Censorship Throughout History

Censorship has been around throughout the ages of history with someone in power trying to block information from the general masses of people.  It can be seen from the earliest time from the ancient Romans and Greeks up until the present day with the advancements of technology.

During the ancient times there was a heavy emphasis on the emperors trying to subjugate and control everyone around them.  Most of the time the rulers had the perception that they were gods.  Even though at the time the majority of the people could not read or write there was still a major city on the shores of Egypt called Alexandria that had a vast majority of books.  The library was repeatedly destroyed throughout the years of its existence; the major act of violence against the library took place in 391 by the decree of Theophilus.  He ordered the destruction of all pagan temples and articles. In ancient times the destruction of things was a way for censorship to take place, “Notably, a passage by Socrates, unlike that of Ammianus Marcellinus, makes no clear reference to a library or library contents being destroyed, only to religious objects being destroyed.”[1] He was trying to block out everything that had to do with a religion in which he did not believe; therefore he wanted to eliminate it from existing.

The censorship of the Romans emperors was extremely prevalent throughout their time of power.  They even had a whole office in the government dedicated solely to censoring what was going on in the republic.  “Censors in ancient Rome were responsible for an odd mixture of tasks. Their primary purpose was to take a census of citizens within the Roman Empire every five years: they would write down each citizen’s name, their age, and what amount of property they owned.”[2] It was their own way of knowing how many people they had under their control and a way to group them for taxation purposes.

There was another censorship incident in 1497 when the followers of Girolamo Savonarola, an Italian priest, burned pornography, pagan books, and various other things they deemed sinful including cosmetics; it eventually became known as the Bonfire of the Vanities.  They took it upon themselves to decide what people should be reading (nothing written by Ovid of course) and trying to direct people’s beliefs.  They did not want any influences that may occur against their own religion.  They were trying to get rid of temptations that people might have with the objects losing their faith and straying in a wrong direction, “The focus of this destruction was on objects that might tempt one to sin, including vanity items such as mirrors, cosmetics, fine dresses, and even musical instruments. Other targets included immoral books, manuscripts of secular songs, and pictures.”[3] Vanity was a big thing to the priests during that period of time especially with the whole religious controversy with paganism verse Christianity.

The Nazis also had their own way of trying to censor what the people around them saw, especially with what books people were allowed to read.  Around 1933 the Nazis burned thousands of books written by Jewish authors because they were “un-German” in nature.  The Nazi’s were against anything that had to do with Jewish people; therefore any time of Jewish ideas were banned.   In all it is estimated that 100,000,000 books were burned during the Nazi regime because of the influence they held over other countries.  The most targeted works were by Jewish authors although many other authors who had different ideals separate from the Nazi’s were burned along with the rest.[4]

In modern times even with a democratic country such as the United States there is still censorship taking place.  The Internet is the modern source of communication worldwide and has been the cause of many problems involving the transfer of information.  It is a public domain and yet the government is still trying to put limitations on how the Internet is used.  Although the Internet is harder for the government to patrol because it lets people have public access from pretty much anywhere they go with instant gratification.  It is quite difficult for the governments of the world to manage every site online, “One difference is that national borders are more permeable online: residents of a country that bans certain information can find it on websites hosted outside the country.”[5] There are a great deal of social networking groups that for pubic users all over the world that make keeping track of every single post next to impossible; although sites such as Youtube, Wikipedia, Facebook, Google, and pornographic sites are commonly targeted websites.

Another modern phenomenon that is still hard to manage but more controllable than the Internet is the television industry.  Movies and television shows have ratings according to how graphic or propane they are, they have to so that people get weeded out of the group if they are not of age for the content.  Companies strive to censor bad words and limited language shown on television programs so that it would be suitable for all ages.[6]

Censorship has been seen throughout history just in different forms over a wide range of issues, mostly religious and political in nature.


[1] Wikipedia.com, key word: book burning

[3] Wikipedia.com

[4] wikipedia.com keyword: Nazi book burning

[5] wikipedia.com keyword: internet censorship

[6] Grimes, Stan.  “Television Censorship: The Irony“. August 15, 2004. http://www.useless-knowledge.com/articles/apr/aug145.html

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~ by wolfangel87 on November 19, 2010.

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