ByBen Turner, writer at
Staff Writer at MP. This is a no-muggle space.
Ben Turner

As you probably know, Suzanne Collins's super successful Hunger Games trilogy is set in a futuristic dystopia called Panem, which is essentially a war-scarred and disfigured version of North America. Many have said that Suzanne's books are a criticism of imperialism (where one group or state has power over others) with President Snow's tyrannical and oppressive regime over the people of Panem's Districts being an example of this. Likewise, Ancient Rome is a real-life case study of imperialism, with Rome having control over all of its conquered territories, giving minimal or no rights to people from the lands that constitute the empire outside central Rome.

When you stop and think, you realize that this isn't the only reference to Ancient Rome in the Hunger Games. Suzanne has mentioned that Ancient Rome was a prominent source of inspiration for the books. Of course, the idea of the games taking place in a dome in very similar to the Roman colosseum where gladiators (often of slave origins) would fight each other (and animals) to the death for the entertainment of the Roman public.

I have put together a list of 10 different links and similarities between Panem and the Roman Empire.

1. Bread and Circuses/Panem et circenses

There is a phrase used in politics, namely 'bread and circuses', coming from the Latin 'Panem et circenses' which is a political strategy used to divert the public's attention from existing issues within a regime or society, through means such as entertainment.

In the case of Rome, many issues, such as mass starvation, were appeased and masqueraded by constant entertainment such as the carnivals and the colosseum games. The intent would be that people would not focus on the faults of the ruling classes and how they were having a negative impact on society.

Of course this situation sounds very similar to President Snow's regime in Panem. The Games in a lot of ways hide the injustice of Snow's imperialist reign, and so the enfranchised citizens of the Capitol have no idea about the injustice and difficulties of people from the Districts who greatly suffer under Panem's president.

The residents of the Capitol are so fixed on seeing the Hunger Games as games, that they forget about, or are blind to the dark foundations of what is really happening. That is, at least until Katniss and Peeta perform their act of defiance at the end of the 74th Hunger Games.

And of course, the word 'Panem', the name of Suzanne's world, comes directly from the Latin equivalent of this phrase meaning 'bread': Panem et circenses.

Bread as a symbol of political corruption is evident in Katniss and Peeta's prominent first mutual memory of one another. After Katniss's father's death, the Everdeen's had very little money to live off of and started to starve. Katniss would sit by the bakery starving every day waiting to die (which is extremely symbolic of the corruption in Panem). When the lovely Peeta realizes this, he burns a loaf of bread on purpose. Peeta's mother asks him to throw away the spoilt loaf to the pigs but instead gives it to Katniss, to save her life. He receives a beating in return.

2. Capital cities

The territories and map of the Roman Empire were inevitably in flux over the centuries due to war and invasion. However, parallels can still be drawn between the map of the Roman Empire and Panem.

Firstly, both have a central hub, standing as the economic, political and cultural centre for the entire empire. For the Romans, this was Roma (modern day Rome) and for Panem, this is the Capitol. In the books and movies, we see the Capitol as a decadent and insularly wealthy place which directly benefits from its conquered territories. For residents of both of these important centers, fashion, art, and a life of leisure are greatly enjoyed.

3. Provinces and Districts

Panem has 12/13 Districts; each having a very different 'style'. For example, each District is known for exporting different goods. District 4 is known for its fishing industry, and much of its produce will be exported to the Capitol. District 12 is known for coal mining.

District 4 (top), District 12 (bottom)
District 4 (top), District 12 (bottom)

The Roman Empire is very similar in this respect. The conquered territories of the Empire were divided into provinces. For example, Britannia (modern day Britain and Gallia (roughly modern day France) were conquered territories under Roman control. Rome greatly benefited from this geopolitical set-up through tax collecting, raw goods and slave labour as people considered with 'no rights' were frequently exported from these conquered territories.

The ability for the residents of Rome and the Capitol to sustain their lifestyles rested on the labor and exploitation of the disenfranchised peoples that had no rights in both Rome and Panem.

4. Law Enforcement

To serve in the Roman army you would need to be a Roman citizen. Similarly, only those from the Capitol or the very rich Districts can serve as Peacekeepers. Peacekeepers were obligated to stay in service for 20 years and were not allowed to marry during this service. This strongly corresponds with what historians know about Roman rules of service, as Roman soldiers would also have to serve for 20 years and not marry.

There's also a parallel between how Romans would station troops in conquered territories and outposts to rule the colonized people. Peacekeepers from the Capitol and wealthy districts exercised control over the citizens of Districts. They would apply force -- usually violent force -- when colonized citizens infringe upon the law. For example, if someone from the agricultural District 11 is caught consuming the crops they farm and produce, this is considered a violation and they will be punished by the Peacekeepers.

