Wednesday 24 March 2021
14.30 - 15.45
Discursive Constructions of Corruption in Ancient Rome
Filippo Carlà-Uhink :
“He had thoughtlessly accepted certain Gifts”: Corruption and Normative Behavior for Roman Magistrates
The boundary between corruption and gift is an extremely slippery one. This is clear to modern research on corruption, that tries to develop lists of criteria to help distinguishing them, and it was absolutely clear to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who frequently played on this difficult boundary and the ... (Show more)
The boundary between corruption and gift is an extremely slippery one. This is clear to modern research on corruption, that tries to develop lists of criteria to help distinguishing them, and it was absolutely clear to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who frequently played on this difficult boundary and the consequent discursive constructions. This is visible for instance in texts which show how difficult it is to distinguish gifts to a lover from prostitution (for instance in Latin love elegy, as demonstrated by Neil Coffee), or in Seneca’s reflections on the problem of keeping real and interested gifts apart (Sen., Ben. 2.31.2). Also Cicero touches upon this topic (Leg. 1.48), emphasizes the difficulty of separating bribery from generosity (De or. 2.105), and he must even explicitly admit that what he sees as bribery – and presents as such in his act of accusation – will be presented by Verres as an uninterested gift (Verr. 2.5.50). The latter point makes it absolutely evident that an urgent need was felt, to identify proper, normative behavior in public life: how should a Roman magistrate, and particularly one active in the province, behave and perform his official role to avoid possible “misinterpretations” of his acts? How could he make sure that his opponents would not be able to discursively present actions such as making and accepting gifts as illegal acts of corruption, thus damaging his public image and political career? Last but not least, how and in which moments were such expectations of a normative behavior codified in law? This paper will investigate how members of the Roman elite discussed such problems, and which solutions they proposed, both in a diachronic perspective, from Republican sources, through the lex Iulia de repetundis of 59 BCE and later imperial laws down to Late Antique law codes, and with an eye for the continuous dialogue between lawgiving, self-imposed normative behavior (as described by Plin., Ep. 4.9. to which we owe the quotation used in the paper’s title), and discursive presentation of the acts of one’s opponents as corrupt. This will allow moving much further the traditional and widespread perception of the Roman republic as a time of widespread corruption and moral decadence of the ruling class, opposed to a more integer Principate (in its turn, followed by an again corrupt Late Antiquity), and to understand much better the importance of gifts (and of refusing them) in Roman senatorial – and more generally aristocratic – self-representation. (Show less)
Marta García Morcillo :
Financial Complexity, Immoral Behaviour and the Discourse of Corruption in Roman Mentality
Seneca’s De beneficiis provides valuable insights into moral categories and models of economic and social behaviour. Vices such as auaritia and cupiditas are identified by the author as the origins of developments and innovations that manipulate the human mind and create illusory worlds. Financial instruments such as letters of credit ... (Show more)
Seneca’s De beneficiis provides valuable insights into moral categories and models of economic and social behaviour. Vices such as auaritia and cupiditas are identified by the author as the origins of developments and innovations that manipulate the human mind and create illusory worlds. Financial instruments such as letters of credit (diplomata), promissory notes (syngrapha) and bonds (cautiones) are described by Seneca as empty simulacra of properties. Interest (fenus), account books (calendarium) and usury (usura) are nothing but the names of human greed (7.10). The technical catalogue of financial instruments that shaped credit activities issues here Seneca’s condemnation of what he saw as a fundamentally speculative economic practice. My paper will take as starting point Seneca’s critical view of the credit market, of financial practices and business relationships to examine more in depth the wider impact of speculative, irregular – not necessarily illegal – and complex economic and monetary practices on the construction of discourses of profit, fairness, and morally dubious and reprehensive behaviour leading to corruption, meant here as moral degeneration and decay of the civic body. My approach to the topic will consider imperial authors from the 1st to the 3rd century and will pay particular attention to different notions of profit in diverse types of transactions and business relationships in which credit played a relevant part. To what extent did such negative reactions represent a generalised rejection of such practices, despite their ubiquity in Roman Society and business relationships? What can they tell us about the patrimonial mentality of the elite, about the dynamics and conceptualisations of wealth and money, their social and cultural representativity, and about the discourse of moral corruption linked to economic complexity? (Show less)
Sema Karatas :
Competition, Contention and Corruption: the Trial of Cn. Plancius in 54 BCE
The history of the Roman Republic is not only a history of famous political winners, but undoubtedly also a history of well-known political losers who had been produced in a system of continious and ever aggressive competition. This systemic problem often led to political conflicts between potential candidates. We find ... (Show more)
The history of the Roman Republic is not only a history of famous political winners, but undoubtedly also a history of well-known political losers who had been produced in a system of continious and ever aggressive competition. This systemic problem often led to political conflicts between potential candidates. We find one such litigation – based on the accusation of ambitus – in Cicero’s speech pro Cn. Plancio. Besides Cicero’s pro Murena, it is one of our foremost extant inquiries into the phenomenon of ambitus.
