Appetite for ‘bread and circuses’ may lead to decline
by Nelson Price
February 17, 2013 12:28 AM | 1399 views | 2 2 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In life we can learn from the mistakes of others or make our own mistakes in learning. It is best to let others teach us and spare ourselves. A study of ancient Rome provides a red flag for America.

With the expansion of the empire, rulers designed a way to appease the people and retain their power. Those who failed to do so were assassinated or exiled. Their plan is known as “Bread and Circuses.” At government expense, free bread was provided for the public. Other food products were on occasion included under the heading “bread.” The term “circuses” included amphitheaters and entertainment at government expense.

Some of the seasonal spectacular events cost billions of dollars in today’s currency. The people became satiated but then demanded more and more extreme sporting events.

With food and entertainment provided, the people had more leisure time and gradually became more lethargic. The work ethic declined dramatically. A theme of the era was “The greatest treasure is pleasure.” Morals declined even further and debauchery increased.

Efforts were made to economize and guard against the pending financial crisis. Rome started issuing more coins of inferior quality. As the number of coins increased and the quality became more inferior, the value declined. Putting more money in circulation resulted in inflation and further inflamed the public.

A second effort to stabilize the economy was to shrink the borders of the empire. The area beyond the Danube was thought by the Emperor to be expendable. However, there were great gold and silver deposits in the region. One such mine, the Alburnus in Romania, is still productive. The Senate disagreed with the Emperor. The august body consisted principally of former generals who disapproved. Those who did were driven from office and went about inciting the populace against the Emperor. The uprising eventually drove the Emperor into exile.

In conjunction with shrinking the borders was the concept of reducing the size of the military. It was postulated that if every soldier became more proficient they could cut the military budget. This was done as enemies were enlarging their armies.

The empire became destabilized and began to decline. In some of the outermost regions various generals declared themselves emperor and even issued their own coins.

As the lethargic public became more immoral they became less responsible and disinterested in the state of affairs considered beyond their control.

In 395 AD the empire split into the Eastern and Western parts. Twenty-five years later Imperial Rome lost its role as the dominant power it once was.

The death of Rome may have been occasioned by Alaric’s Goths pouring over its walls, but the decline began with “Bread and Circuses.”

There are too many parallels for this brief history not to be at least a caution flag. Hopefully the American people in general have not become dependent upon the government to the extent that our work ethic has declined. May our appetite for the modern day “Bread and Circuses” not lead us to the vortex of our decline as a world leader.

Responsibility, accountability, dependability and spiritual commitment are four characteristics that can renew and revive America.

As an aside, consider this sidebar. Cardinal Cicola of Milan would make a good Pope. It just sounds right: Pope Cicola.

The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church. For copies of previous columns visit
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Kevin Foley
February 18, 2013
@ Rev's History - Most every Rev Price column bangs the same theme. This time around, the country is like the Rome depicted in "Caligula".

America is always headed for calamity unless it embraces Christian values.

Interestingly, one of those values is charity, caring for the poor and the sick as Jesus did, something about which the Rev rarely writes.
The Rev's History
February 17, 2013
Dr Price, you do a disservice to yourself, to your readers, and to students who may be reading your column when you claim as a singular fact that Gibbon's model of the moral decline was the cause for the fall of the Roman empire.

In fact, Gibbon's model is one amongst literally dozens of plausible hypotheses of exactly what led to the decline of this empire. For me, I subscribe to the line of thought that Rome came unwound as the core of its economy which had been stitched together through the spoils of conquer and looting ... and when this feedstock was depleted, the economy had no fundamental support for sustained growth (which is really not too different from Hitler's Germany...albeit spread over hundreds of years rather than the extremely accelerated pace deployed by Hitler to try and fulfill the unrealistic promises that had been made to the German populace).

Nevertheless and ironically (for you), equally prominent among hypotheses regarding the fall of the Roman empire is one that emphasizes the role of the growth of Christianity and a form of economic lethargy that grew in conjuction with it -- with the basic morality that why should one work hard if spiritiual redemption could be reached regardless of your worldly labors.

Anyway, I along with I'm sure other, would really appreciate Dr Price if your column could either just whither away or become more dedicated to a complete and thorough respect for a full set of facts before launching into your (falsely based) analogies of moral hazards.
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