Taxing times the Roman way

French tax forms

As I sit down to fill in my tax return I’m looking for any distraction. This year in France, it’s compulsory to do it online. Aurelia and Carina have their ownbusiness managers in Roma Nova with some poor souls in their office tasked to complete the wretched things.

Anyway… My mind wandered off to thinking about how the ancient Romans were taxed. Today we have income tax, company/corporation tax, sales taxes/VAT, excise duties (car tax (UK), alcohol, cigarettes), local taxation, inheritance tax, to name but a few. But how similar are our taxes to theirs?

Globally, taxation under the Roman Empire was about 5 percent of gross product. Individuals typically paid from 2 to 5 percent. The tax code was complex;  direct and indirect taxes, some paid in cash and some in kind (hopefully not weeks’ old fish). Taxes might be specific to a province (read local authority/state), or special types of property such as fisheries or salt evaporation ponds (rateable value).

Tax revenue in Rome had one principal object – to maintain the military. Taxes in kind were accepted from less-monetised areas, especially if it was  grain, animals or goods supplied to army camps.

Roman tax collector calculating someone's taxes on an abacus (Metz, ca. 225 AD)

Roman tax collector calculating someone’s taxes on an abacus (Metz, ca. 225 AD)

The primary source of direct tax revenue was, unsurprisingly, individuals, who paid a poll tax (ha!) plus a tax on their land (rates/council tax), construed as a tax on its produce or productive capacity (business tax).

Supplemental forms could be filed by those eligible for certain exemptions; for example, Egyptian farmers could register fields as fallow (set aside) and tax-exempt depending on flood patterns of the Nile (tax credits).

The amount of tax payable was determined by the census, which required each head of household to make a declaration to the censor’s official and provide a head count of his household. He (and almost exclusively ‘he’) also had to account for  property he owned that was suitable for agriculture or habitation.

Read Lindsey Davis’ adventure “Two for the Lions” about the room for abuse and, although we love Falco, how tax collectors could make a not un-useful fee for this work.

A major source of indirect-tax revenue was the portoria – customs and tolls on imports and exports – including among provinces. (Thanks to free trade within the EU, we no longer have this in Europe – at present.)

Special taxes were levied on the slave trade. Toward the end of his reign, Augustus instituted a 4 percent tax on the sale of slaves, which Nero shifted from the purchaser to the dealers, who responded by raising their prices. An owner who manumitted a slave paid a “freedom tax”, calculated at 5 percent of value. (No legal modern equivalent, TG, but it does have echoes of stamp duty on property transactions.)

Inheritance tax of 5 percent was levied when Roman citizens above a certain net worth left property to anyone but members of their immediate family (inheritance tax). Revenues from the estate tax and from a one percent sales tax on auctions went toward the veterans’ pension fund (aerarium militare).(How sensible – MOD, please note.)

Low taxes helped the Roman aristocracy increase their wealth, which globally equalled or exceeded the revenues of the central government. An emperor sometimes replenished his treasury by confiscating the estates of the “super-rich”, but in the later period, the resistance of the wealthy to paying taxes was one of the factors contributing to the collapse of the Empire. (A chilling lesson for modern times which we would do well to take notice of.)

So the principle and methodology of taxation were two more things the Romans did for us. If we’re not careful with the one in the last paragraph, it may do for us as well.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.

Download INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Silent Sunday – Pompeii domestic

Just a photo…

Domestic equipment from Pompeii – warming shelf, stove and brazier

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.

Download INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Meet Aurelia Mitela – warrior, diplomat, spy

The three ages of Aurelia

The three ages of Aurelia

Aurelia Mitela, archetype Roma Novan, came to life when I was writing the first Roma Nova book, INCEPTIO. Then, she was the clever, experienced grandmother of Carina, the book’s heroine. But she had secrets behind her contained exterior. By the time I was halfway drafting SUCCESSIO, I was consumed with the need to know her story.

Her granddaughter, Carina, lives and works in New York in the Eastern United States and until the events in the first chapters of INCEPTIO has hardly registered this unknown grandmother ‘somewhere in Europe.’  Then she talks by internet to Aurelia and both lives change.

Carina’s first impression of Aurelia 
She’d been so concerned for me, but not in a soppy way. Direct and ‘no-nonsense’ fitted her perfectly, but her smile had been warm. I couldn’t help speculating how it would have been to grow up with her instead of the Browns. 

