Rome: Bread and Circuses Quotes

"'It is scarcely possible that the eyes of contemporaries should discover in the public felicity the latent causes of decay and corruption. This long peace, and the uniform government of the Romans, introduced a slow and secret poison into the vitals of the empire. The minds of men were gradually reduced to the same level, the fire of genius was extinguished, and even the military spirit evaporated.' Now that no one buys our votes, the public has long since cast off its cares; the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things----Bread and Games!"

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"Ancient history no longer is taught in our public schools - or in many private schools. That is a pity in more ways than one; for it is easy enough to trace a parallel between the decline of the Roman culture - Romanitas - and the decay of our own culture. I think of how the population of the city of Rome shrank from some two million to some five thousand, at the city's nadir - the population that had lived on bread and circuses having been extinguished by malnutrition, so far as historians are able to say, during those years when the empire of the West collapsed altogether."

Russell Kirk
Lecture, #151
The Heritage Foundation
March 15, 1988
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"For who would embrace virtue herself if you stripped her of her rewards? Yet full oft has a land been destroyed by the vainglory of a few, by the lust for honour and for a title that shall cling to the stones that guard their ashes----stones which may be rent asunder by the rude strength of the barren fig-tree, seeing that even sepulchres have their doom assigned to them!"

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"Plays, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, pictures, and other such opiates, these were for ancient peoples the bait toward slavery, the price of their liberty, the instruments of tyranny. By these practices and enticements the ancient dictators so successfully lulled their subjects under the yoke, that the stupefied peoples, fascinated by the pastimes and vain pleasures flashed before their eyes, learned subservience as naively, but not so creditably, as little children learn to read by looking at bright picture books. Roman tyrants invented a further refinement. They often provided the city wards with feasts to cajole the rabble, always more readily tempted by the pleasure of eating than by anything else. The most intelligent and understanding amongst them would not have quit his soup bowl to recover the liberty of the Republic of Plato. Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, 'Long live the King!' The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them."

Etienne de La Boétie
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"In truth, there are three places in which the opinion and inclination of the Roman people may be ascertained in the greatest degree; the assembly, the comitia, and the meetings at the games and at exhibitions of gladiators. What assembly has there been of late years, which has not been a packed and bribed one, but a genuine one, in which the unanimity of the Roman people has not been very perceivable? Many assemblies were held concerning me by that most wicked gladiator, to which no one ever went who was unbribed, no one who was an honest man; no good man could endure to behold that ill-omened countenance, or to listen to that frantic voice."

Marcus Tullius Cicero
The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero, Vol. 3
G. Bell and Sons
1913 (trans.)
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"I do not imply that bread and circuses are evil things in themselves. Man needs material sustenance and he needs recreation. These needs are so basic that they come within the purview of every religion. In every religion there is a harvest festival of thanksgiving for good crops. And as for recreation, we need only recall that our word 'holiday' was originally 'holy day,' a day of religious observance. In fact, the circuses and games of old Rome were religious in origin. The evil was not in bread and circuses, per se, but in the willingness of the people to sell their rights as free men for full bellies and the excitement of the games which would serve to distract them from the other human hungers which bread and circuses can never appease. The moral decay of the people was not caused by the doles and the games. These merely provided a measure of their degradation. Things that were originally good had become perverted and, as Shakespeare reminds us, 'Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.'"

Admiral Ben Moreell
The Freeman, Volume: 6, Issue:1
January 1956
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"The natives of Europe were brave and robust. Spain, Gaul, Britain, and Illyricum supplied the legions with excellent soldiers, and constituted the real strength of the monarchy. Their personal valour remained, but they no longer possessed that public courage which is nourished by the love of independence, the sense of national honour, the presence of danger, and the habit of command. They received laws and governors from the will of their sovereign, and trusted for their defence to a mercenary army. The posterity of their boldest leaders was contented with the rank of citizens and subjects. The most aspiring spirits resorted to the court or standard of the emperors; and the deserted provinces, deprived of political strength or union, insensibly sunk into the languid indifference of private life."

Edward Gibbon
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
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"In sum, we would do well to rediscover the Empire of Reason, if we are to place ourselves beyond the deadening influence of venal popular entertainment. The best personal antidote for mindless rock 'n' roll is cultivating an active interest in classical and other forms of elevating music. The best defense against the smog of propaganda-as-entertainment is immersion in the great books of the past. And the surest way to escape the rip tide of media-promoted immorality is to recommit ourselves to the moral virtues and family values of a more civilized age, an age that may yet be revived if we do not entertain ourselves into oblivion."

Steve Bonta
The New American, Vol. 19, No. 3
February 10, 2003
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"There was - there was once such virtue in this republic, that brave men would repress mischievous citizens with severer chastisement than the most bitter enemy."

