What Have the Romans Ever Done For Us? A Brief Examination of the Roman Welfare State


By Kabira Namit


In 1787, Edward Gibbon completed ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ wherein among several other reasons, he attributed “higher taxation and spending of public monies for free bread and circuses for the populace” as one of the reasons for the decline of the Roman Empire. Since then, the ‘Libertarian Consensus’ seems to be that the expansion of the Roman welfare provisions was the primary cause of the downfall of the Empire. In order to assess the merit of the Libertarian argument, this paper explores the generosity of the Roman Empire towards its citizenry through the provision of welfare. Primarily, it explores the core components of welfare through the provision of food assistance; subsidized/ free water, healthcare and the Roman Empire’s pension plan for veterans. Subsequently, the paper negates the standard libertarian argument that Rome’s welfare largesse was responsible for its downfall.



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