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“Twisted Transfers”: Discursive Constructions of Corruption in Ancient Greece and Rome

Twisted Transfers is a joint, international project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the German Research Foundation (2020-23) and based in Durham University and the Universität Potsdam. The project investigates the multiple sides of corruption in Graeco-Roman antiquity.

Often when we think about corruption, we focus on the high crimes of corporate finance or the cronyism of politicians. But, as history tells us, corruption’s definition is slippery – we may all be complicit in it as part of our everyday lives. One of the ideas that underpins corruption as a concept is that an act of abuse has taken place which causes one individual or group to benefit at the expense of another. Beyond legally typified criminal acts, corruption is a common practice that affects various fields of human interaction, and that also concerns the ethical behaviour of individuals in the private sphere. This innovative project follows a social constructivist approach to understand how transfers of material and immaterial things are constructed in discourse as “twisted”, and therefore as morally wrong, by actors and observers. Twisted Transfers looks at comparative historical and cross-disciplinary approaches that help us better understand corruption as an ubiquitous and persistent human practice that concerns both past and modern societies.

Project members

The two teams and sub-projects that built this project are led by Dr Marta García Morcillo (Durham, UK PI) and Prof. Filippo Carlà-Uhink (Potsdam, German PI). The UK team includes Dr Shushma Malik (Cambridge, Co-I), Dr Yehudah Gershon (Potsdam, Post-Doc Fellow), Dr Cristina Rosillo-López (Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Sevilla, Spain, external Co-I), and Dr Elisabeth Carter (Kingston, external collaborator).

Dr García Morcillo´s sub-project focuses on Roman economic mentality and performance and the dark sides of profit, including rent-seeking and speculative businesses that navigated between the legal and the illegal.



The project’s outcomes include a major conference in April 12-14, 2023 in Senate House, London, co-hosted by the Institute of Classical Studies. Planned outputs of the two teams also include various monographs, collective volumes, journal articles and book-chapters, as well as a series of outreach and public activities. In 2020, García and Malik coproduced the AHRC awarded BBCArts animation video Are you corrupt?. The UK Team (García-Gershon-Malik) participated as speakers in a BBC History Extra Podcast devoted to Corruption in the Ancient World. A new book series Studies of Corruption in Classical Antiquity (De Gruyter) will host some of the publications of the research group as well as other ongoing and future book projects on this growing field of research. Public lectures and other videos linked with Twisted Transfers are available in the website of the University of Potsdam.


Project Logo copyright © Michael Fetzer

Screenshot from Are you corrupt? copyright © David Torre, Calling the Shots, BBCArts, AHRC, Shushma Malik and Marta García Morcillo