ECONOMY OF ANCIENT ROME: MONEY, TAXES AND SUBSIDIES

ECONOMY OF ANCIENT ROME

20120227-Augustus Aureus.jpg
Augustus coins
In many respects the ancient Roman economy wasn't all that much different from economies today. The government in Rome set wage and price controls to stem inflation and rising interest rates. Most Roman cities had supermarkets. Laws were passed to subsidize grain, keeping the price artificially low and affordable to pacify the masses. Some scholars compared this scheme to food stamps. Once it was on the books few politicians wanted to cut back on the program to avoid riots in the streets. There was advertising for gladiator matches. [Source: Lionel Casson , Smithsonian]

The sesterce was the currency of Rome." The annual salary of a soldier was around, 1,200 sesterces. At the time of Christ, a bottle of wine sold for about 1 sesterce (about $1.60) and 10 million sesterces was equal to $16 million.

Denarii (singular denarius) were silver alloy coins. Aurei were gold pieces. The word denarius was shortened to dinars, the name of the currency still use in several Northern African and Middle east countries including Tunisia and Jordan.

The third-century Roman emperor Diocletian proposed a single Europe currency but the idea didn't catch one. Charlemagne's son, Pépin the Short, created a single currency but it didn't last for long.

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

History of Money in the Early Roman Empire

Reign of Augustus Caesar (30 B.C. - A.D. 14): Augustus reforms the Roman monetary and taxation systems issuing new, almost pure gold and silver coins, and new brass and copper ones, and also introduces three new taxes: a general sales tax, a land tax, and a flat-rate poll tax. [Source: Roy Davies & Glyn Davies, “A History of Money from Ancient Times to the Present Day” by Glyn Davies, rev. ed. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1996 & 1999. Exeter]

Christ drives the money changers out of the Temple in Jerusalem (c. A.D. 30): Jesus overturns the money changers' tables (Matthew 21.12). To gentiles the practice of money changers conducting their business in and around temples and other public buildings would have seemed commonplace. The Greek bankers or trapezitai derived their name from their tables just as the English word bank comes from the Italian banca for bench or counter.

Reign of Nero (A.D. 54- 68): Nero slightly debases the gold and silver coinages, a practice copied by some later emperors, starting mild but prolonged inflation.

A.D. 250: Silver content of Roman coins is down to 40%. After this level is reached inflation accelerates. A.D. 270: Silver content of Roman coins has fallen to only 4%

History of Money in the Mid Roman Empire


Constantine coin

Reign of Gallienus (A.D. 260 - 268) During his reign there is a temporary breakdown of the Roman banking system after the banks reject the flakes of copper produced by his mints. [Source: Roy Davies & Glyn Davies, “A History of Money from Ancient Times to the Present Day” by Glyn Davies, rev. ed. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1996 & 1999. Exeter]

Reign of Aurelian (A.D. 270 - 275): Aurelian issues new, nearly pure coins, using gold from his eastern conquests, but raises their nominal value by 2½ times hoping in this way to stay ahead of inflation. However this "reform" sends inflation soaring. A rebellion by mint workers led by Felicissimus costs Aurelian's army some 7,000 casualties.

Reign of Diocletian (A.D. 284 - 305): Diocletian makes vigorous attempts to get to grips with the problem of inflation using a variety of methods but these prove only partially effective at best.

Diocletian reforms the coinage (A.D. 295): This fails to halt inflation, probably because the older coins remain in use and, in accordance with Gresham's law, drive the good coins out of circulation.

Diocletian issues the Edict of Prices (301): The Edict introduces direct controls of prices and also wage rates. This, too, is defeated by market forces.

Diocletian abdicates voluntarily (305): Although his currency reform and prices and incomes policy failed, his other reforms of the Roman administration, including the world's first system of annual budgets, are more successful.

History of Money in the Late Roman Empire

Constantine secures control over the West then the whole Empire (306 - 337): Constantine issues a new gold coin, the Solidus, which continues to be produced in the Eastern Roman Empire unchanged in weight or purity for the next 700 years. [Source: Roy Davies & Glyn Davies, “A History of Money from Ancient Times to the Present Day” by Glyn Davies, rev. ed. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1996 & 1999. Exeter]

Christianity becomes the official faith of the Roman Empire (313): Constantine adopts Christianity and following his conversion, he confiscates the enormous treasures amassed over the centuries in the pagan temples throughout the empire. Consequently, unlike Diocletian, he has easily enough bullion to replace the earlier debased gold coinage. However he continues to produce debased silver and copper coins. Thus the poor, unlike the rich, are left with an inflation-ridden currency.

A.D. 307: One pound of gold is worth 100,000 Denarii. The value of the denarius is only half that stipulated in Diocletian's edict of prices 6 years earlier.

A.D. 324: One pound of gold is worth 300,000 Denarii Later, in Egypt by the middle of the 4th century the denarius'value collapses completely so that a pound of gold is worth 2,120,000,000 denarii: another early example of runaway inflation.

