Bread and circuses

Bread and circuses

"Bread and circuses" (or Bread and games) (from Latin: "panem et circenses") is an ancient Roman metaphor for people choosing food and fun over freedom. It often appears in commentary that accuses people of giving up their civic duty and following whichever political leader offers to satisfy their decadent desires.


This phrase originates in "Satire X" of the Roman poet Juvenal of the late 1st and early 2nd centuries. In context, the Latin phrase "panem et circenses" (bread and circuses) is given as the only remaining cares of a Roman populace which has given up its birthright of political freedom:

: ... 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
: "... iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli" : "uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim": "imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se": "continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat,": "panem et circenses. ...": (Juvenal, Satire 10.77–81)

Juvenal here makes reference to the Roman practice of providing free wheat to some poor Romans as well as costly circus games and other forms of entertainment as a means of gaining political power through populism. The "Annona" (grain dole) was begun under the instigation of the "popularis" politician Gaius Sempronius Gracchus in 123 BC; it remained an object of political contention until it was taken under the control of the Roman emperors.

A reference in the "The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy" (1993) states that Juvenal displayed his contempt for the declining heroism of his contemporary Romans in this passage. [Hirsch, Kett, & Trefil (1993). "The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy". Houghton Mifflin.] Spanish intellectuals between the 19th and 20th centuries complained about the similar "pan y toros" ("bread and bullfights"). It appears similarly in Russian as "хлеб и зрелище" ("bread and spectacle").

ee also

* List of Latin phrases
* Prolefeed

ources and notes

*Potter, D. and D. Mattingly, Life, Death, and Entertainment in the Roman Empire. Ann Arbor (1999).
*Rickman, G., The Corn Supply of Ancient Rome Oxford (1980).

Further reading

* [ Juvenal's 16 "Satires" in Latin] , at The Latin Library
* [ Juvenal's first 3 "Satires" in English]

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