Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

WHATEVER happens to Mr Neil Hamilton, the MP for Tatton accused by the obviously spotless owner of Harrods, Mr Al Fayed, of accepting his bribes, he is unlikely to face the sort of punishment meted out to Verconius Turinus.

Bribery was a well-known feature of Roman political life. Indeed, the word for bribery, ambitus, was cognate with the word for `going round canvassing for votes', ambitio (whence our 'ambition'). The two went hand in hand. So when politicians used material benefits to cultivate the public, Romans were not much worried by it: it was just a variety of bread and circuses. For the public, palm-greasing was the easiest way of cutting through red tape to reach officials, and in such cases officials probably heeded the maxim of the emperor Caracalla, to be careful to take `neither everything, nor every time, nor from every one'. Penalties for even extreme cases were never severe.

It was a different matter, however, when people found themselves actively defrauded. …

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