Guest Post: Thoughts On Roman Circuses (And Ours)

Tyler Durden's picture

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).

roman empire america


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.

roman colosseum

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?

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TeamDepends's picture

Try to grab your knees and roll away from the wreckage....

Jim Quinn's picture

This was written by Mike Endres and posted on my website.

Squid Vicious's picture

would love to see the tab for that, in man hours and lost productivity due to traffic (not so much the bystanders, they seem like they probably had no better options)

reTARD's picture

The people have also rationalized that it was okay to cut 400 trees because having it was worth it.

If you've seen any video of the circus media coverage, apparently a large number of people either don't work or didn't show up to work in order to participate in this circus.

Don't forget about the lost opportunity costs as well. ;-)

SilverIsKing's picture

Nobama and Romnot should wear togas at the next debate.

francis_sawyer's picture

It is somewhat appropriate that two fasci axes adorn the backdrop of the Congressional assembly room...

Pants McPants's picture

"History will certainly repeat, but never the same way twice"

Gotta admit I scratched my head upon reading this because it didn't make sense.  I get what Quinn's saying, nevertheless a better way to say it might be the ol' "history doesn't repeat, but it sure does rhyme"  Or something.

As for the rest of the article, decent as usual.  Quinn might be the most angry guest poster on this question he can't stand today's US Americanism (sarc to AnAnonymous)

(Edit:  Just read Quinn's above comment)

Harbanger's picture

I have a different theory.  What if the modern Roman empire is not “America” but the "West" in general, I see the former Roman empire as having morphed into modern Europe. And as in those times, the “empire” split into 2 parts, East and West, Europe and the Americas. America being Constantinople. And as in those times, the fall of the empire occurs in Europe, but "the empire" continues in Constantinople.  Just as it did then.  That rhymes well to me.

Tango in the Blight's picture

Read Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Which was incidentily written in the same years in which the American Independence War took place.

crusty curmudgeon's picture


Does your first word rhyme with "weed" -- if so, why are you recommending it?

Or does your first word rhyme with "bread" -- if so, what did you get out of it?

I'm curious because I've always wanted to read that tome -- but there are a lot of books in my queue.

The big unzip's picture

When it happens in America (the wheels fall off)  then America will make Greece look like a Sunday school class that got a little out of control!  Standby to Standby!


Dr. Sandi's picture

I'll bet that in both Greece and the Untied Snakes, a lot of people will be quietly sitting around waiting.





Dr. Engali's picture

I'm reading this most excellent article far from home with my personal portable circus right now.

Personally I hope it's not a slow slide into the abyss. I'd rather be around and healthy so I can be of a benefit to my kids.

kito's picture

No worries doc, reagan/volcker are in their way.....we are gonna leverage up, kick start some growth and buy us some flat screen tvs.......

AetosAeros's picture


As much as I would like to go with you on our return to the depths being fast enough in our life times to be useful, I don't think that is the master plan.

TPTB still have certain infrastructure, food storage, land development and security, and communications to put in place before their going to allow the 'real' collapse to commense. Hence the rhetoric for wars, disease (bird flu, swine flu, seasonal flu, etc), and other financial woes which help to captivate people on the carefully sectioned debate topics, and not focused on how any of it makes sense.

So in essence, a long, slow, painful, and morose demise. I figure they have this thing mapped out for a minimum of 8 more years, with the next 4 being as confusing as possible for people to figure out that the temp has been increased incrementally every 3 months. The latter 4 will be 'every man for himself', if the above mentioned rhetorical plans haven't already been enacted to dessimate as many as possible.

But as always, I wish you, me, and others like us who have the will to survive and not be a burden to our kids but a help; Luck. We are going to need it.

AgShaman's picture

We really need to get KRS-One and Obama together for a chat.

They could discuss this circus show that is the American System

Stoploss's picture

Yep, and don't forget what happens to the psychotic leaders as well.

They generally are torn limb from limb, by the masses.

That too shall come to pass again. (And globally broadcast of course).


Almost forgot, that is a botton up evisceration, starting with local leaders first.

Townships, then city, then state, so by the time they get to the upper eschelon, there is absolutely no defense for them.

That is also a particularly bad time to be a local law enforcer, as their families are sought out and killed in the streets.


SilverIsKing's picture

You must be great at parties.

Griphook's picture

I imagine you'd only have to take out a few local law enforcers before the rest would blend into the background.  It won't take long for them to see that, beyond their immediate family, there isn't much worth protecting.  And certainly not the village chieftains.  I suspect that it is the local politicians and hangers-on who will suffer the most.  City and County commissioners and other "officials" who lorded their positions over the rabble in their fiefdoms will suddenly find themselves facing pitchforks.  Soft and unprotected, I predict a slaughter.

zuuma's picture

I'm extending your visual to slow, surly, fat, DMV clerks & postal workers.

Tax assessors, IRS agents, and, of course, those homeowners association pricks (and prickesses) who, with each petty order, remind us that we can be forclosed on if we fail to obey. [and they ALL have obama signs in their yards - funny, that.]

Hmmmmm...  maybe waterboarding before the limb-tearing for them.

lolmao500's picture

Why become self-sufficient and independent amid all this largess?

Because the mob is gonna rob you?

alstry's picture


If we advance production to technology....we can eliminate the Fed and the need to milk each other in the

Your next doctor's visit could be to Dr. IBM Watson for free while you are attending free virtual MIT classes....


