Pillars of Propaganda

Hello everyone. My name is Gregory Callaghan, and I am finishing up my sophomore year here at William & Mary. I am a Latin major with an Art History minor, and am honored to be the recipient of Hans O. Tiefel Endowed Scholarship. The scholarship, dedicated to Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies Tiefel is intended to integrate the various ideas presented by GER7 (Religious, social, and philosophical thought). My project “Pillars of Propaganda: Pre-Augustan Propaganda in Sacred Space” should hopefully accomplish that goal.

I will copy my proposal at the bottom of this post if anyone is particularly interested, but I will provide a brief summary of my goal here:

The intent behind the pithy title is to examine how Romans (both as the state and as prominent individuals) used religious architecture for propaganda. More specifically, I will examine how this interplay of religion and secular propaganda existed in Republic Rome (pre-Augustan). As anyone who has taken even a cursory look at Roman art knows, the Emperor Augustus and his successors utilized art, particularly sacred art, to further their political agendas, and that use of propaganda is practically legendary now. Propaganda in the pre-Augustan period, however, has never been thoroughly studied. Admittedly, it is a difficult topic to properly research due to the lack of physical remains (Augustus habit of finding Rome in brick and leaving it in marble built over much of the Republic’s monuments). Some evidence has survived, however, in archaeological remains and also in literature and other sources such as numismatics. By carefully studying and connecting these remains, I believe it is possible to gain a clear idea of how Republic Rome used sacred space to further the political agenda of the time.

This project will benefit greatly from two other endeavors I am pursuing this summer. First, I will be going to Rome/Pompeii with the Classics department. Although, as I mentioned, many of the Republican sites have been built over, some few still remain, and seeing them in person will be a huge benefit. Furthermore, comparison to Augustan and post-Augustan sites can also help fully develop the idea behind my thesis. Then, later in the summer, I will be taking an intensive Greek course at the University of Pennsylvania, which will provide me access to their very well-equipped library and other classical resources.

Having provided this brief, intro, I look forward to seeing other’s amazing projects and wish everyone the best. May you know nothing but success on your finals.

Full proposal:

The Roman emperor Augustus is famous for his campaigns of social and political propaganda. In his rise to power—and in his many years as the most powerful man in the world—Augustus employed propaganda to bolster his political claims. Public works, monuments, and literature all came to serve the ends of the emperor. Often overlooked, however, are those that came before Augustus. The first true Roman emperor may have been the master of it, but those that came before certainly still employed propaganda, but it required a more delicate balance. In Republican Rome, personal ambitions had to be weighed against the Roman aversion to kingship and all pretensions to it.

This balancing act took on a new dimension in the religious sphere, where the added consideration of honoring the gods had to be taken into account. Religion, however, was really the only institution whose power and prestige could rival that of the state, even as the two often fed off of one another. The separation of church and state is a relatively modern development. To the ancient Romans, religion and government frequently went hand-in-hand. It is no surprise, therefore, that Romans often used religion to bolster their personal prestige. Tellingly, Augustus, like Julius Caesar before him, held the position of Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest in Rome. Augustus clearly recognized the potential propagandist power of religion—but so did those who came before him.

My research will delve into how this interjection of propaganda into the sacred space manifested itself in the built environment of religion, specifically in the architecture and decorative motifs of a variety of buildings. More importantly, it will do so while focusing on the time period before Augustus and will seek to answer the question: how did those living in the Republic use propaganda in the built religious environment to add to their personal glory, without supplanting the glory of the Republic or of the gods? While Augustan building projects will certainly be considered for points of comparison—or because those projects modified or expanded previous environments—the focus on the pre-Augustan period is one that, though studied, has not been examined in this specific vein. Augustus is rightfully admired for maintaining his own system of imperial propaganda balanced against at least the pretense that he was not a tyrant. But those who came before, who lacked the vast amount of leeway given to Augustus, deserve attention and study as well.

Two courses I have taken, Roman Art/Archaeology and Ancient Architecture, often touched upon Augustan propaganda in religious architecture, such as the Temple of Mars Ultor.  This sparked my curiosity, however, to take a closer look at the use of propaganda before Augustus, which was mentioned far less often, but certainly existed in the forms of buildings such as Pompey’s Theatre. Through this research grant, I hope to be able to explore this topic in greater detail. To do this, I will likely focus mostly on library research. Although I will actually be in Italy this summer as part of the Classics department’s Rome/Pompeii program, many of the sites I would like to study have been built over or are in poor condition when compared to imperial building projects. Regardless, the program will provide me with a unique opportunity to get a general idea of the layout of important sites such as the Roman forum, which will be an invaluable frame of reference when I conduct my research after the program’s conclusion.  Over the summer I will have access to the University of Pennsylvania’s library system, as well as NYU’s, so finding source material will not be difficult.

At the conclusion of my research, I will likely compile my findings into article format and attempt to publish it with one of several student resources. Eta Sigma Phi, the national classics honor fraternity, for instance, offers several opportunities for the presentation of student articles. More importantly to me on a personal level, however, I hope that this research will enable me to gain a better feel for the direction I want my academic career to take. Recently, I have been split between pursuing Roman History or Classical Archaeology in graduate school. This project, though touching on both, certainly lies more in the realm of archaeology and I hope that it will give me a better idea of how that particular field suits me. Furthermore, the research will be an excellent trial run for my senior honors thesis, which I am thinking of doing in the realm of classical archaeology.