Welfare in the Roman Empire
October 28, 2013
OPINION By GARY KIRKLAND
During the last decades of the Roman Republic and continuing into the Roman dictatorship, the Roman government provided welfare in the form of wheat and other grains to people.
The dictators, starting with Julius Caesar, provided frumentariae (grain) partly to be popular with the poor. Subsequent dictators tried to limit or end the grain give away, but couldn’t because of political pressure. The government got the grain by forcing provinces to pay tribute with grain.
After several generations, the Roman people got accustomed to getting their free grain. Events occurred in the Roman Empire more slowly than today because travel and communication was much slower then. Eventually Romans refused to fight to defend the empire when they could stay home and get free food.
The government had to hire mercenaries to fight. Mercenaries would fight for the side that paid the most. Sometimes these fighters would switch sides in the midst of a battle. In 410 Common Era (c.e.), the Visgoths, one of the German tribes that invaded the Roman Empire seeking land and that the Romans hired as mercenaries, sacked Rome. Thus ended the empire and welfare for Romans.
Once begun, how does an empire stop providing welfare before the welfare destroys the empire? If absolute dictators can’t stop welfare, a representative republic like ours has no chance. The Spanish, French, Soviet and British empires all ended mostly because of welfare.
Gary Kirkland is a retired teacher, an Atascadero resident, 35-year-old stockholder in the Atascadero Mutual Water Company and president of the San Luis Obispo County Libertarian Party.