All Roads Lead to Rome: Public Relations in the Roman Empire with Caesar’s Daily Gazette, Acta Diurna

Why would media be important to the common citizen in antiquity?

Acta Diurna: The Telegraph of Ancient Rome (Dhwty, Ancient Origins)

At this point in global human civilization, ancient cultures found ways of disseminating important information to its citizens. In China, the government-produced news sheets, (tipao), publicized events during the Han and T’ang dynasties. Like China, the Roman Republic, with its massive landmass, disseminated information similarly.

But before the news about the news.… At the height of its glory, the Roman Empire spanned three continents (Europe, Asia, and Africa). While the government was democratic in some ways, its landmass was so vast that it would be impossible to govern without some form of representative government, or republic.

Who was Rome?

More significantly, at its height, the Empire’s landmass contained a population in the hundreds of millions, which included women, children and slaves. Among these populations that spanned three continents, several languages and several centuries, communication was vital in transmitting information from one place to another.

Because of its governmental structure, disseminating information to and from Rome was important in gathering support and swaying public opinionAncient Roman citizens needed to know what was happening with their government!

So…how did Roman emperors disseminate information to these various publics?

The Acta Diurna was named one of the 10 innovations that 'built Ancient Rome' by  History.com. (Evan Andrews, History.com)

The Acta (official proceedings or acts) was a common form of press that informed Roman citizens of public of events related to government. These notices were the earliest prototypes of publications that would circulate information regarding trials and other legal proceedings. Later on, the news encompassed announcements for births, marriages, public notices and other noteworthy information.

Called by different titles (Acta Diurna, Acta Popidi or Acta Publica), these daily events were inscribed on sheet metal or stone and placed on message boards in public places like the Roman Forum. In these high-traffic, highly visible spots, Roman citizens would gather and gossip daily about politics or any of the widely debated topics of the day.

How did the news differ under Caesar’s governance?

The difference is Caesar chose to be transparent with the public as well. Usually kept secret, the Acta Senatus was opened to the public in 59 BC. This publication published information regarding legal, military and municipal proceedings. Later, these publications were stopped. The Acta Diurna under Caesar’s rule had a little bit more spice to it, though. This emperor used this journal similar to the way modern papers inform interested readers. In addition to daily government proceedings and events (military and political), human interest, a gossip column, love stories about the rich and the famous, gladiator events were included in the papers, in addition to stories regarding Roman society (imperial weddings).

By making the paper interesting to read and accessible to public tastes, Caesar engaged the people in conversations related to current events not only in the government and political sphere, but also in the public social sphere as well.

Statue of Emperor Julius Caesar in Rome, Italy.

Why though?

For Caesar and the Roman Empire, the Acta Diurna was a method by which pertinent information could be conveyed and a means by which public opinion could be influenced.

From a PR standpoint, though, is the power and authority of government great even if citizens do not know of its greatness?

This question really is one of how citizens perceive their government and then invest in their community.

The Roman Empire and its Acta Diurna is probably one of the best examples of the way in which press influenced the citizens’ perceptions of the government.

As a public relations tool for the government…

  • By publishing accounts of military exploits to the Roman citizens,
  • By using transparency and publishing legal notices and government proceedings,
  • By engaging the populous with entertaining, amusing events regarding the lives of local celebrities and socialites

…the Roman government, in essence, gave its citizens a reflection of the society in which they lived. Moreover though, through the Acta Diurna, Roman citizens within the entire empire were undoubtedly impressed by the government’s prowess.

Finally, the fact that Rome was a free society where civic involvement was encouraged made the combination of free press and open public discourse the beginnings of the two-way relationship that defines public relations.


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