11 Historical Influences In 'The Hunger Games' Franchise You May Have Missed



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Over 70 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of 11 Historical Influences In 'The Hunger Games' Franchise You May Have Missed
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Vote up the most favorable historical influences in The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games franchise is made up of four books and, as of 2023, four movies. The story of The Hunger Games revolves around Katniss Everdeen, her participation in the titular games, and the rebellion that takes place in the wake of her defiance. 

While The Hunger Games contains universal themes, interesting characters, and fascinating visuals (looking at you, Effie, for those clothes), there's a ton of history woven into the whole of the series. In fact, historical influences from antiquity well into the modern era can be seen across the franchise.

Some of the homages to history are more clear than others, but they're all expertly integrated into The Hunger Games. The odds were in history's favor when it comes to minute details and sweeping social practices alike. Which ones did you pick up on? 

  • 'Panem' Means Bread In Latin, À La Juvenal's 'Bread And Circuses'
    Photo: The Hunger Games / Lionsgate
    54 VOTES

    'Panem' Means Bread In Latin, À La Juvenal's 'Bread And Circuses'

    In The Hunger Games world, Panem was established as a sovereign state in North America after a series of global catastrophes. The dystopian Panem is home to a federal district (where the Capitol is located) and 12 outlying districts. Panem answers to a totalitarian ruler who enjoys the excess and luxury of the Capitol while his subjects far and wide struggle to survive.

    The name for Panem was no accident and its similarities to Imperial Rome are contained in the moniker. One poet of that era, Juvenal, wrote that misguided desire was the source of human suffering in his “Satire X.” When Juvenal looked at 1st- and 2nd-century Rome around him, he saw that:

    The public has long since cast off its cares; the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things: bread and circuses.

    Panem et Circenses in Latin, “bread and circuses” is about the illusion of order and the pacification of the masses with food and entertainment. 

    Panem is a land of bread and circuses where, according to The Hunger Games's author, Susan Collins,

    Food and entertainment lull people into relinquishing their political power. Bread can contribute to life or death in The Hunger Games.

    On the topic of bread, Peeta Mellark's first name is a homonym for pita - and he is from a family of bakers. 

    54 votes
  • 'Theseus And The Minotaur' Has A 'Reaping' Of Its Own
    Photo: The Hunger Games / Lionsgate
    77 VOTES

    'Theseus And The Minotaur' Has A 'Reaping' Of Its Own

    Susan Collins, author of The Hunger Games books, told The New York Times in 2018 that she was “a huge Greek mythology geek as a kid, it’s impossible for it not to come into play in my storytelling.” This explains why there are clear references to stories like Theseus and the Minotaur, a Greek myth pitting rulers, monsters, and heroes against one another.

    There are variations in some of the details of Theseus and the Minotaur, but the gist of the story is this: King Minos of Crete demands Athens send seven young girls and seven young boys to him every seven years. King Minos intends to sacrifice the children to the Minotaur, a monster he's trapped in a labyrinth on the island.

    The demand for children as a tribute is essentially retold in the “reaping” of The Hunger Games. Only two children from each district go to the Capitol in The Hunger Games, but when Katniss Everdeen volunteers to go to the Capitol and take part in the games, she's taking on the role of Theseus from the classic story. Theseus went to face the Minotaur voluntarily, determined to bring the entire process to an end by killing it. 

    77 votes
  • The Popularity Of Gambling In 'The Hunger Games' Harkens Back To Ancient Rome
    Photo: The Hunger Games / Lionsgate
    38 VOTES

    The Popularity Of Gambling In 'The Hunger Games' Harkens Back To Ancient Rome

    The connections between The Hunger Games and gladiatorial combat are many, but the behind-the-scenes activities of the Games are also representative of how spectators, observers, and gamblers behaved in ancient Rome. Gambling was common in antiquity, and for Romans that meant wagering on chariot races, dice games, and gladiatorial combat. 

    There were laws enacted at various points in Roman history to limit, regulate, and even ban gambling, but these mostly applied to activities that took place at gambling houses. When it came to gladiatorial games and racing, however, betting was still allowed because those types of competitions were considered ones that required skill. The Roman Senate even issued a degree that allowed athletic contests “done for virtue.” 

    That said, in A Dialogue on Oratory, Roman historian Tacitus (d. c. 120 CE) wrote about “the characteristic and peculiar vices of this city [Rome], liking for actors and a passion for gladiators and horses.”

