Short Reaction Assignment 1 around 500 words. Due in 5 hours short reaction assignment #1 Please answer the following questions: 1. Which paper did you

around 500 words. Due in 5 hours

short reaction assignment #1

Please answer the following questions:

1. Which paper did you read?

2. What is the main idea of the paper? Provide the sentence from the paper and a description in your words.

3. Summarize your reaction upon reading the paper. Include a brief description of the paper’s argument. (No more than two paragraphs

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Subject: Classical Studies, Greek and Roman Law, Social and Economic History, Numismatics
Online Publication Date: Apr 2016 DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935390.013.38

Taxation in the Greco-Roman World: The Roman Princi­
pate  

Abstract and Keywords

The article deals with the different taxes that were exacted in the Roman Principate. It
analyzes not only the different concepts of taxation with a differentiation betweentributa,
vectigalia, andportoriabut also the complex system of tax collection, the cooperation be­
tween private tax farmers and state officials, and the flow of income into the various trea­
suries (aerarium Saturni, aerarium militare, fiscus Caesaris). Furthermore, the close con­
nection of Roman taxes with power politics of the Roman emperors as well as the interde­
pendences with developments in society, economy, and law are revealed. Various ques­
tions and directions for possible future research are proposed.

Keywords: Taxation, tributa vectigalia, portoria, publicani, societates publicanorum, procurators, aerarium
Saturni, aerarium militare, fiscus Caesaris

τό τε σύμπαν εἰπεῖν, χρηματοποιὸς ἀνὴρ ἐγένετο, δύο τε εἶναι λέγων τὰ τὰς
δυναστείας παρασκευάζοντα καὶ φυλάσσοντα καὶ ἐπαύξοντα, στρατιώτας καὶ
χρήματα, καὶ ταῦτα δι᾽ ἀλλήλων συνεστηκέναι: τῇ τε γὰρ τροφῇ τὰ στρατεύματα
συνέχεσθαι, καὶ ἐκείνην ἐκ τῶν ὅπλων συλλέγεσθαι: κἂν θάτερον ὁποτερονοῦν
αὐτῶν ἐνδεὲς ᾖ, καὶ τὸ ἕτερον συγκαταλυθήσεσθαι.

“In short, he [sc. Caesar] showed himself a money-getter, declaring that there were two
things which created, protected, and increased sovereignties,—soldiers and money,—and
that these two were dependent upon each other. For it was by proper maintenance, he
said, that armies were kept together, and this maintenance was secured by arms; and in
case either one of them were lacking, the other also would be overthrown at the same
time.” (D.C. 42.49.4sq., transl. E. Cary, 1916, Dio’s Roman History, Vol. 4 [LCL], London
and New York.)

This almost prophetic sentence of C. Julius Caesar in 47 BC after the battle of Zela
against Pharnaces II and the (financial) measures undertaken by him in the east is per­
haps not as famous as his “veni, vidi, vici” but may be more striking when one looks at
the fundamentals of the future Principate. In fact, it was the troops in the imperial
provinces as well as the funds of the fiscus Caesaris that allowed the princeps Augustus to
establish and keep control over the res publica (restituta)—besides his outstanding auc­

Sven Günther

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toritas (Monum. Ancyr. 34.3) and the other official potestates. This was also true for his
successors, for which reason studies on military power as well as on financial potential
are essential to reveal the origin and status of the Roman emperor and his principate.

There is still an imbalance between the rich amount of research done in the military field
and the rather scattered studies on the financial sector. This is primarily due to the lack
of broad evidence, which causes a fragmentation into several research fields that cannot
be easily combined, especially in the field of Roman taxation, where the exiguous literary
evidence has to be compared with epigraphical, papyrological, and numismatic sources
using the full range of methods of analysis. This contribution, therefore, tries to show
some possible approaches to a study of Roman taxes and to add them as one of the more
important tesserae to the mosaic of the Roman Empire.

