Memory Alpha
Memory Alpha
Real world article
(written from a production point of view)

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are captured on a planet that resembles the Roman Empire but with 20th Century technology. They are set to die at the hands of gladiators, for the sake of public spectacle on a TV gameshow.



William Harrison battles Claudius Marcus

Flight Officer William B. Harrison (left) battles Claudius Marcus in black-and-white news footage.

Near the planet 892-IV, the USS Enterprise discovers the wreckage of the SS Beagle, a merchant ship missing for the last six years, and whose commanding officer is R.M. Merik, an old friend of Captain Kirk from the Academy. When the Enterprise enters orbit to look for survivors, it intercepts a 20th century-style television news broadcast, shown on the viewscreen in black-and-white, in which a Roman gladiator defeats and kills a "barbarian." The casualty is named William B. Harrison, whom Spock identifies as the Beagle's flight officer. Kirk assembles a landing party to the surface of the planet to investigate.

Act One[]

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down, outside the city where the broadcast originated, mindful of their duty under the Prime Directive not to interfere with the society's natural development. Almost immediately after their materialization they are captured by the "Children of the Sun" – runaway slaves who are hiding in caves to avoid recapture. Flavius Maximus, a former gladiator, regards the officers as Romans who should be killed to avoid disclosing the hiding places. But the rebels' leader, Septimus, abhors violence, and Kirk's use of his communicator convinces him they are not with the authorities but are from an "offshore ship." Septimus says the Children of the Sun teach peace and brotherhood but are persecuted for their beliefs.

In a cave, the crew looks at magazines that show astonishing parallels with Earth's ancient Rome, though with 20th century technology. However, when Kirk mentions the loss of Captain Merik six years earlier, they conclude that he is now Merikus, the First Citizen. Kirk explains to the Children of the Sun that such interference would violate an "important law," for which he needs to be removed for punishment. Septimus orders Flavius to lead them into the city.

However, the group is quickly spotted and captured by the police.

Act Two[]

RM Merik

Captain R.M. Merik, now First Citizen Merikus

The captives are taken into the city. Kirk uses their captors' fear of reprisal to angle for a meeting with "Merikus". He is indeed Merik, and he takes them to Proconsul Claudius Marcus, who knows all about their off-world origins. Merik explains that, after the shipwreck of the Beagle, he was forced to beam down all 47 of his crew. They were given two options: "adapt" to their new world or fight in televised gladiatorial competitions for the entertainment of its inhabitants. Kirk sees that Merik has violated his oath and has ordered his own crew to their deaths. Claudius hands Kirk his communicator and tells him to do the same. Kirk initially plans for Spock, McCoy, and himself to be beamed up, but Claudius' guards enter with machine guns pointed at Kirk. Abandoning the attempt, Kirk gives Montgomery Scott the code condition green, a signal that the landing party is in trouble, but forbidding a rescue attempt. Claudius elicits from Merik that Kirk has a starship commission that Merik sought but for which he could not qualify. The livid Claudius dispatches Spock and McCoy to "the games" to die.

Act Three[]

On the Enterprise, Scott notes in his log that Kirk ordered him to carry out condition green, which prohibits him from taking any action to save the troubled landing party. Scott orders Ensign Chekov to locate power sources down on the planet and to determine how much their beams will take to overload them. Scott announces that, although he is forced to not take any action on the planet below, there is nothing stopping him from frightening the planet's inhabitants about what a starship's power capabilities truly are.

On the planet, Kirk is forced to watch as Spock and McCoy are condemned to fight Flavius and another gladiator named Achilles in the arena, which is being broadcast ("in color," according to the event's announcer) by the television network Empire TV. Spock holds his own against his opponent, but McCoy is severely outmatched, only surviving because Flavius is reluctant to kill him. Claudius again tries to pressure Kirk into ordering his crew down, but Kirk calmly refuses. Flavius is threatened and whipped to encourage him to attack, whereupon he gives McCoy some tips to make it "look real." Spock overpowers both opponents and incapacitates one with a Vulcan nerve pinch. This violates the rules, and the lives of Spock and McCoy are left in the hands of Merik and Claudius. They spare the two to maximize their influence on Kirk.

