BREAD AND CIRCUSES

Rome in the first two centuries AD faced an ever-widening gulf between the rich and the poor.

This once mighty empire had reached its geographic and military limits.

Its economy produced very little in the way of goods that were suitable for export.

The Slaves that had been acquired by conquest built most of its bridges, roads and aqueducts and had taken the jobs in farming, mining and construction.

As this cheap workforce gradually replaced Roman citizens, more and more aimlessly idle, unemployed and hungry people filled the streets of Rome.

The Emperors created the illusion of employment and part-time jobs, provided subsidised housing and doled out grain.

But they found that was not enough, even more was needed.

“A people that yawns is ripe for revolt.”

The Emperors announced more and more holidays until eventually, the Romans spent half their days attending gladiatorial games, public executions and chariot races.

Disgusted at what his countrymen had become, the satirist Juvenal accused his fellow citizens of selling out for bribes of “bread and circuses.”

The Romans did nothing to prove him wrong, and remained that way until two centuries later the empire was divided forever and Rome was sacked by the Visigoths.

Will we ever truly learn from history?

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