Welfare in the Roman Empire

October 28, 2013


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.

Ted Slanders

What sickens Jesus is the fact that the pseudo-christian faction wants to impose their morality upon others when it’s things like abortion or birth control, but when it comes to helping the poor, they want it left to the conscience of each individual. The hypocrisy of Christians in this respect is beyond measure.

Therefore, since the many divided religious factions can’t step up to the plate and administer to the poor in what they totally need, then we need government agencies to help out in this respect.

God forbid if if the pseudo-christians actually followed the teachings of their number one leader, Jesus, when He proffered; “Jesus looked at him and loved him. One thing you lack, he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10: 21-25)

Now, if the above statement by Jesus doesn’t spell it out plainly enough in helping the unfortunate of our society through welfare means, then I suggest that any follower of Christianitiy leave it at once to save themselves from being a hypocrite beyond comparison!


I know, it’s all “live and let live” until murder comes into it, and then it’s all “hey, no murder” – don’t these hypocrites know that murderers deserve to live the way they want to, as well? I mean, pro-choice is pro-choice. We all should be for choosing. Unless it is about guns. Or education. Or health care. But other than guns, education, health care – it’s all about choice!


Give that up and you will be giving up a lot more than you realize.


Give it up? Who said give it up? And who said military was the lion’s share of the budget?

You jumped to the far end of the continuum, why? That’s just scare tactics, not based on reality.


Nope. As bad as welfare is, it’s not even close to the top of the list of America’s problems.

First and foremost is the military budget.


That certainly sounds as if you’re saying the military budget is the biggest problem. What did you mean to say if that wasn’t it? I posted a link showing that social spending was nearly triple defense spending in 2012, so how is the military budget at “…the top of the list of America’s problems.”? Your statement isn’t supported by numbers. You also wrote that “…we are going to continue to police the world.” I replied that if we don’t do it someone else will, and the results will be a lot less to everyone’s liking, including yours. Now you say that I’m using scare tactics when I simply used facts to respond to what you originally posted. You may not choose to accept truth, but it’s out there. Pax Americana brought more people peace and prosperity than at any other time in human history. We can choose to not be a superpower anymore, but no one should assume that the choice won’t be painful.


Im surprized that Mr. Kirkland failed to argue that if only the Roman Empire had a few SuperWalmarts, everything would have turned out peachy :)


The opposite is also true here. Governor William Bradford in his bibliography “Of Plymouth Plantation”, recounts the years from 1608-1650. Due to forced “collectivism” aka socialism, the colony nearly failed. When Bradford introduced private land ownership and free market enterprise, the colony flourished. You can read the book.


Are you suggesting that Governor Bradford put together a list of books, magazines, and articles? Are you forgetting that the reason any of the pilgrims survived is because they were adopted by the nanny state of the Wampanoag people? By the way when you use the quotation marks it means the person actually said or wrote this thing you are putting in the quotation marks. So when you wrote “collectivism” you weren’t just implying that governor Bradford said this, you were explicitly claiming he said this. The word “collectivism” doesn’t appear in the English language for a couple hundred years after Bradford’s death.

Why didn’t you just have Jesus quoted saying how much he hates Karl Marx? Seriously if you’re going to just make stuff up, why not o for the gold?


I believe that Mr. Kirkland was employed by the public school system. If he was he is a hypocrite of the worst kind. I’ve heard him speak and he is shallow, uninformed and pompous.


Don’t make such a lazy and incorrect response, Bluebird. This center of public opinion and discourse deserves better than your ad hominem attack against Kirkland.

It is in no way “hypocritical” to be a public school employee and write a summary of some settled history of an ancient civilization and it’s welfare experience.

He is in no way shallow or uninformed to write a contribution which seems rooted in history. As to pompous, well, just more ad hominem. Keep it to yourself, Bluebird.

You, bluebird, should write something on point, and not just attack and demean the messenger.

For example, provide a historical counterpoint, or at least attempt to do so, to the settled history of the welfare experience of the Roman society.

Jorge Estrada

The leadership in the Roman Empire drank their wine from lead cups, thus they could not get the lead out of their ass. Today we have less lead, more wine and a roman empire.


zaphod: Thanks for that very informative link; certainly has more credence for the downfall of Rome than the fact that they had initiated a form of welfare.