Act Four[]

Kirk enters Claudius's quarters, and a blonde woman emerges, pouring wine. She tells Kirk that her name is Drusilla and she is the proconsul's slave. Tonight, though, she is Kirk's slave. Kirk yells out to Claudius that this will not work on him and he still refuses to cooperate. Drusilla assures Kirk that they are indeed alone together.

McCoy and Spock seek a way out of their cell – and McCoy seeks a way past Spock's determination to control his emotions, remarking that the Vulcan is not afraid of dying – he is more afraid of living for fear in that one day, his Human half might "peek out", as McCoy puts it. For a moment, Spock appears to admit it but then turns to McCoy and simply says "Really, Doctor?" McCoy then tells him, "I know. I'm worried about Jim too."

Kirk is eating the food given to him by Drusilla. He finds the food good, and Drusilla informs Kirk that she is here to please him. Kirk tells her that he has been to many worlds with strange customs; perhaps what he is experiencing is torture on her planet. Drusilla does not understand, as she does not wish to see Kirk tortured and gives him a kiss. She asks Kirk to tell her when he feels the first sign of pain, and they continue to kiss. Much later, Kirk wakes up alone and Merik tells him that the crew of the Enterprise will eventually come down to the planet's surface, but Kirk still refuses to cooperate.

The Enterprise intercepts broadcasts announcing Kirk's execution in the arena. Scott, though forbidden to mount a rescue because of the Prime Directive, devises a way to disrupt the execution and warn the city through the power demonstrated by the Enterprise.

Claudius tells Kirk that his night with Drusilla was a favor to a condemned man rather than an attempt at interrogation, in the process dealing an insult to Merik. Kirk is taken to the arena for his execution, one that Marcus promises will be swift. On the way, Merik has a change of heart; he is too late to save Kirk, but tells him he will try to save the other two. The execution, however, is interrupted by Flavius, and by a power blackout induced by beams activated by Chekov from the Enterprise. Flavius is killed by the guards's machine guns during Kirk's execution, but the captain escapes and runs to free Spock and McCoy from their cell.

The Romans intercept Kirk's rescue attempt from both sides, and therefore draw swords rather than firearms to avoid crossfire. During the fighting, Merik signals to the Enterprise with a stolen communicator just before he is stabbed by Marcus. The dying Merik still manages to toss the communicator to the feet of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Locking onto the signal, Scott beams them back aboard, just as the Roman guards open fire.

On the bridge, Spock muses about the remarkable parallels between Earth during the time of the Roman Empire and the planet 892-IV – except that Rome had no sun worshipers – at least none that well organized; Spock points out that sun-worshiping cults tend to be more primitive and superstition-oriented. But Lieutenant Uhura, who has been monitoring the planet's broadcasts, that what the Children Of The "Sun" are worshiping is not the planet's sun but the "Son Of God." Kirk is astonished. The planet 892-IV had had both a Caesar and a Christ, and its evolution will proceed, implying that Rome will fall, in due time.

Log entries[]

Memorable quotes[]

"Once, just once, I'd like to be able to land someplace and say, 'Behold, I am the Archangel Gabriel!'"
"I fail to see the humor in that situation, Doctor."
"Naturally. You could hardly claim to be an angel with those pointed ears, Mr. Spock. But say you landed someplace with a pitchfork…"

- McCoy and Spock, after arriving on the planet 892-IV

"What do you call those?"
"I call them ears."
"Are you trying to be funny?"

- Flavius and Spock, as Flavius captures the landing party

"May the blessings of the Son be upon you."

