5. The Roman Welfare State

This is an unscheduled entry because I expected to go straight from Greek thought to Christian thought, but the Romans have blindsided me with one fact.

Basically, many things in the modern world find an echo in antiquity because the Greeks and Romans always seem to have done it before us. This is especially true when justifying ‘radical’ reform in the modern world. So, for instance, I have heard gay friends talk about open homosexuality in Greece, etc.

Therefore, I was surprised that this fact never made it to my ear: that the Romans provided free food to all the citizens of the city of Rome. They would basically buy grain from Egypt and distribute it to any citizen of Rome. They would not distribute it to anyone just standing on the street, but to anyone who had some sort of permanent residence or membership in local communities.

The Romans apparently believed that they needed to keep their population fed and entertained to prevent a riot (they had high rates of slavery and also had a large slave rebellion led by Spartacus). I had heard that Romans believed in keeping their population entertained; the Hunger Games appear to be based on this fact. But I had never heard about them also keeping their population fed. To me, this seems like a very early example of a welfare state, where the state provides food for its population.

Food stamps don’t seem so radical now.

Source: edX class ‘Western Civilization: Ancient and Medieval Europe’