Star Trek (1968): S02E25 – Bread and Circuses


“Bread and Circuses” is the twenty-fifth and penultimate episode of the second season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek.

Written by Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon and directed by Ralph Senensky, it was first broadcast on 15 March 1968.

In the episode, Captain Kirk and his companions are forced to fight in gladiatorial games on a planet resembling the Roman Empire, but possessing mid-20th century Earth technology.

Its name is a reference to the phrase “bread and circuses” taken from the Satire X written by the poet Juvenal. In modern usage, the phrase implies a populace distracted from greater issues by the base pleasures of food and entertainment.


The Federation starship USS Enterprise is on routine patrol when it finds wreckage of a survey vessel, the SS Beagle. The Beagle was under the command of Captain R. M. Merik (William Smithers), whom Captain Kirk knew during his academy days. First Officer Spock traces the path of debris to a planet in the previously unexplored “system 892”.

Upon arrival, the Enterprise crew monitors a 20th-century-style television broadcast from the planet showing footage of what appears to be a Roman gladiatorial match. The planet’s culture is thus revealed to be a kind of 20th-century parallel to Earth’s Rome. An announcer refers to one of the gladiators as William B. Harrison; Spock identifies him from ship’s records as one of the Beagle’s flight officers.

Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy beam down to the planet to investigate. They are captured and brought before Septimus (Ian Wolfe), the leader of a group of runaway slaves, who asks them if they are “children of the sun”. Septimus explains that he was a senator until he heard the “words of the sun” and was made a slave. Although another slave, Flavius (Rhodes Reason), suggests killing the landing party, Septimus decides the landing party poses no threat.

Kirk reveals that he is looking for Captain Merik, who the slaves suggest is Mericus, First Citizen. Flavius, a former gladiator, offers to help and leads Kirk and his party to the nearby city. They are soon captured and brought before Mericus, who is in fact Merik, and the Proconsul Claudius Marcus (Logan Ramsey), who invites the landing party to sit and talk in private. Merik relates that when he met Claudius Marcus and came to know his culture, he agreed that the planet should be protected from cultural contamination at all costs. Merik decided to stay, putting his crewmen into the gladiatorial matches, where most of them would be killed. Merik and Marcus try to persuade Kirk to have the Enterprise crew abandon their ship and integrate into the planet’s culture. Kirk refuses their demands and instead signals to Chief Engineer Scott, in code, that the landing party is in trouble, but that no rescue attempt should be made.

Angered, Marcus sends Spock and McCoy into the televised arena where they must fight Flavius and another gladiator, Achilles. Spock overpowers Achilles and uses a Vulcan nerve pinch on Flavius, ending the fight to a hail of pre-recorded boos and hisses. Spock and McCoy are taken back to the slave pens while Kirk is sentenced to a televised execution scheduled for the next day. As the execution broadcast begins, Mr. Scott uses a low-power phaser burst to cause a power blackout, allowing Kirk to free Spock and McCoy. Merik signals the Enterprise to beam Kirk and party up, and is fatally stabbed by Marcus. The landing party dematerialises just as the guards fire their machine guns.

Back on the Enterprise, Spock expresses surprise at a sun-worshiping cult preaching universal brotherhood, opining that sun worship was primitive superstition, with no such philosophy behind it. Lt. Uhura, having monitored the planet’s communications all this time, has the answer: “It’s not the sun up in the sky. It’s the Son of God.”

Star Trek TV Series

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Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Ralph Senensky.
  • Writer(s): Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon.
  • Production: Desilu Productions (1966-1967) and Paramount Television (1968-1969).
  • Distributor(s): Paramount Pictures (1966-2006), CBS Paramount Television (2006-2007), and CBS Television Distribution (2007-Present).
  • Original Network: NBC.
  • Release Date: 15 March 1968.
  • Running Time: 50 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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