The foreigners who conquered Egypt during the first millennium BCE seem to have left the native administration intact, using it for their own purposes. The tax situation during the Graeco-Roman times can therefore be taken to be similar to that of earlier pharaonic periods.
BreastedAncient Records of Egypt; part IV 751During the Ptolemaic Period teachers, actors, and victorious athletes were exempt from paying the salt tax. Occasionally taxes were remitted, as happened underPtolemy V, for political as well as economic reasons, though he glosses over the real trouble he was in:… of the revenues and taxes levied in Egypt some he has wholly remitted and others he has lightened, in order that the people and all the others might be in prosperity during his reign; and whereas he has remitted the debts to the crown being many in number which they in Egypt and in the rest of the kingdom owed …The Rosetta StoneBeing close to the powers that be, friends of a monarch could hope for special privilegesWe have granted to Publius Canidius and his heirs the annual exportation of 10,000 artabas [about 300 tons] of wheat and the annual importation of 5,000 Coan amphoras [uncertain quantity] of wine without anyone exacting anything in taxes from him or any other expense whatsoever. We have also granted tax exemption on all the land he owns in Egypt on the understanding that he shall not pay any taxes, either to the state account or to the account of me and my children in any way in perpetuity. We have also granted that all his tenants are exempt from personal liabilities and from taxes without anyone exacting anything from them, not even contributing to the occasional assessments in the nomes or paying for expenses for soldiers or officers. We have also granted that the animals used for plowing and sowing as well as the beasts of burden and the ships used for the transportation [down the Nile] of the wheat are likewise exempt from personal liabilities and from taxes and cannot be commandeered [by the army]. Let it be written to those to whom it may concern, so that knowing it they can act accordingly.
Let them go today, so they can spend the night with another man, who will be sent on a mission for the pharaoh tomorrow, immediately. Lest death be on you!Djehutiemhab to Bakenptah, 19th dynasty
Not everybodys means of livelihood could be taxed as easily as the farmers, above all when they, as seems to have happened often during earlier pharaonic times, were assessed and taxed collectively as village communities. Attempts were made to tax other parts of the population, and as one could hardly supervise everybodys economic activities, Late Period Egyptians had to declare their income.It wasAmasistoo who established the law that every year each one of the Egyptians should declare to the ruler of his district, from what source he got his livelihood, and if any man did not do this or did not make declaration of an honest way of living, he should be punished with death.Herodotus, Histories II
After J. KrausDie Demographie des alten gypten, p.130But the young men were probably enlisted by scribes visiting towns and villages.
Taxation during the Graeco-Roman Period
In contrast to taxes on produce, labour could be exacted from everybody
Now, they had intended to break out when the sky was small(?) and [///], saying: You have taken our people at the beginning, so that you could take the labour. And behold, if you take the people again and so also take (their) labour, then we will spend the day here /// and we return to where the vizier is on the morrow, so they spoke.[Furthermore, my majesty commands that if a poor man be oppressed by] [robbe]ry, his cargo be emptied by theft of them, and the poor man stand reft of hi[s good]s, [no further exactions for dues shall be made from him] when he has nothing. For it is not good, this report of very great injustice. My majesty commands that restitution be made to him; behold …………….
So I ordered you: Despatch Nisusobek, your scribe, and make him hurry together with the doorkeeper Thutmose and the scribe Iuefenamen to bring in the grain, but [you] did not listen. The fishers and fowlers came to where the people of the administration of the necropolis were and said: We are sitting here to this day and we are imprisoned by you.
W.M.Flinders PetrieIllahun, Kahun and Gurob, 1891, p.40Agriculture was taxed as well. There were taxes on the land, the produce and the livestock. One papyrus speaks of a yearly tax revenue of two talents and nine copper drachmae on gardens and one talent 617 copper drachmae on vineyards. The vineyard tax could presumably be paid in wine or currency, orchards with their perishable produce were apparently taxed in money only. The Ptolemies introduced a crown tax, thedichoinikia, amounting to five percent of an artabafor every arouraof land.