Terminology
Every study of (Greek and) Roman taxation has, at first, to deal with terminology (cf. Gün­
ther 2008: 14–21). In fact, Roman terminology, deriving from the Roman Republic, is
quite clear. For example, tributa / stipendia are distinguished from vectigalia and in most
cases portoria, especially tributa from vectigalia. So Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 1.11.3 sq.; cf. Suet.
Aug. 101.4) differentiates clearly between the two in Augustus’ report after his death in
14 AD, brought and read to the senate by order of Tiberius: … cum proferri libellum
recitarique iussit. Opes publicae continebantur, quantum civium sociorumque in armis,
quot classes regna provinciae, tributa aut vectigalia, et necessitates ac largitiones “ …
when he ordered a booklet to be produced and read out. Its contents were the public re­
sources, what numbers of citizens and allies under arms, how many fleets, kingdoms and
provinces, taxes and revenues, and also necessary expenses and lavishments” (transl. A.
J. Woodman, 2004, Tacitus, The Annals, Indianapolis and Cambridge).

By tributa / stipendia are always meant taxes raised on the basis of a census or tax list.
Because of their exclusive status (this is largely true for all citizens of a state in antiqui­
ty), these tributa were not levied on Roman citizens, but only in exceptional circum­
stances, as in war. After 167 BC, there were no longer such tributa (Plin. HN 33.56), only
in rare emergency situations (cf. esp. Nicolet 1976; Wolters 2007: 410–412, with further
literature). The term was finally transferred to describe the status of the inhabitants of
the provinces, who were liable, for example, to a tributum capitis (poll tax) or tributum
soli (land tax), calculated on basis of a (census) list. In most cases, the Romans tied the
tax levy to the tradition of the territory and the former regime. The term stipendium /
provincia stipendiaria was also common to show that the territory had been acquired by a
Roman conquest with a military guerdon (stipendium) to be paid by the inhabitants.

In contrast, vectigal, etymologically deriving from vehere (to convey or transport), first
designated the cartloads of crops from ager publicus (public land) that had to be given to
the state as landlord by the leaseholder. As a consequence, only the ratio could be de­
fined in advance, but not the exact amount, which depended on the harvest, and this con­
cept later defined also the taxes called vectigalia: they were not raised on the basis of

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(census) lists but on occasion. In this framework, the portoria (customs) were not a spe­
cial case, so vectigalia and portoria were often interchangeable terms, as in the definition
in the Digests of Justinian, deriving from the jurist Ulpian (Dig. 50.16.17.1): “Publica”
vectigalia intellegere debemus, ex quibus vectigal fiscus capit: quale est vectigal portus
vel venalium rerum, item salinarum et metallorum et picariarum “We have to understand
public taxes as those from which the Treasury captures revenue: for instance, the tax of
the harbor or the tax on selling products, likewise on salt-pits and mines and bitumen-
fabrics” (transl. Günther 2015).

However, the distinction is not kept up in every source. Sometimes vectigal is used to de­
scribe tributa or stipendia as a generic term. The use can often be linked to the intentions
of the ancient authors, for instance to undermine the authority of an emperor. Thus, Sue­
tonius describes the tax levied by the “bad” ruler Caligula (37–41 AD) by mixing vectigalia,
which were possible and even common for Roman citizens, with the term tributum, call­
ing this an outrageous and improper measure for the status of Roman citizenship (Suet.
Calig. 40): Vectigalia nova atque inaudita primum per publicanos, deinde, quia lucrum ex­
uberabat, per centuriones tribunosque praetorianos exercuit, nullo rerum aut hominum
genere omisso, cui non tributi aliquid imponeret “He levied new [so-called indirect] taxes,
and such as were never before known, at first by the publicans, but afterwards, because
their profit was enormous, by centurions and tribunes of the pretorian guards; no de­
scription of property or persons was exempted from some kind of [so-called direct]
tax” (transl. J. Eugene Reed and Alexander Thomson, 1889, Suetonius: The Lives of the
Twelve Caesars, Philadelphia).

