Guest Post: Thoughts On Roman Circuses (And Ours)
Submitted by Jim Quinn of The Burning Platform blog,
From history, we can glean more than just the bare facts of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. First, one has to understand that before Rome slowly toppled into dust, it was a very prosperous place. There was distinct upper, middle, lower and slave classes and, all in all, there was more than enough to eat and time to spare for numerous sports. Also, the Roman Legions were the largest and strongest, best trained and fed, best equipped with hardware aplenty of any nation-state-empire in the world at that time. Very similar, in fact to the U.S.A. (less a lot of technology).
Like all civilizations, once in a position of being fairly rich, having food aplenty and the good life, the better classes of Roman citizens got bored with it all. I mean how often can you discuss the latest conquest of some unknown and barbaric place, long removed from Rome or a new and flavorsome dish imported for some outpost of the Empire, or the latest dalliance of the current Emperor with some Egyptian babe.
So, what to do. A bored lower, middle and upper class of citizens tend to get into mischief when not productively employed and, with having slaves in good supply, can afford a minimal workload. As time progressed and the spoils of Empire Building and Conquering, Inc. flowed into Imperial Rome, there was a natural impulse on the part of the ruling elite to pass along a bit more of the spoils to the populous lest they become jealous or perhaps a bit rowdy at the obvious top-heavy distribution of the goodies. The elites lived very well in Imperial Rome.
But food and trinkets will stretch only so far—ah, what to do after you’ve eaten your fill, tummy full and had a nap? Well, you play, that’s what. You need something to fill those idle full-stomached hours and so the elite once again come to the rescue.
Let’s have some circuses come to town. Starting out with traveling entertainment groups, shows were put on of many sorts from dancing and singing to – ah – traveling trollops who entertained in their own inimitable way.
And another thing. We’ve got plenty of captured enemy soldiers, why don’t we build a pit, toss a few into it – well armed with, perhaps, some novel weapons like nets and forks and cudgels and see who comes out alive! What a wonderful idea. While we’re at it, there are a few pesky Christians we have to house and feed, perhaps they might like to play with some of those marvelous feline creatures our Legions have captured and sent back from places afar. We’ll starve the kitties for a few days, put a small group of trouble making religious bigots into the pit and see if they can play with a hungry cat or two. Such fun!
The smell of blood, guts and glory in the afternoon would be just the thing to entertain those bored citizens and keep their mind off the fact that we (the elite) are robbing them blind while doling out just enough for the lesser classes to keep them quiet, satiated and out of trouble.
And so the grand Colosseum and other assorted playgrounds were constructed to provide a location for circuses while markets were built to provide free food and handouts to those of lower wealth and standing.
Does anything about this description ring a faint bell?
Let’s pop our trusty time machine forward a few thousand years to, let’s say, 2012 CE. (for those who wonder about the “C.E.”, that’s scientific notation for “Current Era”. Prior to year zero, it becomes “B. C. E.” for “Before Current Era” thereby erasing any Christian influence from our dating system. This is in wide and accepted use now in scientific circles.)
In 2012 in the Nation called “America”, we have some interesting and disturbing parallels to ancient Rome.
Such as, you ask? Oh, let us do a few comparisons.
In America, as in Rome, the elites are promising the middle and lower classes more and more bribes (food stamps, welfare, disability, housing subsidies, unemployment checks, social security, free medical care and so on and so on) to stay quiet and behave.
As with Rome, this was only successful until the food, circuses, graft, and thievery caused such a drain on the treasury that the Roman Legions found themselves running short of funding and consequently shrank a bit, thereby reducing the booty shipped back home. This, in turn, reduced the freebies to be distributed to the “needy”. A viscous circle was then in place in which each cut to the military caused a drop in booty that caused the military to shrink and Rome itself to become a Lesser Power with Lesser Influence on its world. After all, we can’t cut the freebies to the “needy” so money is diverted from other activities (can you spell “clipping” and dilution of gold and silver from the coinage or as we might say, “inflation”?) to cover the ever increasing costs of bread and circuses and military.
In our miserable case, American elites can only promise and pay for freebies to the masses as long as other nations of the world keep buying Treasury debt and the purchases of Federal debt by the Federal Reserve do not become so excessive that the rest of the world (and American citizens) lose confidence in our veracity and begin to think of the U.S. Government as merely a group of thieves and knaves, unworthy of their further donations of hard earned (or printed) cash. Which, of course, they already are and just are not branded as such. But they are about to be.
At the same time, American circuses are in full swing across the land of the not-so-free and the home of the responsible-no-more.
Thanks to the ever advancing thing called technology, clever humans have invented virtual circuses; circuses that require no tents, no clowns, no bearded ladies, no strong men or midgets, no motordrome with motorcycles roaring, no ferris wheel or tilt-a-whirl or cotton candy or too heavy bottles to knock over with a too light a ball. Real gladiators need not apply.
Oh no!! Our circuses are virtual in that you carry them around with you, by the hundreds, in your pocket or purse or have it on your desktop. You are now – whether rich, middle class or poor, working or not – always within instant reach of your virtual circus.
Within that virtual circus lies unlimited feasts of every kind: games, blogs, movies, tweets and books of faces, bank accounts and grocery stores, every retailer on the planet, Russian TV and – horrors – blogs (for those who yearn for news not to be found on our toothless and pap-filled U.S. mass media), maps and translators, idiots and morons, sages and teachers of every level and veracity.
It is an infinite circus, running 24 hours a day, 8 days a week and you can spend an infinite amount of time browsing the sweet and bitter end of it at no charge. (Those sites that have the temerity to charge admission can safely be ignored.)
Now, does that beat a Christian being munched by a tiger or two hulks beating each other to the death? Well, perhaps not the later as professional wrestling is one of the most popular events for the masses to gobble – so maybe even totally fake and choreographed gladiators still have a place in the proletariat heart.
I personally believe that the ever evolving circus (next comes 3D! and perhaps a touch screen that works in reverse?) beats the living bejeebus out of a Roman version and is, as a consequence, contributing to the destruction of the human spirit. Why work when your food and cave are furnished to you by a benevolent nanny Government which leaves you to be entertained by your virtual circus (access to which is probably paid for by that nanny caregiver as well)???
Why become self-sufficient and independent amid all this largess? Paid for, of course, by borrowing from foreigners and a generation or two down the line who won’t know what hit them until far too late. Such fun!
Perhaps we are indeed on the cusp of a Romanesque disaster, a slow motion collapse that took Rome several hundreds of years to do, getting poorer and poorer and more violent and less populated as time goes on.
History will certainly repeat, but never the same way twice.
This time, the very framework of those circuses – what they exist on and in – will enable the fall of the current empire(s) to be much swifter and just as violent and deadly. Our ability to communicate worldwide in a flash at the the speed of light enables information – both good and bad – to be heard and seen round the Earth in mere milliseconds and the only delay is the relative slowness of citizens to find, read or watch and comprehend the disaster that will tip it all into the pit.
So here we stand, on the edge, citizens mostly well fed, clothed, housed and most of all, thoroughly entertained.
What happens to all of us when the plug is pulled?