Taxation in the Later Roman Empire
From the History Blog…
Taxation in the later Roman Empire: a study on the character of the late antique economy
By Johannes Alexander Boek
MPhil Thesis, Leiden University (2008)
Abstract: In this MPhil-thesis the author examines the nature of the later Roman economy by focusing on a papyrological archive from the 4th century A.D. The late antique economy is a combination of a monetary economy and a barter economy, which is reflected in the papyrological material. The Roman empire had to adapt itself to rapidly changing circumstances from the 3rd century onwards, the fiscal system from the reign of Diocletian onwards is a perfect example of the way the Romans adapted their economy to the new circumstances. The main focus in this thesis is on an archive of ca. 50 papyri from Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, called the archive of Papnuthis and Dorotheus; two brothers levying taxes in the Oxyrhynchite nome.
Introduction: Before we will concentrate on the actual subject of this thesis – as is unambiguously indicated in the main title – it is necessary to take a closer look at the subtitle of the present work: ‘a study on the character of the late antique economy’. Clearly, this subtitle presupposes the existence of a debate on the nature of that economy. And so there is: the discussion on the character of the ancient economy is one of the most vehement debates in the field of ancient history, having occupied the minds of generations of scholars and still doing so. Therefore, I consider it necessary to elaborate on the way scholars have looked at this historical controversy over the last 250 years, before discussing the later Roman system of taxation and – by means of that system – late antique economy in general.
Roughly, there are two completely different kinds of late antique historians – by which I mean modern scholars specialised in Late Antiquity, not men from antiquity itself writing about (near-)contemporary events. The first subspecies is still closely related to the nineteenth-century German school of historicism, mainly emphasizing the role of the state in history and focusing on the elite members of society. Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) is being considered as one of the precursors of this movement because he ‘placed the Roman state in the foreground of his study.’ In the twentieth century, famous late antique historians as J.B. Bury, E. Stein, A.H.M. Jones and A. Demandt have used this approach.