Are statues and monuments the modern-day equivalent of an Instagram highlight reel?
by Esme Kroese | 13 November 2021
1st – 2nd Century AD. Augustus of Primaporta. Marble. 2.08 m height. Vatican Museum: Vatican.
Nearly all of us today have a social media app of some type. If it is not Instagram, it is Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, WhatsApp, or Facebook Messenger. On many of these we are constantly fed a highlight reel of all the things that everyone has been up to, but we rarely see the negative or unfortunate moments. Say your mate Carol drops a bottle of wine in Lidl, and it smashes and knocks down several bottles of wine, creating an expensive and embarrassing avalanche of booze – this is not something she posts on her Instagram story for the world to see.
However, this concept of dwelling on only one’s positives is not as ‘new age’ and tech savvy as we may think. If we glance back in history, we can see many historical figures using art and sculpture as a way of emphasising their own successes and victories. For example, we have the sculpture of Augustus of Prima Porta that highlights his own youthful power and prestige as the first emperor after the fall of the republic. He looks in his early twenties yet in the 1st century AD, when the sculpture was created, Augustus was pushing nearly 80 years old. Like one of the Instagram filters we use today, he disguises his age through a sculptural representation of himself in line with the expectations of his people, depicting himself in the best light and style possible.
Arguably the King of ‘fake news’ and ‘highlight reels’ of the ancient age is Ramesses II. Ramesses II ruled between 1279-1213 BC and was part of the 19th dynasty of Egyptian Pharaohs. His family was new to the throne which meant he quickly wanted to build a public image and to increase his power as ruler when he came to the throne at the age of 24. However, he may have taken this too far, as he is recorded as causing the earliest account of ‘fake news’ in history due to his desire to hide his defeat in battle. In1274 BC Ramesses fought against the Hittites in the Battle of Kadesh to expand his wealth and gain further resources. However, it did not go to plan. After he had captured two Hittite soldiers (who were actually spies who provided the Egyptians with incorrect information), he attempted to split his troops and ambush his enemies. Yet his troops were unsuccessful since the Hittites already knew they were coming, and the divided forces meant that they were easily overpowered by the Hittite army. Ramesses blamed his troops for the failure and, having negotiated a truce with the Hittite leader, returned to Egypt. However, when he returned (there was no BBC News in those days to broadcast his defeat), no one knew he had lost the conflict. So, like a true optimist, he poured both half full glasses of water into a jug and said he won. He even constructed temple monuments and inscribed hieroglyphs on the walls about his success in this battle, including those seen at the Temple of Karnak, in which the scene of the battle and Ramesses II victory is depicted on the outer walls of the Hypostyle Hall.
These monuments of victory were especially powerful – when declarations of successful battles were inscribed on walls and monuments in hieroglyphs, his subjects believed his claims as the words of their Pharoah who was a living god. There are even letters between him and the Hittites asking for objects that had Hittite cultural associations, which many historians such as Dr Campbell Price believe were intended as examples of tributes given by this ‘dominated’ people.
So, the nature of highlighting the positives and creating ‘fake news’ is not a new concept. It has happened since ancient Egyptian times. However, the mediums in which one experiences these positive, sometimes inaccurate moments have changed, statues substituted by Snapchat and iconography swapped for Instagram. It is now so much easier to use these apps to misrepresent reality without any artistic skill. Therefore, it is essential that we continue to question and confirm such facts in order to interpret the ‘truth’ and inform our decisions and actions, as ‘fake news’ is a practice that has been around for a long time.
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Jenner, Greg “ Your Dead to Me – Ramesses the Great.”. BBC Radio 4, September 2021. Podcast audio. Accessed 12 September 2021. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p09tvhv8.
Kerrigan, Michael. “ Battle of Kadesh”. Brittanica, March 2017. https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Kadesh.
Allais, Lucia. “Integrities: The Salvage of Abu Simbel.” Grey Room, no. 50 (2013): 6–45. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23360985.
Dorman, Peter F. ‘Karnak’. Brittanica, November 2019.
19th dynasty. The Younger Memnon (Sculpture of Ramesses II). Granodiorite and Pink Granite. Height: 266.80 centimetres Width: 203.30 centimetres. British Museum : London. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/Y_EA19.
1st – 2nd Century AD. Augustus of Primaporta. Marble. 2.08 m height. Vatican Museum: Vatican. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/ancient-mediterranean-ap/ap-ancient-rome/a/augustus-of-primaporta
19th Dynasty. The Younger Memnon (Statue of Ramesses II). Granodiorite and red granite. Height 266.80 cm, width 203.30 cm. British Museum : London.