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Damnatio memoriae: Purging People from Public Memory

November 8, 2019 - General
A portrait of the Severan family, with the face of Geta removed due to the damnatio memoriae ordered by Caracalla

In the United Kingdom, Remembrance Sunday is observed annually on the second Sunday of November. This solemn occasion is meant to commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemembers in the two World Wars and later conflicts. As the phrase commonly associated with this day, ‘lest we forget’ indicates, there is a conscious desire to prevent forgetting the fallen. Yet, the living do not always intend to remember the dead, and at times even made an effort to erase them from people’s memories. The most recognized example of this is damnatio memoriae.

The ancient Romans (the Roman Senate to be more precise) could pass a form of dishonor known as the damnatio memoriae (literally meaning ‘damnation of memory’). In theory, this punishment was meant to be inflicted upon traitors or those who brought discredit to Rome. In practice, however, it could be imposed on anyone that was not in the Senate’s or the Roman Emperor’s good books. One of the most well-known cases may be that of Emperor Geta, who was murdered by his brother Caracalla, and subsequently had the damnatio memoriae inflicted upon him.

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Source: origins

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