Rome falls to the Visigoths (A.D. 410): Banking is abandoned in western Europe and does not develop again until the time of the Crusades.

Coins cease to be used in Britain as a medium of exchange (A.D. c. 435): As a result of the Anglo-Saxon invasions Britain, uniquely among the former Roman provinces, ceases to use coins as money for nearly 200 years. When they are re-introduced from the Continent they are used initially for ornament.

Food Subsidies in Ancient Rome


military punishment in the Roman military, being issued barley rather than wheat

Bruce Bartlett wrote in the Cato Institute Journal: “The reason why Egypt retained its special economic system and was not allowed to share in the general economic freedom of the Roman Empire is that it was the main source of Rome’s grain supply. Maintenance of this supply was critical to Rome’s survival, especially due to the policy of distributing free grain (later bread) to all Rome’s citizens which began in 58 B.C. By the time of Augustus, this dole was providing free food for some 200,000 Romans. The emperor paid the cost of this dole out of his own pocket, as well as the cost of games for entertainment, principally from his personal holdings in Egypt. The preservation of uninterrupted grain flows from Egypt to Rome was, therefore, a major task for all Roman emperors and an important base of their power. [Source: Bruce Bartlett, “How Excessive Government Killed Ancient Rome,” Cato Institute Journal 14: 2, Fall 1994, Cato.org /=\]

“The free grain policy evolved gradually over a long period of time and went through periodic adjustment. 3 The genesis of this practice dates from Gaius Gracchus, who in 123 B.C. established the policy that all citizens of Rome were entitled to buy a monthly ration of corn at a fixed price. The purpose was not so much to provide a subsidy as to smooth out the seasonal fluctuations in the price of corn by allowing people to pay the same price throughout the year. /=\

“Under the dictatorship of Sulla, the grain distributions were ended in approximately 90 B.C. By 73 B.C., however, the state was once again providing corn to the citizens of Rome at the same price. In 58 B.C., Clodius abolished the charge and began distributing the grain for free. The result was a sharp increase in the influx of rural poor into Rome, as well as the freeing of many slaves so that they too would qualify for the dole. By the time of Julius Caesar, some 320,000 people were receiving free grain, a number Caesar cut down to about 150,000, probably by being more careful about checking proof of citizenship rather than by restricting traditional eligibility. /=\

“Under Augustus, the number of people eligible for free grain increased again to 320,000. Tn 5 B.C., however, Augustus began restrictingthe distribution. Eventually the number ofpeople receiving grain stabilized at about 200,000. Apparently, this was an absolute limit and corn distribution was henceforth limited to those with a ticket entitling them to grain. Although subsequent emperors would occasionally extend eligibility for grain to particular groups, such as Nero’s inclusion ofthe Praetorian guard in 65 AD., the overall number of people receiving grain remained basically fixed. /=\

“The distribution of free grain in Rome remained in effect until the end of the Empire, although baked bread replaced corn in the 3rd century. Under Septimius Severus (193—211 AD.) free oil was also distributed. Subsequent emperors added, on occasion, free pork and wine. Eventually, other cities of the Empire also began providing similar benefits, including Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch. /=\

“Nevertheless, despite the free grain policy, the vast bulk of Rome’s grain supply was distributed through the free market. There are two main reasons for this. First, the allotment of free grain was insufficient to live on. Second, grain was available only to adult male Roman citizens, thus excluding the large number of women, children, slaves, foreigners, and other non-citizens living in Rome. Government officials were also excluded from the dole for the most part. Consequently, there remained a large private market for grain which was supplied by independent traders.” /=\

Taxation in the Roman Republic and Early Empire

Bruce Bartlett wrote in the Cato Institute Journal: “The expansion of the dole is an important reason for the rise of Roman taxes. In the earliest days of the Republic Rome’s taxes were quite modest, consisting mainly ofa wealth tax on all forms of property, including land, houses, slaves, animals, money and personal effects. The basic rate was just .01 percent, although occasionally rising to .03 percent. It was assessed principally to pay the army during war. In fact, afterwards the tax was often rebated. [Source: Bruce Bartlett, “How Excessive Government Killed Ancient Rome,” Cato Institute Journal 14: 2, Fall 1994, Cato.org /=\]


paying taxes in ancient Rome

“It was levied directly on individuals, who were counted at periodic censuses. As Rome expanded after the unification of Italy in 272 B.C., so did Roman taxes. In the provinces, however, the main form of tax was a 4 Eligibility consisted mainly of Roman citizenship, actual residence in Rome, and was restricted to males over the age of fourteen. Senators and other government employees generally were prohibited from receiving grain. A tithe levied on communities, rather than directly on individuals. 5 This was partly because censuses were seldom conducted, thus making direct taxation impossible, and also because it was easierto administer, Local communities would decide for themselves howto divide up the tax burden among their citizens. /=\

