Panem and Rome. The Influence of Ancient Rome on The Hunger Games

Gladiators in the Arena in Ancient Rome

Gladiators in the Arena in Ancient Rome

                                 The Influence of Ancient Rome on The Hunger Games


The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins is notable for concepts that can be traced back to ancient Rome. What are the similarities and differences between the Roman arena and the arena depicted in The Hunger Games? What are the similarities and differences between ancient Rome and the fictional country of Panem?


The phenomena of the Roman arena developed over time. Roman gladiatorial contests were originally associated with funerals. The practice may have developed originally in Campania or Etruria.  Gladiators were generally either slaves or prisoners of war. The practice of holding public gladiatorial games, not associated with funerals, probably  developed gradually from the second century B.C. onward.  In the late 2nd century B.C. gladiatorial  contests took place in the market place and wealthy citizens erected temporary scaffolds so that they could get a good view.  The first arenas were probably built during the first century B.C., but the Colosseum was not built until 80 A.D.  During the time of the Republic, gladiators were accoutered in the costumes of Rome’s enemies, either Thracian, Gallic, or Samnite.


In The Hunger Games, the participants, like the participants in the Roman ludi, were not citizens. They are considered tributes from regions conquered and kept under control by force. The Hunger Games tributes fought to the death and the only survivor was the last one left alive. This, of course, was not the case in the Roman arena. Gladiators fought one on one and the vanquished was usually allowed to plead for his life. The contest might or might not end in the death of one participant.. The concept of battles to the death in the arena, however, is clearly derived from ancient Rome.


In The Hunger Games there are a number of instances of animals being used to torment or kill the participants. This concept is also derived from ancient Rome. Under the Roman emperors a day’s activities in the arena was usually divided into several segments. In the morning there would be animal hunts, in which slaves or prisoners would be armed and expected to chase and kill wild beasts which were turned loose in the arena. After that there would be public executions of criminals or prisoners of war. In the afternoon there would be gladiatorial contests.  The execution of foreign enemies was usually by strangulation. In the case of criminals it could be by burning at the stake, by blade, or by crucifixion. Mosaics also depict execution ad bestia -that is by exposing the condemned to attack by wild animals.  The first instances of ad bestia probably occurred during or after the third Macedonian war, under Aemilius Paullus, and was probably applied to military deserters. It was only after Rome took control of Africa and made it a province that commerce in wild animals became prevalent. By Cicero’s time the gathering of wild beasts was in full swing and animal hunts  had become a favorite of the Roman spectators. Execution ad bestia probably did not become common until the time of the emperors.



Another major difference between the arena of The Hunger Games and that of ancient Rome was the age and sex distribution of the victims. In The Hunger Games the tributes are young people aged 12 to 18 and half of them are female. It is doubtful that in ancient Rome females regularly participated in either animal hunts or gladiatorial competitions (once in a while there may have been some equivalent of female mud wrestling,) and the execution of female prisoners was probably quite rare at least until the advent of the persecution of Christians.  I’ve seen nothing in the literature to indicate that children under the age of puberty were ever participants in any of the activities of the Roman arena. There were laws in Rome forbidding the execution of children. According to Suetonius, the depraved emperor Tiberius did not scruple at executing the wives and children of men who had incurred his disfavor, but he would not have had the temerity to do it in the arena.


In The Hunger Games the deaths of children such as Rue and Thresh appear to have been a factor in the rebellion of the districts. They could be considered martyrs. Persecution of Christians went on in Rome sporadically from the time of Nero until the age of Constantine.  In their persecution of Christians the Romans also created martyrs. The early Christians tended to embrace martyrdom eagerly and martyrdom fed the growth of the new religion. Women were certainly not denied the privilege, as the martyrdoms of Perpetua and Felicitas in Carthage in 203 A.D. would indicate.  Just as the martyrdom of tributes in The Hunger Games contributed to the downfall of the Capital of Panem, the martyrdom of Christians in the Roman empire and the consequent rise of Christianity ultimately contributed to the downfall of the Roman empire.


Suzanne Collins appears to acknowledge her debt to the ancient Romans by giving nearly all of the natives of the Capital Roman names: Cinna, Octavia, Fulvia, Cornelius, Portia, Caesar. Residents of the two favored districts might also have Roman names: Brutus, Cato,  but those of the less favored districts did not. A Roman praenomen was apparently an item of prestige. A few of the privileged caste have Greek names: Plutarch, Effie (Ephigenia?), or even a Persian name: Darius.



Finally, as Plutarch tells Katniss in the third book of the trilogy, Mockingjay, the government of Panem resorted to the same tactic as the Roman emperors had to appease their citizen population: Bread and circuses -panem et circenses. The phrase comes from a satire by Juvenal written around 100 A.D. in which he laments the loss of the republican form of government and the lack of involvement of citizens in public affairs: “Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the people who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions-everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”




  1. do you have a fb fanpage

  2. Hi Devon,
    Yes I am on face book and have two fan pages The Death of Carthage and Tales From Ancient Rome. My latest blogs are on Tales of Ancient Rome.

  3. Callum Hutchinson says


  4. Aimee Sullivan says

    I think this is great1111!!!

  5. this is enjoyment111111!!!!!!!

  6. There’s also the fact that Panem is latin for ‘bread’. The show depicts the phrase of ‘Panem et Circenses’, meaning bread and circuses.

    (I think) The capital’s flag is made of an olive branch and an eagle, similar to the roman flag.

    Great analysis though!

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