As I watched the Opening Ceremonies from the 2012 Olympics in London, I was reminded once again of the Roman Circuses. For hundreds of years, the Roman Empire dominated the world, bringing back more and more exotic animals and foreign customs. In spite of the contributions the Empire gave the world (the Appian Way, aquaducts, a uniform highway system, "representation" in government and a universal currency to name only a few), other contributions were not so positive.
As the cost of all this centralization rose, "representation" became more focused on the elite than on the common citizen and taxes became more repressive to the poor. The elite became so wealthy and their appetites so excessive that soon they were jaded. The circuses were the answer both to the oppressors and to the oppressed.
The circuses began with displays of conquered people and the native animals of exotic lands. The spectators soon tired of these so gladiators were added. While the gladiators added to the excitement and offered an adrenalin rush, they were also a subtle reminder of the "might that was Rome." The elite became jaded quickly and unrest about a strange new religion called Christianity fueled the fires of an unhappy populace. The official religions of Rome were not sufficient as more and more people began to adopt Christianity and, in so doing, developed a peace that was not the Peace of Rome. Emperors added Christians to the gladiators' battles but they proved to lack the excitement since the Christians were willing to die rather than kill. Lions soon replaced the gladiators and the gore they produced as they tore the Christians apart titillated for a while until the observers began to wonder why these victims looked more like winners. Not long after, the spectacle of the Roman Circuses no longer distracted the populace from their oppressions.
The same pattern was repeated in China, Russia, Germany, and others. Even England was not immune as the landed gentry's excesses grew. The Magna Carta and later the addition of a Parliamentry government were the first attempts to hold down the masses. World War I and World War II both helped to provide England with a reprise from unrest.