“Bread and Circuses” (or bread and games) (from Latin: panem et circenses) is a metaphor for a superficial means of appeasement. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the creation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace. The phrase also implies the erosion or ignorance of civic duty amongst the concerns of the common man (l’homme moyen sensuel).
In modern usage, the phrase is taken to describe a populace that no longer values civic virtues and the public life. To many across the political spectrum, left and right, it connotes the triviality and frivolity that characterized the Roman Empire prior to its decline.
This phrase originates from Rome in Satire X of the Roman poet Juvenal (circa 100 AD ). In context, the Latin phrase panem et circenses (bread and circuses) identifies the only remaining cares of a Roman populace which has given up its birthright of political involvement. Here Juvenal displays his contempt for the declining heroism of his contemporary Romans. Roman politicians devised a plan in 140 B.C. to win the votes of the poor: giving out cheap food and entertainment, “bread and circuses”, would be the most effective way to rise to power.”
“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.” – Juvenal (Satire 10.77–81)