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The Decline of an Empire: Bread & Circuses

The Roman poet, Juvenal, wrote about an empire whose populace had lost interest in anything remotely related to civic duty, honor, or decency; a populace whose sole interest was in personal benefit and entertainment. He wrote of a government who appeased that population by providing them with “bread and circuses”.

The socio-political elite of the time gave free wheat to its citizenry and produced costly games to distract them from examination of the elite’s own intrigues - hence the phrase, "panem et circenses." Make the population fat and docile, they figured, and the elite could gain and maintain socio-political power. But the real problem was not with the elite’s cynical ploy, but rather with a populace that did not see that ploy for what it was.

In his Satire X, The Roman Poet, Juvenal, wrote:

“... Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.” (Juvenal, Satire 10.77-81)

I wonder: did Juvenal write about Rome or did he peer into a crystal ball to write about a future empire founded on a shore separated from his home by some 4,000 miles and 2,000 years?

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