architecture of their time, we have the same collective thought and identity in our own country.


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