Sunday, 23 June 2013

Death and taxes




It shouldn't be any surprise to you that the Romans paid taxes - all those grand infrastructure projects needed cash and the average Roman was the big contributor to all those roads and aqueducts. But what did they pay? Well, for one thing, the Romans didn't have an income tax like we're used to - in fact through much of Roman history, they had a Wealth tax instead. Throughout the Republic and up until 167BC, Roman citizens paid tax based on their wealth and asset value. This tax was usually around one percent, but rose to three percent when Senate spending was forced up.

This all ended for the Roman citizens of Rome in 167BC when they were given a tax exempt status and the tax collection was limited to the provinces. The change gave us the term Tax Farmer or Publicani...these were the bad guys who purchased the rights to collect taxes and keep some of the cut. Provincial tax rates rose to four percent per month for the next 150-years and left a lot of unhappy provincials.

Augustus made tax collection the role of government during the early Imperial-era and shook things up again. The citizens of Rome retained their tax free status, but the 'for profit' Tax Farmers were replaced by regional magistrates and bureaucrats who returned the Wealth tax to one percent and enforced a new fixed Poll Tax - a per capita tax which relied on the census to identify tax payers. The Poll Tax proved pretty unpopular in some regions - the Jewish Revolt has been partially blamed on it. But how much was it? In Judea it was two denarii - or about 7.5% of the average income. Of course even if you weren't earning money you still had to come up with those two denarii, which no doubt brewed a lot of trouble. Still, troubles aside, Augustus' Poll Tax actually outlived the Roman Empire - so I guess it worked. For more on the early Imperial-era you can read 'A Body of Doubt' available from Amazon, just follow the links