The phrase beautifully describes how leaders in ancient Rome placated the masses with free food and entertainment – with these two things in plentiful, politicians managed to keep an overpopulated, hungry, and often angry citizenry pacified and unquestioning.
Bread and Circus was not provided for the benefit of the citizens or their overall well-being – rather it was a pragmatic solution to keep politicians in power. A well fed, well entertained population is unlikely to become a revolutionary force of any kind!!
2nd Century Roman poet and satirist Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis (known as Juvenal in English) wrote this phrase in Satira X:
Nam qui dabat olim Imperium, fasces, legions, omnia, nunc se Continet, atque duas tantum res anxius optat, Panem et circenses
For that sovereign people that once gave away Military command, consulships, legions, and every thing, Now bridles its desires, and limits its anxious longings to two things only bread and circuses
Here are some other gems that this little-known Roman satire genius wrote :
Orandum es tut sit mens sana incopore sano Rather than for wealth, power or children, men should pray for a sound mind in a sound body Rara avis in terries nigroque simillima cycno A truly good person is a rare bird (like a black swan) Quis custodiet Ipsos custode Who will guard the guards?
Interesting how sometimes things stay relevant for centuries.