Welcome to this week’s History Thread! The discussion theme is: damnatio memoriae and other historical erasure. In ancient Rome, the practice of damnatio memoriae involved a postmortem condemnation of Roman emperors or elites that could include seizure of property, the eradication of the condemned person’s name, and the destruction or usurpation of their statues and other monuments. This week’s discussion employs a somewhat broader definition of historical erasure, namely, any official or unofficial attempts to remove a person, group, institution, or event from the historical record.
Today’s picture is the Severan Tondo, a Roman Imperial family portrait, which dates to 200 AD and depicts the emperor Septimius Severus, the empress Julia Domna, and their two sons, one is the future emperor Caracalla, the other…has had his face chipped out.
This defaced image represents Caracalla’s younger brother, Geta. Septimius Severus arranged for his sons, who had always had a contentious relationship, to rule with him as co-emperors with the goal in mind that they would learn the craft of Imperial rulership and reign jointly after his death, which occurred in February 211. Though Septimius Severus’ last bit of advice to his sons was, “Be good to each other, enrich the army, and damn the rest,” the first part of that fatherly counsel didn’t work out so well for Geta. In December 211, Caracalla had his brother assassinated, then he declared a damnatio memoriae. Consequently, Geta’s visage was removed from wherever it was carved or painted, including this family portrait showing the brothers in less murdery times.