This entry deals with payments exacted upon subject populations by imperial powers, and consists of two articles, the first on the Ancient Near East, and the second on the Roman Empire.

Ancient Near East

Tribute and taxation encompass all obligations in precious metals, other goods, or service imposed by a central government on its own people, on visiting traders, or on regions that submitted to it. Tribute generally refers to payments made by one state to another dominant state to prevent attack or in ongoing submission. Taxation would then describe obligations within a state, including payments by visiting merchants. In the empires conquered by Assyria (ninth to seventh centuries BCE), Babylon (605–539 BCE), and Persia (539 to the late fourth century BCE), payments by distant territories incorporated into the realm as provinces might still be called tribute, but with sovereignty lost this simply represented the highest stage in a pyramid of taxation required to support the central authority.

In the biblical portrayal of Israel's conquest of the Promised Land, the defeated peoples are annihilated when possible in holy war, without negotiation. This extreme policy only applied where the goal was to occupy the land (see Deut. 20.16–18). When the Canaanites managed a negotiated settlement, the obligation was not tribute but forced labor (Deut. 20.11; Josh. 9.26; 16.10; 17.13; Judg. 1.28). In the period of the judges, Israel repeatedly suffered defeat and is once said to have paid tribute, to Eglon of Moab (Judg. 3.15–18).

By contrast, David (ca. 1000–961 BCE) carved out a small empire that brought a flow of booty and tribute to the new capital at Jerusalem, from Moab, Aram, and Hamath (2 Sam. 8.2–10). This income continued under Solomon (ca. 961–922; 1 Kings 4.21), supplemented by gifts and taxes received from foreign trade (1 Kings 10.14–15). David's new dynasty not only brought Israel great wealth but building projects, a standing army, and a palace bureaucracy, all of which required support by internal taxation along with the foreign revenue. There is no mention of civil taxation before the monarchy, although legal traditions provide for support of the religious institutions by payments such as offerings of first fruits (Exod. 23.19; Deut. 26.2–10) and tithes (Lev. 27.30; Num. 18.21–32; Deut. 14.22–29).

The institution of kingship in Israel is remembered by this negative side of success (1 Sam. 8), and the Bible acknowledges painful new taxation while boasting of Solomon's wealth. Solomon divided Israel into twelve (nontribal) districts to supply the monthly needs of the palace (1 Kings 4.7–19, 22–23, 27–28) and appointed high‐ranking administrators (v. 56). He made the Israelites contribute forced labor for building the palace (1 Kings 5.13–14). 1 Samuel 8.11–17 lists further demands of royal taxation, including military conscription to support a chariot army and forced service as craftsmen, palace workers, and farmers. The burden of taxation is remembered as the principal cause of the separation by the northern tribes after Solomon, under Jeroboam I (922–901; 1 Kings 12). Even under David, a census for possible conscription of fighting men is treated as a crime (2 Sam. 24.1–17).

After the split into two kingdoms, there is little mention of internal taxation, although the kings surely continued the system at some level, in order to sustain palace and army. The Bible's depiction of the divided monarchy focuses once more on tribute, this time paid by Israel and Judah to hold off foreign attack. In the ninth century this consisted of one‐time payments to the Aramean kingdom centered at Damascus by Asa (913–873) and Joash (837–800) of Judah (1 Kings 15.19; 2 Kings 12.18), and Ahab (869–850) of Israel (1 Kings 20.3–7). Aram gave way to the more distant but more serious threat from Assyria. Menahem (745–737) of Israel paid “Pul” (Tiglath‐pileser III, 745–727) to withdraw (2 Kings 15.19–20), and one‐time payments are recorded for Ahaz (735–715) and Hezekiah (715–687) of Judah to Tiglath‐pileser and Sennacherib (704–681; 2 Kings 16.8; 18.14–16). Assyrian royal annals also claim such tribute from Jehu (843–815) of Israel to Shalmaneser III (858–824) and from Israel to Adad‐nirari III (809–782).

Traumatic as it was, one‐time payment represented the least of obligations in a hierarchy that proceeded to annual tribute and finally incorporation as a province of the empire. The first biblical indication of annual tribute occurs just before the fall of the north, when Hoshea (732–724) pays Shalmaneser V (726–722; 2 Kings 17.4; cf. 18.9–11). Before their revolts, Johaiakim (609–598) and Zedekiah (597–587) of Judah probably paid annual tribute in becoming vassals of Babylon (cf. 2 Kings 24.1, 17–18).

Detailed records from Assyria show us the system into which Israel and Judah were drawn. The Assyrian king received payments from foreign rulers as “tribute” (Akkadian maddattu) and namurtu, originally a gift brought for a royal audience. Payments from territories annexed to the empire were no longer called maddattu, but obligations increased, including various taxes on agricultural produce, animals, and other materials, along with the ilku, or personal service to the state. The ilku might involve military service or forced labor for public projects (canals, building repair, etc.), and it could be avoided by paying and supplying a replacement.

The provincial administration of the Assyrian empire was taken over by Nebuchadrezzar (605–562) of Babylon, who could not otherwise have consolidated his new realm. Innovation was left to the Persians, who further expanded the empire. Darius I (522–486) set up twenty satrapies, which combined existing provinces into larger units, including “Across‐the‐(Euphrates) River,” or Syria‐Palestine (Herodotus 3.89). Each satrapy then made a fixed payment according to its productive capacity, which actually protected the populace from local officials who might curry favor by promising higher revenue. Persian regulation of taxation was designed to produce stable submission, and complemented the measured local autonomy allowed in matters of religion and administration. Within each satrapy, however, enforcement of obligations for payments or service was handled mainly by local lords.