“Tax farmers were often utilized to collect provincial taxes. They would pay in advance for the right to collect taxes in particularareas. Every few years these rights were put out to bid, thus capturing for the Roman treasury any increase in taxable capacity. In effect, tax farmers were loaning money to the state in advance of tax collections. They also had the responsibility of converting provincial taxes, which were often collected in-kind, into hard cash. 6 Thus the collections by tax farmers had to provide sufficient revenues to repay their advance to the state plus enough to cover the opportunity cost of the funds (i.e., interest), the transactions cost of converting collections into cash, and a profit as well. In fact, tax farming was quite profitable and was a major investment vehicle for wealthy citizens of Rome. /=\

“Augustus ended tax farming, however, due to complaints from the provinces. Interestingly, their protests not only had to do with excessive assessments by the tax farmers, as one would expect, but were also due to the fact that the provinces were becoming deeply indebted. A.H.M. Jones describes the problems with tax farmers: ‘Oppression and extortion began very early in the provinces and reached fantastic proportions in the later republic. Most governors were primarily interested in acquiring military glory and in making money during their year in office, and the companies which farmed the taxes expected to make ample profits. There was usually collusion between the governor and the tax contractors and the senate was too far away to exercise any effective control over either. The other great abuse of the provinces was extensive moneylending at exorbitant rates of interest to the provincial communities, which could not raise enough ready cash to satisfy both the exorbitant demands of the tax contractors and the blackmail levied by the governors.’ /=\

“As a result of such abuses, tax farming was replaced by direct taxation early in the Empire. The provinces now paid a wealth tax of about 1 percent and a flat poll or head tax on each adult. This obviously required regular censuses in order to count the taxable population and assess taxable property. It also led to a major shift in the basis of taxation. Under the tax farmers, taxation was largely based on current income. Consequently, the yield varied according to economic and climactic conditions. Since tax farmers had only a limited time to collect the revenue to which they were entitled, they obviously had to concentrate on collecting such revenue where it was most easily available. Because assets such as land were difficult to convert into cash, this meant that income necessarily was the basic baseof taxation. And since tax farmers were essentially bidding against a community’s income potential, this meant that a large portion of any increase in income accmed to the tax farmers. /=\

“By contrast, the Augustinian system was far less progressive. The shift to flat assessments based on wealth and population both regularized the yield of the tax system and greatly reduced its “progressivity.” This is because any growth in taxable capacity led to higher taxes under the tax farming system, while under the Augustinian system communities were only liable for a fixed payment. Thus any increase in income accrued entirely to the people and did not have to be shared with Rome. Individuals knew in advance the exact amount of their tax bill and that any income over and above that amount was entirely theirs. This was obviously a great incentive to produce, since the marginal tax rate above the tax assessment was zero. In economic terms, one can say that there was virtually no excess burden. Of course, to the extent that higher incomes increased wealth, some of this gain would be captured through reassessments. But in the short run, the tax system was very pro-growth.” /=\

Rise and Fall of Economic Growth in Ancient Rome

Bruce Bartlett wrote in the Cato Institute Journal: “Rome’s pro-growth policies, including the creation of a large common market encompassing the entire Mediterranean, a stable currency, and moderate taxes, had a positive impact on trade. Keith Hopkins finds empirical support for this proposition by noting the sharp increase in the number of known shipwrecks dating from the late Republic and early Empire as compared to earlier periods. The increase in trade led to an increase in shipping, thus increasing the likelihood that any surviving wrecks would date from this period. Rostovtzeff indicates that “commerce, and especially foreign and inter-provincial maritime commerce, provided the main sources of wealth in the Roman Empire.” [Source: Bruce Bartlett, “How Excessive Government Killed Ancient Rome,” Cato Institute Journal 14: 2, Fall 1994, Cato.org /=\]


receiving money in ancient Rome

“Hopkins also notes that there was a sharp increase in the Roman money supply which accompanied the expansion of trade. He further notes that this expansion of the money supply did not lead to higher prices. Interest rates also fell to the lowest levels in Roman history in the early part of Augustus’s reign. This strongly suggests that the supply of goods and services grew roughly in line with the increase in the money supply. There was probably also an increase in the demand for cash balances to pay taxes and rents, which would further explain why the increasedmoney supply was non-inflationary. /=\

“During the early Empire revenues were so abundant that the state was able to undertake a massive public works program. Augustus repaired all the roads of Italy and Rome, restored the temples and built many new ones, and built many aqueducts, baths and other public buildings. Tiberius, however, cut back on the building program and hoarded large sums of cash. This led to a financial crisis in 33 AD. in which there was a severe shortage of money. This shortage may have been triggered by a usury law which had not been applied for some years but was again enforced by the courts at this time.The shortage of money and the curtailment of state expenditures led to a sharp downturn in economic activity which was only relieved when the state made large loans at zero interest in order to provide liquidity. /=\

