Yesterday, I visited Tipaza, in Algeria. Tipaza is over 2,000 years old. It was founded by Phoenician traders, and then occupied by Rome. The Roman Army made it a military base. And the first thing that you see when you enter the ruins of Tipaza is the coliseum -- where the tigers ate the Berbers.
For the Roman Legions, life consisted of long periods of boredom, punctuated by occasional bloodbaths. To defeat the enemy called Boredom, as Rome spread around the Mediterranean, the Roman Army recreated its favorite hometown tradition: the Coliseum of Rome. Rome built hundreds of amphitheaters like the Coliseum throughout the Roman Empire, and 230 survive to this day.
Back in Rome, at the Coliseum, the Emperors put on enormous all-day shows. Some of them famously featured feeding Christians to the lions.
Tipaza was sadly short of both Christians and lions. So the Roman Army had to make do. They didn't have Christians, but they did have Berbers, the locals. They didn't have lions, but they did have tigers. So they fed the Berbers to the tigers.
Tigers actually are not overly fond of eating human beings; too much bone and gristle, or something. So the Romans caged the tigers, and didn't feed them for days. They kept the hungry tigers in a room next to a pit. Then the Roman soldiers gathered in the amphitheater built above the pit, tossed in a few Berbers, released the tigers, and enjoyed the fun.
Feeding the Berbers to the tigers was a central part of cultural activities at Tipaza. One of the few surviving mosaics at Tipaza depicts Berber men in chains, waiting to meet their fate.
What would be the corresponding pastime today? Feeding the Kardashians to sharks? Or maybe feeding sharks to the Kardashians?
We think of ourselves as more humane today. We would never do anything like that. Or would we?
Think about the Ryan Budget. The Ryan Budget feeds old people to the lions. And sick people. And students. And the unemployed. Project the principles of the Ryan Budget out far enough, and you reach a point where half of the federal budget pays for foreign occupations (much like the Romans), and the other half pays for tax breaks for the rich.
At least in Rome, the citizens enjoyed bread and circuses. Now it's no bread, and no circuses. Or circi. Whatever.
At the same time as the Roman Legion was feeding Berbers to the tigers, a different philosophy was on the rise, 1,800 milliaria (miles) to the east. A philosophy that held, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
Two thousand years later, that point is still up for debate.