(Graphic Credit: Selena Alvarado)
By: Richard Doyle
Welcome to the start of a brand new series – Advolution!
We’ll be looking back at all sorts of advertising throughout history. All the way from Ancient Rome to the modern day! You can see how it’s evolved over time, but also see how it’s remained the exact same…
So how long has advertising been around for? Since the golden “adage” of the 50’s? Older! Since the industrial revolution? Older! The renaissance? Even older! Advertising dates back to ancient civilizations such as Egypt or Persia!
Our modern understanding of advertising really only goes back after the industrial revolution and is based around the technologies that make advertising as effective as it is. However, civilizations like Rome didn’t have the luxury of computers, social media, or the internet, yet advertising was actually a crucial factor within the Roman Empire!
So how did Rome use advertising without our technologies? Well, it’s really not as different as you might think! Here are some ways Romans used ancient advertising.
In ancient Rome, all kinds of important messages decorated the walls throughout the city. The news, religious prayers, and you guessed it, advertising!
(Retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/carolemage/45563843984/)
Above is an ad for wine in ancient Rome. Although beer and ale were drunk, the wine was by far the most popular drink in all of Rome. There were over fifty different brands within the city alone!
Above is taken from the ancient city of Pompeii, and it illustrates a political ad! If you didn’t know, local citizens actually elected fellow citizens of nearby areas to represent them in the senate. This specific ad states the following:
“Neighbors beg you to elect Lucius Statius Receptus duumvir with judicial power, a worthy man. Aemilius Celer wrote this, a neighbor. You jealous one who destroys this, may you fall ill.”
It looks like they had issues with people destroying the writings, can’t say much has changed in that regard.
Much like how our modern currency displays the faces of various leaders in our political history, the coins of Ancient Rome displayed prominent political figures such as Julius and Augustus Caesar. However, they had the coins printed when they were still in power! As a form of promoting the various political figures in Rome.
The Romans sure knew how to brand themselves!
The coin above depicts Julius Caesar with the mythological god, Venus. It states that Caesar himself had descended from her! It would be hard NOT to elect someone who has a connection to a god.
(Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/mariannera/26361692831)
Statues weren’t simply works of art in ancient Rome, they were a form of promotion and propaganda. The photo above is a statue of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, and much like Caesar’s coin, this statue depicts his ascent to godhood. The child on the right is Cupid, the son of Venus which emphasizes his divine heritage.
Can you imagine something like this happening today? Me either.
What to Learn From This
It’s clear looking at ancient civilizations such as the Roman Empire, advertising isn’t a new idea. In fact, the way they promoted, advertised, and used propaganda really isn’t much different than how it’s used today!
Well, obviously people don’t claim to be the son of a god, or put themselves on a coin while they’re still in power… but! The tactics remain the same!
Modern political ads might be made with fancy new equipment, but are strategies really that different than Rome’s? The ancient wall writings serve the same message! Guerilla marketing at it’s finest.
Augustus and Julius Caesar were pioneers of propaganda and displayed the power of communication over the power of the sword.
Though… they both still used the sword… A LOT.
Ultimately no matter how we progress as humans, or what new technologies are made, advertising will remain the same. Approaches will change, the tools will change, but fundamentally it will always be the art of persuasion over an audience.
Advertising isn’t just a business tactic created to increase sales after capitalism came around. It’s a fundamental aspect of human nature.
As humans, we have the unique ability to communicate and express complex ideas to each other in a way no other animal can. Advertising is one of the first ways we were able to express these ideas to one another.
It’s not too crazy to believe advertising has helped share and grow knowledge within the earliest humans, propelling mankind to what it has become today.
Augustus of Primaporta (article). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/ancient-mediterranean-ap/ap-ancient-rome/a/augustus-of-primaporta
Dale, B. (n.d.). Roman coinage. Retrieved from http://forumancientcoins.com/articles/roman_coinage_trajan_and_hadrian.htm
Elia, J., Erickson, E., Lee, S., & Yu, Z. (October 2005). Augustus of Prima Porta. Retrieved from http://web.mit.edu/21h.402/www/primaporta/context/
Numismatic News. (March 28, 2016). Julius Caesar claimed descent from Venus on Coin. Retrieved from https://www.numismaticnews.net/article/julius-caesar-claimed-descent-from-venus-on-coin