“Under Claudius (41—54 A.D.) the Roman Empire added its last major territory with theconquest of Britain. Not long thereafter, under Trajan (98—117 A,D.), the Empire achieved its greatest geographic expansion. Consequently, the state would no longer receive additional revenue from provincial tribute and any increase in revenues would now have to come from within the Empire itself. Although Rostovtzeff credits the Julio-Claudian emperors with maintaining the Augustinian policy of laissez faire, the demand forrevenue was already beginning to undermine the strength of the Roman economy. An example of this from the time of Caligula (37—41 AD.) is recorded by Philo (20 B.C—50 A.D.): ‘Not long ago a certain man who had been appointed a collector of taxes in our country, when some of those who appeared to owe such tribute fled out of poverty, from a fearof intolerable punishment if they remained without paying, carried off their wives, and their children, and their parents, and their whole families by force, beating and insulting them, and heaping every kind of contumely and ill treatment upon them, to make them either give information as to where the fugitives had concealed themselves, or pay the money instead of them, though they could not do either the one thing or the other; in the first place, because they did not know where they were, and secondly, because they were in still greater poverty than the men who had fled.’” /=\

Inflation and Taxation in Ancient Rome

Bruce Bartlett wrote in the Cato Institute Journal: “As early as the rule of Nero (54—68 AD.) there is evidence that the demand for revenue led to debasement of the coinage. Revenue was needed to pay the increasing costs of defense and a growing bureaucracy. However, rather than raise taxes, Nero and subsequent emperors preferred to debase the currency by reducing the precious metal content of coins. This was, of course, a form of taxation; in this case, a tax on cash balances (Bailey 1956). [Source: Bruce Bartlett, “How Excessive Government Killed Ancient Rome,” Cato Institute Journal 14: 2, Fall 1994, Cato.org /=\]


Ancient Roman counterfeit coin molds

“Throughout most of the Empire, the basic units of Roman coinage were the gold aureus, the silver denarius, and the copper or bronze sesterce. 5 The aureus was minted at 40—42 to the pound, the denarius at 84 to the pound, and a sesterce was equivalent to one-quarter of a denarius. Twenty-five denarii equaled one aureus and the denarius was considered the basic coin and unit of account. /=\

“The aureus did not circulate widely. Consequently, debasement was mainly limited to the denarius. Nero reduced the silver content of the denarius to 90 percent and slightly reduced the size of the aureus in order to maintain the 25 to 1 ratio. Trajan (98—117 AD.) reduced the silver content to 85 percent, but was able to maintain the ratio because of a large influx of gold. In fact, some historians suggest that he deliberately devalued the denarius precisely in order to maintain the historic ratio. Debasement continued under the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161—180 AD.), who reduced the silver content of the denarius to 75 percent, further reduced by Septimius Severus to 50 percent. By the middle,of the third century A.D., the denarius had a silver content of just 5 percent. /=\

“Interestingly, the continual debasements did not improve the Empire’s fiscal position. This is because of Gresham’s Law (“bad money drives out good”). People would hoard older, high silver content coins and pay their taxes in those with the least silver. Thus the government’s “real” revenues may have actually fallen. As Aurelio Bernardi explains: ‘At the beginning the debasement proved undoubtedly profitable for the state. Nevertheless, in the course of years, this expedient was abused and the century of inflation which had been thus brought about was greatly to the disadvantage of the State’s finances. Prices were rising too rapidly and it became impossible to count on an immediate proportional increase in the fiscal revenue, because of the rigidity of the apparatus of tax collection.’ /=\

“At first, the government could raise additional revenue from the sale of state property. Later, more unscrupulous emperors like Domitian (81—96 AD.) would use trumped-up charges to confiscate the assets of the wealthy. They would also invent excuses to demand tribute from the provinces and the wealthy. Such tribute, called the aurum corinarium, was nominallyvoluntary and paid in gold to commemorate special occasions, such as the accession of a new emperor or a great military victory. Caracalla (198—217 AD.) often reported such dubious “victories” as a way of raising revenue. Rostovtzeff (1957: 417) calls these levies “pure robbery.” Although taxes on ordinary Romans were not raised, citizenship was greatly expanded in order to bring more people into the tax net. Taxes on the wealthy, however, were sharply increased, especially those on inheritances and manumissions (freeing of slaves). /=\

“Occasionally, the tax burden would be moderated by a cancellation of back taxes or other measures. One such occasion occurred under the brief reign of Pertinax (193 A.D.), who replaced the rapacious Commodus (A.D. 176—192). As Edward Gibbon (1932: 88) tells us: ‘Though every measure of injustice and extortion had been adopted, which could collect the property of the subject into the coffers of the prince; the rapaciousness of Commodus had been so very inadequate to his extravagance, that, upon his death, no more than eight thousand pounds were found in the exhausted treasury, to defray the current expenses of government, and to discharge the pressing demand of a liberal donative, which the new emperor had been obliged to promise to the Praetorian guards. Yet under these distressed circumstances, Pertinax had the generous firmness to remit all the oppressive taxes invented by Commodus, and to cancel all the unjust claims of the treasuly; declaring in a decree to the senate, “that he was better satisfied to administer a poor republic with innocence, than to acquire riches by the ways of tyranny and dishonor.’” /=\