It's not money we's the production money controls.....and technology doesn't require money, only requires a bit of resources, some electricity, and a little love....and as the form factors get smaller and smaller, the need for resources and electricity evaporates.

Dr. Sandi's picture

Then I'll be eating my eyepad after all.

lolmao500's picture

What happens to all of us when the plug is pulled?

Riots, more crime, more cops gunning down people, more people gunning down cops... more people living in tents... More people leaving the US.

Basically... Detroit but all across the US.

AgShaman's picture

Human a nasty, smelly business.

It's tougher than runnin' a restaurant 

Jugdish's picture

People tipping over porta potties, spray painting graffiti, tilting soda machines, pushing their friends in shopping carts, exposing themselves to night time rent-a-cops, stealing laffy taffy from quickie marts, buying dime bags, all things such as these that happen in Detriot just on a larger scale.

StandardDeviant's picture

"What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff.  Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!"
"Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes..."
"The dead rising from the grave!"
"Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria"

Nimby's picture

Local movie house is showing Ghostbusters on Halloween.  Can't wait.

Everybodys All American's picture

All I can say is everyone better be ready to defend their property. At the very least have a plan when the system breaks down. I believe there will be unrest like nothing the US has ever seen and you're going to see things you never thought possible in our country. Violent crime has already risen 18% this year in the US. Imagine when a helluva lot more people get desperate.

10mm's picture

Either by Austerity(Red Team)or cont money printing(Blue Team).They work in tandem the bastards.

TeamDepends's picture

Deleted!!!  Now that was a good year.

Monedas's picture

Dollying the Space Shuttle through darky town is a form of circus .... and a fitting, ignominous end to a failed, wasteful government program !  When will it be over ?

HurricaneSeason's picture

I don't see any booty coming back from Iraq for the needy, except perhaps heroin pills from Afghanistan. I thought they were rebuilding Iraq so we can bomb it again since it's one of the few countries that we're allowed to bomb anymore. China and Russia always butting their nose in.

jonytk's picture

oil contracts, reconstruction contracts that create jobs and they have to keep the war industry happy

max2205's picture

This is all bullshit. Everything is fine.



Sparkey's picture

I think what happens is that a very large chunk of the population will quickly die, the reality we live in, in the media World, is not the reality which feeds us, as the World which feeds us becomes evermore distant and foreign, indeed in the present , the plains of Mars are as accessable as our own plains in the World of media, and equally foreign for most, we have no skills to survive in the post civilization World. In some way the mass media, computers and social media sites have completely captured, a very willing to be captured, generation, a generation willingly (as yet unaware), enslaved to their machines, never conscious of the fact: All these machines are subsiduary to the central machines which are tools, in the hands of the "owner?" to effect our behavior in a way "he? it?) deems suitable to their purpose, a powerful, game changing, Something!

AvoidingTaxation's picture

I find that the use of the Negro race to entertain the masses is reminescent of the ancient times. Exotic, and used for fights and and sport and singing and for the big dick issue. He is

Another interesting point is that de Toqueville predicted in many interesting ways about the decadence of Amerika. Spaking about how the middle class will become bored and corrupt and doomed

And Lanin warned us about the inflation/monetary counterfeing issue in relation to capitalism.

Big stuff, nice article.

Bitchez, gold, silber, community, reliance, ammo, glock, sig sauer, seeds, land.

stiler's picture

The Roman Empire's fall was long and so this one will prob take longer than you will live and occurred only to make way for the morphing of it into something new. There'll be another stage for the world's players after this. The end of the world's hour has not yet come.

One technology in which the Romans surpassed us was in the quality of their concrete.

unununium's picture

Someone has read their Edward Gibbon.

Indeed the most prosperous period of the Roman civilization was the first 200 years AFTER the empire emerged, which was after the democratic Roman Republic was subverted after its 400 year run.

Maybe timescales are compressed now, but if we are going to follow the example of Rome then we may all live out our lives under the glorious empire that is still to come.

stiler's picture

yeah, it's a regular "Tale of Two Cities".

Jerusalem and Babylon. One truly glorious and the other glorious only in a material sense. We each make a choice where we will live.

FrankDrakman's picture

What's so freakin' glorious about Jerusalem? I'd rather be in London, Paris, New York or Hong Kong instead of some dusty sh*thole full of Palestinians and Jews.

Hindsight2020's picture

Infinite time wasters available at your finger tips

Infinite 1s & 0s that can be summoned to fill an accounting deficit

Unless people get bored of TV and the internet (read never)  they will not realize what happens when you pretend a piece of paper has a STORE of value.  Paper money is an excellent medium for trade but loses credibility when the supply is not managed properly.


Grab anything finite.



Whiner's picture

BCE=Before Christ Entered; CE=Christian Era. Don't try to rewrite history. It's futile. BCR=Before Christ Returns. Try and get in before BCR. You are an eternal being. Go long: BCR. Short saving yourself.

caconhma's picture

It is right. Most of goodies come from China. So, how long will China continue the game?


HurricaneSeason's picture

They add 10 million jobs a year, at least that's the goal. We will lose 2 million good jobs a year or more. Once we aren't good enough consumers (China's GDP hitting 1 or 2%growth or sooner), the Chinese will be ordered to quit saving and buy(with real factory supported money). A trade war could bring that on quickly and probably will.

ZeroAvatar's picture

"What happens to all of us when the plug is pulled?"  The Top 50 Dystopian Movies of All Time  pretty much says it all.



(HT:  ZH poster 10-17-12?