Under the Ptolemies tax collection was farmed out, and the contractors were responsible for the collection, an undertaking at times at least sealed with anoath. If these tax farmers were feared by the tax payers, they themselves could be in deep trouble if they failed to fulfill their quotas:To Asklepiades, nomarch, from Nechembes.
2nd year of Ptolemy IX Soter II (?), 25th of the Egyptian month Choiak
After I had contracted for the tax of the sixth for (Arsinoe) Philadelphos in the division of Herakleides for the 10th year, there was an incursion of locusts which destroyed everything, what was saved being carried off by the owners without payment of the sixth. I have consequently been wrongfully arrested for this.
Which leads one to assume that these two are high officials as well, not used to being flogged themselves.)
Year 7 of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator, Mecheir 27th, august day.
(Verso)To Zenon.;(Docket, 2nd hand)Aristeides about himself and the charge of supplying corn. (Received) year 29, Panemios 1, in Arsinoe.Letter, received 31st July 257 BCE
the 4th day, from Hros the son of Nekhtheneibis the half of 7? drachmae, 3?; from the collection made by Komoapis the half of 10 dr., 7 (sic) , from the slaves of Sokeus the half of 8 dr. 2 obols, 4 dr. 1 obol….Translation by Prof. Sayce, 1891
According to Rekhmires tomb inscription the commandant of the fortress of Senemut (Bigeh) paid among other things 20
APIS record: michigan.apis.2644Under the Ptolemies much of the commerce and some of agriculture was in the hands of Greeks who were accustomed to using coined money. Their taxes were generally collectedin specietoo.
From theGreat Edict of Horemheb(18th dynasty)
My son Nemesion, registered for the poll-tax in the village died on the 5th of Choiak of the present 9th year of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator. Wherefore I submit this report to you so that you may inform those whom it concerns and so that his name may be removed (from the tax-lists) and registered on the list of the dead so that I may not be responsible, as indeed I am.
My slave Apollophanes, a weaver, registered in Temgenouthis Square, died abroad in the present 7th year of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator. Wherefore I request that his name be inscribed in the list of dead persons, and I swear by Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator that this information is true.
BreastedAncient Records of Egypt; part II 53From the Greek Period complaints of citizens against dishonest or incapable tax-collectors are known. The use of force was never far from the minds of either party when collectors had dealings with farmers…. Artemidoros, the hated of heaven, has embezzled as much as 25 association artabasof wheat out of what we had measured for the last half-artaba tax. Ptolemaios son of Harpsalis, too, has credited nothing to our account for the last half-artaba tax except only 25 artabas because you have not had a receipt, for you treat everything as by the way. When they wanted to take animals in pledge we refrained from using force against him, after I (?) had collected a number of men, and he would not wait till you arrived in health. When Demetrios arrived by chance at the village, they still did not depart, but he was persuaded to restrain himself (?) for the moment; and after I had extricated what was pledged they departed to other villages. You must know that I did not use force pending your speedy arrival ….Papyrus Tebtunis 0768
Recruits with physical disabilities were excused from military service; thus under the emperor Claudius a man with poor eye sight was declared not to be liable for military service. But if a young man refused to serve, this could be a severe blow to a civil-minded Roman father:Sempronius to Gaius, very many greetings and continued prosperity in good health. Before all, I pray for your health. I learned from Tilis (?) that, yielding to his persuasion, you did not take service in the fleet; and I spent two days grieving. In the future, then, see to it that you are not persuaded, and (if you are) you will no longer be my son. You know that in everything you easily differ from and hold pre-eminence over your brothers. Accordingly you will do well to enter a fine service that . . . Do not neglect my words and you will have . . .P.Mich.inv. 191, 2nd century CE
During times of social unrest, officials at times illegally relieved taxpayers of the produce they were transporting to a royal institution as part of their tax payment. Horemheb, in an attempt to strengthen the confidence of the citizens in the administration, specifically forbade his tax-collectors to exact any dues from the victims of such robberies:
Just as the farmers were at the mercy of the tax-collectors, these were subject to scrutiny by their superiors. In the 6th dynasty scene below five governors of districts are brought before the vizier Khentika accused of an ill-defined misdemeanor, probably they had not transferred the full amount of taxes to the royal treasury. Three officials lie prostrate before the vizier, two others are bowing. Two condemned men are tied to posts and are being beaten. (The servants, who execute the punishment, remark:
APIS record: berkeley.apis.31When a person died, his heirs, or in the case of a slave his owner, had to make sure that the tax authorities were aware of his demise, otherwise they would go on imposing taxes.To Philiskos, farmer of the tax on weaving, from Sarapion son of Sarapion.