- Septimus, to the landing party

"Medical men are trained in logic, Mr. Spock."
"Really, Doctor? I had no idea they were trained. Watching you, I assumed it was trial and error."

- McCoy and Spock, discussing slavery on 892-IV

"Are they enemies, Captain?"
"I'm not sure they're sure."

- Flavius and Kirk, on Spock and McCoy

"I know you, Flavius. You're as peaceful as a bull."

- Lead policeman, as two guards take Flavius away

"My world, Proconsul, is my vessel, my oath, my crew."

- Kirk to Claudius, as Spock and McCoy compare Earth history with that of 892-IV

"You bring this network's ratings down, Flavius, and we'll do a special on you!"

- Master of the Games, as Flavius is whipped

"We believe men should fight their own battles. Only the weak will die."

- Claudius, explaining the rules of the game to Kirk

"The games have always strengthened us. Death becomes a familiar pattern. We don't fear it as you do."

- Claudius, on the Roman fighting spirit

"Fight, you pointed-ear freak!"
"You tell him, buster! Of all the completely… ridiculous… illogical questions… I ever heard in my life!"

- Achilles and McCoy, after Spock asks McCoy if he needs any help in the arena

"I'm trying to thank you! You pointed-eared hobgoblin!"

- McCoy, offended by Spock's lack of empathy

"Do you know why you're not afraid to die, Spock? You're more afraid of living! Each day you stay alive is just one more day you might slip and let your Human half peek out."

- McCoy, commenting on Spock's personal insecurity

"You're a Roman, Kirk, or you should have been."

- Claudius, expressing admiration for Kirk

"You may not understand because you're centuries beyond anything as crude as television."

- Claudius, as Kirk is taken to the arena

"They threw me a few curves."

- Kirk to Spock, commenting on his night with Drusilla

"I pity you, Captain Merik. But at least watch and see how men die."

- Claudius, as the guards corner Kirk, Spock, and McCoy

"Caesar and Christ. They had them both. And the word is spreading only now."

- Kirk, after realizing that Flavius worshiped the Son of God

Background information[]

Production timeline[]


  • The title, "Bread and Circuses", "panem et circenses" in Latin, comes from a line by the Roman satirist Juvenal, and refers to the practice in ancient Rome of providing a regular free bread (or grain) dole to the lower classes and free entertainment in the city's arenas and circuses, both of which had the effect of preventing civil unrest in the populace. Juvenal also provided the title of "Who Watches The Watchers".

Story and script[]

  • Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon wrote this episode's teleplay from a story by playwright and television writer John Kneubuhl. However, Roddenberry and Coon received sole writing credit for the episode. Roddenberry's and Coon's bitter arguments over its tone, coupled with the fact that Coon was suffering from the throat cancer of which he died in 1973, is believed to have hastened Coon's departure as operating producer; he recommended John Meredyth Lucas to take over by suggesting the idea to him directly, noting Meredyth Lucas's work on Ben Casey, The Fugitive, and other series programs.
  • Roddenberry revised the shooting script as the episode was being filmed. Director Ralph Senensky remembers picking up the day's script pages when arriving to the set in the morning. [1]
Legionnaire and Master of Games

"You bring this network's ratings down and we'll do a special on you!"

  • The episode parodies the television industry in several ways. Fake applause and catcalls are used to simulate a studio audience, and the race for high television ratings is lampooned several times. The TV station manager (Master of the Games) threatens the now-pacifist runaway slave that he had better fight convincingly: "You bring this network's ratings down, Flavius, and we'll do a special on you!" Later, the proconsul sneers at Kirk about the captain's impending death, to be televised from the arena, by telling Kirk that "You're centuries beyond anything as crude as… television." Kirk replies, "I've heard it was… similar," an oblique reference to the series' own ratings difficulties. Comic relief is in the scene where McCoy and Spock heckle each other on the TV stage during the gladiatorial duels.


