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Pedro Paulo Gaião




Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
Joined: 14 Mar 2015

Posts: 265

PostPosted: Tue 26 May, 2015 10:41 am    Post subject: Taxation and social instability in Roman Empire         Reply with quote

I've been reading that the Romans were a society with low taxes, usually ranging from 1 to 3%, which is a pretty huge difference when compared with the feudal kingdoms and the taxation of the Emperor Justinian I.

The only thing I don't understand is why riots and civil wars are so common among slaves and commoners after the period when the empire stopped expanding. I do not know if it's revisionism's fault if we have the idea of ​​a perfect Roman Empire, or even because Byzantine Empire was really badly run, corrupt and full of political conspiracies compared to its ancient equivalent. Not only that, but the Byzantine agriculture also appeared to be well "oppressive" and not as mechanized as the feudal agriculture of the second half of the Middle Ages, so maybe the Byzantines never abolished slavery because of that. The Arabs and the Ottomans were able to take support from the byzantine population in exchange for low taxes and religious tolerance.

When I read a bestseller in my country he cites the "Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800" by Chris Wickham, mentioning that barbarians had found support from the rural population of the Roman Europe in their invasions. It seems that the barbaric domination could put an end to taxes charged that kept the legions standing armies and their "fat bureaucrats" (although I learned that Spain's Ostrogoths also charged a lot of taxes when the muslims invaded Al Andalus)

My question is: high taxes were actually a cause of discontent of the people? Maintain a standing army (ancient roman and even byzantine) was that expensive? Maybe that's why the first post-classical standing army first appeared in the late Middle Ages?
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Niels Just Rasmussen




Location: Nykøbing Falster, Denmark
Joined: 03 Sep 2014

Spotlight topics: 15
Posts: 800

PostPosted: Wed 27 May, 2015 1:14 pm    Post subject: Re: Taxation and social instability in Roman Empire         Reply with quote

Pedro Paulo Gaião wrote:
I've been reading that the Romans were a society with low taxes, usually ranging from 1 to 3%, which is a pretty huge difference when compared with the feudal kingdoms and the taxation of the Emperor Justinian I.

The only thing I don't understand is why riots and civil wars are so common among slaves and commoners after the period when the empire stopped expanding. I do not know if it's revisionism's fault if we have the idea of ​​a perfect Roman Empire, or even because Byzantine Empire was really badly run, corrupt and full of political conspiracies compared to its ancient equivalent. Not only that, but the Byzantine agriculture also appeared to be well "oppressive" and not as mechanized as the feudal agriculture of the second half of the Middle Ages, so maybe the Byzantines never abolished slavery because of that. The Arabs and the Ottomans were able to take support from the byzantine population in exchange for low taxes and religious tolerance.

When I read a bestseller in my country he cites the "Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800" by Chris Wickham, mentioning that barbarians had found support from the rural population of the Roman Europe in their invasions. It seems that the barbaric domination could put an end to taxes charged that kept the legions standing armies and their "fat bureaucrats" (although I learned that Spain's Ostrogoths also charged a lot of taxes when the muslims invaded Al Andalus)

My question is: high taxes were actually a cause of discontent of the people? Maintain a standing army (ancient roman and even byzantine) was that expensive? Maybe that's why the first post-classical standing army first appeared in the late Middle Ages?


I found some some good quotes from this book as to why the Roman World fell. [The point is exactly that the Roman farmers supported the barbaric invaders, but for different reasons than just tax issue - more likely gang wars of supporters of powerful local magnets where fewer and fewer of them were actually Roman]

THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE by James W. Ermatinger 2004.
"Humiliores, the peasants, continued to carry the brunt of the work throughout the late empire. By 350 c.e., laws were enacted to force peasants to remain where they were born, coloni ,“tied to the soil”; such a system was the precursor of medieval serfdom. Many of these laws were aimed at specific places where depopulation seems to have occurred. By keeping the peasants located in their place of origin, the state attempted to maintain the status quo in regard to collection of taxes, compulsory work, and recruitment. Peasants were also required to enter their father’s trade, producing a caste system. These individuals had some legal rights, while beneath them, the slaves, lacking any liberty or rights, could be bought and sold as property."