What is crucial is how to translate tributum and vectigal. Until the twentieth century, trib­
utum was translated by “direct tax” and vectigal by “indirect tax,” in an attempt at ade­
quate differentiation. But this does not fit modern economic tax theory, notably the idea
that indirect taxes, such as purchase tax, can be turned over to third parties. Therefore,
some researchers tend to consider nearly all vectigalia (except the tax on sales) direct
taxes in this sense, because they had to be paid directly by the person liable to the tax
(e.g. Eck 1979: 132 no. 92; Neesen 1980: 200s no. 18,5). But this is not the concept of
(Roman) antiquity, where the classification of tributa or vectigalia depended on the tax be­
ing levied with or without a (census) list. Therefore a better translation nowadays would
be “so-called direct tax” for tributum and “so-called indirect tax” for vectigal.

tributa (so-called direct taxes)

With the end of tributa on Roman citizens in 167 BC—with some exceptions in times of
crises during the Late Roman Republic—the term was increasingly used for describing
the tribute status of the Roman provinces, interchangeably with the term stipendium, de­
pending on author and view (see above). A main characteristic of Roman rule in the
provinces was letting traditional systems continue as long as they worked and were
adaptable to Roman necessities. It is no wonder that alongside tributum and stipendium

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terms like decuma (pars) “the tenth (part)” were used to describe the tributes of provin­
cial inhabitants according to the traditional rate.

In the Republic and Principate, the main tributa were the tributum soli (land tax) and the
tributum capitis (poll tax) (cf. the essential study Neesen 1980; discussion and corrections
in Brunt 1981 / 1990). Like all tributa, they were calculated on the basis of a census list.
Details concerning the measurement are unclear, due to the various and fragmentary evi­
dence; what is clear is that there were different treatments of provincial lands: besides
the “normal” provincial land liable to the tributum soli there were also privileges for Ro­
man colonies (ager privatus ex iure Quiritium “private land according to Roman right”) or
civitates foederatae (confederated commonwealths) or civitates liberae (free common­
wealths), with certain immunitates (immunities). But what had to be declared besides the
land is not entirely clear (cf. the discussion in Brunt 1981 / 1990: 166–168 / 335–339), for
example property except land or moveables (under the tributum capitis?). This is true for
the tributum capitis, which had different rates in the various provinces (cf. for explana­
tions Neesen 1980: 120 sqq.; Brunt 1981 / 1990: 167 sq. / 338 sq.).

These important questions—whether one is discussing a systematization of Roman taxa­
tion or only situational changes—cannot be solved, because of the diverse evidence from
the provinces. The main evidence comes from Egypt. For a long time, it was treated as a
special case because of its different status in the administration structure of the Roman
Empire (Wallace 1938; Neesen 1980; Brunt 1981 / 1990). But in recent research there is
considerable discussion on this issue, and Egypt is now often seen as a normal case in the
Empire, with certain peculiarities as in other provinces (clearly against such a special
role of Egypt: Jördens 2009, esp. for customs chap. I–IX; Jördens 2012; for customs, see
also Vandorpe 2015; cautious: Eich 2007). Studies of other provinces analyzing systemati­
cally the material and new findings could perhaps reveal more details (cf. for Gallic and
German provinces France 2001b; for Iudaea, Udoh 2005).

Smaller tributa as well as other dues (e.g., aurum coronarium “gold wreaths, crowns”) are
treated in Neesen (1980). Greater attention has been devoted to the fiscus Iudaicus
(Jewish treasury), which was the treasury for the τιμὴ δηναρίων δύο Ἰουδαίων (tax of two
denarii of the Jews) exacted from the Jews after the Roman-Jewish War of 66–70 AD (cf.
Günther 2013 with further literature).

All these tributa (and the other dues) were at first collected by publicans in Republican
times. The change to direct collection by state officials can be attributed to Caesar (cf.
the broad discussion in Brunt 1990: esp. 355 sq., 380 sq.).

