Propaganda 101 Supplemental: Build It And They Will Come (Around)

by Gene Howington,  Guest Blogger

The Parthenon

In the beginning, there was the word. And when addressing propaganda, the word was either persuade or coerce. This is the essential nature of propaganda: to change (or re-enforce if you are already sympathetic) your mind on a particular issue. As the first article showed, the most basic tool of propaganda is connotation/implication. Before venturing into the depths of the lingua tactical of propaganda, I thought it might be useful to illustrate some non-verbal and indirect methods of propaganda.

First we must realize that propaganda is the cultivation of an image. An image that relies upon idea(s) the speaker wants associated with certain people, organizations or actions. To that end, propaganda is essentially image control: seeking to create mental associations in the viewer be they emotional or rational and spreading that image/association through out a given populace.  Keep in mind that literacy was for the bulk of human history limited to specialists such as scribes and/or the upper class who could afford education.

Very few people in the ancient world could read, but most of them could see.  What better way to communicate the power of those who run a society to those who cannot read than by using a non-verbal symbol to send a message?  Perhaps a symbol like a great building or monument. Something that says “we’re here, this is what we are about, this is our place and look what we can do” to the great unlearned masses. This form of propaganda is also as old as civilization. You could argue that it is older than modern civilization, stretching back to the late Neolithic period.

A temple area with megalithic pillars at Göbekli Tepe.

Consider Göbekli Tepe, a set of Neolithic religious structures located in what is now southeastern Turkey.  At approximately 12,000 years old, Göbekli Tepe predates Egyptian culture by five or six thousand years. But is it propaganda? Let’s examine the basic criteria of propaganda as applied to this structure to see if it qualifies.

Carved relief of a lion at Göbekli Tepe.

Does it send a message? Yes. In its most basic form, it is a statement of religious ideology. At the deepest levels of the sites, many of the upright pillars are decorated with the nature based symbolics commonly found at Neolithic religious sites such as lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles and other predator and prey species. You can even see the message change over time as their religion changed. Moving up through the layers of the dig, newer decorations include human figures. As an aside, many archaeologists place considerable significance on this change in message taking it to mark the transition from a culture where nature inclusive of man is worshiped to a system of belief where man is elevated above nature.

Is it designed for public consumption? Yes. All the evidence points to Göbekli Tepe being a religious retreat. Being the only stone structure for many miles around at the time, I think it is safe to assume that it was not only known to the locals but to nomads and pilgrims of like minded worship.

Is the message one of persuasion and/or coercion? Yes. It can be interpreted as both. As persuasion, it is a statement of the ideals of their religion and the basic value of worshiping as the builders of Göbekli Tepe worshiped. As coercion, it was a statement of the power of their faith that they could build a massive structure from stone at a time when most people were either nomadic or living in small hunter/gatherer villages. To provide a bit of context, Göbekli Tepe predates the invention of pottery, metallurgy, writing and the wheel.  The complex also predates the Neolithic Revolution when archaeologists start seeing the beginnings of agriculture and animal husbandry. Look what we can do and what we’re about, indeed.

The Egyptians took this idea of buildings as propaganda to a whole new level. The scale of their building remains one of the great wonders of the world. The temples, pyramids and palaces they built were not just statements of faith or housing for the Pharaohs. They were projections of power for the ruling dynasties, often run as great public works projects to bolster the ancient Egyptian economy and as statements to the greatness of the Pharaohs. The ruling class went to great strides to out do one another as well. This trend of using architecture as a form of propaganda stretches back to the very beginning of the Egyptian dynasties.

The Pyramid of Djoser

In the 3rd Dynasty, the first of the pyramids were built by the Pharaoh Djoser and his commoner architect Imhotep.  Until that time, all of the Pharaohs had been buried in mastabas – rectangular flat roofed stone buildings. Imhotep’s innovation was to stack six mastabas of ever decreasing size to create the Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, a royal burial complex to the northwest of the then Egyptian capitol of  Memphis. This started a competition among the subsequent Pharaohs as to who could build the most impressive burial sites. They saw this as not only fulfilling their religious obligations, but as statements of personal power, each trying to make a greater statement to history about the glory of their rule. This practice pyramid building reaches a nadir with the 4th Dynasty Pharaoh Khufu building the Great Pyramid at Giza, the plateau used as a royal burial complex just outside of Cairo which was used in conjunction with the Valley of the Kings by the later dynasties.

The Great Pyramid of Khufu

However impressive the Great Pyramid is, the practice of building to project imperial power reached its full potential  with the 19th Dynasty Pharaoh Ramses II.  Instead of trying to compete for sheer size to send his message against the rather imposing legacy of Khufu, Ramses went for volume. He built a lot, by far more than any other Pharaoh, and he even took credit for buildings he didn’t build by literally having his mark carved on them. To give him credit, many of these buildings he co-opted for his greater glory Ramses was indeed responsible for massive additions to and an upgrades on.

