Bread and Circuses (Star Trek: The Original Series)

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"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 actors
Episode chronology
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"Bread and Circuses" is a second season episode of the original 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.

Set in the 23rd century, the series follows the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the Federation starship Enterprise. In this episode, Captain Kirk and his companions are forced to fight in gladiatorial games on a planet resembling the Roman Empire, that possesses mid-20th century Earth technology.


The Federation starship USS Enterprise is on routine patrol when it encounters wreckage of the SS Beagle, a survey vessel lost six years earlier. 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 the previously unexplored FGC 892 System.

The Enterprise picks up a television broadcast, with black and white video 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 Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and beam down to the planet to investigate. They are captured by rifle-toting men, revealed to be escaped slaves, who bring the party before their leader, Septimus (Ian Wolfe). When the party introduces themselves as "men of peace", Septimus asks them if they are "children of the Sun". 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 overrules him and decides the landing party poses no threat.

Kirk finds an uncanny similarity between Merikus, First Citizen of the Empire, and Captain Merik of the Beagle, so he believes them to be one and the same. Kirk tells the slaves that he wants to meet Merikus, so Flavius offers to help and leads Kirk to the capital city. The landing team puts on slaves' uniforms and tries to sneak into the city. Along the way, Flavius explains how he was once the greatest gladiator until he, too, heard the words of the Sun. The way of the Sun involves a bond of brotherhood and a commitment to peace; it was hard for the fighter to accept, but "the words were true".

They are captured by Roman guards and are placed into the slave pens. Kirk asks Flavius about the culture's institution of slavery. He discovers that a slave who performs well earns health benefits and if he survives long enough, is also compensated in the end with retirement benefits and prestige. McCoy and Spock argue about logic and Flavius asks if the two are enemies; Kirk replies "I'm not sure they're sure". Kirk asks Flavius how long ago the slaves started worshipping the Sun and Flavius says as long ago as the founding of the empire.

The landing party makes an escape attempt while the guards lead them to meet Merikus, who has anticipated their plan and has forces waiting to apprehend them. Once again, the party is taken prisoner and stand before Merikus and the Proconsul Claudius Marcus (Logan Ramsey), who dismiss the guards and invite the landing team to sit and talk in private.

Merikus acknowledges that he is Captain Merik and that, his ship severely damaged in a meteor shower, he stopped at the planet for repairs. When he beamed down he met Claudius Marcus, who demanded the planet's culture not be divulged to the Federation, for fear of cultural contami-nation. Merik decided to stay, putting his crewmen into the gladiatorial pits, where they would certainly be killed. Merik informs Kirk that the Enterprise crew must also abandon their ship and integrate into Magna Roma's culture.

Although threatened at gunpoint by armed guards, Kirk refuses Merik's demands and instead tells Chief Engineer Scott (James Doohan), left in command of the ship, "condition green" through the communicator; a code-phrase indicating the sender is in trouble, but that the recipient must not attempt a rescue. Angered, Marcus sends Spock and McCoy into the arena for Kirk's defiance.

Spock and McCoy face off against Flavius and another gladiator, Achilles, under studio lights, television cameras and a fake backdrop of a Roman combat arena. The battle begins as Spock quickly overpowers his opponent and, when McCoy is in trouble, Spock uses the Vulcan nerve pinch on his opponent, 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 execution, which will be televised live.

Kirk goes to his room where a woman, Drusilla (Lois Jewel), is waiting for him. Elsewhere, McCoy tries to thank Spock for saving him in the arena, but Spock shrugs him off. McCoy tells Spock he really does care, but is just afraid to show it. Kirk, meanwhile, eats and talks with Drusilla and then goes to bed. Marcus later explains he arranged it all because he respects Kirk as a real man, equal to the Romans, wanting him to enjoy his last hours as a man.

Meanwhile, Mr. Scott works on a way to disrupt power and communications on the planet while obeying the Prime Directive and not interfering with a planet's society. Blacking out the city just before his captain's execution, Kirk is able to free Spock and McCoy but is soon captured again. Merik, however, does something unexpected and signals the Enterprise to have Kirk and party beamed to the Enterprise. Before he can complete the message, Marcus fatally stabs him for his treachery. Scott understands enough of the message and the landing party dematerializes just as they face a hail of machine gun fire.

Back on the ship, Kirk records a commendation for Scott's action in causing the blackout. Spock again expresses to Kirk and McCoy his failure to comprehend why Sun-worshipping Romans adhere to a concept of peace; saying it is illogical. He opines that most sun worship is a primitive religion of superstition, with no philosophy of peace behind it. Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) has the answer; she has been monitoring transmissions from the planet and states that the Empire spokesman's efforts to ridicule the belief of these worshipers has utterly failed. When Kirk, Spock and McCoy remain uncomprehending she continues, "Don't you understand? It's not the sun up in the sky. It's the Son of God." Kirk replies with a note of jubilant humility: "Caesar ... and Christ; they had them both. And the word is spreading only now."

McCoy notes that the philosophy is one of total love and total brotherhood. Spock says, "It will replace their Imperial Rome, but it will happen in their 20th century." Thinking of the continued parallels of this planet's history to that of Earth, Kirk remarks, "Wouldn't it be something to watch, to be a part of? To see it happen - all over again."


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].


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