APIS record: michigan.apis.1543Being appointed or elected to a public office may have brought a person public recognition, satisfied personal vanity and even filled his pockets. For millennia most of the priests in the temples were laymen, fulfilling their religious duties according to a roster for a certain period of time every year.
A man and a woman offering produce to a surveying scribe
The unification of the country seems to have been achieved by drafted peasants led by noblemen, and even wars abroad were fought by conscripts:His majesty made war on the Asiatic Sand-dwellers and his majesty made an army of many ten thousands; in the entire South, southward to Elephantine, and northward to Aphroditopolis; in the Northland on both sides entire in the [stronghold], and in the midst of the [strongholds], among the Irthet Negroes, the Mazoi Negroes, the Yam Negroes, among the Wawat Negroes, among the Kau Negroes, and in the land of Temeh.The autobiography of WeniDuring the Old and Middle Kingdoms the size of the armies remained limited and military proficiency small. Armies and their officers played generally a minor role in society, though under Amenemhet II (12th dynasty) there were nomarchs who raised local armies in their territories.
Under the Ptolemies the annual burden of the main capitation tax and corve duty per nuclear family amounted to between 58 and 72 obols, of which 48 obols were due to the yoke tax, and 10 to 24 obols to the corve (at 1 obol per day). After the reform ofPtolemyIIthis was reduced to between 15 and 39 obols according to the salt tax rate and the number of days (between 10 to 24) the man was called up for. In a society still depending on barter to a large extent and in which many people lived at subsistence level a large number must have found it difficult to raise the necessary money and will have preferred to pay with their labour.These personal taxes were referred to asbekuand were collected by the chief treasurer. Local officials were taxed on the income they received through their office. This tax calledapu (jpw)was paid to the vizier of either Upper or Lower EgyptInspection of the taxes counted to (the credit of) the hall of the vizier of the Southern City (i.e. Thebes) and counted against the mayors, the town-rulers, the district officials, the recorders of the districts, their scribes, and their field-scribes, who are in the South; beginning with Elephantine and the fortress of Bigeh; made according to the writings of ancient times, by the hereditary prince ……… [Rekhmire].From the tomb of Rekhmire, vizier under Thutmose III
James Henry BreastedAncient Records of Egypt; part II 63Priests and their temple estates were exemptfrom paying dues, as were those who worked for them, thefishermen, fowlers, natron-gatherers, salt-gatherersetc.And no future vizier shall make requisition upon any prophet of these temples, for silver, gold, leather, clothing, ointmentAct of endowment of the temples of Khnum byRamses III
You will therefore do well, if it please you, to join in session Asklepiades and the antigrapheus and the strategos so that my case against the owners of the vineyards may be heard pending the arrival of Theodoros, for the sum of money is no small one, in order that nothing of this may be lost and that you may also instruct your agent Theokles to impound the crops of the vineyard of Dion which is held by Teisikrates at Tanis. For I have previously taken this man before the strategos, and written instructions were issued by him: he wrote that all the produce of this vineyard was to be impounded, and it has been impounded up to now. I beg you, therefore, if it please you, to send written orders to impound the … in order that the king may incur no loss.
The task of calculating the amount of produce due was the duty of scribal tax-collectors. They kept written records of title deeds, field sizes and were capable of calculating areas. To assess the farmers wealth there were also cattle counts as early as the second dynasty.Next to nothing is known about how they were conducted. Their frequency seems to have been variable. They were probably annual or bi-annual events, often mentioned in inscriptions and they are vital, if somewhat unreliable, to ancient Egyptian chronology.After the Old Kingdom cattle counts cease to be milestones in the life of a king, but the tax on cattle continued to be collected. The scribe Mesha who served underRamsesIIwrote to his servant Pyay:As follows: When my [letter (?)] reaches [you], [you shall check (?)] the tax on cattle of the administration, which is under the servant Ruru. Press him very hard and take note of the [state (?)] of Pabak who follows him, for I have heard that he has left him and has no more cattle in his care.
