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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: September 2013

14 - Information, Disinformation and Downright Lies: Portraying the Romans



It is not difficult to find images of the Romans and information about Ancient Rome in contemporary sources. There are cartoons, picture books for young children, Hollywood films, television comedies, websites, school textbooks and popular histories for the general public, children's toys and violent computer games. This chapter discusses why the Romans and their barbarian enemies have been badly or incorrectly portrayed so often and for so long. In the UK, school textbooks from the 19th century and throughout most of the 20th century have often failed to present what classical texts, archaeologists and historians have revealed. More than that, these early school resources hardly ever presented any evidence for the authors' bold statements of presumed fact. This chapter also discusses the role of information books for children and the use of cartoons in storybooks about the Romans.

Although schools had existed since the early medieval period in Britain there was little opportunity for most children, and especially for girls, to be educated until parish schools became more common in the 17th century. The Education Act of 1870 created the opportunity to build secular day schools all over the country. School Boards were established in most districts and built public elementary schools, many of which still survive today as primary schools. Many children were educated at home in the 19th century and this promoted the growth of suitable textbooks for mothers or governesses to use in the home. Several history textbooks were written by women, sometimes using pen names, which demonstrated publishers' understanding of the market available to them.