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Vandalism is the conspicuous defacement or destruction of a structure or symbol. It can be done as an expression of contempt, creativity, or both. The term refers to the Germanic Vandals, who since the 17th century were incorrectly thought to have ruthlessly sacked the city of Rome in 455.

The term was coined in January 1794 during the French Revolution, by Henri Grégoire, constitutional bishop of Blois, in his report directed to the Republican Convention, where he used word Vandalisme to describe some aspects of the behaviour of the republican army.

Official vandalism

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Abu Simbel: an official portrait sculpture ritually defaced

Throughout history, the ritual destruction of monuments of a previous government or power has been one of the greatest symbols showing the attempt at transition of power (illustration, below left). In Rome damnatio memoriae ("damnation of his memory") was normally expressed by erasing the name of a hated individual from inscriptions and removing or replacing statues or replacing just their heads after their death and subsequent disgrace. Damnatio memoriae was effected after their death by the rivals and heirs of Caligula, Nero, Domitian, Commodus and Elagabulus. After the Emperor Caracalla had his co-Emperor Geta assassinated, all depictions or references to Geta were systematically destroyed as part of a damnatio memoriae. Faces and genitals of surviving Greek and Roman sculpture often show how they have been systematically attacked. In palimpsests, text has been washed off parchment that have been overwritten with new text; the existence of effaced manuscripts that were not subsequently overwritten reveals an element of vandalism in this process.

In Egypt, the return of the priests of Amun to power after the religious innovations of Akhenaten was accompanied by desecration of the pharaoh's tomb and the ritual obliteration of his image from temple reliefs and inscriptions. This is official vandalism.

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Kristallnacht vandalism, November 10, 1938

Recent cases of vandalism in this vein include the toppling and destruction of Soviet monuments after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Taliban destruction of Buddhist statuary in Afghanistan, and the well-known toppling of a Saddam Hussein statue by the multinational force in Iraq. In a country with an unpopular dictator, vandalism of the leader's portraits and other elements of his personality cult can be a common form of dissent.

Vandalism of Jewish properties and Jewish-owned businesses was part of the Nazi program, surfacing in the widespread, coordinated vandalism of Kristallnacht the night of November 9 – 10, 1938, when shopwindows were smashed all over Nazi Germany.

Vandalism as crime

Private citizens commit vandalism when they willfully destroy the property of others or the commons. This type of vandalism includes graffiti and is often committed by alienated youth.

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Graffiti tagging is an art with roots in vandalism

With the rise and development of the World Wide Web came unauthorized and undesired modification of Web pages. During the late 1990s, malicious young computer criminals took to vandalizing Web sites en masse, sometimes using worms to do so. (See, e.g., Hacked By Chinese! for one famous example.) Web forums, wikis, and other resources that are deliberately made publicly editable can also be vandalized. This is sometimes done by persons with a hostility toward the site or its operator, but also by Internet trolls or others simply expressing contempt for other people's work.

Some vandalism qualifies as culture jamming or sniggling — artistic statements in their own right that are illegal and destructive from the point of view of the legal system, but are done with a creative and artistic impulse. Graffiti art qualifies in some cases at least, also billboard liberation and crop circles.

See also

Vandalism is also an electronic music act from et:Vandalism fr:Vandalisme he:ונדליזם ja:ヴァンダリズム lb:Vandalismus lt:Vandalizmas nl:Vandalisme pt:Vandalismo simple:Vandal zh:破壞


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