Bread and Circuses

By the beginning of the second century a.d., the Roman populace had long since forgotten the power it wielded under the Republic. Juvenal saw the plebs of his day as having only two concerns:

qui dabat olim imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, panem et circenses. Satires io,78ff.

[The people] who once used to grant [military] command, public offices, legions, everything, now limits itself and longs eagerly for just two things, bread and public games.

The common-interpretation bread and circuses is a mistranslation. The j circenses (circensium; = lüdl) were public games held in a circus (-1 m.), a circular or oval arena surrounded by seating for spectators,

"Bread and circuses," in todays political parlance, continues to be a derogatory catchword for policies intended to mitigate discontent among the people.

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