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It's Thalen's Turn column: Bread and circuses

The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.

Circus tiger act
Daniel Raffo presented his tiger act at an Alexandria Shrine Circus years ago.
File photo
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“...if the old Emperor had been surreptitiously mothered; that same crowd in a moment would have hailed their new Augustus. They shed their sense of responsibility long ago, when they lost their votes, and the bribes; the mob that used to grant power, high office, the legions, everything, curtails its desires, and reveals its anxiety for two things only, Bread and circuses. ‘I hear that many will perish.’ ‘No doubt, The furnace is huge,'” wrote Decimus Junius Juvenalis— known in English as Juvenal — a roman second-century satirist whose works confronted the corruption in the city of Rome.

In short, "give them bread and circuses, and they will not revolt."

The phrase refers to the method by which the Roman Empire gained public approval not through policy but rather through food and entertainment.

After the collapse of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire — when power shifted away from a representative democracy to an imperial authority — the people of Rome lost previously granted rights of having a say in how the government operated and all power went to a single entity, the Emporer.

According to National Geographic's website, "the emperor wielded significant authority over those who served in lower-level executive positions. No citizen could hold office without the emperor’s consent. As a result of this redistribution of power, the popular assemblies that functioned during the republican period became less important and lost power."

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There was little pushback from the citizens of Rome as they were distracted by gladiator fights, chariot races, bathhouses, and government-subsidized bread distributions.

The Emporer's new power gave him complete control over the military and through greed and decadence, used that power to expand the control of the Roman Empire across the continent. While the expansion gave the Empire power, wealth, and a prominent reputation, in the end, it led to its downfall.

According to Evan Andrews , writer for History.com, one of the eight reasons why the Roman Empire fell, had to do with over-expansion.

"With such a vast territory to govern, the empire faced an administrative and logistical nightmare," writes Andrews.

As the Roman Empire invaded foreign land farther and farther from the city, communication to frontlines became difficult and mustering more troops and resources to defend its frontiers to defend against retaliating armies became a struggle.

"As more and more funds were funneled into the military upkeep of the empire, technological advancement slowed and Rome’s civil infrastructure fell into disrepair," Andrews concluded.

In the year 410, the city of Rome was sacked. And in 476, the city of Rome fell for good when the German chieftain Odoacer unseated the last Roman emperor of the West, Romulus Augustulus .

Over 1,500 years later, it's hard not to draw comparisons between the state of the United States and Rome as it was.

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While entertainment today looks a little different than it did in first-century Rome, there is still plenty of it. From social media, sports, movies, and television shows to trashy tabloids and drawn-out celebrity court cases.

While I don't have any statistics to prove it, I would bet more people know about the personal lives of the Kardashians or stats of athletes than they do about their state representatives. That more people know about Will Smith and Chris Rock's "slapgate" than they know about recent bills passed by the House and Senate. Heck, I am one of them. I try to stay up to date on the issues that truly affect me and those I care about, but it is so much easier to binge watch the new season of Stranger Things.

I am not saying the United States is heading down a road that mimics the Roman collapse, but I am not saying it isn't, either. What I am saying is, stay vigilant.

As a friend and local historian once told me, "History may not always repeat itself, but it certainly does rhyme."

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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The following commentary was submitted by a reader for the Opinion page and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
The following is a commentary for the Opinion page that was submitted to the newspaper. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.