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 p1156  Tributum

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D, F.R.S.E, Rector of the High School of Edinburgh,
on pp1156‑1157 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

TRIBU′TUM is a tax which, as Niebuhr (Hist. of Rome, I. p468) supposes, was at first paid only by the plebeians, since the name itself is used by  p1157 the ancients in connection with the Servian tribes; for Varro (de Ling. Lat. V.181) says, "tributum dictum a tribubus," and Livy (I.43) "tribus appellatae a tributo." But this seems to be only partially correct, as Livy (IV.60) expressly states that the patres also paid the same tax. It is indeed true, that the patricians had little real landed property, and that their chief possessions belonged to the ager publicus, which was not accounted in the census as real property, and of which only the tithes had to be paid, until at a late period an alteration was attempted by the Lex Thoria (Appian, de Bell. Civ. I.27). But there is no reason for supposing that the patricians did not pay the tributum upon their real property, although the greater part of it naturally fell upon the plebeians (Liv. IV.60, V.10). The impost itself varied according to the exigencies of the state, and was partly applied to cover the expenses of war, and partly those of the fortifications of the city (Liv. VI.32). The usual amount of the tax was one for every thousand of a man's fortune (Liv. XXIV.15, XXXIX.7, 44, though in the time of Cato it was raised to three in a thousand. The tributum was not a property tax in the strict sense of the word, for the accounts respecting the plebeian debtors clearly imply, that the debts were not deducted in the valuation of a person's property, so that he had to pay the tributum upon property which was not his own, but which he owed, and for which he had consequently to pay the interest as well. It was a direct tax upon objects without any regard to their produce, like a land or house tax, which indeed formed the main part of it (Niebuhr, I. p581). That which seems to have made it most oppressive, was its constant fluctuation. It was raised according to the regions or tribes instituted by Servius Tullius, and by the tribunes of these tribes subsequently called tribuni aerarii (Dionys. IV.14, 15). Dionysius, in another passage (IV.19) states that it was imposed upon the centuries according to their census, but this seems to be a mistake, as the centuries contained a number of juniores who were yet in their fathers' power, and consequently could not pay the tributum. It was not like the other branches of the public revenue let out to farm, but being fixed in money it was raised by the tribunes, unless (as was the case after the custom of giving pay to the soldiers was introduced) the soldiers, like the equites, demanded it from the persons themselves who were bound to pay it. [Aes equestre and Hordearium.] When this tax was to be paid, what sum was to be raised, and what portion of every thousand asses of the census, were matters upon which the senate alone had to decide. But when it was decreed, the people might refuse to pay it when they thought it too heavy, or unfairly distributed, or hoped to gain some other advantage by the refusal (Liv. V.12). In later times the senate sometimes left its regulation to the censors, who often fixed it very arbitrarily. No citizen was exempt from it, but we find that the priests, augurs, and pontiffs made attempts to get rid of it, but this was only an abuse which did not last (Liv. XXXIII.42). In cases of great distress, when the tributum was not raised according to the census, but to supply the momentary wants of the republic, it was designated by the name of Tributum Temerarium (Festus, s.v. Tributorum collationem). After the war with Macedonia (B.C. 147), when the Roman treasury was filled with the revenues accruing from conquests and from the provinces, the Roman citizens became exempted from paying the tributum (Cic. de Off. II.22; Plin. H. N. XXXIII.17), and this state of things lasted down to the consulship of Hirtius and Pansa (43 B.C.; Plut. Aem. Paul. 38), when the tributum was again levied on account of the exhausted state of the aerarium (cf. Cic. ad Fam. XII.30, Philip. II.37). After this time it was imposed according to the discretion of the emperors.

Respecting the tributum paid by conquered countries and cities, see Vectigalia. Cf. Hegewisch, Versuch über die Röm. Finanzen, Altona 1804; Bosse, Grundzüge des Finanzwesens im Röm. Staat, Braunschweig 1803.

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