  • The caves where the Children of the Son hide out are one of the most-used locations in television and movies. In addition to being the entrance to the Batcave, they are also seen in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Kung Fu, and various police and western shows. They are located right below the famous Hollywood sign.
  • During the location shooting for this episode, the new producer John Meredyth Lucas visited the set, accompanied by Gene Roddenberry. Lucas was struck by the tension and bad atmosphere among the cast. "Shatner came around the corner, and when he saw Gene, he turned around and went the other way. And the cast was fighting too. All the actors complained to me about all the other actors." (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, p. 354)
  • The newsreel scene of the arrest was filmed in front of an office building at Paramount Studios. [2] Paramount production buildings were also utilized for location filming in "Patterns of Force" and "Assignment: Earth".
  • One of the shots of the planetary capital (in the opening of Act II), the last one, is of the Great Dome at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose words can be read (somewhat) above the pillars. The first shot shows the Legion of Honor on the Left Bank in Paris; its motto honneur et patrie is not Latin but French. The middle shot shows a drive-by view of the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, Poland.
  • This is one of only two TOS episodes featuring dialogue in act one before the title of the episode appears on-screen. The other episode is "A Private Little War".
  • Several sequences from this episode made the blooper reel:
    • Jack Perkins had a line which was supposed to read, "If they refuse to move out on cue, skewer them" but instead said, "Screw them!". After viewing that take in the dailies, Gene Roddenberry wrote a memo to director Ralph Senensky, suggesting that all dialogue should be "carefully enunciated in the future". (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, p. 370)
    • Ted Cassidy appeared out of nowhere dressed as Injun Joe from his work on The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and carried Shatner off just before he was going to shoot the lock off of Spock and McCoy's cell. While he was being carried, Shatner yelled out "Hey, I don't know about you, but this is not the way it should work! I want you to know!" This was the first scene to be filmed that day, and when Cassidy visited the set, the cast and crew came up with this small prank to start the day's work in a happy mood. Everyone on the set knew about it, except Shatner. [3]
    • As the police closed in on the landing party after they escape their cell, one of the extras slipped and fell; this is the reason there is a quick cut before the policemen reach the main corridor.

Syndication cuts[]

Bread and Circuses VHS box back

The VHS box for the episode, referencing the cut McCoy-Spock dialogue

Although this episode officially received no syndication cuts, many local television stations were known to cut the "You're more afraid of living" speech which McCoy gives to Spock when the two are alone together in the Roman jail. The reason for this was that the dialogue was not considered essential to the plot, and local stations often used the extra time to insert extra commercials to boost advertisements. This practice was so widespread that the VHS box for the episode stated, "Contains one of the finest McCoy/Spock dialogues ever, usually cut in syndication!" (Viacom-CBS) In addition, the opening log entry of Kirk, where he laments on the Roman buildings (including an obvious stock footage shot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), was likewise frequently cut by local television stations to add more advertising time.


Sets and props[]

Claudius Marcus - coat of arms

Claudius Marcus' insignia


  • This is the only TOS episode in which it is explicitly stated that the planetary natives are speaking in English. (This was perhaps done to make the characters' misinterpretation of "Son Worshipers" as "Sun Worshipers" more plausible, as "Son" and "Sun" would likely not be homophones in another language; they are not in either Latin or Greek, the two main languages spoken in the Roman Empire.)
  • Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development was used to explain the close similarities to Earth but the writers were very inconstant with it; the most blatant is "Patterns of Force", which at episode number 52 was after this, which was number 43, and so it makes even less sense if the episodes are watched in production order.
  • The names of the Roman gods mentioned in the episode all mirror Earth counterparts which were based on earlier Greek counterparts. Kirk and crew had actually encountered the god Apollo prior to this point, although Captain Kirk shows little reaction to the Roman gods when he learns of them. (TOS: "Who Mourns for Adonais?")
  • McCoy remarks that "Rome had no sun worshipers," but this is inaccurate; the cult of Sol Invictus ("the Unconquerable Sun") was prevalent in ancient Rome around the same time as the emergence of Christianity.
  • Two different characters have the same name in this one episode: the primary Claudius Marcus is the proconsul, while his namesake is mentioned as the gladiator who slew William B. Harrison, the last of the barbarians.
  • This episode marks the final appearance of Kirk's second season light green wrap-around tunic. Beginning with "Assignment: Earth", the next episode that followed in airdate order and when the series returned for its third and final season, Kirk resumes wearing his standard gold and black V-neck tunic full time.
  • Spock states that six million died in Earth's first world war, eleven million died in the second, and thirty seven million died in the third. The actual real-world numbers are much higher for World War I and World War II: fifteen to nineteen million and fifty to more than eighty million, respectively.


