Cato the Elder was a Roman Statesman during the Punic wars. (“Punic” means “Carthaginian” for reasons explained here.)  Cato would end all his speeches with the phrase “Carthago delenda est”, or some variant of it, which means “Carthage must be destroyed!”  Even if his speech was otherwise unrelated to Carthage, he would still say that by way of closing.

A few months ago, someone pointed out to me that this phrase was “the first hashtag”. I realized she was exactly right, and quickly took to Twitter to tell everyone I knew there who would get it.

It’s a great point.  This is exactly the right use of a rhetorical device.  I hate to say it, but one of Donald Trump’s most successful Twitter tactics is his use of the hashtag #MakeAmericaGreatAgain.  Of course, he stole that slogan from Reagan, so he can’t get full credit. But Reagan didn’t repeat it the way Trump does, and repetition is one of the oldest and most successful rhetorical tactics. The fact that Trump has access to Twitter just means his audience is that much bigger.

Imagine how Cato the Elder would have use Twitter if he’d had it: everything would have the hashtag #CarthagoDelendaEst. It would look good, it’s simple, and it communicates his point clearly and concisely. Social media makes it possible to broadcast political slogans to millions of people, but the logic behind them is the same as it ever was.

It just goes to show you that when it comes to political rhetoric, some things never change.

UPDATE: In the comments, Invisible Mikey points out that there is an even earlier “first hashtag”:”Know thyself“, said by Thales of Miletus


  1. Love the “first hashtag” idea! Just to show off, here’s an earlier one: Thales of Miletus (c. 624 – c. 546 BC), one of the seven Greek sages. His advice, “Know thyself” (Greek- γνῶθι σεαυτόν) was engraved on the front facade of the Oracle of Apollo temple at Delphi. It was taught to young philosophy students. They were encouraged to explore and support in debate a variety of different meanings for the axiom.

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