State Socialism in Ancient Rome

Bruce Bartlett wrote in the Cato Institute Journal: “Unfortunately, Pertinax was an exception. Most emperors continued the policies of debasement and increasingly heavy taxes, levied mainly on the wealthy. The war against wealth was not simply due to purely fiscal requirements, but was also part of a conscious policy of exterminating the Senatorial class, which had ruled Rome since ancient times, in order to eliminate any potential rivals to the emperor. Increasingly, emperors came to believe that the army was the sole source of power and they concentrated their efforts on sustaining the army at all cost. [Source: Bruce Bartlett, “How Excessive Government Killed Ancient Rome,” Cato Institute Journal 14: 2, Fall 1994, Cato.org /=\]


Roman seal

“As the private wealth of the Empire was gradually confiscated or taxed away, driven away or hidden, economic growth slowed to a virtual standstill. Moreover, once the wealthy were no longer able to pay the state’s bills, the burden inexorably fell onto the lower classes, so that average people suffered as well from the deteriorating economic conditions. In RostovtzefFs words, “The heavier the pressure of the state on the upper classes, the more intolerable became the condition of the lower”. /=\

“At this point, in the third century A.D., the money economy completely broke down. Yet the military demands of the state remained high. Rome’s borders were under continual pressure from Germanic tribes in the North and from the Persians in the East. Moreover, it was now explicitly understood by everyone that the emperor’s power and position depended entirely on the support of the army. Thus, the army’s needs required satisfaction above all else, regardless of the consequences to the private economy. /=\

With the collapse of the money economy, the normal system of taxation also broke down. This forced the state to directly appropriate whatever resources it needed wherever they could be found. Food and cattle, for example, were requisitioned directly from farmers. Other producers were similarly liable for whatever the army might need. The result, of course, was chaos, dubbed “permanent terrorism” by Rostovtzeff. Eventually, the state was forced to compel individuals to continue working and producing. /=\

“The result was a system in which individuals were forced to work at their given place of employment and remain in the same occupation, with little freedom to move or change jobs. Farmers were tied to the land, as were their children, and similar demands were made on all other workers, producers, and artisans as well. Even soldiers were required to remain soldiers for life, and their sons compelled to follow them. The remaining members of the upper classes were pressed into providing municipal services, such as tax collection, without pay. And should tax collections fall short of the state’s demands, they were required to make up the difference themselves. This led to further efforts to hide whatever wealth remained in the Empire, especially among those who still found ways of becoming rich. Ordinarily, they would have celebrated their new-found wealth; now they made every effort to appear as poor as everyone else, lest they become responsible for providing municipal services out of their own pocket. /=\

“The steady encroachment of the state into the intimate workings of the economy also eroded growth. The result was increasing feudalization of the economy and a total breakdown of the division of labor. People fled to the countryside and took up subsistence farming or attached themselves to the estates of the wealthy, which operated as much as possible as closed systems, providing for all their own needs and not engaging in trade at all. Meanwhile, much land was abandoned and remained fallow or fell into the hands of the state, whose mismanagement generally led to a decline in production.” /=\

Roman-ness and Taxation


Dr Peter Heather wrote for the BBC: “In judging these effects, it is important to recognise two separate dimensions of 'Roman-ness' - 'Roman' in the sense of the central state, and 'Roman' in the sense of characteristic patterns of life prevailing within its borders. At the state level, the empire was not just replaced by mini versions of itself, even where Roman landowners survived. Within two generations of 476 AD, a new and weaker type of state structure had emerged right across the former Roman west. [Source: Dr Peter Heather, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“The old empire had employed two key levers of central power - large-scale taxation, two-thirds of which was then spent on maintaining the second lever, a large professional army. “This high-tax, high-spend structure meant that the Roman state both intruded itself bureaucratically into localities to raise taxation, and was also able, if necessary, to compel obedience to its demands by employing the army, which the taxation supported. The new states of post-Roman Europe were much weaker affairs. Even where other less important Roman institutions survived, the new kings had only much-diminished revenue rights and their armies were composed of semi-professional contingents of local landowners. |::|

“On the level of local 'Roman-ness' too, the revolution could not have been more profound. The characteristic patterns of local Roman life were in fact intimately linked to the existence of the central Roman state, and, as the nature of state structures changed in the post-Roman world, so too did local life. |The Roman city, for instance, was the basic unit of local administration through which taxation was raised. As central tax raising powers disappeared, so too did the need to keep the city, and by 700 A.D. it was history. |::|

“Many of the more advanced elements of the Roman economy, such as specialised production and long-distance trade, quickly disappeared too. The Roman state had subsidised large-scale transport structures for its own purposes, but these had also been used by traders. As this command economy collapsed, so did much of the trade dependent upon it. |::|

“Cultural patterns were also transformed beyond recognition. Roman elites learned to read and write classical Latin to highly-advanced levels through a lengthy and expensive private education, because it qualified them for careers in the extensive Roman bureaucracy. The end of taxation meant that these careers disappeared in the post-Roman west, and elite parents quickly realised that spending so much money on learning Latin was now a waste of time. As a result, advanced literacy was confined to churchmen for the next 500 years.” |::|

