Marketing atrocity: Ancient Assyrians would have understood Islamic State’s methods

The Roman Republic would have, too

“Within sight of the ISIS-controlled city of Mosul lie the ruins of the great Assyrian capital at Nineveh. The Assyrians of that era were masters at the art of atrocity marketing. The concept of publicizing horrific cruelty to cow and intimidate subjects or opponents has a long history, and only fell out of style relatively recently (and not everywhere). Lacking the 21st-century media tools ISIS possesses, earlier peoples took a more old-school approach. The Assyrians used stone as the vehicle for their marketing of atrocity.
“I built a pillar over his city gate and I flayed all the chiefs who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skin. Some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes, and others I bound to stakes round about the pillar…And I cut the limbs of the officers, of the royal officers who had rebelled…Many captives from among them I burned with fire, and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their noses, their ears, their fingers, of many I put out the eyes. I made one pillar of the living and another of heads, and I bound their heads to tree trunks round the city. Their young men and maidens I burned in the fire.”
That is the boasting of an Assyrian king who lived almost 3,000 years ago, named Ashurnasirpal II. He was one of many Assyrian monarchs in the so-called “Biblical” era of history that enforced their rule with almost unbelievable brutality.
The cruelty of the Assyrian Empire’s actions were publicized via text, colored wall paintings and carvings in stone. Historian Arthur Ferrill compared them to photos of Nazi concentration camps, and said they had few parallels in history. Artwork showing the skin being cut off of living captives, the impaling of prisoners on stakes, mass forced deportations of conquered peoples, captives being burned or having their tongues torn out and everywhere piles upon piles of human heads are highlighted. One can only imagine what Ashurnasirpal might have done had he possessed video technology.
But the Assyrians were more the norm than the exception throughout most of world history. The ancient Romans, for example, also knew how to make a point by marketing atrocities. One of their citizen-generals, Marcus Crassus, famously had the captured slaves that survived the famed Spartacus revolt crucified along the Appian Way. The 6,000 victims died suspended on either side of the busy Roman road, at evenly spaced intervals. The bodies were left in place for months. Is this the ancient equivalent of posting horrifyingly violent acts on the Internet? Or is it a twisted, bloody version of a modern freeway billboard campaign? It certainly wasn’t unusual. Publicized cruelty was all the rage throughout most of human history, and it was common in most places until quite recently.”