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 www.nelsonprice.com