Marcus Tullius Cicero
The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero
Henry G. Bohn
1856 (trans.)
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Bonta examines how the pursuit of self gratification, which formed the foundation of the "bread and circuses" policy, weakened the civic values that formed the foundation of the Roman Republic. Building upon this point, he argues that entertainment in the modern world poses a similar...

Connor focuses on the larger impact of modern news coverage which often overemphasizes entertainment news and celebrity gossip (think Michael Jackson), while ignoring weightier issues of policy. Connor writes that, like the Romans, Americans have been distracted by entertainment and...

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Moreell writes in 1956 of the dangerous direction America's elected representatives, Republican and Democrats, are taking and how it resembles the direction Rome took, which resulted in the fall of the Republic and eventually the fall of the Empire.

He concludes that there are four steps...

Analysis Report White Paper

"La Boétie's essay against dictators makes stirring reading. A clear analysis of how tyrants get power and maintain it, its simple assumption is that real power always lies in the hands of the people and that they can free themselves from a despot by an act of will unaccompanied by any gesture of violence."

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Paige explores modern sports in America and its comparisons to Ancient Rome.

J. Rufus Fears lectures on the greatness of the Roman Empire and the lessons the Romans continue to teach to this day.


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In the first of a new three-part Sunday Supplement series, 'The Gibbon Test...

Primary Document

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"When, O Catiline, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now? Do not the nightly guards placed on the Palatine Hill—do not the watches posted throughout the...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"If, O Vatinius, I had chosen to regard merely what the unworthiness of your character deserved, I should have treated you in a way that would have been very pleasing to these men, and, as your evidence could not, on account of the infamy of your life and the scandal of your private conduct, be possibly...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"That which was above all things to be desired, O judges, and which above all things was calculated to have the greatest influence towards allaying the unpopularity of your order, and putting an end to the discredit into which your judicial decisions have fallen, appears to have...

This excerpt includes the famous scene of Caesar's murder in the Senate, continuing to describe how the senators worked to placate the populace immediately afterwards by hosting...

Appian was a Greek historian writing about the civil war which ended with the fall of the Republic. This excerpt recounts the political corruption present in Rome around 50 B.C....

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"If any one of you, O judges, or of these who are present here, marvels perhaps at me, that I, who have for so many years been occupied in public causes and trials in such a manner that I have defended many men but have prosecuted no one could now on a sudden change my usual purpose, and descend to act as...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"...It was desirable above all things for Marcus Scaurus, O judges, to return (as he has always been most especially anxious and attentive to do) the dignity of his race, and family, and name, without incurring the hatred of any one, and without either giving offence to or receiving annoyance from

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"If there is any natural ability in me, O judges,—and I know how slight that is; or if I have any practice as a speaker,—and in that line I do not deny that I have some experience; or if I have any method in my oratory, drawn from my study of the liberal sciences, and from that careful training to which I...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"If shameless impudence had as much power in the forum and in the courts of law, as audacity has in the country and in desolate places, then Aulus Caecina would now, in this trial, yield to the impudence of Sextus Aebutius as much as he has already yielded to his audacity in committing deeds of violence. But...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"I have observed, O judges, that the whole speech of the accuser is divided into two parts, one of which appeared to me to rely upon, and to put its main trust in, the inveterate unpopularity of the trial before Junius; ... the other, just for the sake of usage, to touch very lightly and diffidently On the...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic.

"If the authority of those who are advocates in a person's defence be of any weight, the cause of Lucius Cornelius has been defended by the most honourable men; if their experience is to be regarded, it has been defended by the most skillful lawyers; if we look to their ability, by the most eloquent of orators; or if it is their...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic.

"In all causes of more than ordinary importance, O Caius Caesar, I am accustomed, at the beginning of my speech, to be more vehemently affected than either common custom or my own age appears to require. And in this particular cause I am agitated by so many considerations, that in proportion as my fidelity to my friend inspires me with...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic.

"It is a new crime, and one never heard of before this day, O Caius Caesar, which my relation Quintus Tubero has brought before you, when he accuses Quintus Ligarius with having been in Africa; and that charge Caius Pansa, a man of eminent genius, relying perhaps on that intimacy with you which he enjoys, has ventured to confess....

