Ancient Techniques of Communication and Propaganda

DND Thought CenterAncient Techniques of Communication and Propaganda

By Agha Iqrar Haroon

In previous articles of the series “Philosophical Aspects of Propaganda”, I explained propaganda techniques based on the teachings of Plato and Aristotle and also reviewed that the same techniques are being used even today and even without any change in design for subjugating the population of the State and neighbouring enemies.

These articles include “Application of “Approximate Truth”, “Truth” and “Fact” techniques for Propaganda Campaigns”, “Portraying an invader as Benevolent Saviour through Aristotelian Philosophy of Storytelling”, “Ancient Philosophy of Hybrid War and Propaganda” and “Aristotelian Model of Communication and Modern Philosophy of Communication”.

In the series “Philosophical Aspects of Propaganda”, I am discussing tools, techniques, trends, dictions and terminologies used for Propagandists from ancient times to the time of the Renaissance.

Renaissance is a period that introduced new trends in philosophy and psychology. It can rightfully be called an era of emerging social sciences and new thoughts. Generally taking place from the 14th century to the 17th century, the Renaissance encouraged the rediscovery of classical philosophy, literature, and art and should be considered as a rebirth of cultural, artistic, political and economic thoughts following the Middle Ages. Students of Philosophy call the period of long halt over the birth of new thoughts, ideas, and techniques as “Middle Ages” (a period that took place between the fall of ancient Rome in 476 A.D. and the beginning of the 14th century).

During the 14th century, a cultural movement called humanism came up in Italy that promoted the idea that man was the centre of his own universe, and people should embrace human achievements in philosophy, education, classical arts, literature, and science.

In 1450, the invention of the Gutenberg printing press changed the dynamics of communication, and ideas were spread more quickly. The invention of the Printing Press changed the scene of Communication and Propaganda for all times to come.

In previous articles, I discussed the usage of Propaganda by Greek and Roman empires and philosophers. It may be mentioned that in 480 BCE Greek commander Themistocles, used a disinformation campaign to trap Xerxes into a naval battle at the Straits of Salamis. The strait was so narrow that the large Persian fleet could not manoeuvre. This helped the outnumbered Greeks defeat Xerxes. Alexander the Great is known for his art of propaganda for warfare and Roman king Julius Caesar was also exceptionally good at it and used propaganda for warfare. Pope Urban II also used religious propaganda to get support for the Crusade. On November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II made perhaps the most influential speech of the Middle Ages, giving rise to the Crusades by calling all Christians in Europe to war against Muslims in order to reclaim the Holy Land, with a cry of “Deus vult!” or “God wills it!”

Therefore, we can say that War and Propaganda have historic linkages and this trend is still going on.

Propaganda as a Communication tool has several definitions with multiple connotations and denotations but in simple word, this technique is for the dissemination of information, loaded arguments, rumours, half-truths and lies to influence the human mind.

Two major kinds of Propaganda had widely been used by the Greek and Roman Empires–Overt Propaganda and Covert Propaganda and both kinds had several types, techniques, dictions, tools and rules. These kinds were Overt Propaganda and Covert Propaganda.

Official announcements and usage of storytellers to inform people that King A has constructed Food Shelters (Langar Khana) because he loves (loved) his population or an announcement that King A has decided to hang whosoever will break State laws etc was Overt Propaganda. In this Propaganda — sender (the King or State) and the tool (storyteller or public announcer) are clear to the receiver (Public).

Now we can use the examples given above for Overt Propaganda for Covert Propaganda. King A hires a pious man who overtly is against the King. He says to people that King A is callous and he kills everybody who breaks laws made by King. Portraying “callous” was not something derogatory for King because every King was known as callous but fear of death is (was) injected in public if it breaks rules made by King. In this Propaganda, the sender is not King or his official men, rather the tool (sender) is a person who is not popular as a supporter of the King (rather against the King). Therefore, the receiver (people) will get the message as an independent judgement, not as a projected statement from King A. But in reality, King A has sent his message to the population covertly because the sender (pious man or philosopher) was not an open State tool.

If a Pious man says to the public that King A is constructing Food Shelters to make God or gods happy not for poor people. Even in this narration, the message is sent that King is constructing Food Shelters and he is fearful of God or gods. Since King A is obedient to God or gods, he will get support from the religious cadre of society.

Major tools of Propaganda in ancient times include:


Telling people that King A is Benevolent or in some cases Ruthless (if it is a time of purging opponents or uprisings etc) is an example of Suggestion. In the political arena; suggesting A is corrupt or B is better than A is also a Suggestion tool of propaganda.


No other King is better than (our) King A is a statement that propagandist tries to stimulate others to accept without challenge his own assertions because the population has no knowledge of other countries and other kings. Stimulation always needs a forceful statement without having any chance of asking a question.

The idea of using suggestion or stimulation as propaganda is (was) that it will lead the public to accept a proposition even though there are no logical grounds for accepting it and no data available for comparative study. Therefore propagandist has stimulated his statement to others without challenging his own assertions or acting as he wants them to do by making broad and positive statements, by presenting his statements in simple and familiar language.

Virtue-by-Association and Virtue-by-Heredity:

King was always portrayed as powerful, beautiful, belonging to high prestige family, having linage of blue-blooded family and having gifted power from gods. His companions were also portrayed as intelligent, noble, philosophers, etc.  This technique was used to snub the population psychologically that no common man can become King because “King is Born King” and he was sent by gods to rule common men. This technique had been very helpful to purge and subjugate intrigues and uprisings against Greek and Roman kings.


Another popular tool of Propaganda used during the Roman Empire was the usage of Art. The term “Imperial Propaganda” explains that Emperors used art in Rome between 30 BCE and 330 CE for establishing their power over an ever-expanding empire and to influence public opinion. Rulers used a variety of means including patronage of sculptures (Statue Makers) who always crafted faces of Kings and Queens beautiful, soft and innocent.

Ancient Techniques Propaganda
The appearance of a ruling elite figure has always been very important in political fields——-You always find best photos of rulers in newspapers

The objects (statues, painting, carving, frescos) from the Roman imperial period are often political statements reflecting the government, military, society, economy, and daily life. As a result of imperial objects being on display citizens also came to follow current fashions, artistic styles, and aspired to gain the social status necessary to showcase particular items. In addition to emperors and citizens promoting their own status, these forms of propaganda also helped to unify the empire, promote Pax Romana (Roman Peace), and inform Roman citizens of current events.

George Orwell in “All Art Is Propaganda” says:

“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”

An excellent Propagandist while producing any content, material, and performing art usually follows rules described by Orwell and these guidelines harvest a theme—- All Art Is Propaganda.

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