Abu Simbel

In addition to his large burial complex, the Ramessuem at Thebes, Ramses is credited with building numerous temples, monuments and even entire cities.  The city of Pi-Ramesses was built to replace the capitol at Thebes. He is also credited with building a lavish tomb for his favored consort, Nefertari, and the temple complex at Abu Simbel which was an act of pure ego carved into the living stone of two mountains in southern Egypt.

Did these buildings send a message? Yes. The Pharaohs are Living Gods and their power over Egypt is absolute. Were they designed for public consumption? Without a doubt. Is the message one of persuasion and/or coercion? Yes. Look up at the great works of the Pharaohs in awe and despair for you will never be their equal. Unless you’re really special. Like the man who started the Egyptian architectural tradition, Imhotep. It should be noted that the man “who made all of this possible” was one of the few commoners in ancient Egyptian history to be accorded the status of godhood upon his death.

The Parthenon on the Acropolis

The Greeks were also great builders, but none of their buildings says propaganda quite like the Parthenon. Built nominally as a temple to the goddess Athena, the patron of the city-state of Athens, the Parthenon is located on the Athenian Acropolis – a rocky outcropping that dominates the skyline of Athens.  I say nominally built as a temple because the evidence tends to point to the fact that it was never really used as a temple by any given sect let alone the cult of Athena Polias (which was the official cult of Athena as patron of Athens).  In addition to serving as a display case for the massive statue of Athena crafted by Phidias, the Parthenon served primarily as a treasury. Does this building send a message? Yes. We are Athens and look to our glory. Was it designed for public consumption? Being on the most visually prominent spot in all of Athens in addition to being the largest Greek building of its time, the answer can only be a resounding yes. Is the message one of persuasion and/or coercion? Also a resounding yes as the building is a testament to both the glory of the Athenian patron goddess and the economic power of Athens.


Rome specifically and with great forethought used buildings as propaganda, especially in the provinces. It was, in fact, a key element in the projection of Roman power. Everywhere the Romans went, two things were sure to follow: stone roads and buildings. Think of the messages the provinces got when Rome built coliseums, market complexes, government buildings, military fortifications and aqueducts. Even in Gaul, modern France, where there was a sophisticated network of wooden roads built by the local Celts, Rome conquered and then Rome built and they built in stone. Europe is littered with the ruins of the projection of Roman power.  In  South Shields, England at Tyne & Wear, the Roman fort of Arbeia stands today (partially restored) as testament to how far Rome could project her power. Most of the provinces were the home of timber and thatch construction. The stone buildings of the Romans were sending a message that “Rome is here, get used to it, and we can build crazy things you can’t, by they way did you notice our well-organized professional military that came with them”. They were not only functional, but aimed to make an impression on the locals. The message was clearly a mix of both persuasion (look at the lovely bathhouse!) and coercion (nice fort you’ve got there).

The U.S. Supreme Court

Just so, consider the monuments and public buildings of the modern United States.  The Capitol building was partially burned by the British on August 24, 1814, during the War of 1812. To shore up confidence at home and to tell those Brits who was in charge here, the Capitol was not only reconstructed but expanded in the period from 1819 to 1826. Look at the style of construction of the Supreme Court and Congress. The Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, Mount Rushmore, they are all monuments to men who left their mark on history certainly, but what else do they say? Are they not projections of power and creating the image of a society as great as that of the Romans and Greeks whose architecture and scale they mimic?

There are clearly more ways to send a message than words alone.

What do you think?

Kudos to commentator Darren Smith for tangentially suggesting this supplemental topic.

~ submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

The Propaganda Series;

Propaganda 105: How to Spot a Liar

Propaganda 104 Supplemental: The Streisand Effect and the Political Question

Propaganda 104 Supplemental: The Sound of Silence

Propaganda 104: Magica Verba Est Scientia Et Ars Es

Propaganda 103: The Word Changes, The Word Remains The Same

Propaganda 102 Supplemental: Holly Would “Zero Dark Thirty”

Propaganda 102: Holly Would and the Power of Images

Propaganda 101 Supplemental: Child’s Play

Propaganda 101: What You Need to Know and Why or . . .

Related articles of interest;

Mythology and the New Feudalism by Mike Spindell

How about Some Government Propaganda for the People Paid for by the People Being Propagandized? by Elaine Magliaro

96 thoughts on “Propaganda 101 Supplemental: Build It And They Will Come (Around)”

  1. Wow I just saw about ten minutes of some movie. It was a bunch of cardinals in the Vatican and some priest had just killed the Pope and blah blah blah…not ordinarily the kind of movie I would watch, but I was just kinda stunned at the look of the Vatican! It’s definitely a piece of god propaganda, no doubt on that count.

  2. Slarti,

    Oh, I know about the forest. I figured the point had been made about buildings to the point that simply pointing out some domestic trees would allow others to see the forest for themselves (if they didn’t see it already). Even the layout of the streets in Washington is a form of propaganda – they circle around and point to the Capitol. Conclusions always work best when your audience reaches them themselves. We have a smart audience here. I have confidence in their ability to connect those dots, to mix a metaphor.

