Acta Diurna: World’s First Newspaper Appeared In 131 B.C

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Conny Waters - AncientPages.com - The history of newspapers goes far back in time. The first proto-newspaper appeared as early as 131 B.C. It was an ancient Roman daily gazette called Acta Diurna (Daily Acts sometimes translated as Daily Public Records). Acta Diurna informed citizens of political and social happenings in ancient Rome.

News of events such as military victories, gladiatorial bouts and other games, births and deaths and even human-interest stories were inscribed on metal or stone and posted in areas with heavy foot traffic, such as the Roman Forum where free citizens met to discuss ideas, philosophy and politics.

Acta Diurna was the first "newspaper".

Acta Diurna was the first "newspaper".

After a couple of days the notes were taken down and archived. Unfortunately,  no intact copy of the Acta Diurna has survived to the present day.

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Sometimes scribes made copies of the Acta and sent them to provincial governors for information. Later emperors used them to announce royal or senatorial decrees and events of the court.

Caesar in the Senate

Caesar in the Senate. Credit: Pillole di storia

Tacitus, a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire and Suetonius, Roman historian of the Equestrian Order used these Acta as sources of information about the empire’s early emperors in their histories of Rome.

For many Romans the innovation of the year 59 B.C. must have been a blessing. In that year Caesar was consul, and devoted himself to the task of weakening the Senate. One of the privileges of that body had been a meeting in executive session. Only so much of their deliberations was made public as suited the senators. Caesar, however, arranged that reports of their proceedings should be made public. These reports were called the acta diurna, and constitute the original newspaper.

As Evan T. Sage explains in Advertising among the Romans, "at first they must have included only brief summaries of the meetings. Later, some changes occurred. There seems to have been something resembling the congressional leave to print. At any rate, sometimes speeches were transcribed, with even the interruptions noted.

The most famous example is the speech of the Emperor Claudius on admitting Gauls to the Senate, of which we have another version in Tacitus. With the fall of the Republic the sessions ceased to have so much importance, and the act took on more of the look of the society and local columns of our papers.

Thus we find recorded in the acta the visit to the Emperor of a certain C. Crispinius Hilarus with sixty-one descendants in the direct line; imperial decrees; the story of a faithful dog; various prodigies; divorces; benefactions; suicides; acclamations; construction of public buildings, etc. Doubtless, there might be included announcements of games, readings of poets, etc., and this would correspond to the intrusion of similar matter into the news columns of modern papers.

Written by Conny Waters – AncientPages.com Staff Writer

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Expand for references

Sage, Evan T. "Advertising among the Romans." The Classical Weekly 9, no. 26 (1916): 202-08. doi:10.2307/4387300.