Several studies have been devoted to the question of tax flow into the different treasuries
of the Roman Principate (cf. Alpers 1995 with older literature; his model is modified by
Wolters 1999; 174–202; Wolters 2007: 422–424; for the administration offices, cf. now
Schmall 2011). It now seems clear that there were provincial fisci which balanced their
yearly accounts either with the aerarium Saturni (treasury of Saturn), in the case of sena­
torial provinces, or with the fiscus Caesaris (treasury of the Emperor), in the case of im­
perial provinces. This fiscus Caesaris can probably be distinguished from the patrimonium

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Caesaris (patrimony of the Emperor), and later the res privata (private treasure) of cer­
tain emperors, when the patrimonium also became public. Here the main problem lies in
the intention of many authors to create a “good” or “bad” emperor. But tributa (as well as
the other taxes and duties) had to be paid to both, so the effect on and interest for “nor­
mal” citizens of this subtlety was, perhaps, limited.

vectigalia (so-called indirect taxes)

Vectigalia in its proper sense (without portoria, see below) can be divided into empire-
wide vectigalia, to which all Roman citizens were liable, and local vectigalia, for citizens
of city-states in the Roman East, among others. While the latter have not been systemati­
cally studied (cf. Il capitolo delle entrate nelle finanze municipali in occidente ed in ori­
ente 2009), the vectigalia for Roman citizens have been the object of research since the
Renaissance, especially during the nineteenth and at the beginning of the twentieth cen­
tury in Germany and France (for an overview, cf. Günther 2008: 8–14). These studies did
not arise solely out of antiquarian interest; the scholars also wanted to compare the Ro­
man tax system with their own, established as a consequence of the formation of nations
and the rise of nationalism, which searched for roots in history. Hence studies like those
of J. J. Bachofen (1848), M. R. Cagnat (1966 [1882]), or G. Schanz (1900) not only collect­
ed the scattered material (in ancient literature and law, inscriptions, papyri, numismatics)
but tried to develop a systematic structure of taxation as well. On this basis, further re­
search could be done concerning special questions like tax collectors, state treasuries,
imperial administration, and the budget—questions which were important for research
mainly concentrating on the state as an entity. G. Wesener´s articles concerning the vices­
ima hereditatium and vicesima libertatis in the RE (1958) were fundamental for further
studies in this field. With the emergence of new paradigms in research, especially after
World War II, special studies on the social, socioeconomic, and legal connections of vecti­
galia followed (cf. Günther 2008: 8–14). In his PhD thesis, the present author tried to
show the synergisms between the different vectigalia and imperial policy, administration,
society, and law (Günther 2008).

Of the four important and long-lived vectigalia, the most prominent (and studied) is the
vicesima hereditatium, a 5 percent tax on inheritances and legacies (cf. Günther 2008:
23–94). Although some scholars have claimed that the inheritance tax was introduced
with the lex Voconia 169 BC, this is certainly not true. Also, Julius Caesar had only a
vague, if any, plan for a tax on heritages. A first, but short-lived, tribute on heritages and
legacies in 40 BC (App. BC 5.67.282; cf. D.C. 55.25.6) during the Civil Wars after the
death of Caesar was intended to finance the war against Sextus Pompeius as well as to
disturb the old aristocratic networks (see Günther 2015a). The lex Falcidia, often regard­
ed as a subsidiary measure, was enacted not in that year but in the previous year (D.C.
48.33.4 sq.), so that such a connection is not possible. But from the failure of this mea­
sure (App. BC 5.130.540), Augustus could later draw lessons for his establishment of the
vicesima hereditatium in 6 AD.

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Thus, the main purpose of Augustus’ introduction of the inheritance tax was not, as often
suggested, an equalization of burdens between provincial inhabitants, who were not li­
able to vectigal but to tributa, and Roman citizens, but to provide security for his rule. A
main factor for this security was the loyalty of the army, and among the measures that led
to a professional standing army the possibly dangerous veterans could not be forgotten,
as shown by the allotment of land to them in the first century BC, especially during the
Civil Wars (cf., e.g., Monum. Ancyr. 3.3). Therefore Augustus erected the aerarium mil­
itare (military treasury [for veterans]) in 5 AD (for the history of this treasury, see Corbier
1974) to pay praemia militiae (veteran soldiers’ bonus) to his veterans instead of having
to confiscate land as a reward for them. A main source of revenue for this new treasury,
besides the centesima rerum venalium (see below) and some deposits from the patrimony
of Augustus as well as from other private persons, was the vicesima hereditatium
established shortly afterward. Resistance to this new vectigal from the rich classes (sena­
torial and equestrian orders) most liable to it in 6 and 13 AD was cleverly broken by Au­
gustus by threatening the aristocracy with reinstitution of the tributum soli (land tax),
which would have been the first permanent one since 167 BC.