Burden of Taxation on the Provinces and Barbarians

James Harvey Robinson wrote: “It was inevitable that thoughtful observers should be struck with the contrast between the habits and government of the Romans and the customs of the various barbarian peoples. Tacitus, the first to describe the manners and institutions of the Germans with care, is frequently tempted to compare them with those of the Empire, often to the obvious disadvantage of the latter. Salvian, a Christian priest, writing about 440, undertook in his book Of God's Government to show that the misfortunes of the time were only the divinely inflicted punishments which the people of the Empire had brought upon themselves by their wickedness and corruption. He contends that the Romans, who had once been virtuous and heroic, had lapsed into a degradation which rendered them, in spite of their civilization and advantages, far inferior to the untutored but sturdy barbarian.

Salvian wrote in “The Government of God” (c. A.D. 440): “In what respects can our customs be preferred to those of the Goths and Vandals, or even compared with them? And first, to speak of affection and mutual charity (which, our Lord teaches, is the chief virtue, saying, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another "), almost all barbarians, at least those who are of one race and kin, love each other, while the Romans persecute each other. For what citizen does not envy his fellow citizen ? What citizen shows to his neighbor full charity? [Source: Salvian (A.D. c.400- after 470), “The Burden of Taxation” (c. A.D. 44), James Harvey Robinson, ed., “Readings in European History: Vol. I:” (Boston:: Ginn and co., 1904), 28-30]


[The Romans oppress each other with exactions] nay, not each other : it would be quite tolerable, if each suffered what he inflicted. It is worse than that ; for the many are oppressed by the few, who regard public exactions as their own peculiar right, who carry on private traffic under tile guise of collecting the taxes. And this is done not only by nobles, but by men of lowest rank; not by judges only, but by judges' subordinates. For where is the city - even the town or village - which has not as many tyrants as it has curials ? . . . What place is there, therefore, as I have said, where the substance of widows and orphans, nay even of the saints, is not devoured by the chief citizens? . . .

“None but the great is secure from the devastations of these plundering brigands, except those who are themselves robbers. [Nay, the state has fallen upon such evil days that a man cannot be safe unless he is wicked] Even those in a position to protest against the iniquity which they see about them dare not speak lest they make matters worse than before. So the poor are despoiled, the widows sigh, the orphans are oppressed, until many of them, born of families not obscure, and liberally educated, flee to our enemies that they may no longer suffer the oppression of public persecution. They doubtless seek Roman humanity among the barbarians, because they cannot bear barbarian inhumanity among the Romans. And although they differ from the people to Whom they flee in manner and in language; although they are unlike as regards the fetid odor of the barbarians' bodies and garments, yet they would rather endure a foreign civilization among the barbarians than cruel injustice among the Romans.

“So they migrate to the Goths, or to the Bagaudes, or to some other tribe of the barbarians who are ruling everywhere, and do not regret their exile. For they would rather live free under an appearance of slavery than live as captives tinder an appearance of liberty. The name of Roman citi'en, once so highly esteemed and so dearly bought, is now a thing that men repudiate and flee from. . . .

“It is urged that if we Romans are wicked and corrupt, that the barbarians commit the same sins, and are not so miserable as we. There is, however, this difference, that the barbarians commit the same crimes as we, yet we more grievously. . . . All the barbarians, as we have already said, are pagans or heretics. The Saxon race is cruel, the Franks are faithless, the Gepidae are inhuman, the Huns are unchaste, - in short, there is vice in the life of all the barbarian peoples. But are their offenses as serious as ours? Is the unchastity of the Hun so criminal as ours? Is the faithlessness of the Frank so blameworthy as ours? Is the intemperance of the Alemanni so base as the intemperance of the Christians? Does the greed of the Alani so merit condemnation as the greed of the Christians? If Hun or the Gepid cheat, what is there to wonder at, since he does not know that cheating is a crime? If a Frank perjures himself, does he do anything strange, he who regards perjury as a way of speaking, not as a crime?”

Notitia Dignitatum (Register of Dignitaries), A.D. 400

The Notitia Dignitatum (Register of Dignitaries, c. A.D. 400) is an official listing of all civil and military posts in the Roman Empire, East and West. It survives as a 1551 copy of the now-missing original and is the major source of information on the administrative organization of the late Roman Empire. William Fairley wrote: “The Notitia Dignitatum is an official register of all the offices, other than municipal, which existed in the Roman Empire.... Gibbon gave to this document a date between 395 and 407 when the Vandals disturbed the Roman regime in Gaul. [Source: William Fairley, Notitia Dignitatum or Register of Dignitaries, in Translations and Reprints from Original Sources of European History, Vol. VI:4 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), 1899].

