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 p537  Fiscus

Article by George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College
on pp537‑538 of

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

FISCUS. The following is Savigny's account of the origin and meaning of this term:—

In the republican period, the state was designated by the term Aerarium, in so far as it was viewed with respect to its having property, which ultimately resolved itself into receipts into, and payments made out of, the public chest. On the establishment of the imperial power, there was a division of the provinces between the senate, as the representative of the old republic, and the Caesar; and there was consequently a division of the most important branches of public income and expenditure. The property of the senate retained the name of Aerarium, and that of the Caesar, as such, received the name of Fiscus. The private property of the Caesar (res privata Principis, ratio Caesaris) was quite distinct from that of the Fiscus. The word Fiscus signified a wicker-basket, or pannier, in which the Romans were accustomed to keep and carry about large sums of money (Cic. Verr. I.8; Phaedr. Fab. II.7); and hence Fiscus came to signify any person's treasure or money chest. The importance of the imperial Fiscus soon led to the practice of appropriating the name to that property which the Caesar claimed as Caesar, and the word Fiscus, without any adjunct, was used in this sense (res fisci est, Juv. Sat. IV.54). Ultimately the word came to signify generally the property of the state, the Caesar having concentrated in himself all the sovereign power, and thus the word Fiscus finally had the same signification as Aerarium in the republican period. It does not appear at what time the Aerarium was merged in the Fiscus, though the distinction of name and of thing continued at least to the time of Hadrian. In the later periods the words Aerarium and Fiscus  p538 were often used indiscriminately, but only in the sense of the imperial chest, for there was then no other public chest. So long as the distinction existed between the aerarium and the fiscus, the law relating to them might be expressed by the terms jus populi and jus fisci, as in Paulus (Sent. Recept. V.12), though there is no reason for applying the distinction to the time when Paulus wrote; for, as already observed, it had then long ceased.

The Fiscus had a legal personal existence; that is, as the subject of certain rights, it was legally a person, by virtue of the same fiction of law which gave a personal existence to corporations, and the communities of cities and villages. But the Fiscus differed in many respects from other persons existing by fiction of law; and, as an instance, it was never under any incapacity as to taking an hereditas, which, for a long time, was the case with corporations, for the reason given by Ulpian. [Collegium]. These reasons would also apply to the Populus, as well as to a Municipium, and yet the populus is never alluded to as being under such disability; and in fact it could not, consistently with being the source of all rights, be under any legal disabilities.

Various officers, as Procuratores, Advocati [Advocatus], Patroni, and Praefecti were employed in the administration of the Fiscus. Nerva established a Praetor Fiscalis to administer the law in matters relating to the Fiscus. The patrimonium or private property of the Caesar was administered by Procuratores Caesaris. The privileges of the Fiscus were, however, extended to the private property (ratio) of the Caesar, and of his wife the Augusta (Dig. 49 tit. 14 s6).

Property was acquired by the Fiscus in various ways, enumerated in the Digest (49 tit. 14 s1), many of which may be arranged under the head of penalties and forfeitures. Thus, if a man was led to commit suicide in consequence of having done some criminal act (flagitium), or if a man made counterfeit coin, his property was forfeited to the Fiscus (Paulus, S.R. V.12). The officers of the Fiscus generally received information (nunciationes) of such occurrences from private individuals, who were rewarded for their pains. Treasure (thesaurus) which was found in certain places was also subject to a claim on the part of the Fiscus. To explain the rights and privileges of the Fiscus, and its administrations, would require a long discussion.​a (Dig. 49 tit. 15 de Jure Fisci; Cod. 10, tit. 1; Cod. Theod. 10 tit. 1; Paulus, Sent. Recept. V.12; Savigny, System des heut. Röm. R. vol. II; Fragmentum veteris juris-consulti de Jure Fisci, printed in Goeschen's edition of Gaius; Savigny, Neu entdeckte Quellen des Röm. R., Zeitschrift, vol. III).

Thayer's Note:

a Yes. For a start on further reading, see Buchan, Augustus, p215, note.

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