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Bread and Circuses (Star Trek: The Original Series)

"Bread and Circuses" is a second season episode of the American science fiction television series Star Trek, broadcast on March 15, 1968. It is episode #54, production #43, written by Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon and directed by Ralph Senensky. Its name is a reference to the phrase "bread and circuses" taken from the Satire X written by the poet, Juvenal. In modern usage, the phrase implies a populace that no longer values civic virtues, the public life, and military (manly) service; instead, the people need only food and entertainment.

"Bread and Circuses"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
Episode no. Season 2
Episode 25
Directed by Ralph Senensky
Written by
Story by John Kneubuhl (uncredited)[citation needed]
Cinematography by Jerry Finnerman
Production code 043
Original air date March 15, 1968 (1968-03-15)
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"The Ultimate Computer"
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"Assignment: Earth"

In the episode, Captain Kirk and his companions are forced to fight in gladiatorial games on a planet resembling the Roman Empire, but possessing mid-20th century Earth technology.



The Federation starship USS Enterprise is on routine patrol when it finds wreckage of the SS Beagle. The Beagle was under the command of Captain R. M. Merik (William Smithers), whom Captain Kirk (William Shatner) knew during his academy days. First Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) traces the path of debris back to a planet in a previously unexplored system.

The Enterprise picks up a 20th-century-style television broadcast, with black and white footage of what appears to be a Roman gladiatorial fight in an arena. The "barbarian" gladiator they see killed is named William B. Harrison, identified by ship's records as one of the Beagle's flight crew.

Kirk, Spock and Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) beam down to the planet to investigate. They are captured and brought before Septimus (Ian Wolfe), who refers to the planet as Magna Roma ("Great Rome") and asks them if they are "children of the Sun". Technologically, Magna Roma is similar to 20th-century Earth - but one where the Roman Empire never fell, and thus came to dominate the planet. Septimus explains he was a senator until he heard the "words of the Sun" and was made a slave. Although another slave, Flavius (Rhodes Reason), suggests killing the landing party, Septimus decides the landing party poses no threat.

Kirk tells the slaves that he wants to meet Merikus, the Master of the (gladiatorial) Games, suspecting he is Captain Merik of the Beagle. Flavius, a former gladiator, offers to help and leads Kirk to the capital city. The landing team puts on slaves' uniforms and tries to sneak into the city.

They are captured and placed into slave pens. After a failed escape attempt, they are brought before Merikus and the Proconsul Claudius Marcus (Logan Ramsey), who invites the landing party to sit and talk in private. Merikus acknowledges that he is Captain Merik. When he beamed down he met Claudius Marcus, who demanded the planet's culture not be divulged to the Federation, for fear of cultural "contamination". Merik decided to stay, putting his crewmen into the gladiatorial pits, where most of them would be killed. Merik informs Kirk that the Enterprise crew must also abandon their ship and integrate into Magna Roma's culture.

Kirk refuses Merik's demands and instead tells Chief Engineer Scott (James Doohan) that the landing party is in trouble, via a code term, and that no rescue attempt should be made.

Angered, Marcus sends Spock and McCoy into the televised arena. They face off against Flavius and Achilles. Spock quickly overpowers Achilles and, when McCoy is in trouble, Spock uses the Vulcan nerve pinch on Flavius, ending the fight. A hail of boos and hisses from a pre-recorded "crowd" greets this turn of events. Spock and McCoy are taken back to the slave pens while Kirk is taken to face a televised execution the next day.

Meanwhile, Mr. Scott uses the ship's beams to cause a citywide power blackout, which allows Kirk to free Spock and McCoy while also not violating the Prime Directive of noninterference. However, the landing party is cornered before they can escape from the cell block in the television studio. Merik signals the Enterprise to have Kirk and party beamed back to the ship. Before he can complete the message, Marcus fatally stabs Merik for his treachery. Scott understands enough of the message and the landing party is beamed out just as they face a hail of fire from the guards' submachine guns.

Back on the ship, Spock again expresses to Kirk and McCoy his failure to comprehend why sun-worshipping Romans adhere to a concept of peace. He opines that most sun worship is a primitive religion of superstition, with no philosophy of peace behind it. The idea is also put forward that the original Roman Empire had no sun worship, although Imperial Rome during the 3rd cent. developed the cult of Sol Invictus. Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) has the answer, based on her ongoing cultural analysis: "You've got it wrong, all of you. It's not the sun up in the sky. It's the Son of God."

Firearms used in the episodeEdit

The submachine guns used by the Roman guards in the episode are Danish Madsen M-50 submachine guns.[2]


The planet 892-IV was renamed Magna Roma in the Pocket Books published TNG novel The Captain's Honor in late 1989 ISBN 0-671-68487-6.

In the book Star Trek: Star Charts from 2002 (ISBN 0-7434-3770-5), Magna Roma is listed as having attained mid-21st cent. technology by the time period of Star Trek: TNG, which in the Star Trek universe would make the system a new member of the United Federation of Planets.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i ""Star Trek" Bread and Circuses (1968) - Full cast and crew". IMDb. n.d. Retrieved September 13, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Madsen M50". Retrieved September 25, 2016. 

External linksEdit