“The Notitia Dignitatum has preserved for us, as no other document has done, a complete outline view of the Roman administrative system in early fifth century. The hierarchic arrangement is displayed perfectly. The division of prefectures, dioceses and provinces, and the rank of their respective governors is set forth at length. The military origin of the whole system appears in the titles of the staff officers, even in those departments whose heads had, since the time of Constantine, been deprived of all military command.”

Counts of Sacred Bounties and Private Domain in the East


Count of the Sacred Bounties.
Under the control of the illustrious count of the sacred bounties:
The counts of the bounties in all the dioceses,
The counts of the markets:
in the East and Egypt,
in Moesia, Scythia and Pontus,
in Illyricum.
The provosts of the store-houses,
The counts of the metals in Illyricum,
The count and the accountant of the general tribute of Egypt,
The accountants of the general tribute,
The masters of the linen vesture,
The masters of the private vesture,
The procurators of the weaving-houses,
The procurators of the dye-houses,
The procurators of the mints,
The provosts of the goods despatch,
The procuratorof the linen-weavers.
[Source: Notitia Dignitatum (Register of Dignitaries), William Fairley, in Translations and Reprints from Original Sources of European History, Vol. VI:4 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), 1899].

The staff of the aforesaid count of the sacred bounties includes:
The chief clerk of the whole staff,
The chief clerk of the bureau of fixed taxes,
The chief clerk of the bureau of records,
The chief clerk of the bureau of accounts,
The chief clerk of the bureau of gold bullion,
The chief clerk of the bureau of gold for shipment,
The chief clerk of the bureau of the sacred wardrobe,
The chief clerk of the bureau of silver,
The chief clerk of the bureau of miliarensia,
The chief clerk of the bureau of coinage and other clerks of the above-mentioned bureaus,
A deputy chief clerk of the staff, who is chief clerk of the secretaries,
A sub-deputy chief clerk, who deals with the goods de spatch,
A fourth clerk who deals with requests, and other palatine [officials] of the aforesaid staff.
The count of the bounties is entitled to as many post warrants in the year as his occasions may require.

Count of the Private Domain
Under the control of the illustrious count of the private domain:
The imperial estates,
The accountants of the private domain,
The private baggage train,
The provosts of the herds [* of horses] and stables,
The procurators of the pastures.

The staff of the aforesaid illustrious count of the private domain
A chief clerk of the whole staff,
A chief clerk of remitted taxes,
A chief clerk of the fixed taxes,
A chief clerk of receipts, [* for taxes paid]
A chief clerk of the bureau of private bounties, and other, clerks of the aforesaid bureaus,
A deputy chief clerk of the whole staff, who has charge of the documents of that staff, and other palatine [officials]
The count of the private domain is entitled to as many post- warrants in the year as his occasions may require.

Count of the Sacred Bounties in the West


fabric merchant

Under the control of the illustrious cou n t of the sacred bounties.
The count of the bounties in Illyricum,
The count of the wardrobe,
The count of gold,
The count of the Italian bounties,
Accountants:
The accountant of the general tax of Pannonia secunda, Dalmatia and Savia,
The accountant of the general tax of Pannonia prima, Valeria, Mediterranean and ripuarian Noricum.
The accountant of the general tax of Italy,
The accountant of the general tax of the city of Rome,
The accountant of the general tax of the Three Provinces, that is, of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica,
The accountant of the general tax of Africa,
The accountant of the general tax of Numidia,
The accountant of the general tax of Spain,
The accountant of the general tax of the Five Provinces,
The accountant of the general tax of the Gauls,
The accountant of the general tax of the Britains.
[Source: Notitia Dignitatum (Register of Dignitaries), William Fairley, in Translations and Reprints from Original Sources of European History, Vol. VI:4 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), 1899].

Provosts of the storehouses:
In Illyricum:
The provost of the storehouses at Salona in Dalmatia,
The provost of the storehouses at Siscia in Savia
The provost of the storehouses at Savaria in Pannonia prima,
In Italy:
The provost of the storehouses at Aquileia in Venetia,
The provost of the storehouses at Milan in Liguria,
The provost of the storehouses of the city of Rome,
The provost of the storehouses at Augsburg in Raetia secunda.
In the Gauls:
The provost of the storehouses at Lyons,
The provost of the storehouses at Arles,
The provost of the storehouses at Rheims,
The provost of the storehouses at Trier.
In the Britains:
The provost of the storehouses at London.

Procurators of the mints:
The procurator of the mint at Siscia,
The procurator of the mint at Aquileia,
The procurator of the mint in the city of Rome,
The procurator of the mint at Lyons,
The procurator of the mint at Arles,
The procurator of the mint at Trier.