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"What I entreated of the immortal gods, O judges, according to the manners and institutions of our ancestors, on that day when, after taking the auspices in the comitia centuriata, ... I declared Lucius Murena to have been elected consul,—namely, that that fact might turn out gloriously and happily for me and...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"...For I defend Marcus Fonteius, O judges, on this ground, and I assert that after the passing of the Valerian law, from the time that Marcus Fonteius was quaestor till the time when Titus Crispinus was quaestor, no one paid it otherwise. I say that he followed the example of all his predecessors, and that...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"Formerly, O judges, I had determined to conduct this cause in a different manner, thinking that our adversaries would deny that their household was implicated in such a violent and atrocious murder. Accordingly, I came with a mind free from care and anxiety, because I was aware that I could easily prove that...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"Although I am afraid, O judges, that it is a base thing for one who is beginning to speak for a very brave man to be alarmed, and though it is far from becoming, when Titus Annius Milo himself is more disturbed for the safety of the republic than for his own, that I should not be able to bring to the cause a...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"When, O judges, I saw that on account of the eminent and singular good faith of Cnaeus Plancius, shown in taking care of my safety, so many excellent men were favourers of his cause, I felt no ordinary pleasure, because I saw that the recollection of what happened at the time of my necessities was pleading...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"The two things which have the greatest influence in a state,—namely, the greatest interest, and eloquence, are both making against us at the present moment; and while I am awed ... by the one, O Caius Aquillius, I am in fear of the other:—I am somewhat awed, apprehending that the eloquence of Quinctius...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"... He, forsooth, excellent man, and of singular integrity, endeavours in his own cause to bring forward his account-books as witnesses. Men are accustomed to say.... Did I endeavour to corrupt such a man as that, so as to induce him to make a false entrance for my sake? I am waiting till Chaerea uses this...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"I imagine that you, O judges, are marvelling why it is that when so many most eminent orators and most noble men are sitting still, I above all others should get up, who neither for age, nor for ability, nor for influence, am to be compared to those who are sitting still. For all these men whom you see...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"I should have been very glad, O judges, if Publius Sulla had been able formerly to retain the honour of the dignity to which he was appointed, and had been allowed, after the misfortune which befell him, to derive some reward from his moderation in adversity. But since his unfriendly fortune has brought it...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"If, O conscript fathers, I return you thanks in a very inadequate manner for your kindness to me, and to my brother, and to my children, (which shall never be forgotten by us,) I beg and entreat you not to attribute it so much to any coldness of my disposition, as to the magnitude of the service which you...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"Many things, O priests, have been devised and established with divine wisdom by our ancestors; but no action of theirs was ever more wise than their determination that the same men should superintend both what relates to the religious worship due to the immortal gods, and also what concerns the highest...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"1. Although, O Romans, your numerous assembly has always seemed to me the most agreeable body that any one can address, and this place, which is most honourable to plead in, has also seemed always the most distinguished place for...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"In beardless youth
[The whole of the Propontis and of the Hellespont will therefore come under the power of the praetor; the whole coast of the Lycians and Cilicians will be advertised for sale; Mysia and Phrygia will be subjected to the same conditions ...]
The decemviri will sell the...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"1. Yesterday, O conscript fathers, when I was greatly moved by the thoughts of your dignity, and of the great attendance of the Roman knights to whom a senate was given, I thought myself bound to check the shameless impudence of Publius Clodius, when he was hindering the cause of the...

[Bread and circuses reference in bold.]

The Vanity of Human Wishes

In all the lands that stretch from Gades to the Ganges and the Morn, there are but few who can distinguish true blessings from their opposites, putting aside the mists of error. For when does Reason direct our desires or our fears? What project do we form so auspiciously that...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded. "Before, O conscript fathers, I say those things concerning the republic which I think myself bound to say at the present time, I will explain to you briefly the cause of my departure from, and of my return to the city. When I hoped that the republic was at last recalled to a proper respect for your wisdom and for...

The link will take you to an excellent digital copy of Gibbon's work. It is broken down by volume and chapter. Very digestible.

"Marcus Claudius Marcellus was descended from the most illustrious families at Rome, and had been consul with Servius Sulpicius Rufus; in which office he had given great offence to Cæsar by making a motion in the senate to deprive him of his command; and in the civil war he espoused the side of Pompeius, and had been present at the battle of Pharsalia, after which he...

"Marcus Cœlius was a young man of the equestrian order, and had been a sort of pupil of Cicero himself; and was a man of very considerable abilities. When a very young man, he had distinguished himself by prosecuting Caius Antonius, who had been Cicero's colleague in his consulship; and after that, by prosecuting Lucius Atratinus for bribery and corruption. Out of revenge for this last...

"Publius Sextius, when tribune of the people, had been one of those who had exerted themselves most strenuously to promote Cicero's recal, and had shown himself most devoted to his interest, though some coolness had sprung up between them afterwards, owing to Sextius's thinking that Cicero was not sufficiently sensible of his obligations to him. Having, however, become very obnoxious to all...

"This speech was delivered about the middle of the year of the consulship of Cnæus Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus, and Lucius Marcius Philippus, a.u.c. 698. Before the new consuls were elected, the senate assembled to deliberate on what provinces should be allotted to them on the expiration of their year of office. The provinces about which the question really was were the two Gauls which...

Cicero was critical of moves against the Republic. His warnings went unheeded.

"That which I requested in my prayers of the all-good and all-powerful Jupiter, and the rest of the immortal gods, O Romans, at the time when I devoted myself and my fortunes in defence of your safety, and tranquillity, and concord,—namely, that if I had at any time preferred my own interests to your safety,...


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