Cn. Plancius of Atina, a homo novus and the son of a well-know publicanus, was one of the elected aediles curules for 54 BCE. After the elections, he was prosecuted by one of the defeated candidates M. Iuventius Laterensis, who belonged to the ordo senatorius on both sides of his family. In his defense speech Cicero often refers to the accusations the prosecutor Laterensis and his subscriptor
L. Cassius Longinus brought forward. One of the prosecutor’s main argument was that Plancius – despite his network of domi nobiles, his father’s vast financial assets, and especially the protection of Cn. Pompeius Magnus and C. Iulius Caesar – couldn’t have secured one of the positions as a curule aedile without the use of corrupt practices that is ambitus. Even though the prosecutors had much
trouble securing evidence against Cn. Plancius, who was eventually acquitted of all charges, the mentioning that ambitus was or could have been applied must have stained the reputation of the defendant. The sole allegation of ambitus in the late Roman Republic developed into a systematic strategy of denunciation and moral criticism that could hinder the political career of the accused,
and eventually became one of the many strategies of competition. Competitors used the accusation of ambitus as invective with the aim to morally discredit their political opponents. Considering the small number of offices in the cursus honorum in general, it becomes evident that raising charges of ambitus is politically opportune not only if one was not able to obtain a consulship. As a result,
politics in Rome was increasingly negotiated in courts. The threat of law suits de ambitu used by Cato and many others, became an instrument of social disciplining and control as well as a direct mode of obstruction in the race for honores. (Show less)
Christian Rollinger :
Dazzling the Barbarians: Diplomatic Gifts during the High and Late Empire
The exchange of gifts among people of power (that is elites and monarchs), in order to construct and reinforce social networks has been well studied (among many others, Becker 2014; Carlà 2014), as has the importance of gifts in Roman and late Roman diplomacy (most recently by Becker 2014; Nechaeva ... (Show more)
The exchange of gifts among people of power (that is elites and monarchs), in order to construct and reinforce social networks has been well studied (among many others, Becker 2014; Carlà 2014), as has the importance of gifts in Roman and late Roman diplomacy (most recently by Becker 2014; Nechaeva 2014). Different categories have been identified as forming the ‘standard’ diplomatic gifts, ranging from precious stones and textiles, to works of art, to gold bullion and/or coins. In previous studies of the importance of such gifts, however, they have been mostly analysed from a ‘realist’ perspective. In this view, ‘gifts’ were in fact subsidies on the part of the Roman Empire to foreign potentates, designed to avert war or to provide a cost-effective alternative to open warfare. In a sense, scholars thus often came to the conclusion that paying tributes or subsidies to foreign powers was indeed preferable to war given the reduced circumstance of the Roman state in the 5th and 6th centuries, when such tribute became more widespread. This is not the view that most of our sources have espoused.
In fact, ancient sources mostly see such payments as unworthy of Roman imperial power and as a reflection of vices and character flaws in emperors, often contrasting them with the martial prowess of earlier rulers (Carlà 2009). If we are to believe Herodianus, the final nail in the proverbial coffin of Alexander Severus was the fact that he was all too ready to buy off invading German tribes instead of campaigning against them (Hdn. 6.7.9f.). But while, in general, the outlook of our authors on imperial payments to ‘Barbarians’ is undoubtedly negative, there is some nuance in individual judgments. In fact, we can discern a discourse about these payments in late antique authors (e.g. Proc. Bell. 1.19.29) that has not yet been studied extensively. This discourse connects back to the practices of the early and high empire and even the late republic as diplomatic gifts were used by the Roman state across all periods (e.g. Cic., Sest. 94) and must be interpreted not only in the framework of the political and economoic straits that late Roman was occasionally in, but also within the changing cultural and religious circumstances. Yet scholars have mostly focused on such gifts as a means to avoid war, and thus adopted the perspective of a simple cost-benefit analysis.
But while diplomatic ‘gifts’ certainly included large payments in gold, they were by no means limited to such and there is a specific discourse about the purpose, appropriateness and adequacy of diplomatic gifts such as textiles or jewels that has not yet been investigated properly (but see Nechaeva 2014, 170-174). This paper will attempt to trace the outlines of both discourses and situate them in their historical contexts. The main focus will lie on Late Antiquity and the judgement of late antique diplomacy by contemporary authors.
Becker, A. (2014), La girafe et la clepsydre. Offrir des cadeaux diplomatiques dans l’antiquité tardive, in: Monde(s) 5, 27-42.
Carlà, F. / Gori, M. (2014), eds., Gift Giving and the ‘Embedded’ Economy in the Ancient World, Heidelberg.
Carlà, F. (2009), L’oro nella tarda antichità. Aspetti economici e sociali.
Nechaeva, E. (2014), Embassies – Negotiations – Gifts. Systems of East Roman Diplomacy in Late Antiquity, Stuttgart. (Show less)