I started tapping the keys, surfing for Roma Nova while I was drinking and thinking. I couldn’t leave it alone. My grandmother’s name shot out at me. Fascinated, I loaded the English translation. The screen displayed a list of her business interests. Sketchy on detail, it gave some personal stuff at the end: head of the influential Mitela family, senator and government advisor, cousin to the current imperatrix. She really was a big hitter.

In PERFIDITAS, we see Aurelia, the cool ex-Praetorian, holding the family together after they’d been falsely arrested by would-be usurpers:
[Aurelia to Carina] ‘I’ve been through a great deal worse. I’m not a little old lady out of a genteel novel.’ 

No, she truly wasn’t. She’d been PGSF [Praetorian Guard Special Forces] in her time, even led the attack to retake the city during the civil war. Although now in her mid-seventies, she definitely belonged to the “tough gals” league. 

She gave me a close description of the arresting party. What a difference it made when the victim was a trained professional and could give you precise, detailed information. She’d printed off her statement and signed it already.

Throughout INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO we catch glimpses of Aurelia’s early life, but even more, a whole range of questions are thrown up. What did she do in the Great Rebellion nearly twenty-three years before the time of INCEPTIO? Why is she so anxious when she compares the villain in SUCCESSIO to Caius Tellus, the brutal ‘First Consul’ who instigated the rebellion all those years ago? Who was the great love of Aurelia’s life that Carina only learns about in SUCCESSIO?

Aurelia, her lover and her nemesis

Aurelia, her lover and her nemesis

Under the test spotlight
In AURELIA, the first book in the Aurelia strand of the Roma Nova series, we go back to the late 1960s where she’s accused of murder while on a mission to Berlin. Detained in a grim remand prison, she undergoes a hostile psychological assessment. The assessor cannot believe that as a woman she has been a successful military commander and is now a ranking diplomat. Here’s the report:

Subject is highly rational, quick-minded and a natural leader. She sees nothing is impossible given enough time and resources. Subject has the confident personality and willpower to pursue and implement her goals, easily bringing others with her. A dominant personality.

Strategic thinker, curious, innovative, able to grasp and deal with problems with determination and precision. Energetic and excellent communication skills, happy to confront and negotiate with others. Intelligent enough to recognise other people’s talents, and work with them. Requires challenges and even failures, or her self-confidence could easily turn into arrogance and condescension.

Personalities of this type cannot tolerate inefficiency or those whom they perceive as lazy or incompetent. They can be chillingly cold and ruthless when the situation arises, operating purely on logic and rationality. 

They interact very well with others, often charming them to their cause, and paying attention to other people’s feelings – or at least pretending that they do. Most mature and successful personalities of this type are genuine in this aspect to some extent, even though their sensitivity may hide a cold and calculating mind.

This is a slant on the classic ENTJ personality  profile from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a psychometric test system popular in business to indicate psychological preferences about how people perceive the world and make decisions. I needed to make the report negative for the story, which I hated doing!

However, positive aspects of this type of personality are that they are conceptual and global thinkers, able to see connections where others don’t, and to think ahead. Couple this with the intuition and sense of fair play many ENTJs possess, it  can make life frustrating for this personality when people around them don’t  grasp things the way they do. Aurelia has this characteristic in spades and one of her life lessons is to learn how to deal with it.

Of course, this internal conflict is a gift for a writer… 😉

In essence, Aurelia is a blood-and-bone Roma Novan whose values are based on traditional ancient Roman ones; tough, loyal with a strong sense of duty and fully aware of her responsibilities as head of a great family. But her desire to keep all the balls juggling in the air with precise timing leads to her being riven by guilt if she doesn’t perform a hundred percent as she perceives it. But then she has a lot to contend with including her lethal struggle with Caius Tellus, her enemy since childhood and who both desires her and wants to destroy her.

Aurelia and Marina

Aurelia has a major vulnerability, her love for her frail daughter, Marina. She will do anything to protect Marina, especially from her nemesis, Caius Tellus. But this vulnerability, and willingness to sacrifice everything for Marina, is also her greatest strength, along with her determination to serve her country. Even in a cynical age, I believe this resonates so much with us and with our love for our children and parents.

Is she sympathetic? Yes, because under all that resolution and toughness, she is still a human being who experiences fear, love, despair and grief. She bitterly misses the strong comradeship of her earlier military career, and is exhilarated when going back into action.

And then, there is her devotion to her life-long love, elusive though he sometimes is…

AURELIA is available now
– eBook from Amazon,  iBooks,  Kobo,  B&N Nook
– audiobook from Audible and now iTunes
– paperback, author signed paperback and from other retailers

Or you can follow her rivalry with Caius Tellus  to its conclusion in the second Roma Nova box set 

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.

Download INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.