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Taxing the sea

from HISTORICAL CASE STUDIES: The Mediterranean world

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 April 2017

Nicholas Purcell
Affiliation:
University of Oxford, United Kingdom
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Summary

ABSTRACT.This contribution focuses on the sea as a source of substantial income for ancient states of the Mediterranean through taxation. It reviews its forms, and balances the sea as a source of corruption by the alien with the amounts earned by the States in taxing the sea, and shows that for that reason, connectivity eventually wins. It also points out how little was the perception the Ancient had of economic growth with respect to the immediateness of fiscal income.

RÉSUMÉ.Cette contribution s'intéresse à l'utilisation de la mer comme source de revenu conséquent via sa taxation par les anciens états de la Méditerranée. Elle examine les formes d'imposition et évalue la mer en tant que source de corruption venu de l'étranger contre le montant du revenu sous forme d'impôts, et démontre qu'en fin de compte la connectivité finit par gagner. Elle souligne également le peu de perception qu'avaient les peuples de l'Antiquité quant à l'apport direct des revenus fiscaux sur la croissance économique.

INTRODUCTION: ‘FRUITFUL FOR EVERYONE?’ (PLINY, LETTERS 10, 41)

Why should the Océanides project include a chapter on ‘taxing the sea’? Especially one which centres on the Mediterranean, and draws most of its material from the ancient Greek and Roman world? All tax regimes vividly evoke how societies picture their world, reflecting and creating priorities and patterns. The tax systems of the Greeks and Romans and their neighbours had an extraordinarily emphatic place for the sea. That derived from, and speaks eloquently of, the role which the sea, and above all the sea which they saw as ‘their own sea’ (which we call the Mediterranean), had in the fabric of social, economic, cultural and political life. Trade, sea-warfare, communications, all speak directly of how basic the sea was to the consistency of ancient societies, but the theme of exactions levied on movements by sea – which intersect with all three of those domains – expresses that centrality more completely and clearly.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2017

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