Why Roman and Iranian propaganda are so much alike

Iran has been heading their propaganda methods through sinking their teeth in Roman and WWII history. And it is doing so under the establishment of the Islamic Republic first and later under the ruling of Ayatollah Khamenei.

Julius Caesar was considered one of the great orators of his time and some of his works survive to this day. His war memoirs chronicled his exploits in Gaul and during one of the civil wars against Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (there are other memoirs but it is questioned whether Caesar himself wrote them). These narratives were written for the people of Rome and were important in shaping his public image.

Additionally, the fact that Caesar was successful and brought the wealth from his military conquests back to Rome inflated his public image. The plebeians (lower class roman) were not the most literate group of people but Caesar knew he need their support. Caesar apparently sent runners from his camps in Gaul to Rome. These runners would themselves read aloud Caesar’s writings in a public area. This allowed the illiterate citizens of Rome to hear the firsthand accounts of the war. These accounts must have made Caesar seem like quite the hero to the average citizen. Caesar needed support and he was doing an excellent job gaining it.

The military has always been an important component in keeping control particularly in ancient empires. The Roman legions were an efficient and deadly fighting force that was respected and feared by all. Maintaining control of the legions was important but was not the only component needed to stay in power. Caesar garnered favor by being an excellent general with a reputation of looking after his men. Roman citizenship was closely tied to military service. Only citizens of Rome could enlist in the legions and thus Roman patriotism was largely tied to the military.

This is one reason why Caesar’s Commentaries were effective. This deliberate focus on public opinion was important to Caesar and would in turn be a major component to solidifying Augustus’ rule. Augustus was a master statesman that took the propaganda lessons from Caesar and perfected them.

In the early 20th century there was radio, film, posters, and various other forms of public manipulation. Some of these outlets also serve as mediums for watchdogs in the modern era to keep politicians in check. Rome did not have such powerful counters to imperial rhetoric. Augustus instead made use of the methods of his time, which included some means that are still exploited today. The written word was perhaps the most obvious and useful tool at his disposal. Manipulating events to tell the story from his perspective and ensuring that this perspective would be considered historical fact is a tool rulers have used since people first began to write. 

Statues were also utilized to further solidify and spread his image. There were various images presented to the people of Rome: Augustus the military commander, Augustus the statesman, and Augustus the peace bringer/keeper. Monuments, coins, and other methods also existed to spread his image and ideals across the empire. Augustus’ control of the famed Roman Legions was critical in his ability to maintain power, but it was also the manipulation of the Roman people at all levels of society that enabled him to maintain that power.

So, you would ask yourself, what does this have to do with Iran?

Think back on what you have just read. Mass media started spreading havoc amongst Hitler`s regime, as during that time the radio started gaining popularity through spreading spiteful propaganda. All radio towers were placed strategically at cities that were meant to rise up against the “Jewish oppression” and meant to speak out for them taking Aryan`s jobs, amongst other reasons. The situation in Iran was no different before the raise of Ayatollah Khomeini during the rule of the Shah. While being exiled Ayatollah Khomeini he was exiled and in this duration he was sending recorded tapes that were to be broadcasted in the mosques in the meanwhile. Those played a major role of the popularization of the Khomeini’s figure which later allowed him to take the lead of the popular discontent against the Shah’s autocratic rule. This popularity permitted him to crush his opponents – leftists, reformists, secularists.

If we were to compare their posture we would see them both in a congratulating salute towards the people, with fingers stretched towards the right direction of rule. This, amongst with the masterful portrayal of either a “firm” leader who is standing (Octavian) and a submissive, true to the people one (Beheshti) set up two different images, both of which are skewed. Whilst cruelty is not overtly displayed, Iran`s leader gives off the feeling of “truthfulness”, “wisdom”, “mercifulness”, attributes that are not true, just keep on reading.

Augustus Octavian took on the name of his uncle Caeser and called himself later on Augustus Caeser Octavian, whilst trying to remind of the great empire before his own rule and adopting a name that already was connected with immense power and dictatorship. Much alike is the case of Ayatollah, which means “Sign of God” . Do you notice the similarities between the choices of “divine” and “dictatorship” –related names?

On the other hand, the military situation with Iran`s IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) corps is similar to the former mentioned one, as it controls the social, political, military and economic state of affairs all around the government and is directly under Khamenei`s rule. It is believed to be an army that is feared and respected in every aspect, even more so due to its closeness to the leader.

However, Iran is not only borrowing inspiration from before 31 B.C., but also from newly found propaganda outlets, such as mass media and television.

Now, about the media influence. It was only recently when the Iranian national television made Western news through its propagandist ways of censorship. Those are being limiting or suppressing of the publishing, dissemination, and viewing of certain information in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The majority of such censorship is implemented or mandated by the Iranian government and is seen as a measure to maintain the stability of the country. It also “helps” prevent unapproved reformist, counter-revolutionary, or religious proponents, peaceful or otherwise, from organizing themselves and spreading their ideals. So, Iran is able to resort to restrict the broadcasting of radio and television shows. Not only that but it also banned social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Telegram Youtube, where the majority of the suppressed civilians go to show their stance and own opinions and watch others`, as it is considered as a means of propagandist opinion.

Hossein Rajabian, an Iranian independent filmmaker, after finishing his first feature film, was arrested by Iranian security forces on 5 October 2013 outside his office [in Sari] alongside two musicians, and was transferred to Ward 2-A of Evin Prison where all three of them were held in solitary confinement for more than two months and were threatened with televised confessions. On 1 March 2010, Jafar Panahi was arrested and was later convicted for “assembly and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic,”. And his case is not the only one. Not to mention all the Iranian filmmakers, actresses or actors currently in exile.

In February 7th , Reuters condemned the Iranian government that arrested, imprisoned or executed at least 860 journalists in the three decades between the Islamic revolution in 1979 and 2009, according to documents leaked to media monitoring group Reporters Sans Frontieres. In addition, the data for the last 10 years is not even available, so we could only imagine that the regime has strengthened its control and the numbers are expected to be much higher. Also, a museum of torture was dedicated to showing the horrific acts of torture that were once carried out by the Shah’s regime. The Islamic Republic today exhibits similar features, as it aims to oppress and detain, torture and kidnap civilians and abuse them in the same ways and hold people in this same state, as it way before. As a result, many of them will not be able to stand up to the regime and be forced to stay in the same social situation, as many years ago.

So, then, the censorship issues that arise seem to be used massively towards silencing and diminishing independent activists and artists’ voices that speak out against the regime and ban of Western-influenced, or outside-Irani-media. And what are the broadcasted programs like, you ask? Well, they must all undergo approval and are made by Iranian subsidized media. 

So, do all of those strategies seem way too familiar to you? Is this not just one of the ways Iran is repeating history by backpeddling to Roman and WWII history, and especially whilst sucking on the influence of such absolute leaders?

You decide.