Corruption in Roman Epistolography

Subproject 8 investigates the discursive constructions of corruption in the late Roman Republic and early Principate, focusing on the epistolographic record. By that, the subproject intends to fill a vacancy left by many previous studies dealing with corruption in this era, which were primarily taking legalistic approaches to the topic. With the particular interest in the big epistolographic corpora (Cicero & Pliny), the subproject uses the unique insight these sources provide. By comparing the discursive constructions of corruption in the letters with those in other source genres, the subproject intends to analyse if these constructions correlate and, therefore, can be seen as normative or if they are just individually constructed. Building on that, the project investigates if these norms, as far as they can be observed, shift from the late republic to the early Principate.

Building on this discourse-analytic approach, the subproject intends to add the system's theory of Niklas Luhmann to the theoretical framework. With this conceptual approach, corruption can be understood as a reaction to increasing differentiation (increasing social complexity). From this perspective, the end of the Roman Republic and the early Principate are a promising research object: As many studies already described this era as a period of crisis as well as a period of political and social change, it is obvious to look at these times from the perspective of the system's theory and to search for tendencies of differentiation. Supposing that these tendencies existed, they have to be reflected in the discourse in the source material, and especially in the discourse of corruption. Contrastingly, if these tendencies of differentiation cannot be observed, as well as the norms that define corrupt transfers are not be found apart from individual constructions in the epistolographic record, it allows the subproject to draw conclusions about the applicability of modern concepts of (political) corruption to the times of the Roman Republic and the early Principate.