History of Advertising: Ancient History, Middle Ages and the Early Days

About the history of advertising, the early days including ancient Rome and Greece, the middle ages and the 1600s.


The 1st ads were vocal; i.e. street cries used by peddlers hawking their wares. Greeks advertised by shouting announcements of the sale of cattle and slaves. Printed advertisements also developed early. A 3,000-year-old ad from Thebes calls for the recovery of a slave: "... For his return to the shop of Hapu the Weaver, where the best cloth is woven to your desires, a whole gold coin is offered...."

In Rome, signs were pasted up proclaiming circuses and gladiator matches. Examples of poster advertising have also been found in Pompeii and Carthage.

In the Middle Ages, handbills and tacked-up notices invaded the advertising field, and they usually consisted of drawings as well as copy because few people could read. The signs advertised the goods of individual merchants. Street barkers were posted outside of shops. In Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, Autolycus sings: "Come, buy of me; come buy, come buy, buy, lads, or else your lasses cry."

The 1st newspaper appeared in England, The Weekly Newes, in 1622. The 1st advertisement in a newspaper is said by historian Henry Sampson to have been an ad for the return of a stolen horse.

In 1630, a Paris doctor opened a shop where you could post an ad for 3 sous; by the mid-1600s many such offices existed. This was the beginning of the centralization of advertising. These shops did not write ads or move ads out into external media like the modern advertising agency.

An ad appeared in a newspaper for Robert Turner's Dentifrice in 1661--brand names were coming into use.

During 1665, a bad year due to the plague, newspapers carried ads for preventatives and cures--Anti-Pestilential Pills, Incomparable Drink Against the Plague, The Only True Plague Water, Infallible Preventive Pills Against the Plague, and Sovereign Cordials Against the Corruption of the Air.

The London Gazette announced, in 1666, that it was going to print advertisements. Newspaper ads became the rage. By 1682, shopping guides were being published which consisted entirely of ads. In the 1700s, England was glutted with pasted-up notices and posters. London became jammed with large advertising signs announcing merchants' places of business. The signs became so numerous that Charles II proclaimed, "No signs shall be hung across the streets shutting out the air and the light of the heavens."

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