It already is Welfare to work.


I’m not talking about welfare to work, I’m talking about work to get welfare. I’m talking about from day one–not 3 years in–from day one, you show up at a designated location and you work all day. Then, and only then, you get that nice $90 check at the end of a long, hard days work. And we can stop calling if welfare. We can call it going to work.

If we started doing that, welfare would get cut in half almost immediately because 1/3 of those poeple on welfare are just gaming the system.

Lots of trash to pick up across 10s of thousands of miles of California roads. Lots of businesses would like a subsidized worker–the business pays $2 and the govt. pays $8. win-win.


While I agree with the idea of no work = no welfare, the problem with the state “employing” people en masse is that it will lead to indentured servitude at best, slavery at worst.

Empires have tried the “show up, work hard and we’ll feed you and let you live” approach before. It does not work well for the bulk of the people.

Instead, there should be incentives to people to want to work: i.e. feeding themselves, keeping more of the fruits of their own labors, etc. That formula has worked the best for the most.

Remove all government welfare period. That is the only chance. I know it won’t ever happen, but that is the solution.

JB Bronson

How does an empire stop providing welfare? Answer would include eliminating organizations like CRLA. They have defended people with a misguided sense of entitlement and their mission is no longer about justice for the disenfranchised. It has become: If you are disenfranchised, then we will defend you (even if what we are really defending you against, are the consequences of your own actions and decisions.)


“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.”

does that say it all? of course, what we’re reading could be a re-write of history as so many do.

your opinions?


Nope. As bad as welfare is, it’s not even close to the top of the list of America’s problems.

First and foremost is the military budget. The U.S. spends 7 times the next largest country. 7 TIMES! That’s just an outrageous amount of money to be spent on the military. If the U.S. just spend triple the next largest nation, our money problems are over. You think we could outdo other countries militarily if we spent triple what they do right? But, of course, that’s not going to happen as it appears we are going to continue to police the world. Tell me, what country in the history of the world could afford a military budget sufficient to police the entire world? And then, on top of the military budget were the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Add in about 4 trillion for unfunded wars and war fallout. The militry is far and away the top of the list but, of course, nobody wants to talk about that.

Second are the entitlements. Social security and Medical. Social security is a giant ponzi scheme and once we stop growing, it’s going to blow up in our faces. People are living so long now, they take more money out of the system than they ever put in. And Medicaid and medicare–well that’s all over the news so no need to comment there–we all know the costs of medical.

yes, welfare is bad, but the fact is some welfare is needed. We don’t let people starve in this country. We don’t let the die outside the hospital doors. The key to welfare is to weed out the people who don’t really need it. It’s a tough thing to do. Probably the easiest way to clean up welfare is to change it to work-fare. Everyone who wants welfare (unless severe medical exception) gets to a designated work station and does something. Pick up trash, clean walls–whatever it is–they need to show up and work 8 hours a day, every single day, just like the rest of us. And they get paid at the end of the day. When you’re tired and hungry after a full days work, staying up all night drinking and doing drugs and partying isn’t so attractive.


It already is Welfare to work. Thankfully there is a limit to how long you get welfare, a few years I think? They are required to attend a “Job Club” and put in a mere 15 hours a week. This should have stopped the welfare Moms just having another kid to stay on welfare and not have to work. I think though as long as you have kids you will get food stamps. Maybe someone who knows the facts or is actually on the programs can confirm/deny what I am assuming.


This was what Clinton and the Republicans passed in 1996. The welfare reform act. Unfortunately, Obama earlier this year completely gutted the act (illegally according to many) by executive order.


You are missing a crucial point on your military (or any) spending issue: we invent the currency out of nothing.

The romans (and others) had to strike coins out of metal (less and less precious as they struck more). Other failed societies did not have the luxury of a fiat currency that is made stable by being a global reserve currency.

Why do you think China and Russia are so keen to have a world “de-americanized”? They want to make up money willy-nilly, too! Heck, as long as you’re willing to accept it as valuable, there really is no end to what we can buy, is there?

All of our woes are due to going down this whole fiat currency / fractional reserve centralized banking system. It is better than barter, but not as honest. The old “emperor has no clothes” syndrome.