The sum of tax obligations in the district of Yehud (Judea) is described as “tribute, custom, and toll” in the complaint to the king by those who opposed reconstruction of Jerusalem, with the claim that a revolt would stop payment (Ezra 4.13, 20). The one concern of the empire was that its authority be recognized by an uninterrupted flow of revenue. There was ample opportunity for oppressive local taxation, as Nehemiah acknowledged when he refused the standard governor's levy for maintaining his household (Neh. 5.14–15).

Persian rule was brought to an abrupt end with Alexander's sweep across the empire, but he simply took over the existing administrative systems. The dynasties of his generals, the Ptolemies in Egypt and the Seleucids in Mesopotamia and Syria, competed for control of Palestine, and eventual Seleucid domination in the second century BCE brought increased taxation, with collection rights sold to whomever promised the highest revenue (Josephus Ant. 12.4.1–5). Standard taxes are described in 1 Maccabees 10.29–30 as tribute, salt tax, crown levy, one‐third of grain, and one‐half of fruit.

Daniel E. Fleming

Roman Empire

Rome acquired its first province (part of Sicily) in the middle of the third century BCE after defeating the Carthaginians, and took over the system of taxation they had instituted there. Similarly, as more provinces were added during the next two centuries, local systems were for the most part taken over without any attempt to introduce uniformity. A new general tax was instituted only where there had been no previous control or systematic taxation by any power. The chief purpose of direct taxation was to pay the costs of the wars of conquest and of continuing control. Thus, the tax in Spain was called stipendium, that is, “soldiers’ pay.” Although government monopolies and indirect taxes, farmed out to publicans, were often profitable, and although a great deal of wealth flowed in various ways from the provinces both to Roman individuals and to the state, no major profit seems to have been derived from direct taxation before the annexation of the kingdom of Pergamum.

The gradual annexation of the kingdoms around the eastern Mediterranean, from Pergamum (133 BCE) to Egypt (30 BCE), produced a major change. Most of them had been thoroughly organized by their Hellenistic monarchs for their own profit, and Rome inherited both the organization and the profits, often simplifying collection by using the experienced publicani. In the 60s BCE, Pompey annexed some of these territories and reorganized others, greatly increasing public revenues. He also initiated the practice of imposing tribute on minor client rulers, thus increasing public profit without assuming any direct administration of intractable populations.

The result, by the end of the Republic, was an aggregate of provinces in which direct taxes were levied at different rates and collected in different ways (either by officials or by publicani), and each province was a mosaic of political entities of varying degrees of administrative and fiscal subjection. Extortion and dissatisfaction increased as the state proved unable to control either its administrators (members of its governing body, the Senate) or the powerful corporations of publicani, and the civil wars of the 40s and 30s BCE greatly increased the financial burdens of the provinces while disrupting their administration and economy.

Augustus tried to tighten control and begin some systematization. Censuses of people were taken in new and in some old provinces (thus the famous one of Sulpicius Quirinius in Syria and Judea: see Luke 2.1–4, with some chronological confusion, and cf. Acts 5.37; see also Chronology, article on Early Christian Chronology); and, following a limited example set by Caesar, he continued the removal of publicani from the collection of direct taxes and had them collected instead by officials in new provinces. His immediate successors completed these measures, but the large variety of local statuses and the farming of the numerous indirect taxes (see below) by publicani were only very slowly reduced. On the whole these changes benefited the government and not the taxpayers.

In Palestine, Herod paid a fixed tribute to Rome and could collect his own taxes as he saw fit. We know little about how he did so, and the protests to Augustus after his death about his administration do not dwell on fiscal oppression. His sons inherited his obligations and his privilege, and although we are told the total of their revenues (Josephus, Ant. 17.11.318–20), we do not know much about their method of collection. In outline, though, their system did not differ much from that introduced by Augustus into Judea after its annexation (6 CE) or from that of Roman Syria, since both were descended from Hellenistic models.

In Judea there were two regular direct taxes: a tax on agricultural produce, still levied in kind, but during the early empire converted into a fixed amount of money as in all other provinces; and a poll tax, about which we know little in detail. Perhaps paid only by those not liable to the produce tax, it consisted of a flat‐rate personal tax on all men from age fourteen and women from age twelve to age sixty‐five and was levied at least at the rate of one denarius (about a day's wage) per year (see the tribute money of the Gospels: Matt. 22.15–22 par.). Later (we do not know when) it was combined with a percentage tax on property. These were paid to Roman officials, but we do not know who collected them from the taxpayers. (Income taxes were unknown in antiquity.) By 17 CE they were so burdensome that a joint deputation from Syria and Judea asked Tiberius for relief (Tacitus, Annals 2.42.5). We casually hear of other taxes, for example, a house tax in Jerusalem, and we must assume the impositions known from other provinces: the notorious aurum coronarium, originally a contribution to a governor's Roman triumph, but later demanded by emperors on various occasions; lavish free hospitality for governors and their staffs and friends; perhaps quartering of soldiers; and—an item subject to unsuccessful regulation ever since Augustus—responsibility for the transport of official parties by communities along the roads. The incidence of the total of direct taxation was thus uneven and unpredictable.

Indirect taxes were probably worse. Government monopolies (such as salt, the produce of lakes and rivers, and the famed Judean balm) were farmed out to publicani, as were the Roman customs duties and road tolls at provincial boundaries (and perhaps elsewhere) and harbor dues. On top of these, cities were free to impose charges for their own revenues. The result was great disparity in the cost of the same products between communities, as well as the usual bribery at the point of collection, and the highest cost of living in the Near East. The poor naturally suffered most, and this social and economic component merged with religious and nationalist feelings in the revolts against Rome. Each failed revolt resulted in harsher exactions and an increase in distress and dissatisfaction.

E. Badian