Paper: Financial Complexity, Immoral Behaviour and the Discourse of Corruption in Roman Mentality

  • Marta Garcia Morcillo (Speaker)

Activity: Participating in or organising an academic eventParticipation in academic conference


Participation in the panel 'Discursive Constructions of Corruption in Ancient Rome'.
Abstract: 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?
Period24 Mar 2021
Event typeConference
LocationLeiden, Netherlands
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Corruption
  • Twisted Transfers
  • Ancient Corruption
  • Ancient Economy
  • Social History
  • Roman Economy
  • Ancient Finances