    Making bets on tributes in The Hunger Games is a major form of entertainment in the Capitol and the districts of Panem. In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy, it's revealed that Coriolanus Snow came up with the idea to bet on the Games, something intended to bring more viewers to the annual event. 

    Katniss notes that sponsorship and support for tributes often come from “rich people… either because they're betting on them or simply for bragging rights.” She explains that betting takes place through the entirety of the Games, but notes that “one of the heaviest days of betting is the opening, when the initial casualties come in.” 

    38 votes
  • Public Punishments In 'The Hunger Games' Mirror Historical Practices
    Photo: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire / Lionsgate
    30 VOTES

    Public Punishments In 'The Hunger Games' Mirror Historical Practices

    In ancient Rome, disobedience could result in public flogging comparable to what Gale Hawthorne experiences in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire:

    Gale's wrists are bound to a wooden post… His jacket's been cast aside on the ground, his shirt torn away. He slumps unconscious on his knees, held up only by the ropes at his wrists. What used to be his back is a raw, bloody slab of meat. 

    Illegally hunting a turkey earned Gale his lashes, while flogging in the Roman world was used to keep slaves and students in line. Both Greeks and Romans used whipping as a form of punishment and, in England during the 16th and 17th centuries, “every village had its whipping post, which was in constant use as a means of preserving order.”

    In a larger sense, the Hunger Games themselves are a form of punishment put upon all of the districts in Panem after the First Rebellion:

    In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.

    The nature of the Hunger Games as a punishment is reminiscent of public executions. Criminals who faced the guillotine in France, were subjected to beheading in England, or hanged in the United States, were also watched by enthusiastic crowds much as in the Hunger Games. 

    30 votes
  • Career Tributes In 'The Hunger Games' Are Akin To Professional Gladiators
    Photo: The Hunger Games / Lionsgate
    46 VOTES

    Career Tributes In 'The Hunger Games' Are Akin To Professional Gladiators

    Tributes from Districts 1, 2, and 4 are called Careers or Career Tributes because they undergo training for the Hunger Games and have substantial social standing. Tributes from the remaining nine districts arrive in the Capitol to take part in the Games without any preparation. This is very much in keeping with the different types of gladiators who participated in combat at places like the Colosseum in Rome. 

    Professional gladiators, much like Careers, had training in skills that would benefit them in the arena. At gladiator schools like Ludus Magnus in Rome, slaves and free men alike learned to use swords, nets, and spears to defend themselves and defeat their opponents. During the 1st century BCE, gladiator schools were often owned by private citizens who reaped their benefits. 

    By backing a trained gladiator in combat, a Roman could gain social acumen and place lucrative winning bets. By the end of the 1st century CE, gladiatorial schools were under the authority of the Emperor. The Emperor could similarly gain political prominence by overseeing the games. 

    This is eerily similar to how Katniss describes the way wealthy residents of Panem supported their tributes - and why:

    Rich people back tributes… either because they're betting on them or simply for the bragging rights of picking a winner.

    46 votes
  • The Districts In 'The Hunger Games' Resemble Roman Provinces
    Photo: The Hunger Games / Lionsgate
    45 VOTES

    The Districts In 'The Hunger Games' Resemble Roman Provinces

    Comparable to the way districts provide resources to the Capitol in The Hunger Games, Roman provinces also functioned as essential sources of raw materials, manufactured goods, and services to the empire and to Rome proper. 

    The breakdown of which districts supplied what in The Hunger Games was as follows:

    District 1: Luxury goods
    District 2: Mining, masonry
    District 3: Manufactured electronics
    District 4: Fishing
    District 5: Power, electricity
    District 6: Transportation
    District 7: Lumber
    District 8: Textiles
    District 9: Grain
    District 10: Livestock
    District 11: Agriculture
    District 12: Coal

    The districts necessarily correspond to parts of North America, given the setting of The Hunger Games. In terms of historical comparison, Roman provinces like Britain and Gaul were home to materials like iron, lead, and tin, Spain had silver, and throughout the Mediterranean, Romans found essential supplies of grain. Provinces like Egypt and North Africa also produced wine, fruit and vegetables, and olive oil. 

    Additionally, purple dye from Syria was necessarily associated with that part of the Empire due to the presence of marine life there. Purple was a color exclusively reserved for authority figures and was extracted from snails and mollusks native to its waters. 

    As a result of availability, need, and want, resources in the Roman provinces were used to feed and support the military and administrative structures in the outreaches of the Empire. They were traded and served as tribute and tax payments - functioning as part of the larger economic system. 

    45 votes