On the Acta Diurna and Acta Senatus.
It is well known that there was a sort of journal at Rome analogous, perhaps, to our Gazette, but its nature and origin are somewhat uncertain. Suetonius (Caes. 20) has this account: “Inito honore, primus omnium instituit, ut tam Senatus quam populi diurna acta conficerentur et publicarentur,” which seems naturally to imply that the people's acta had been published every day before Caesar's consulship, and that he did the same thing for the acta of the senate. Before investigating these we must distinguish them from certain other acta:—(1) Civilia, containing a register of births, deaths, marriages, and divorces, called apographai by Polybius, and alluded to by Cicero (ad Fam. viii. 7) and others. These were at first intrusted to the care of the censors, afterwards to the praefecti aerarii. (2) Forensia, comprising lists of laws, plebiscites, elections of aediles, tribunes, &c. like the daemosia grammata at Athens, placed among the archives annexed to various temples, especially that of Saturn. (3) Iudiciaria, the legal reports, often called gesta, kept in a special tabularium, under the charge of military men discharged from active service. (4) Militaria, which contained reports of all the men employed in war, their height, age, conduct, accomplishments, &c. These were entrusted to an officer called librarius legionis (Veg. ii. 19), or sometimes tabularius castrensis, but so only in the later Latin. Other less strictly formal documents, as lists of cases, precedents, &c. seem to have been also called acta, but the above are the regular kinds.
The Acta Senatus or deliberations of the senate were not published until Caesar. They were kept jealously secret, as is proved by a quaint story by Cato, quoted in Aulus Gellius (i. 23). At all important deliberations a senator, usually the praetor as being one of the junior members, acted as secretary. In the imperial times this functionary was always a confidant of the emperor. The acta were sometimes inscribed on tabulae publicae (Cic. pro Sull. 14, 15), but only on occasions when it was held expedient to make them known. As a rule the publication of the resolution (Senatus Consultum) was the first intimation the people had of the decisions of their rulers. In the times of the emperors there were also acta of each emperor, apparently the memoranda of state councils held by him, and communicated to the senate for them to act upon. There appears also to have been acta of private families when the estates were large enough to make it worth while to keep them. These are alluded to in Petronius Arbiter (ch. 53). We are now come to the Acta Diurna, Populi, Urbana or Publica, by all which names the same thing is meant. The earliest allusion to them is in a passage of Sempronius Asellio, who distinguishes the annals from the diaria, which the Greeks call ephaemeris (ap. A. Gell. V. 18). When about the year 131 B.C. the Annales were redacted into a complete form, the acta probably begun. When Servius (ad. Aen. i. 373) says that the Annales registered each day all noteworthy events that had occurred, he is apparently confounding them with the acta, which seem to have quietly taken their place. During the time that Cicero was absent in Cilicia (62 B.C.) he received the news of town from his friend. Coelius (Cic. Fam. viii. 1, 8, 12, &c.). These news comprised all the topics which we should find now-a-days in a daily paper. Asconius Pedianus, a commentator on Cicero of the time of Claudius, in his notes on the Milo (p. 47, ed. Orell. 1833), quotes several passages from the acta, on the authority of which he bases some of his arguments. Among them are analyses of forensic orations, political and judicial; and it is therefore probable that these formed a regular portion of the daily journal in the latest age of the Republic. When Antony offered Caesar a crown on the feast of the Lupercalia, Caesar ordered it to be noted in the acta (Dio xliv. 11); Antony, as we know from Cicero, even entered the fact in the Fasti, or religious calendar. Augustus continued the publication of the Acta Populi, under certain limitations, analogous to the control exercised over journalism by the governments of modern Europe; but he interdicted that of the Acta Senatus (Suet. Aug. 36). Later emperors abridged even this liberty. A portico in Rome having been in danger of falling and shored up by a skilful architect, Tiberius forbade the publication of his name (Dio lvii. 21). Nero relaxed the supervision of the press, but it was afterwards re-established. For the genuine fragments of the Acta, see the treatise by Vict. Le Clerc, sur les journaux chez les Romains, from which this notice is taken.