Rome: Bread and Circuses
For over 400 years Rome was the world's greatest republic and then, in a matter of decades it was gone, replaced by an empire. Instead of representative leaders elected by citizens, an emperor ruled with supreme executive power. What happened in between the two periods is a mess of political wrangling for power and influence.
After Rome vanquished Carthage and Greece to consolidate power in the Mediterranean around 130 B.C., she was threatened by internal unrest. Noble plebeian and patrician families allied to consolidate power in the Senate and to exclude all others. At the same time, large numbers of indebted farmers lost their land and flocked to Rome. They became a mob with the right to vote and little interest in politics. The ground was laid for a class-based struggle for power and the collapse of the Republic.
Soon, conflict flared between the aristocracy, lead by Sulla, and Marius, leader of the popular party. Sulla marched on Rome, bringing legionaries into Rome for the first time. It was a turning point. From then on, Rome's republic was at the mercy of the leader with the strongest army. As these leaders vied for political control, they bought off public approval through welfare provisions of bread and occasional wine as well as huge gladiatorial competitions. The policy has since become known as "Bread and Circuses." Despite the speeches of Cicero and others, over time the people of Rome lost interest in governing themselves and were content to slip quietly into their role as subjects of an emperor.
This section explores some of the cultural decay of Rome that allowed for the rise of bread and circuses policies. It also looks at modern examples of bread and circuses in America and hopes to remind readers of the dangers of government largess corrupting the soul of a nation.
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