5. Chariots

When important Roman figures would return to Rome, they would ride through the city on in chariots. Its purpose was to make a positive and lasting impression on the Roman public. This links quite well with the Hunger Games, because all of the tributes introduce themselves to the citizens of the capitol on chariots in an attempt to make a favorable first impression.

We all remember Katniss riding through the city as the girl on fire in the first movie/book, which was the first step of gaining the Capitol's admiration.

6. Names

Names in the Hunger Games can be divided into two main themes; those from poorer regions have names that are to do with earthly things (e.g. a Katniss is a type of aquatic plant), and names from the Capitol have a Romanesque feel. For example, the names Cato, Octavius, Flavius, Portia, Caesar, Brutus and of course Katniss's ingenious stylist Cinna all belong to characters from the Capitol, or the richer Districts. Cinna's character and name also have a special connection relating to Roman history, being a major nod to famous Roman consul Lucius Cornelius Cinna.

The Roman Cinna was a person who was committed to the equality of Roman citizens and those who came from the Roman provinces who were disenfranchised with minimal rights. Cinna's sympathy for the lower citizens of Roman society caused an uproar and Cinna was exiled. In an attempt at revenge, Cinna raised an army against Rome. Cinna regained as consul for a short while before eventually he was brutally murdered.

The Cinna we know from the Capitol also has a particular and genuine sympathy for the citizens of poor Districts, being one of the only people in the Capitol that Katniss feels like she can trust. Unfortunately, Cinna's affiliations with the Mockingjay rebellion is the trigger to his demise, similar to Lucius Cornelius Cinna.

7. Tributes

The teenagers who enter the Hunger Games are known as 'tributes'. Those who are chosen or have volunteered to participate in the games as representatives of their District and to fulfill their civic duty for Panem.

The Latin word 'tributa' also has links with the Panem word 'tribute'. In Ancient Roman culture, 'tributa' were the taxes paid to the central government for protection. It is possible that Suzanne Collins was also drawing upon Ancient Greek culture. In Greek mythology, every nine years, seven Athenian youths and seven maidens would be sent to be devoured by the minotaur. I think President Snow is rather minotaur-like, also!

8. Beauty

Due to the very aesthetic culture that seems to thrive in the Capitol, part of Katniss's preparation for the Hunger Games is cosmetic and beauty-focused. All tributes for the impending games go to the Remake Center to be 'beautified' or 'corrected' to meet Capitol standards of beauty. It is described in the books that the body hair on Katniss's torso and arms is removed.

Similarly, in Roman culture, hair was considered barbaric. It was standard practice for Romans to remove hair from their torso, legs, arms and even their faces. The Romans weren't really into the beard look.

9. Food

The Capitol is also known for its cuisine. At several events during the run up to the games, you hear about many guests at buffets and feasts drinking a type of liquid that makes them vomit. The purpose of vomiting is simply so that they can keep eating. Everyone remembers how much this angered Katniss who at times in her life had to sneak into the woods and hunt just to keep her family alive.

Ancient Romans were similar in the way they ate for leisure. Roman society was notorious for immense and decadent feasts with all sorts of delicacies exported from Africa, Asia and other conquered territories. It is rumored that guests at these events would vomit between meals for the same reason as those in the Capitol - to keep eating.

There is one small difference though, it is known by classicists that it was considered a rather high-brow and decadent practice that many Romans did look down on, whereas it seems more accepted among people in the Capitol.

10. Rebellion

There are also parallels in the way rebellion of the controlled territories in Panem and Ancient Rome broke out.

A Thracian gladiator named Spartacus who was training in Capua rounded a group of c.70 men. With this group of slaves, Spartacus began raiding the large country abodes of the Roman elite, rallying more enslaved individuals throughout the raids. It was the rising of the Third Servile War. Unfortunately, it was not successful because Spartacus later died in battle and any of his survivors were then brutally slaughtered by the Roman elite to send a strong warning.

This is analogous to Peeta and Katniss's tale in some respects, and to the First Rebellion in others. After initially defying the Capitol and President Snow in the games, the couple managed to gain a following with each District at a time joining the Rebellion until District 13 re-emerged and took charge in a regimented and organized manner.

The difference here is that Katniss's rebellion was far more successful. However, the Third Servile War could also be very similar to Panem's First Rebellion, with the Elite/controlling powers eventually causing the rebels in both circumstances to go back into submission, using death and slaughter as a weapon to promote fear.

There are so many other interesting things I could go into, and probably so many other gems hidden with Suzanne's world that are yet to be discovered.

What do you guys think about this?


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