Saturday, October 27, 2012

Acta Diurna: The first blog

Every modern journalist - indeed, the entire concept of the Internet itself - owes a debt to the Acta Diurna. Latin for "Daily Acts", it was the first "newspaper" of known civilization. Most people probably know that we get our word "forum" from the Roman term of the same name for a common gathering place where people could discuss the day's events.

However, most people don't realize just how literally this maps to our news forums and blogs today. From the History of Information site:

"Copies of Acta Diurna ("Daily Events", or the "Daily Public Record"), were carved on stone or metal and presented in message boards in public places like the Roman Forum beginning about this time.][These are thought to be the first daily gazettes."

The content very much fit our modern definition of news. Outcomes of court proceedings, public notices and announcements, marriages, births, and deaths, were all part of the daily newsfeed. And furthermore, the Acta Diurna was rotated as new daily installments came in, with the previous tablets stored in an archive (sounding more like a blog now?), and scribes would also make copies of the news and then send them out to remote outposts such as provincial governors. (So, yes, you read that right, they even had a way to "subscribe to an RSS feed"!)

This was actually a major step in Roman government. At this time in Roman history (130 BCE) Rome was transitioning from a pure monarchy to a republic. In so doing, the Acta Diurna was one sign that government had become more open - the business of ruling was no longer a secret affair confined to the inner circle of the ruling class, but the people's business, to be freely shared and discussed in the open. Furthermore, the common rabble were free to discuss the affairs of state right alongside the politicians - an unheard-of lenient policy that informs our modern notion of "freedom of speech" and "freedom of the press".