  • Most reviewers cite the satire of network television and the race for ratings (the main adversary of Star Trek during its original three-year run) as the high point of this episode. Allan Asherman notes in The Star Trek Compendium: "In the hands of Star Trek's dominant Genes [Roddenberry and Coon] this episode also becomes a marvelous satire of the television industry." (p. 87)
  • Director Ralph Senensky claims that the tight schedule resulted in the episode turning out to be of lower quality than it could have been under better circumstances, especially regarding the arena scenes. "The scenes in the arena are the part of "Bread and Circuses" most harmed by the time restrictions imposed by the new management. The sequences were literally shot on the run. The satiric look at live television was there, but the spectacle of the Roman arena was far less than it should have been. (…) There was so much more that could have been done that would have been exciting and entertaining, but it required the time to stage and rehearse, with necessary care taken to avoid injury to the actors involved. That set piece should have been the highlight of the production; but those bloodhounds in black suits were nipping at our heels." [4]
  • When first screened in the United Kingdom in 1970, the BBC edited much of the televised fight and Drusilla's encounter with Kirk. The episode was first screened uncut in 1993. [5]
  • The advertisement for the Jupiter 8 automobile depicted in the magazine The Gallian states that it comes equipped with, among other things, "super-grip white sidewall tires". The photograph, however, clearly shows black tires.
  • McCoy's claim that "Rome had no sun worshipers" is incorrect. Rome, in fact, had several cults that revered sun gods including Helios Apollo and Sol from the Greeks, Mithras from the Persians, and Elagabalus from the Syrians. In addition, from the 3rd century on there was Sol Invictus ("Unconquered Sun"), which may have been a new sect or a revival of an old one. Therefore at least two of these gods would have been called "Sun" in English.
  • According to The Autobiography of James T. Kirk, the slave woman Drusilla gave birth to James Kirk's natural son Eugenio. The Enterprise-A later returns to the planet to find that Eugenio has become a movie director, and they watch his film The Final Frontier.
  • The Roman planet, known as Magna Roma to its inhabitants according to some published Star Trek reference material, is revisited in the novel The Captains' Honor set a hundred years after the encounter by the original Enterprise crew. The novel details how the alternate Rome conquered their world and explains that one hundred years after the events of "Bread and Circuses" the Romans are now Federation members and are participating in galactic affairs utilizing at least one Constitution-class starship, the former USS Farragut, renamed the USS Centurion (β), and run according to their own methods and principles rather than those of Starfleet.
  • According to the novel The Poisoned Chalice, the people of Magna Roma were descended from Humans transplanted from Earth by the Preservers. By 2385, a Magna Romanii named Atia served as first officer of the USS Lionheart.

