Lessons from Rome: Entertain the People with Games


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Like many Americans I’m a huge sports fan.  I like a number of different sporting events from NASCAR to football.  Most team sports are a combination of individual effort and teamwork with a goal of winning.  Whether you participate or you’re a spectator, we all tend to get caught up in the games.  For a moment in time our troubles seem to lessen as we cheer on our favorite team or player.  We experience their successes and failures as if they were our own.  Yes that’s right for a moment in time we are distracted from everyday events and all things feel right with sports; we are entertained and happy for it.

In the last days of the Roman Republic the senate was corrupt and for sale to the highest bidder. The people were restless with their elected officials as the senate stripped more and more of their liberties away.  They felt like their voices were being ignored.  A new political threat from opportunistic generals was on the horizon.  Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar were positioning themselves for power with the First Triumvirate. Rome was fundamentally changing and the people could feel it.  Marcus Tullius Cicero a champion for the people and a powerful orator stood up and challenged the corruption in the senate and called for a return to the old republic.  People started listening to the words of this man as it threatened to halt Rome’s drift towards an empire.  It was time to distract the people from their troubles.  Let the games begin.  The crafty politicians and generals decided that the best way to subdue the mob was to entertain them with games.  With games the people did not need to trouble themselves with the daily mundane activities of the senate and politicians.  In fact in 65 BC, Julius Caesar spent an enormous amount of money to entertain the masses with games and the people loved it!

Eventually Caesar emerged as the leading political figure after a series of civil wars.  He was given the title of dictator for life by the senate and in-turn he greatly diminished the senate’s powers.  Rome remained a republic in name only.  How similar these events seem today.

Today we are faced with comparable threats to our own republic.  Our senate is corrupt, and opportunistic forces are on the horizon to fundamentally change our nation.  Our Constitution is under constant attack and our history is being watered down by a new progressive version of it.  The people are feeling restless and uneasy about the events of the day.  They feel that something doesn’t feel right and their voices are not being heard.  We now see Tea Party rallies and they are growing in size as more and more people recognize that our republic’s survival hangs in the balance.  This is a time when we should be focused on the powerful political shifts that are taking place in the nation in regards to the relationship between the government and the people.  This is the time when people should be digging for information about the Founding Fathers and reading our Constitution.  This is the time when people should be standing up to save the republic from the destructive path our government has us on.  And yet when I listened to people today at work, all I heard were people debating if Butler could beat Duke in the NCAA basketball championship.  I heard people talking about the Donovan McNabb trade to the Washington Redskins and what it means for the NFC East.  The people were entertained and talking about something other than the plight of our republic.  Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with finding an escape every now and then from our troubles, however when I see this I can’t help but recall my Roman history and the pivotal role games played in its transformation.

You see Americans love competition much like the Romans did.  We love the games because like I said they sweep us up and lessen our worries for a short time.  They allow us to be part of something we perceive is bigger than ourselves.  However in the end they distract us from what we should be really focusing on.  I once said that if people would commit one fourth of the energy that they have towards their favorite sports team and channel that energy towards our Constitution and the Founders we would not even be in this mess.  We would be a nation grounded in the principles of our Founders and following our Constitution.  Instead we are becoming a republic in name only.  Can we can find this one fourth to save our wonderful republic or do we lessen our worries through games and allow the republic to slip away?

History is always whispering in our ears.  Maybe if we pull our heads out of the games for a short time we will hear what history is trying telling us.

Liberty forever, freedom for all!

Original Post: The Current

Image Credit: Impeach Obama Now

  • We have wasted our lives on meaningless recreational pursuits; we deferred maintenance on the Republic…and now, we have NOT a Republic, but a national(ist) government, teetering on the precipice of insolvency and degeneracy.

    Yet, the people still obsess over violent sports, recreational drugs, and their next sexual encounter. Is it any wonder we stand on the threshold of tyranny, oppression, and serfdom?

    • Thanks for the comments Ron. I agree that we have wasted a great deal of time on things that simply don’t matter. Now don’t get me wrong, we all need some recreation at times, and as long as we don’t become consumed with it, recreation is a healthy thing. The problem I see today is that people are obsessed with the games or any other distraction (American Idol) and they are failing basic citizenship.

      The games were used as a tool by Rome to take the focus off of their government and place it somewhere else. It was quite effective. I just don’t want to see us fall into that same trap.

  • Don

    Wag the dog anyone? Good article, John – but I would expect no less.

  • I used to joke that some people thought they were free because they could choose between 50 different kinds of breakfast cereal. They are simply distracted by every “shiny” thing in the commercial world. Sadly, it took the recession/depression to get people’s attention-and only some of the people at that.

    • We as a people tend to lose our focus very easily. This is why it is such an effective tool. They Romans realized this 2,000 years ago. In the end the nature of people is the same as it was back then. Games, TV, or as you put it shiny things to keep us distracted. Thanks for posting this Matt.

      • Don

        I agree. We DO lose our focus too easi….Hey the new Useful Idiot poll is up!!!

        What was I saying?

        • Sorry Don, didn’t catch that. I was playing video games while watching my Battlestar Galactica boxed set.

  • And Zero is fiddling while America burns…

    • Very clever and funny Snarky

      • Trust me when I say that he has earned his name.

  • Great post! I couldn’t agree more. I have always been a big sports fan also, but over the last few years I have found that while sports offer an escape, they are far less important than what is going on around us. I no longer takes these sports as seriously as I once did. Escape once in a while is a good thing, but when it is front and center in your life you are missing what is going on all around us.
    When I hear people talk about “what a devestating loss that was last night” or that the “next game is critical” I now feel that they are missing something, it is still only a sport while what is happening to our government is what is “critical” and “devestating.” I just wish that people would take politics as seriously as they take sprts. Then perhaps we wouldn’t be in the mess that we are in.

    • Thanks for the comments Steve. I know what you mean about being a big sports fan. I grew up with it all around me. I went to games, bought the gear, and got swept up an all its majesty. I didn’t even stop to take the time and appreciate the wonderful Republic we live in. I took it for granted because my focus was on something else. Now we are in the fight of our lives to save and idea I once thought would never disappear. While I was distracted, socialists and Marxists carefully planned and embedded themselves into our system to topple it and create something different. Never again! They have gotten my full attention.

      • And it goes beyond sports also. The media is constantly covering the Hollywood stars and their follies. But it really isn’t the media’s fault, it seems to be what the American people want to hear about. People care more about voting for American Idol than about voting for president.
        The founders didn’t believe in term limits because they though a well informed voting block would limit the terms of people who were not effective and they thought that term limits would punish those that were. Sadly there is no longer a well informed electorate.

        • So true Steve. More people are in tune with the idol contestants than their elected representatives. It’s almost like it puts them in a trance. As for term limits…well maybe it is time.

  • I have been studying Ancient Rome this past year; and have been amazed at the similarities to America. It is good to see someone blog about this subject.

    I’m a football nut, that grew up loving sports. I can tell you almost anything you want to know about the 49ers. However as I get older and grow up, I care less about those things.

    Sports and entertainment are a huge distraction in our society. The coverage Tiger woods and Michael Jackson have received this past year is beyond belief. To many Americans (like the ancient Romans) are allowing to be distracted buy entertainment media while our nation falls apart.

    • Thaanks for the comments Trestin. I know what you mean about ancient Rome and the path it took is very similar to the path we seem to be heading down. I just want people to know that if we only take the time to review the past, we just might be able to save the future.