Early History

Censorship laws existed in ancient Rome and Greece more than 2,500 years ago; ancient societies in the Middle East and China also had censorship regulations. The role of censorship was to establish moral standards for the general population; civilizations that exercised it saw censorship as a means of helping the people by providing them with guidance.

The invention of movable type in the middle of the fifteenth century revolutionized the printing industry; it made more books available and helped literacy spread beyond just the most educated in soci-ety. A more literate public meant more need for censorship. The Roman Catholic Church released a list of Prohibited Books, or Index Librorum Prohibitorum, in 1559, the first of 20 such lists (the last was issued in 1948). This list included books deemed by the Church to be heretical. Authors such as Galileo were denounced, and some authors (such as Sir Thomas More) were put to death. Prohibitions were not only religious; in 1563, Charles IX of France issued a decree that all printed material required his special permission.

Nonetheless, it became harder to suppress information, and by the end of the seventeenth century there was a movement toward freedom of speech and the press. Sweden established a law guaranteeing freedom of the press in 1766, followed by Denmark in 1770. The newly formed United States put the First Amendment into its Constitution in 1787, and the French government moved in the same direction in 1789 at the dawn of its revolution.

Inside Early History