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Damnatio memoriae

Damnatio memoriae (Latin for "damnation of memory", in the sense of removed from the remembrance) was a form of dishonor which could be passed by the Roman Senate upon traitors or others who brought discredit to the Roman Empire. The sense of the expression and of the sanction is to cancel every trace of the person from the life of Rome, as if he never had existed, in order to preserve the honour of the Urbs; in a town that stressed the social appearance and respectability (and the pride of being a civis romanus) as a fundamental requirement of the citizen, it was perhaps the severest punishment.

Its most visible practice was in the condemnation of unpopular Emperors upon their deaths. The first emperor to be so condemned was Caligula (reigned 37-41), followed by Nero.

Upon passage of the damnatio memoriae, the person's name was stricken from any rolls of honor he may have appeared on (some of them were called memoriae), and in the case of the Roman Emperors so condemned, their statues were destroyed and their name removed from public buildings.

A famous example of the concept of damnatio memoriae in modern usage is the "vaporization" of "unpersons" in George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four ("He did not exist; he never existed"). The most famous recent example of damnatio memoriae in actual practice is the removal of Lavrenti Beria immediately after the death of his patron, Iosif Stalin.