The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

‘Bread and circuses’ could strike down America like it did Rome


The use of propaganda for diversion to an altered state of reality that is defined by the politicians and the political parties is not new. We even observe this concept of diversion in antiquity. 

Will Luden in “Bread and Circuses for the Masses – Not Just Ancient Rome” describes the Roman government policy as “Emperors, in the later stages of the Empire, used both free bread (and other food) and free entertainment to placate the larger number of people who were otherwise poorly served by their government.”

{mosads}Jose Azel’s definition in “The Politics of Bread and Circuses” provides an easily understood and concise description. “Bread and Circus” are “political strategies calculated to appease a population and divert attention from controversial or failed policies with populist welfare programs…” He further explains, “public support is thus created not through exceptional public service and effective public policy, but through diversion, and patronage.”

The Oxford Reference provides the following definition:

“A term referring to the potential of spectator sports and mass spectacle to divert populations or factions of a population away from the weightier business of politics and society.”

Can we find similarities between our current government’s actions and those of this Roman political policy of “Bread and Circus” during the waning years of the Roman Empire? In a column for Bloomberg, Alice Schroeder provides a list of specific conditions that existed during the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

Let us compare this list to current events:

“Rome in the first two centuries AD faced a yawning gulf between rich and poor.” 

Do we not face an ever increasing gap between the rich and the poor? Greg Rob reports in The Market Watch “Fresh research from the U.S. central bank shows the gap in income and wealth between the richest and the poorest households, already at historically high levels, continues to widen.”

“The mighty empire built on tribute reached its geographic limits.”

Is not American influence declining while our military forces are thinly stretched? CNN reflected the Pentagon’s concerns when it reported that “The extended deployment of military cargo jets and Navy ships to help with Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma relief efforts is causing military planners to scramble and recalculate future deployments all the way from Afghanistan to the Korean Peninsula, according to several defense officials familiar with discussions underway inside the Defense Department.”

“Its economy created few exportable goods.”

Are our manufacturing capabilities systematically transferred to foreign shores? In Dec 2016, Jard Berstein and Dean Baker, wrote in The Atlantic: “Trump’s intention in reducing the deficit is to boost factory jobs, since America’s trade imbalance exists almost exclusively in manufactured goods.”

“Slaves acquired by conquest built most of its bridges, roads and aqueducts and took jobs in farming, mining and construction.”

Are we not leaving the construction industry, the farming jobs and “those which no American wants to do” to a new class of effective slaves called the illegal alien? Bloomberg Businessweek reported “Dirty jobs are available, Americans won’t fill them” 

“As this cheaper labor replaced Roman citizens, idle, unemployed, hungry people filled the capital.”

Do we not have the idle and unemployed filling our urban centers? “The rising numbers of homeless people have pushed abject poverty into the open like never before and have overwhelmed cities and nonprofits” according to ABC News’ report “Homeless Explosion on West Coast Pushing Cities to Their Limits.”

“The Caesars created make-work and part-time jobs, subsidized housing and doled out grain.”

Do we not subsidize housing and provide food assistance to the idle and unemployed? Lydia DePillis reported for CNN Money: ”In October, the unemployment rate also reached its lowest rate since 2001, and the number of people working part-time because they can’t find full-time jobs is back to its pre-recession level.”

“The emperors added holidays until, eventually, the Romans spent half their days attending gladiator games, public executions and chariot races.”

Do we not have the government spending funds on baseball and football stadiums? How many governments run lotteries festering the hopes of the masses for a quick path to riches? “All together, the federal government has subsidized newly constructed or majorly renovated professional sports stadiums to the tune of $3.2 billion federal taxpayer dollars since 2000,” according to Brookings. And the Megamillions website stated the reasons for changing the rules of the game are “To accommodate public demand for more frequent large jackpots and bigger lower-tier prizes.”

“Disgusted, the satirist (and ancient Roman Poet) Juvenal accused his fellow citizens of selling out for bribes of ‘bread and circuses.’”

This is just a sample of evidence to support the elements in Alice Schroeder’s list. Would Juvenal view the current state of politics, politicians and government within today’s American society with a jaundiced eye mirrored in Rome’s policy of “Bread and Circus?”

John M. DeMaggio is a retired special agent in charge, and a retired captain in the U.S. Navy. The above is the opinion of the author and is not meant to reflect the opinion of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. government.

Tags Ancient Roman culture Bread and circuses Circus Homelessness Roman Empire

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

More White House News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video