The Hunger Games and Ancient Rome

As I mentioned before in my review of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is really one huge allusion to the Roman Empire.  For those of you who don’t know what an allusion is, defines allusion as “a passing or casual reference; an incidental mention of something, either directly or by implication.”  There are a lot of allusions in The Hunger Games, but I have always been fascinated by Roman history, so now I will attempt to go into more detail about all of the allusions to the Roman Empire I found in the trilogy.

1.  The Games themselves.

The Roman Colosseum as we know it was started by the emperor Vespasian and finished by his son Titus Flavius in 80 A.D.  It soon became popular for its spectacular gladiatorial games, animal fights and even its mock sea battles when they would actually flood the arena and bring in ships.  All these things were meant for the public’s viewing pleasure and they served to raise the popularity of the emperors.  The Games that the Capitol holds every year serve as entertainment as well, but also publicly demonstrate its power over the districts.  The Hunger Games are every bit as brutal and inventive as the gladiatorial games.

2.  How the rebellion started.

Katniss sparked a rebellion by defying the Capitol in the Games the same way the gladiator Spartacus sparked a rebellion by escaping from the school where he was being trained in Capua.  Spartacus and the 70-ish men who escaped with him began raiding the lavish country estates of the Roman elite and the slaves belonging to these estates joined in, creating an army of thousands of slaves.  Katniss’ and Peeta’s tale is similar because their defiance made one district after another join in the rebellion until District 13 came out of the shadows and organized the rebellion, taking it to its logical conclusion.  Unfortunately for Spartcus, things did not turn out so well.  After his army was defeated, the 6000 survivors (which did not include him as he died in battle) were crucified along the Appian Way as a warning to other slaves.  Thus ended the Third Servile War.

3.  The nation of Panem.

Panem is very similar to the cultural perception of how ancient Rome was throughout its history, despite the fact that it was not always ruled by debauched emperors.  There is the Capitol, which is rich, decadent and has a complete stranglehold over the outlying districts.  In the latter half of the Roman Empire, this was very true because Roman citizens were usually exempt from certain taxes that the provincials had to pay.  Life within the province of Italy was usually much better than life in the outlying provinces, which is similar to Panem’s system.  Rome also had many provinces and each province was known for its main exports (i.e. Egypt was known as the breadbasket of the empire because of its grain).  Panem’s districts are known for their main exports as well, as demonstrated by the fact that the two tributes from each district wear something relating to their district’s main export.

4.  The names.

One look at the names of people in the Capitol screams, “Hey!  This is like ancient Rome!”  Cinna’s name comes from none other than Julius Caesar’s first father-in-law.  Octavia was the sister of Octavian, the first true emperor of Rome, who later became known as Caesar Augustus.  Flavia is the feminine form of the family name Flavius, which means ‘blonde’ or ‘golden’ in Latin.  At the end of Mockingjay, we learn that Katniss’ doctor is named Dr. Aurelius, as in the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius.

So as you can plainly see, Suzanne Collins knows at least a little bit of Roman history and The Hunger Games is basically an allusion to the Roman Empire.  If you like The Hunger Games, I would encourage you to study Roman history because you’ll get so much more out of the book if you do.


      • darkjade68

        Yeah, I never did either, thought Following Peoples Every Moments was lame, but that’s not all their Good for… I use it with the DarkGlobe so that The Readers and Crew can Connect with one another and so we can Spread The Word about Each Others Work

        I still don’t use Facebook, ha… Made a Page, and after 8 hours deleted it because of how the Site is Ran, don’t like it, ha


    • Carrie Slager

      Thank you! I’ve only had a cursory glimpse at Roman seige tactics; I much prefer their battle strategies and those of their enemies when they were defeated. My favourite battle was the battle of Cannae when Hannibal thoroughly routed the Romans.

      • Jeremy (A Boy with Shoes)

        Education should be entertaining, more people would like it then. And I just ordered the last two books in the series, so I will read those with more Roman history in mind than I had with the first one. My mind was just filled with “The Running Man”. Which, I guess, would be Stephen King’s allusion to Roman history.

