Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Corruption in Ancient Greece

The phenomenon of corruption is very ancient and is one of the characteristic of the human nature. History is full of examples verifying this assumption. 
The great legislator Solon established in the 5th century BC the Seisachtheia, i.e. the debt cancellation. As Aristotle writes, just before the announcement of the debt cancellation, he informed his friends to rush and get large loans, which eventually were cleared of any debt, hence making them really rich. Themistocles claimed that it has no value to be a leader if you cannot enrich your friends. Agisilaos, King of Sparta believed exactly the same thing.  Even the monuments on the Acropolis were connected to the biggest scandal of abuse during the Golden Century of Pericles (5th century BC).  The main issues were both, using money from the treasury of the Athenian Alliance by Pericles and the suspicion that Phidias had distorted the gold in the statue of Athena. Plutarch writes that Pericles introduced the "secret funds" by taking 10 talents, an enormous sum for that period. When questioned in Pnika he answered "I gave them where they were needed", without explaining further. 

Demosthenes was exiled and imprisoned twice due to corruption charges. The first time he took money of Alexander the Great's treasurer, Arpalo, who took the funds from Babylon and fled to Athens. The second time he took money from the Amfises in order to cover a scandal at Delphi. Arpalos had escaped to Athens in order to avoid the wrath of Alexander the Great because he stole the army's finance and the treasury of Babylon, which had been entrusted to him. Finally, Demosthenes was convicted and exiled from Athens in 324 BC for choosing to work with the biggest abuser of his time, Arpalo. 
In ancient Greece, the laws and the constitution did not work by divine right but by the right of the people. That is why Pericles was given a trial date, although he was never tried, since during that time the Peloponnesian War commenced. Nevertheless, before the temple of Athena Nike began, the auditors looked thoroughly at Kalikratis' designs. As for Phidias, he achieved to demonstrate his innocence in court, however he didn't escape prison. The key reason was his arrogance in immortalizing Pericles and himself on the shield of the goddess Athena.
It is evident, through these few examples that the phenomenon of corruption is timeless, however it is not a characteristic of one people or nation, but of all of mankind, starting from Adam and Eve. Nevertheless that does not mean that regulations and laws shouldn't exist in order to prevent and minimise this bad habit.


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  2. Could you include your citations or maybe some further reading suggestions? I really enjoyed the article and would love to learn more about the subject. Thanks very much!