History of Censorship

History of Censorship

Origins of Censorship

453 BC

The origin of the term censor can be traced to the office of censor established in Rome i 443 BC. In Rome, as in the ancient Greek communities, the ideal of good governance included shaping the character of the people. Hence censorship was regarded as an honorable task.

Socrates censored

399 BC

Socrates was sentenced to drink poison in 399 BC for his corruption of youth and his acknowledgement of unorthodox divinities.

First example of censorship in China

300 BC

In China, the first censorship law was introduced in 300 AD.

first mention of free speech


Free speech, which implies the free expression of thoughts, was a challenge for pre-Christian rulers. It was no less troublesome to the guardians of Christianity, even more so as orthodoxy became established. To fend off a heretical threat to Christian doctrine church leaders introduced helpful measures, such as the Nicene Creed, promulgated in 325 AD. This profession of faith is still widely used in Christian liturgy today. As more books were written and copied and ever more widely disseminated, ideas perceived as subversive and heretical were spread beyond the control of the rulers. Consequently, censorship became more rigid, and punishment more severe.

First post office established


First established in France in 1464, the postal service soon became the most widely used system of person-to-person and country-to-country communication.

Censorship of Newspapers

1700 - 1800

In the 18th century, the press in most of Europe was frequently subject to strict censorship.


1800 - 1950

during the 19th and most of the 20th century, public concern for offensive literature did not subside. Public libraries were expected to act as the benevolent guardians of literature, particularly books for young readers. Consequently this gave teachers and librarians license to censor a wide range of books in libraries, under the pretext of protecting readers from morally destructive and offensive literature.

Censorship in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

1855 - 1917

The Russian empire had a long tradition of strict censorship and was slow to adopt the changes that central European countries had implemented a century before. Censorship reforms were started in a single decade of tolerance, from 1855 to 1865 during the reign of Tsar Alexander II. There was a transition from legislation on pre-censorship (determining arbitrarily in advance what may or may not be permitted) to a punitive system based on legal responsibility. During this decade the press enjoyed greater freedom and more radical ideas were voiced. Nevertheless censorship laws were re-imposed in 1866 practically eliminating the basic ideas of the reform. Only half a century later the law of 1905-1906 abrogated pre-censorship. Finally, all censorship was abolished in the decrees of April 27 1917 that the Temporary Government issued.

Nazi book burning

1930 - 1940

Numerous book pyres were enthusiastically lit by the Hitler Jugend, the young members of the fanatical Nazi movement, growing stronger and gaining ever more power in Austria and Germany during the 1930s. In order to cleanse the minds of people and society any book written by a Jewish author, communist or humanist, was fed to the flames.

Apartheid censorship in South Africa

1950 - 1994

To uphold its cruel policy of racism, the Apartheid regime in South Africa (1950-1994) employed severe censorship, torture and killing. The aim was to strangle the South African extra-parliamentary liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC), and apparently to erase public memory. In this respect, the prohibitive policies of the Apartheid regime strongly resemble that of the USSR.

"Those that live by the pen shall die by the sword"

1993 - 1995

With these words the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) declared war on the media in Algeria, instigating one of the most chilling contemporary examples of the deliberate murder of the messenger. From May 1993 until the end of 1995, 58 editors, journalists and media workers were systematically executed; nine were murdered in 1993, 19 in 1994 and 24 in 1995, with the intent of punishing and scaring journalists from acting as mouthpieces for the Algerian authorities. This slaughtering was triggered by the conflict that exploded when the Algerian army disrupted the election of the National Assembly in 1992 to prevent what seemed to be the certain victory of the fundamentalist party Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). The Algerian press, having long suffered rigorous censorship, not least during French colonial rule, was caught in the crossfire between the authorities and the opposition.