Video and DVD releases[]

Links and references[]


Also starring[]


Guest star[]





Uncredited co-stars[]

Stunt doubles[]


3rd century; 19th century; 20th century; 2262; 892-IV; 892-IV cities; 892-IV large city; 892-IV native; advice; afternoon; "all right"; amateur; Amity Commander wallet; amount; amplitude modulation; amusement; angel; anger; annoyance; antimatter nacelle; archangel; arena; arena bait; arena games (aka gladiator contest or gladiatorial game); army; atmosphere; atomic power; audience; authority; automobile; automatic transmission; barbarian; battle; Beagle, SS; blackout; boasting; body; broil; Brother of the Son; brotherhood; bull; bullet-ridden; buster; butcher; Caesar, Augustus; Caesar, Julius; cage; car (unnamed); carbon monoxide; carbon steel; cave; cave dweller; century; chance; "checks and balances"; chief engineer; Children of the Son; Christ, Jesus; City Arena; City Prison; civilization; class 4 stardrive vessel; class M; clothing; coast; coat of arms; colloquial term (colloquial); color; commendation; commercial; communicator; condition green; confidence; contamination; corpse; creature; crowd; custom; day; dealer; death; debris; demonstration; density; despotism; device; diameter; disobedience; dissident; distance; door; ear; Earth; Earth history; efficiency; emperor; emotion; emotional need; Empire TV; enemy; Engineering Officer; English language; engineering officer; entertainment; equator; era; evening; evidence; evil; execution; existence; explanation; fact; false god; Federation law; feeling; First Citizen; First World War; fish; flight officer; folk dance; fool; "for your sake"; foul; freak; friend; freedom; French language; frequency modulation; frustration; Gabriel; Gallian, The; garum; gladiator; gladius; gram per cubic centimeter; gratitude; hand; heat; heaven; hiding place; historian; hobgoblin; Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development; hospital; hour; Human; humor; hydrocarbon; idea; identification; infatuation; "in full force"; "in just a moment"; insecurity; internal combustion engine; iridium; joke; Jupiter; Jupiter 8; land; landing party; land mass; language; law; leader; lecture; liar; life; light; line of fire; load factor; location; logic; Lord of the Games; love; Mars; Mars Toothpaste; medical men; medicine; Merchant Service; Merikus; message; meteor; Milky Way Galaxy; million; mind; mission; moons; murderer; name; Name the Winner; navigator; Neptune; Neptune Bath Salts; news broadcast; night; nitrogen; oath; ocean; "of course"; old age; opinion; orbital bombardment; order; ore; outbreak; "out of your head"; overload; oxygen; pain; parsec; peace; pension; percent; petty thief; phaser; phaser bank; philosophy; pitchfork; place; planet; pointed-ear; political strongman; pollution; Praetorian Guard; Prime Directive; proconsul; professional; province; psychosimulator test; quarters; question; radio communications; radio wave; rags; ratings; rebellion; recon party; reference; religion; report; rescue party; result; reunion; right; risk; road system; roast kid; Roman; Roman Empire; Rome; rule; rumor; running; screen; Scots language; sea; second; Second World War; senator; shape; ship; ship's surgeon; sky; slave; slavery; smog; social development; society; Son; sound effects; space; Space Academy; spaceship; sparrow; special; speed; spokesman; sports; standard orbit; "stand by"; star; Starfleet regulations; starship; story; stranger; subject; sun worship; superstition; surface; survey vessel; survivor; sword; System 892; System 892 sector; System 892 sun; television; television channel; television network; television program; term; thing; Third World War; thought; toothpaste; torture; "to that effect"; training test; transmission; transmission beam; transporter room; treason; trial and error; trick; tricorder; truth; uniform; victory; video; Vulcan; Vulcan neck pinch; war; water; weapon; wine; word; worry; worship; year

The Gallian references[]

American Fork; California; Camillo (aka George Kirgis); general; gold; London; Miss Snider; New Helvetia; Sutter; "Tigers Are For Jungles"; United States

External links[]

Previous episode produced:
"The Trouble with Tribbles"
Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 2
Next episode produced:
"Journey to Babel"
Previous episode aired:
"The Ultimate Computer"
Next episode aired:
"Assignment: Earth"
Previous remastered episode aired:
"Shore Leave"
TOS Remastered Next remastered episode aired:
"Spock's Brain"