Still, we are moving closer to either: A) world rejection at the USD as defacto currency, or B) loss of faith in the system (keeping us ignorant really helps, this is why economics is very rarely taught or worse incorrectly taught). Either one will collapse all systems.

The key to lasting misery is education. I have many “very left” typical San Luis liberal friends, and I cannot have a serious conversation about how money actually works with them. Heck, they still think Islam is a religion of peace (which, ironically is not what it means). People are secure in their world, nothing could possibly upset their apple carts.


Always appreciate your comments r0y. Thought it was time I let you know. Crazy world. Listening to old James Taylor songs at lunch, trying to be blissful for a while :)


As long as the rest of the world goes along with our “fiat” currency, there is no problem- US debt is still considered to be a “safe” investment due to the fact that the US ALWAYS pays its bills- at least we always have until a group of radicals who believe that government cannot possibly do a job better than private enterprise got elected to the House of Representatives and set about trying to shut down the government, stop paying the bills (which was actually funding the spending that had already been authorized by that same body), and setting the financial world on edge concerned that the US just might go ahead and default on the promise that we would pay our bills.

The value of anything, be it antiques, art, or even money, the true “value” is really what we all agree it is, to a degree; for a huge chunk of the other countries to agree that the US dollar is worth less than it currently is, we (our government) would have to pull off a major f*ck-up, which we came very close to doing, thanks to the Tea Party types who, for some odd reason, want to take our economy over the cliff.



You are missing a crucial point on your military (or any) spending issue: we invent the currency out of nothing.


I heard you but don’t all countries do that? Isn’t any country’s money basically based on the goodwill of the country? So some small country bases their currency on gold. An arbitrary metal in an of itself. And how do you know when they print 1/3 more money and slowly filter it into their economy? You don’t. It’s all goodwill. It’s takes decades to build the goodwill and only years to lose it.

I heard it once described as the cleanest dirty shirt in the laundry. That cleanest dirty shirty is still America–far away the cleanest dirty shirt in the laundry. Anyone who doesn’t like it–well, go invest in China or Europe of South America–and you’ll quickly see they all depend on America. No America no China. No America no euro. We go down, they all go down 3 times as hard.

We have a lot of built up goodwill.


Yes, they do – China is the worst, as they (basically) have an artificial “floor” and “ceiling” for the Yuan’s value.

Anyway, as I continued on to point out, not only do we create it out of nothing (and that’s even a stretch, as it’s all digitized now, is it really created?) – we also enjoy the status of world’s reserve currency. All international trade is conducted in USD (for the most part); hence why Barrels of Oil are always listed in USD.

There are ways around it, such as the bartering Iran did with France, China and Russia when the UN embargoed them (the did not “sell” their oil, they “traded” it and got around the embargo).

The other aspect of “Invest in the USA” you probably know is our STABILITY. We have the LONGEST RUNNING government on Earth. Now, we can argue if we even recognize the Constitution with Obama and Bush, but technically, we have not changed our Charter since its ratification. No other nation can claim this.

We also do not have a history of government seizing private assets en masse (yet, but I feel we’re not far from it). Things like this are why large international banksters love to feed our debt troll, as it is the safest troll on Earth, given the other options.

To quote Churchill: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”


Not quite accurate. Military spending is not the lion’s share of the budget. Please see below:


Defense is 19% of the federal budget for 2012. Social Security 22%; Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP (health insurance for children) 21%; safety net programs 12%. So social spending was nearly three times defense spending for 2012.

The oft-repeated line about the U.S. spending more than everyone else is irrelevant, in my opinion. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so too does power. If we decide to step down from the top of the heap, the world will NOT magically become a peaceful, Age of Aquarius utopia. Someone else, most likely PRC, will step in. Like it or not, your choice is having our carriers off their coast or their carriers off our coasts. Period. Speaking as one who has deployed more than once, the rest of the world respects power. Our standard of living is based on everyone else knowing that we can stomp the bejabbers out of them at any time, anywhere. Give that up and you will be giving up a lot more than you realize. Even now the cuts to the military (and I see them first-hand) are having a deleterious effect on our combat power. If you don’t want us to be able to win, that’s fine, but go into it with your eyes open. You will feel the effects if we suffer a catastrophic military defeat in the future. Just food for thought.