But some offices were apparently less popular than others, andas quite a few people did with their annual corve dutysome tried to wriggle out of serving with a variety of subterfuges and probably varying success.Commissary of corn seems to have been such an unwelcome charge, and one Aristeides complained to one Zenon that he had been elected unlawfully, as he did not answer the age requirement, and asked him to intervene on his behalf:(Recto)Aristeides to Zenon: greeting. If you are well and everything else is to your mind, I would give much thanks to the gods. I too am well. I have had the misfortune to be proposed by the citizens as commissary of corn, though I am not yet of the right age nor due for that burden, but have been proposed by certain persons out of jealousy. I and my brother Theronides therefore have sent Dromon to explain these things to Apollonios, in order that he may help us and release me from that responsibility. You would do me a favour then by immediately admitting Dromon to Apollonioss presence and assisting him to have speech with Apollonios as soon as possible and seeing that he sends him back to us immediately after settling everything. And write yourself if ever you need anything from there, in order that we may do all that you want. Farewell.
Project GutenbergNo generally levied capitation taxes from this period are known. Ahmoses census may have been conducted to be able to call up men for corve duty.
As to every viceroy of Kush, every troop leader, every mayor, every substitute, every person, should he drag by force anybody belonging to Sethos Abydos temple from one district to another, by agreement, for forced labour to sow the fields or for forced labour to harvest, as well as he who seizes by force any woman or any man belonging to Sethos Abydos temple or also their servants in order to execute any task in the whole land, as well as any chariot driver, every stable master, any person of the royal household sent with a mission on behalf of the pharaoh – may he live, be hale and well – should he abduct anyone belonging to Sethos Abydos temple from one district to another, by agreement, for forced labour to sow the fields or for forced labour to harvest, also for the execution of any task, then the law shall be applied through two hundred strokes and five open wounds as well as recompense for the labour of the person belonging to Sethos Abydos temple on every day he spent with him, he shall be handed over to Sethos Abydos temple.
accessed 17th May 2009One cannot make reasonable calculations of state revenues before the Ptolemaic Period. Even of this period, from which a great many records are available, we know so little as to make such estimates little more than guesses. Ancient authors recorded annual incomesfrom Egyptof 700 Babylonian talents of silver and an unknown amount of grain raised by the Persian king Darius, 14,800 talents of silver and 1.5 million artabas of grain going to PtolemyII as reported by Hieronymus,6,000 talents of silver were raised by PtolemyXII according to Diodorus Siculus. Strabo quotes Cicero giving an assessment of 12,500 talents.
The produce was taxed separately, often in kind, which, if barley was used for payment instead of wheat caused an additional charge of 5% under the Romans. The Romans also levied a charge supposed to compensate for differences between local and state ordained measures, and they taxed the transportation of the grain from the field to the threshing floor, calling itdragmategia.
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. But quite a few people were exempt from corve duty, among them labourers on temple estates and gold miners. The Nauri decree bySeti Igave comprehensive protection to the workers belonging to the Nubian Osiris temple, but also restricted the freedom of these workers to accept work elsewhere.
2 and the scribe of Elephantine 1, the mayor of Edfu 8 deben of gold etc. Silver, cattle, cloth and the like were also part of these taxes, but significantly not slaves. These featured prominently in the imposts gathered inNubiawhich theKings Son of Kushpresented to the pharaoh in an annual ceremony (cf. thetaxes levied in Nubia and KushunderThutmose III).
