© Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, Italy
Marble head of the Emperor Geta vandalised with a chisel following the act of damnatio memoraie - The Roman Empire, c. 200 A.D.
Keen to combine religion and political power, the crowning glory for a Roman emperor was deification - becoming divine and immortal. The ultimate punishment by contrast was being forcefully erased from history. In the modern era, the term damnatio memoriae was coined to describe this practice. Those condemned were deleted from records, their wills were annulled and their likenesses were destroyed. In Geta’s case – murdered on the orders of his brother and co-emperor Caracalla – merely mentioning his name became a capital offence.