Taxes and Finance facts in ancient Egypt

Oct 24, 2010

Taxes and Finance facts in ancient Egypt
taxes collecter inancient egypt 
In theory the king owned all land and possessions. In reality, although he was the largest landowner and possessed areas within each nome (administrative district), the temples and even private individuals owned substantial real estate. The royal lands were officially registered and administered by an overlord appointed by the king. The Crown also constantly acquired new land; sometimes this would be bought from men who had lost their own wealth and needed to exchange their land for other commodities.

It was the main duty of provincial and town governors to collect taxes for the king. There is more information about taxation in the New Kingdom than there is for earlier periods; for example, in the reign of Tuthmosis III it is known that taxes were collected in the form of cereals, livestock, fruit, and provisions, as well as gold and silver rings and jewels. The governors annually assessed the cereal payable for that year, basing their calculations on the surface area of each nome and the height of the Nile rising.

The levels of inundation were recorded on nilometers; built at the river’s edge, nilometers were designed to measure the annual height of the inundation. If there was a low Nile when the water did not reach the usual level, the tax to be paid that year was reduced accordingly. There was also a tax on livestock based on a general census of the herds; this was carried out every second year by the government inspectors who visited the privately owned estates to assess their liability.
The temples had gained major concessions from the king as early as the Old Kingdom when he gave land to the priesthood and signed decrees that exempted them in perpetuity from taxation of goods or services. They also had other important privileges: Some temple personnel could not be used for the service of the king or the royal household, and the king could not remove funds allocated to the god’s worship to use for his own benefit.
Despite Akhen-aten’s closure of the temples, once they were restored under Horemheb the priesthood continued to amass great wealth as before, and the temples once again owned vast property.
Under the administrative system the country was divided into nomes: twenty-two in southern Egypt and eventually the same number in the north. There was a leading city in each nome where the district governor and his staff had their headquarters. These governors (who replaced the virtually independent local rulers of the Middle Kingdom) were appointed by the king. Their many duties covered the areas of public works, law and order, provision against famine, and raising taxes. An important task was to build up a reserve food supply after a good harvest that would offset the dire consequences of a future low inundation.

Individuals also owned land or sometimes administered the king’s estates as a way of earning a living. This was a desirable position as the official could keep some of the profits from the royal estate for himself. Another way in which individuals acquired land and property was through inheritance, or sometimes the king provided high-ranking officials with tombs and with the land to supply their tomb offerings. From the New Kingdom onward land was also given to professional soldiers as a reward for military service; this remained in the soldier’s family as long as they continued to fight for the king.
The Egyptians were among the first people to pay tax. The most important was the poll tax. The revenue officer regularly gathered the information to raise this tax from the head of each family. He had to declare all the members of his household including servants and slaves; the number of pregnant women in each house-hold was also noted so that the officer could assess how many new taxpayers might be expected the following year. Taxes were paid inkind since Egypt had no official coinage until the Persian Period (c.525 BC).
They were not only collected in the form of agricultural com- modities; by the New Kingdom craftsmen had to hand over to the state a proportion of the articles they produced.
The commodities paid to meet tax demands were stored in government treasuries and then redistributed to meet the state expenses.
It is not surprising that the Egyptians incurred debts. A debtor would swear an oath in which he invoked the king or a god, and confirmed that he would repay this obligation in the future. The rate of interest on loans was 100 percent per year, and at the end of each year the outstanding interest was added to the capital sum, and a further 100 percent was charged on this.
Payment consisted of any objects the creditor would accept, and all commodities were valued against a general standard.
In the Late Period (c.700 BC) it was possible to enter into a “self-sale”; this involved a person selling himself into servitude in order to meet the demands of an overdue loan (working off his debt) or selling himself to become another person’s “son.” This carried certain obligations to the “father,” such as ensuring that the correct burial procedures were carried out on his behalf. If a couple were childless they would sometimes enter into such an agreement and adopt an adult “son” to ensure that their burial was performed correctly.
In return, under the law of succession, the person who carried out the burial rites would inherit the deceased’s property.

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