Under PtolemyII a yoke tax of 8 drachmas (4 kit) imposed on householders was replaced by a salt tax of 1 drachma 3 obols ( kit) for men and 1 drachma ( kit) for women. A few years later these rates were reduced.. Public baths which began to proliferate under the emperors were paid for by taxation, amounting to 6 percent. There were taxes on houses, on the baskets used for transporting the collected dues to Alexandria, on burials, on company property, on property transfers, and quite a few more.A sage recommended:If a poor cultivator is in arrears with his taxes, remit two-thirds of them. Occasionally remittance following poor harvests seems to have occurred. The nomarchKheti II, who governed at Sauty during the First Intermediate Period, reports:I was rich in grain. When the land was in need, I maintained the city withkhaand withheket. I allowed the citizen to carry away with himself grain; and his wife, the widow and her son. I remitted all imposts which I found counted by my fathers.James Henry BreastedAncient Records of Egypt; Part One, 408Sometimes groups of people were exempted from paying taxes or had themreduced, because the state needed their services or their position was too powerful for the state to enforce collection. Horemheb remitted payments from officials in his fight against corruption:Now, as to the obligation of silver and gold … … … [my] majesty remits it, in order that there be not collected an obligation of anything from the official staff of the South and North.From theGreat Edict of Horemheb
In a barter economy the simplest way to exact taxes is by seizing part of the produce, merchandise, or property. The agricultural sector of such an economy is easiest to tax. A farmer cannot denypossession of a fieldwithout losing his rights. The field can be measured, the yield assessed, and the produce is difficult to hide because of its large bulk. It is no wonder that peasants were the highest and most consistently taxed part of the population until modern times.
The 10th year, Payni 5.P.Tebt.0772, 236 BCE
One doesnt quite know how the young men were called up. Apparently censuses were held and the administration had lists of various population groups.Registering of the whole land before his majesty, supervision of all activities, cognizance of soldiers, priests, royal servants, all craftsmen of the whole land, cattle, fowl and small cattle by the military scribe beloved of his lord Tjeneni, justified.From the tomb of Tjeneni, reign of Thutmose IV
Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis- Boreas Vol.6, 1974
APIS record: michigan.apis.2647The animals used for transportation, donkeys, horses and camels, were listed as well as the goods. At times they appear to have been a measure for the amount of goods transported. Listing them may also have prevented the smuggling of animals themselves.Paid, through the gate-house of Soknopaiou Nesos, the tax for the guard of the desert route, by Achillas, exporting one donkey of bitter vetch, 1. Year 5, the twelfth of Hadrianos, 12.P.Mich.inv. 6149, 2nd-3rd century CE
When the need for larger, more expert full-time armies arose during the New Kingdom, the pharaohs often preferred to hire foreigners, Nubians, Sherden and others, and only the chariots remained manned by Egyptian noblemen.
Farewell.P.Mich.inv. 831, 48 CEBy giving tax breaks and other incentives, the authorities hoped to attract new settlers to certain areas. After the foundation of Antinoopolis by the emperor Hadrian, the citizens there were exempt from paying the 10% sales tax and the poll tax.Its geographical position protected Egypt until the Late Period and, unlike its neighbours to the east who were practically all the time at war with each other, it could choose where and when to wage war against foreigners with small, at least partly professionalarmies. Civil wars on the other hand generally broke out as a consequence of prolonged periods of famine and were waged by factions of the local population. When Khasekhemwy (2nd dynasty) put down a rebellion in Lower Egypt, 47,000 casualties were recorded.
Behold, one has come to levy the tax on cattle. Behold, watch out and look after yourself.pCairo 58058The collection of taxes was often performed by coercion. Farmers owing taxes were either forced to hand over arrears on the spot or brought before courts who dispensed summary justice. Oil was taxed as were livestock, beer and much other farm produce, though the most important tax was the tax on grain.
Corves were organized locally and benefited the population at least in part directly. Irrigation was only possible through concerted efforts at a local or regional level and without itagriculturewould not have been able to feed thegrowing population.
