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, Dictionary.com 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.