The regulatory framework of the inheritance tax was laid down in the lex <Iulia de>
vicesima hereditatium. In the main, it aimed to improve the flow of revenue into the aer­
arium militare. Regulations concerning the opening of a testament accelerated the en­
forcement of the last will of the decedent, and the payment of the tax as well; the require­
ment to open the testament before an official, the short deadlines for the opening of the
last will, and the decentralization of the administration offices promised legal certainty
for the heirs, especially in terms of possible legal cases. However, the procedure had the
main purpose of recording these wills for the tax-collectors present in the bureaus. So the
traditional possibility of private testaments as well as of inheritance without a written will
would be gradually ended.

In the same way, the exemption for small heritages [perhaps up to 1,000 sestertii (HS)]
was a beneficence of the emperor to “normal” citizens only secondarily; the estimation of
the transaction costs for measuring the tax for these wills was probably the primary rea­
son for the exemption. The second exemption, for second-degree relatives, was not only a
matter of cost but also served the purposes of quieting resistance as well as strengthen­
ing the traditional family, in accordance with Augustan family laws, and inhibiting the tra­
ditional networking in the upper classes through inheritances and legacies (see Günther
2015a).

Later modifications of the Augustan lex were mainly caused by the change of conditions
in the Roman Empire. Most prominent are the reforms undertaken by the emperors Ner­
va (96–98 AD) and Trajan (98–117 AD) to include new citizens in the regulation frame­
work. Although they were also granted tax exemption, the assurance of revenue was the
background of these measures, especially the registration of huge inheritances and the
avoidance of high administration costs for difficult legal cases.

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For the latter, the Roman state at first leased the collection of this vectigal (and others as
well) to private companies (for their structure see Cimma 1981; Malmendier 2002; esp.
concerning taxes: Brunt 1990). As with the inheritance tax, we have evidence for it in Tra­
janic times (through Pliny the Younger) as well as from Egypt in papyri under the reign of
Antoninus Pius (138–160 AD) (cf. Eck 1995). Although there has been considerable dis­
cussion on the status of Egypt as a special case in the Roman Empire (see above), both
types of evidence disprove the old opinion that there was a direct replacement of the pri­
vate collectors by public procuratores XX hereditatium or a three-step process from pri­
vate companies to single tax collectors and then to public officials (Günther 2008: esp.
59–69, see also the discussion for the portoria, below). Even though a precise date cannot
be found in existing sources, it is likely that there is a connection between the establish­
ment of these administrative boards and the broad reforms under the emperor Nero (54–
68 AD) to control the publicans more strictly in 58 AD (see Rathbone 2008; Günther 2013).
But if, when, and how these procuratores undertook the tax collection instead of private
tax farmers remains an open question. It was a more gradual and situation-specific
process that led to a tax collection by imperial officials instead of private persons (or
sometimes together with them? AE 1996: 1702; cf. Günther 2008: 68 sq.; see also below
for the portoria).

Concerning these officials, we have a rather broad range of evidence which allows us to
reconstruct the administrative structure. In all places where a substantial number of Ro­
man citizens lived, as in Rome, Italy, and in some provinces (especially the Spanish and
Gaulish ones), we find a carefully built administration (cf. Günther 2008: 69–81; esp. also
Eck 1979: 132–139; esp. for the equestrian procuratores: Pflaum 1960; 1982; for imperial
freedmen and slaves: Wachtel 1966; see now Schmall 2011 for the finance administration
staff). At the top there were procuratores XX hereditatium. Procurators outside of the
equestrian order existed immediately before the reign of emperor Hadrian (117–138 AD),
who was formerly thought to have replaced freedmen as officials with them, so it is more
probable that there was a hierarchical structure from equestrians down to imperial freed­
men and then to imperial slaves. Under these procuratores we have supprocuratores and
an extensive staff, especially for the administration in Rome, where the Roman senators
had their patria and all revenues of the inheritance tax may have been registered. For
provinces with a smaller percentage of Roman citizens, larger administration districts
were built, for example in Asia Minor. According to the distribution of possible subjects of
the tax, the salaries for the procurators were measured …

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