FINANCE IN THE ROMAN WORLD
Some basic concepts
LITURGY (Greek: letiourgia; Latin: munera)
owed by the members (or by some of the members) of a political corporation to that corporation, without remuneration. For the uppermost classes, for example, the carrying out of an embassy was a 'liturgy', or the erection of a portico, a temple, or the provision of free oil for a period of time for the municipal baths. For lower class persons, the 'liturgy' could involve personal service, such as (in Egypt especially) a number of days working on the canal or dyke system (corvée
), or maintenance of portions of public highways, or even minor local public office
(village secretary, for example).
Note: In theory the citizens of a Greek polis were members of the National Family, and thus 'owners' of the State, not subjects of the State. Consequently they did not pay direct taxes, such as an income tax or a land tax or a poll tax. Indeed, they received periodic 'dividends' in the form of jury pay, theater subsidy, etc.
This obligation of certain areas in the Empire to provide foodstuffs, especially grain, to the State, has two principal categories:
- annona civica, which was levied for the use of the City of Rome, and was administered by imperial officials under the nominal direction of a Senatorial Curator Annonae:
- Procurator Annonae (Praefectus Annonae)
- Procurator Annonae Ostiae
- Procurator ad Mercuriam (in Alexandria-next-to-Egypt)
- Procurator Neaspolis et Mausolei (in Alexandria, in charge of shipping the grain to Rome)
From time to time the Emperor extended this service (often for emergency reasons) to other cities (e.g. Tarsus, in Caracalla's reign); later, after 330 A.D. Constantinople had a regular annona administration as well.
annona militaris, (the military grain supply), a tax levied in foodstuffs, and paralleled in other commodities, for the benefit of the Roman Army. Current evidence suggests that this began as early as the reign of Septimius Severus, perhaps around 194-196 A.D., during his eastern Civil War against Pescennius Niger, and the Parthian War that followed immediately. It was in force universally where Roman troops were stationed, and was in many cases collected by detachments of troops themselves (a new official duty, and an opportunity for horrible abuses). Elsewhere, as a privilege, the actual demand in grain might be commuted into the payment of money.
AURUM CORONARIUM ( 'crown gold' )
This originally was a free gift, on a specific occasion, presented to an important public figure who had been a benefactor of a place ( beneficium / officium ), in the form of a gold crown of a certain weight. Obviously, this tribute was somewhat expensive.
In the Roman Imperial period, the accession of the new emperor brought forth such expressions of loyalty and regard (usually in return for the generous cancellation of taxes which might be in arrears); but the "gift" could be repeated (as it was, often) whenever an emperor accomplished some notable deed (such as a military victory or a pretended military victory). The abuses of this system led eventually (by the second century A.D.) to its being considered a regular event, and then (by the third century) to its being considered an annual event.
The burden was often complained about, and it was from time to time necessary for the emperor to cancel the outstanding aurum coronarium from previous reigns, and even to postpone ones currently due. It was, however, a very useful way of getting gold back into circulation which had gone out of circulation–especially in times of economic and political distress.
In considering the question of regular taxation, several factors had to be kept in mind at the same time:
- Who was the taxing authority? [Roman state, a Roman colony, a municipium (which might have varying rights and privileges), a Greek polis]
- What is being taxed? [real estate, slaves, moveables, services, monopolies, etc.]
- What is the status of the person being taxed?
- [from the Roman government's point-of view:] civis Romanus,
- [from the municipality's point-of-view:] civis,
adtributus, permanent resident, stranger