          • Jeremy (A Boy with Shoes)

            I agree, I wasn’t a fan of history in school. Mostly only taught be coaches who only took the class to keep their jobs, so they weren’t too interested in the subject and it showed.
            I have recently been more into history. I have a few Churchill books on history I need to read.

          • Carrie Slager

            That’s good that you’re more interested in history now. I absolutely love history, particularly ancient Roman and Egyptian history. What are your favourite eras?

          • Jeremy (A Boy with Shoes)

            I have been getting into early American history, or at least looking for books to read on the subject. But history can be overwhelming in the number of books on any one subject. So I have to pace myself and look for the perfect entry.

          • Carrie Slager

            Ah, I know the feeling. There’s over 3000 years of ancient Egyptian history, but it doesn’t feel like so much because I picked up a very good book that gave a general overview of the country’s history (at least the ancient history).

          • Jeremy (A Boy with Shoes)

            We don’t quite have 3000 years of history, as The United States, but we have nearly as many books on the subject as any other long-lived and long-dead nation.
            I need to find a good one that is a general overview. Then I could find the part I want to learn more of and go from there. That makes sense.

  1. jordan

    My little brother came home the other day talking about how Romans used to make themselves puke so they could eat more at a feast. This immediately made me think of the capitol in the first hunger games book, and I thought maybe there would be more resemblences!

    • Carrie Slager

      Thank you for the input, but the vomitoriums were actually a myth. The Romans didn’t like puking any more than we do today. True, there were things called ‘vomitoriums’ but they were simply tunnels for crowds to exit through in the Colosseum. There were no specially built rooms in patrician homes for the explicit purpose of throwing up and then gorging oneself.

      However, that’s not to say that some debauched Romans didn’t throw up in order to eat more. I’m just saying that the majority of them didn’t, or that if they did, there is no archaeological or written evidence to support it.

  2. Pingback: Quarterly Reading Challenge #5 (Books 6-10) | midnight coffee monster
  3. jbw0123

    This is fun! In an interview Suzanne Collins said she was partly inspired by the Greek myth about Theseus, the Minotaur and the labyrinth, so I’d been thinking in those terms, and also about what seemed a natural extension from our “reality games” to something much worse. The Roman connection gives the stories new dimension. I can’t tell you the number of people my age who thought the Hunger Games were poorly written. There was odd grammar, but the books were superbly plotted. Best wishes and happy reading.

    • Carrie Slager

      I was just researching her inspirations for THG and came across the Theseus inspiration as well! It makes sense since Athens had to send 7 boys and girls as tributes to Crete to die a violent death. As for being poorly written, I think THG wasn’t a terrible book, but it certainly wasn’t the best I’ve ever read either. The different allusions to both popular culture and history make up for it, though.

  4. Mike Rotch

    This is literally the most helpful website on the Internet for my 5 page paper on the relationship between The Hunger Games and Ancient Rome.

    • Carrie Slager

      I didn’t know that! But Rome is what everyone associates the games with, so I don’t think I’ll bother changing it. That, and I think Collins was consciously modeling the Hunger Games off of the gladiatorial events in Rome.

      • J. F

        Naw don’t change it. You are still on target but the blood games have a such a rich history that I could go on and on about. I’ll save it for later but here is how it started. It was quite liberating. It was a tradition in the Etruscan that allll the slave were killed to go with the dominus. But the sons kindda didn’t want to give up that many slaves. So the slaves fought to the death. Those living lived. Those killed went with Dad.
        I think Hunger games is also about government control over people as a nation. Rome wasn’t about that but confronting death since it was prevalent every day and in the streets. But of course it wasn’t that simple either. You’d love the story of the elephants.

  5. DogG6

    I liked this article very much, both because of my love of Suzanne Collins’ work (I was a fan of hers before I ever knew of the Hunger Games, originally found her book series the Overlander Chronicles many years ago) and my fascination with Rome.

    My interest was recently re-sparked in ancient Rome with the release of Rome 2: Total War, and of course I had to play that because I’ve played every Total War (including the original Rome) since the original. Yush, I know I can’t not talk about games, sorry ’bout dat. 😉

    I had thought of the similarities before, but maybe not in such great detail.

    Thanks for the article!

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