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By Bruce Buchan, Lisa Hill (auth.)
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Extra info for An Intellectual History of Political Corruption
112 Whether or not this kind of atavistic argument holds water, Rome’s decline does, in fact, seem to have correlated with an imperial escalation. With the spread of its Empire, Rome was no longer able to exert the effective ties of obedience that had previously made it strong. In its ‘better centuries’, it had been able to enforce law effectively, construct public works and wage war with great efﬁciency because ‘a generally accepted code of obligations pervaded both its public and private relations’.
The long-term political consequences of this kind of corruption had become noticeable by the 60s and 50s BCE, when the massive borrowing needed for bribes created ﬁnancial and political instability and a subsequent loss of faith in the 36 An Intellectual History of Political Corruption constitution. 197 By the time of the Principate, it was considered so serious a problem that in the year 55 M. 199 In 81 BCE, the dictator Sulla instituted a law that penalised bribery with a maximum penalty of a ten-year exclusion from public ofﬁce.
Bribes or gifts? Despite all the legal strictures and high-minded moralising about bribery, the distinction between a gift and a bribe seems to have been very unstable in the classical period. In this murky atmosphere, even men of honour could make an honest mistake: take the case of Julius Bassus, a former governor charged by the Senate with having ‘naively and unguardedly accepted things from the provincials as a friend of theirs’. His accusers described these tributes as ‘thefts and plunder’ whereas Bassus himself referred to them as ‘gifts’.
An Intellectual History of Political Corruption by Bruce Buchan, Lisa Hill (auth.)