James Henry BreastedAncient Records of EgyptPart Four, 150The temples even seem to have acquired the right to levy taxes instead of the state as early as the New Kingdom,and the Thebaid became increasingly independent of the pharaonic administration centered on Lower Egypt. Under Osorkon II of the 22nd dynasty the inhabitants of the city of Thebes seem not have paid any taxes to the royal treasury at all:Said the king in the presence of his father, Amon: I have protected Thebes in her height and in her breadth, pure, delivered to her lord. No inspectors of the kings house(pr-stny)journey to her; her people are protected forever, in the name of the Good God.Osorkon IIs jubilee inscription
APIS record: columbia.apis.p344Overseas tradewas taxed too. According to Jean YoyotteNakhtnebef(Nectanebo I, 380-362 BCE) set the duties on imported goods at 10% in his Naukratis DecreeThen His Majesty said: Let one tenth of the gold, silver, wood and joinery and all thing coming from the Greek Sea, be taxed for the Kings House in the place called Hon, as well as the tenth of gold, silver and all things existing in the domain of the harbour named Kratj on the bank of the Anu canal..During the Graeco-Roman Period internal customs duties amounted to three percent. They were levied at certain crosspoints: Soknapaiou Nesos in the Fayum controlling traffic to the western oases, Memphis harbour as a passage point into the Delta etc.Paid, through the gate-house of Soknopaiou (Nesos), the 3 % (customs duty), by Sotas, exporting wheat to the Oasis on one camel, one colt.
whichCleopatra VIIherself seems to have signed
Muhsconsiders these numbers to be too high. The salt tax would have yielded between 625 and 1,460 talents of silver per year under PtolemyII, the export of grain 1,500 to 2,000 talents. Together with all the other – more specific – taxes the revenues would probably have fallen short even of the number given by Hieronymus.
APIS Test databaseTo protect the tax-payer from illegal exploitative tax collecting the writing oftax receiptsbecame common.
of gold, his colleague at Elephantine 40, the scribe of the recorder of Elephantine 6, the
Calling up people for a few days and setting them to work on a given task required foresight and organization. Efficiency was not a hallmark of ancient economies, but when the organizational talent was lacking it could become somewhat of a scandal. Thutmose, a scribe of the royal necropolis under RamsesXI, was clearly unhappy with the way his substitute had gone about planning the estates grain harvest, when he wrote:
Merchants and craftsmen paid taxes on most of the things they traded in, such as oil, bronze and bricks and on licenses, such as the privilege to sell linen. Brewers were taxed on the beer they sold. Fishermen had to pay for the right to catch fish in the Fayum canalThe 32nd year, from Theodotos, the account of the [revenue on the fish-pots] in the canal of the harbour of Ptolemais, in the month Thoth, the 3rd day; from the collection made by Kalatytis 5? silver drachmae [less one], i.e. 4;
According to the Wilbour Papyrus, during the New Kingdom the yield of inundatednxb-landwas 10 sacks of grain per arura (about 1 tons per hectare). Higher lying land,Tnj-landwas assessed at 7 and the highest ground at which grain could still be grown,qAj.t-landat 5 sacks per arura. In the case of temple and state land the whole yield was used for redistribution. Officials paid for their land 20% of the yield, 1 sacks per arura. During the early half of the first millennium the tax seems to have amounted to about 10% of the crop.
Translation from T.G.H.JamesPharaos VolkDuring the Graeco-Roman Period citizens doing corve duty on the dykes and canalswere exempt from paying theDam taxwhich was often levied together with the poll-tax and amounted generally to one sixteenth, i.e. 6 percent. Where personal taxes like the poll-tax were concerned, it was up to the citizen or his family to inform the authorities of any changes in the status of the taxed:, village secretary of Theadelphia, from Stratippos, son of Titan, resident of Philadelphia.
Jennifer Barrows, The Ptolemies, the priesthood, and P. Grad. 4: The Impossibility of P. Gr
Nice gifts for you, the like has never happened.
(2nd hand) I, Philiskos, have signed. Year 7 of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator, Mecheir 27th, august day.P.Oxy. II 262, 61 CE
APIS Advanced Papyrological Information System
Indeed, you have not listened to me!Letter by the scribe Thutmose, pBN 198.III, reign of Ramses XIThe system lent itself to serious abuse. Many bought their exemption, offered a substitute or bribed the relevant official. Administrators drafted people for their own personal benefit. Complaints sometimes accompanied by threats were used to achieve their releaseA shield bearer of His Majesty or a stable master or a vassal of the pharaoh drafts the number of workers who are in Memphis. It is not you who should dispose of them in the temple of Thoth, your god.