Publication History:

Place of Publication: Rome, Italy (capital of the Roman Empire until its move to Constantinople)

Frequency: Possibly daily

Volume and Issue Data: Beginning 59 B.C. to circa A.D. 222

Size and Format: Variable; handwritten on stone tablets, metal (lead plates), papyrus and/or vellum/parchment, or early bulletin boards

Editor/Publisher:  Unknown, variable

Title Changes and Continuation: None

General Description and Notes:

These are among the earliest examples of a regularly published proto-newspaper.

According to media historian Mitch Stephens, the Acta were one of several early forms of news publication:

Rome had a particularly sophisticated system for circulating written news, centered on the acta — daily handwritten news sheets, which were posted by the government in the Roman Forum from the year 59 B.C. to at least A.D. 222 and which were filled with news of such subjects as political happenings, trials, scandals, military campaigns and executions. China, too, had early government-produced news sheets, called the tipao, which were first circulated among officials during the Han dynasty (202 B.C. to A.D. 221) and were printed at some point during the T’ang dynasty (618 to 906). (Stephens, “History of Newspapers,” for Collier’s Encyclopedia)

Acta Diurna (Latin: Daily Acts sometimes translated as Daily Public Records) were daily Roman official notices, a sort of daily gazette. They were carved on stone or metal and presented in message boards in public places like the Forum of Rome. They were also called simply Acta or Diurna or sometimes Acta Popidi or Acta Publica.

The first form of Acta appeared around 131 B.C. during the Roman Republic. Their original content included results of legal proceedings and outcomes of trials. Later the content was expanded to public notices and announcements and other noteworthy information such as prominent births, marriages and deaths. After a couple of days the notices were taken down and archived (though no intact copy has survived to the present day).

Sometimes scribes made copies of the Acta and sent them to provincial governors for information. Later emperors used them to announce royal or senatorial decrees and events of the court. Tacitus and Suetonius apparently used these Acta as sources of information about the empire’s early emperors in their histories of Rome.

Other forms of Acta were legal, municipal and military notices. Acta Senatus were originally kept secret, until then-consul Julius Caesar made them public in 59 B.C. Later rulers, however, often censored them.

Publication of the Acta Diurna stopped when the seat of the emperor was moved to Constantinople. (From Wikipedia)

Acta Diurna’s state-appointed reporters, called “actuarii,” gathered information on events ranging from wars and legal decisions to births, deaths, and marriages. (From the World Association of Newspapers)

Information Sources:

Bibliography: Leclerc, Des journaux chez les Romains (1838); Renssen, De Diurnis aliisque Romanorum Actis (1857); Hubner, De Senatus Populique Romani Actis (1860); Gaston Boissier, Tacitus and other Roman Studies (Eng. trans., W. G. Hutchison, 1906), pp. 197-229  (From Classic Encyclopedia [11th ed.,  Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911]); C.T. Cruttwell, A History of Roman Literature (1877), pp. 206-207; Mitch Stephens, A History of News (1996); Mitch Stephens, “History of Newspapers,” for Collier’s Encyclopedia.

Locations:  No known genuine extant fragments


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