"Diocletian introduced extensive economic reforms aimed at regularizing the collection of taxes from agriculture and the population. The agricultural tax, really an income tax, was collected as a percentage from the yield, based on the quality and the type of land. The state divided land into public and private, which paid different rates, and divided arable land into good and marginal, again with different tax rates. Because 75 to 80 percent of the population engaged in agriculture, the state received the majority of its income from agricultural taxes. The state produced a standard taxation schedule for five-year increments. With this schedule was a census, not only on the quality and type of land, but on the number of inhabitants of a community. Associated with this census was the poll tax or head tax, originally collected from the rural, but not the urban, population. This tax also varied based on the person’s age, sex, and dwelling place. Some provinces collected the tax on all individuals over a certain age, others only on men, and others on males of all ages".

"Late Roman literature has numerous references to deserted lands and failing villages. These references were often in relation to cruel administrators or corrupt officials (Document 8.A–B). Without statistics and other reports an assessment of the literary evidence is difficult, but papyri from Egypt provide valuable insight to some particular cases".

"Powerful magnates owned landed estates, or latifundia, worked by slaves and coloni, free peasants tied to an area (Document 3.B). Large estates had always existed but they became more and more politically important during the late empire".

"Many of these owners began to usurp power from local cities and towns, and, since owners could bribe military officers, they exerted pressure on local garrisons for support. Owners also exercised more and more control over the local economy by controlling what was planted, especially cash crops, as well as labor contracts. During the chaotic third century villas had become focal points in resistance, often fortified, both against external foes and internal rebellions. Thus, peasants looked to the local landowners for protection, abandoning their support of the city, which now seemed ineffective and powerless. Villas therefore replaced cities as the central point of the West. This growth and transformation again took part because of greed, jealousy,and apathy. Landowners abandoned service to the empire and concentrated on acquiring more land and power for themselves. This power grab extended to the acquisition of labor, not of slaves but of free coloni, giving landowners a pool of free individuals who could exert influence in the cities and could even be used for armed resistance or bullying.
Such coloni were more dependent upon the landowners than upon the state
.
"

The last part is really essential. Uprisings are probably related by power-grabbing by individual magnets (villa owners and/or Germanic war-lords), where a corrupt state bureaucracy does nothing. So the men with money and power pay "gangs" of coloni or even military troops to attack enemies or just drive people off that will not serve under them.
[Sounds like "Football war-lords" of Argentina, right? or local "hacienda" powers all over South America]

"While most peasants were poor and generally disenfranchised, their importance should not be underestimated, since they represented at least 70 percent of the empire’s population. Perhaps their most destructive attribute was their apathy, their acceptance of whatever changes occurred around them. One can hardly blame them, since they were trying merely to survive; however, their passivity allowed a small group of foreigners, the Germanic tribes, to seize power (Document 8.B)".

All quotes from Ermatingers book, where I have bolded important passages:
Source: https://www.academia.edu/7684015/THE_DECLINE_AND_FALL_OF_THE_ROMAN_EMPIRE


Last edited by Niels Just Rasmussen on Wed 27 May, 2015 1:42 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Niels Just Rasmussen




Location: Nykøbing Falster, Denmark
Joined: 03 Sep 2014

Spotlight topics: 15
Posts: 800

PostPosted: Wed 27 May, 2015 1:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ermatingers conclusion is interesting.

"But who benefited from Rome’s fall? By examining the social and political groups from the bottom up, a fuller picture can be gained. The peasantry and poor clearly did not benefit from Rome’s collapse. These individuals still paid taxes, worked the lands, and coped with constant attacks and demands. The urban poor clearly suffered, losing their grain dole, games, and, often, their personal safety. Above them the merchants clearly did not benefit from Rome’s collapse. Without imperial protection, trade and commerce suffered, becoming more localized. Long-distance trade, with the potential of exotic items and fantastic rewards, diminished. As society changed, the market for rare or expensive merchandise for numerous wealthy patrons diminished while greater risks to the merchants accrued. The elite may have benefited, positioned as local magnates controlling the regions politically, socially, and economically. By using their landed estates with military retainers the elites often became quite powerful, perhaps more so without imperial checks and balances. At the same time these individuals were often in danger, since without imperial protection large-scale invasions could destroy their property and power. The church gained from the collapse of Rome, and promoted itself as the protector of society, often against the Arian Germanic chieftains. With the imperial collapse, the church became the most important organization in society. The German tribes also benefited from Rome’s fall. As the new power they controlled the resources, population, and land."

My conclusion would be: Winners were in the short term villa owners, then more long term Germanic tribal lords and the Church winning in the historical long run, as they eventually made the Arian Germanic tribes Roman Catholic starting with the Franks.
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