Uncovering propaganda from the past

By Arielle Maxner

 While many look upon the years of the Roman Empire just in reference to its military might, Erin Landau ’11 worked with history teacher John Johnson to research a different aspect of the Roman Empire: the political uses of Roman art and architecture.

“I decided to study this because I love the classics,” Landau said. “My year studying with Dr. Johnson was one of my favorites at Harvard-Westlake.”

Landau studied how art and architecture under three Roman emperors (Trajan, Hadrian and Augustus) was utilized as propaganda.

Some of the pieces she looked into were Trajan’s forum and Trajan’s column.

“The column is especially significant because it has friezes all along its sides which depict Trajan’s War,” Landau said.

Given that most Romans were illiterate, Trajan used the column to describe the nature of his wars to the Roman people, giving them a biased sense of the war, Landau said.

In the case of Augustus, the emperor after the “infamous Caesar,” Landau said, public works projects were essential in showing the people the good he was doing for Rome, along with trying to convince them that he was not a dictator like his predecessor.

“[Augustus’] most important piece was the Prima Porta,” Landau said. “The breast plate of this statue essentially deifies Augustus and solidifies his dynasty. It was used to convince the public of his status as emperor.”

The project culminated with Landau writing three separate fifty-page papers, each one addressing a different emperor.