  3. Gene,

    I think you missed the forest for the trees regarding DC buildings and propaganda. From day one the entire city was explicitly intended to be propaganda–to humble foreign heads of state (at least if The West Wing is to be believed).

    Bron said:

    Here are the first 2 tenets of the Georgia Guide Stone:

    1.Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
    2.Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.

    Sounds like eugenics to me. In fact item 2 sounds pretty close to creating a master race, seems to me I have seen that in the history books but just cant seem to remember where I saw it.

    We are currently using 1.5 times the resources produced by the Earth every year. If we keep up this level of consumption (per capita) we will either endure a Malthusian catastrophe or reduce the number of people on the planet voluntarily. Which would you prefer? Personally, I’d prefer to bring our numbers under control by guiding reproduction wisely rather than disasters resulting in mass deaths (we are already experiencing mass extinctions), but maybe that’s just me…

    That stone should be pulverized and used for fill in septic fields.

    That seems to be the same sort of sentiment shown by the Taliban when they blasted stone buddhas thousands of years old off of the side of a mountain. Is that really the moral and intellectual company you’d like to be in?

    Good stewardship is an outcome of private property.

    Good stewardship is an outcome of property rights (private or otherwise). If a profit can be made by damaging someone else’s property, what mechanism in capitalism prevents companies from doing so? Expecting capitalism to naturally result in good stewardship rather than the amoral generation of profit is insane. You may worship at the altar of the cult of unfettered capitalism, but wiser people see it as one of many tools in the box–a hammer might be a useful tool, but you can’t do everything with it.

    It is funny how that works out, it is just natural to want to protect and sustain what you own. You dont have to be forced to do so, it is just in your best interest to do so.

    Although good stewardship of the resources we share is in all of our interest, unfettered capitalism never seems to take this into account, why is that? (maybe because there is no cost associated with ignoring it… and profit to be had!) We’ve seen over and over again that corporations will fight tooth and nail to avoid paying for the consequences of their actions unless they are forced to do so as well as the measurable improvements in air and water quality resulting from the Environmental Protection Act. Good stewardship is all about balance–something with which your blind worship of “all capitalism, all the time” is completely at odds.

  4. Ekeyra,

    Thanks for Jack Parsons. When I need a dream I’ll go there. No dissing there meant. Until we can manage ourselves we don’t deserve to polute and multiply, and won’t either, as I pointed out. In space, gravity rules. All else is ineffectual.

    But do tell me more on this:
    “I simply disagree on the source of the problem and therefore the conclusions i come to about the solution to those problems.” You got my attention, now say what your mystery is.

    And I did DIG the video. Could watch it 20 times but would not understand all the messages there. Too old.

    Each generation has to deal with its (ie current) problems.
    The older folks only want to hold onto their familiar ones—thus the generation fight.

    With this rapidly changeing world, how can anyone believe we should entrust it to people over 35 years. Or to the conformists.

    So how, again I ask, did you find this video, and does it represent a cult/culture now developing?

    Thanks for the stimulation.

  5. Woosty,
    Take a look at my link to the Aspis scientist, head of the NM scientist org. He spent it all trying to use the water in the solar system to power his rockets. He could produce the energy, but the mass was the water, andits use in sustaining life.

    Do take a look. It’s like the RWA book. Same relaxed and knowledgeable tone. You’ll enjoy it.
    The first you’ll see is a plan over the solar system with resources shown, including water.

  6. Idealist,

    If you want some truly eye opening stuff about america’s space program, do your homework about jack parsons and the people he liked to hang out with.

    “Point your finger in any direction and something will bite you. If it is not Big Oil, big pharma, big gov, big unemployment, big terror, big surveillance, big “don’t dare say a word” or you’re fired, sentenced, screwed and tattooed.”

    The funny thing is, I agree with most of the big picture problems that professor turley and the people on this blog point out. I simply disagree on the source of the problem and therefore the conclusions i come to about the solution to those problems.

  7. woosty:

    interesting building, I would say it is a cloud. I guess it is all in how you look at. The 911 explosion was not all around both buildings at the same time.

  8. “Man’s achievements rest upon the use of symbols. For this reason, we must consider ourselves as a symbolic, semantic class of life, and those who rule the symbols, rule us.” — Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity

    Skillful perpetrators of propaganda understand the use and misuse of symbols. Only a similar understanding by the intended target can make a citizenry out of an audience.

  9. “I know him by his nickname: Bitter Peirce. So long ago it is forgotten why.” — idealist707

    Perhaps you once read something like this:

    “I am a man of whom critics have never found anything good to say. When they could see no opportunity to injure me, they have held their peace.”

    Even paranoid geniuses sometimes have real enemies assiduously following their careers, determined to undermine them.

  10. “Peirce later changed the name of his philosophy to ‘pragmaticism,’ a term which he considered ‘ugly enough to be safe from kidnappers.'”


    I had totally forgotten that bon mot. Thanks for the reminder, MM.

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