The Roman poet Juvenal’s most quoted passage comes from his tenth satire. For those like me who can’t read the Latin, the translation comes through clear.
iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli
vendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim
imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se
continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat,
panem et circenses.
But nowadays with no votes to sell, their motto
Is “Couldn’t care less”. Time was when their plebiscite elected
Generals, heads of state, commanders of legions: but now
They’ve pulled in their horns, there’s only two things that
Bread and circuses.
This was written around AD100. For those of you who don’t remember their Roman History (I don’t), this was around (give or take 200 years) the time of the end of the Roman Republic and the beginnings of the Roman Empire.
Starting in BC123 grain collected as revenue for the state was sold to the citizens of Rome at a considerably subsidized rate. This arrangement was continued by most all of the emperors in some form- from completely free grain to a subsidy.
A Roman circus was literally the name of the buildings where the entertainment was held. Horse races, battle re-enactments, gladiator fights, chariot races, ludi (public holiday/day of games).
This is good satire. Makes the point, says it sweetly, is two thousand years later just as true.