Procurators of the weaving-houses:
The procurator of the weaving-house at Bassiana, in Pannonia secunda -removed from Salona,
The procurator of the weaving-house at Sirmium. in Pannonia secunda,
The procurator of the Jovian weaving-house at Spalato in Dalmatia,
The procurator of the weaving-house at Aquileia in Venetia inferior,
The procurator of the weaving-house at Milan in Liguria,
The procurator of the weaving-house in the city of Rome,
The procurator of the weaving-house at Canosa and Venosa in Apulia,
The procurator of the weaving-house at Carthage in Africa,
The procurator of the weaving-house at Arles in the province of Vienne,
The procurator of the weaving-house at Lyons,
The procurator of the weaving-house at Rheims in Belgica secunda,
The procurator of the weaving-house at Tourney Belgica Secunda,
The procurator of the weaving-house at Trier in Belgica secunda,
The procurator of the weaving-house at Autun- removed from Metz,
The procurator of the weaving-house at Winchester Britain.
Procurators of the linen-weaving houses:
The procurator of the linen-weaving house at Vienne in the Gauls,
The procurator of the linen-weaving house at Ravenna in Italy.

Procurators of the dye-houses:
The procurator of the dye-house at Tarentum in Calabria,
The procurator of the dye-house at Salona in Dalmatia
The procurator of the dye-house at Cissa in Venetia and Istria,
The procurator of the dye-house at Syracuse in Sicily,
The procurator of the dye-houses in Africa,
The procurator of the dyeihouse at Girba, in the Province of Tripolis,
The procurator of the dye-house in the Balearic Isles in Spain,
The procurator of the dye-house at Toulon in the Gauls.
The procurator of the dye-house at Narbonne.

Procurators of the embroiderers in gold and silver:
The procurator of the embroiderers in gold and silver at Arles,
The procurator of the embroiderers in gold silver and at Rheims,
The procurator of the embroiderers in gold and silver at Trier,

Procurators of the goods despatch:
For the Eastern traffic:
The provost of the first Eastern despatch, and the fourth [return],
The provost of the second Eastern despatch, and the third [return],
The provost of the second [return] despatch, and the third from the East,
The provost of the first (return] despatch, and the fourth from the East.
For the traffic with the Gauls:
The provost of the first Gallic despatch, and the fourth [return].
The counts of the markets in Illyricum.

The staff of the aforesaid illustrious count of the sacred bounties includes:
A chief clerk of the whole staff,
A chief clerk of the bureau of fixed taxes,
A chief clerk of the bureau of records,
A chief clerk of the bureau of accounts,
A chief clerk of the bureau of gold bullion,
A chief clerk of the bureau of gold for shipment,
A chief clerk of the bureau of the sacred wardrobe,
A chief clerk of the bureau of silver,
A chief clerk of the bureau of miliarensia,
A chief clerk of the bureau of coinage, and other clerks,
A deputy chief clerk of the staff, who is chief clerk of the secretaries,
A sub-deputy chief clerk who has charge of the goods despatch.


slaves carry amphorae while accountant makes a record


Count of the Private Domain in the West

Under the control of the illustrious count of the private domain:
The count of the private bounties,
The count of the Gildonian patrimony,*1
The accountant of the private properties in Illyricum.
The accountant of the private properties in Italy,*2
The accountant of the private property in Italy,
[*1] Gildo was a Moor who had served the Romans against his rebellious brother in Africa, and been entrusted by them with a high position. But he in turn rebelled, and was killed in battle in 398. His forfeited estates formed the Gildonian patrimony. See Gibbon, Chap. XXIX.
[*2] The difference between an, accountant of the private property in Italy and one of the private properties (plural) is not understood. It way be a textual error.
[Source: Notitia Dignitatum (Register of Dignitaries), William Fairley, in Translations and Reprints from Original Sources of European History, Vol. VI:4 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), 1899].

The accountant of the private property in the city of Rome and the suburbicarian regions, and the estate of Faustj
The accountant of the private property in Sicily,
The accountant of the private property in Africa,
The accountant of the private property in the Spains,
The accountant of the private property in the Gauls,
The accountant of the private property in the Five Provinces,
The accountant of the private property in the imperial estates in Africa,
The procurator of the private property in Sicily,
The procurator of the private property in Apulia and Calabria and the pastures of Carmignano,
The provost of the private property in Sequanicum, and Germania prima,
The procurator of the private property in Dalmatia,
The procurator of the private property in Savia,
The procurator of the private property in Italy,
The procurator of the private property in the estates of Julian in the urbicarian regions,
The procurator of the private property in Mauritania Sitifensis,
The procurator of the private property in the weaving-houses at Trier,
The procurator of the weaving-house at Viviers, rei privatae Metii translata anhelat, [*The text is corrupt an yields no sense/]
The provost of the private baggage-despatch to the Eastby the lower route, [* by the sea?]
The provost of the private baggage-despatch to the Gauls.

The staff of the aforesaid count of the private domain includes
A chief clerk of the whole staff,
A head of the bureau of remitted taxes,
A head of the bureau of the fixed taxes,
A head of the bureau of receipts,
A head of the bureau of private bounties, clerks and other attachés of the aforesaid bureaus,
A deputy chief clerk of the whole staff, who has charge of the documents of the staff,
Other palatine officials.

Count of the Household Horse
Count of the Household Foot
Under the control of the illustrious counts of the household horse and foot:
The household horse,
The household foot,
Those assigned from these.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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