Ancient Egypt: History and culture
Dues and duties in ancient Egypt; taxation in the barter economy and during the Graeco-Roman Period:
Personal taxes
Taxes on offices
The tax-collectors
Customs duties
Taxation during the Graeco-Roman Period
Tax breaks and exemptions
Forced labour
Military service
Public office
State revenues.

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Dues and duties


Personal taxes

A man and a woman offering produce to a surveying scribe A man and a woman offering produce to a surveying scribe
Tomb of Menna, New Kingdom
Excerpt. Courtesy Jon Bodsworth

    In a barter economy the simplest way to exact taxes is by seizing part of the produce, merchandise, or property. The agricultural sector of such an economy is easiest to tax. A farmer cannot deny possession of a field without losing his rights. The field can be measured, the yield assessed, and the produce is difficult to hide because of its large bulk. It is no wonder that peasants were the highest and most consistently taxed part of the population until modern times.

    The task of calculating the amount of produce due was the duty of scribal tax-collectors. They kept written records of title deeds, field sizes and were capable of calculating areas. To assess the farmers' wealth there were also cattle counts as early as the second dynasty.[29] Next to nothing is known about how they were conducted. Their frequency seems to have been variable. They were probably annual or bi-annual events, often mentioned in inscriptions and they are vital, if somewhat unreliable, to ancient Egyptian chronology.[9] After the Old Kingdom cattle counts cease to be milestones in the life of a king, but the tax on cattle continued to be collected. The scribe Mesha who served under Ramses II wrote to his servant Pyay:
As follows: When my [letter (?)] reaches [you], [you shall check (?)] the tax on cattle of the administration, which is under the servant Ruru. Press him very hard and take note of the [state (?)] of Pabak who follows him, for I have heard that he has left him and has no more cattle in his care.
Behold, one has come to levy the tax on cattle. Behold, watch out and look after yourself.
pCairo 58058 [32]
    The collection of taxes was often performed by coercion. Farmers owing taxes were either forced to hand over arrears on the spot or brought before courts who dispensed summary justice. Oil was taxed as were livestock, beer and much other farm produce, though the most important tax was the tax on grain.
    According to the Wilbour Papyrus, during the New Kingdom the yield of inundated nxb-land [20] was 10 sacks of grain per arura (about 1½ tons per hectare [19]). Higher lying land, Tnj-land [20] was assessed at 7½ and the highest ground at which grain could still be grown, qAj.t-land [20] at 5 sacks per arura. In the case of temple and state land the whole yield was used for redistribution. Officials paid for their land 20% of the yield, 1½ sacks per arura. During the early half of the first millennium the tax seems to have amounted to about 10% of the crop [18].
    Not everybody's means of livelihood could be taxed as easily as the farmers', above all when they, as seems to have happened often during earlier pharaonic times, were assessed and taxed collectively as village communities. Attempts were made to tax other parts of the population, and as one could hardly supervise everybody's economic activities, Late Period Egyptians had to declare their income.
It was Amasis too who established the law that every year each one of the Egyptians should declare to the ruler of his district, from what source he got his livelihood, and if any man did not do this or did not make declaration of an honest way of living, he should be punished with death.
Herodotus, Histories II
Project Gutenberg
    No generally levied capitation taxes from this period are known. Ahmose's census may have been conducted to be able to call up men for corvée duty.
    The foreigners who conquered Egypt during the first millennium BCE seem to have left the native administration intact, using it for their own purposes. The tax situation during the Graeco-Roman times can therefore be taken to be similar to that of earlier pharaonic periods.
    Under the Ptolemies the annual burden of the main capitation tax and corvée duty per nuclear family amounted to between 58 and 72 obols, of which 48 obols were due to the yoke tax, and 10 to 24 obols to the corvée (at 1 obol per day). After the reform of Ptolemy II this was reduced to between 15 and 39 obols according to the salt tax rate and the number of days (between 10 to 24) the man was called up for [18]. In a society still depending on barter to a large extent and in which many people lived at subsistence level a large number must have found it difficult to raise the necessary money and will have preferred to pay with their labour.

Taxes on offices

    These personal taxes were referred to as beku and were collected by the chief treasurer. Local officials were taxed on the income they received through their office. This tax called apu (jpw) was paid to the vizier of either Upper or Lower Egypt
    Inspection of the taxes counted to (the credit of) the hall of the vizier of the Southern City (i.e. Thebes) and counted against the mayors, the town-rulers, the district officials, the recorders of the districts, their scribes, and their field-scribes, who are in the South; beginning with Elephantine and the fortress of Bigeh; made according to the writings of ancient times, by the hereditary prince ......... [Rekhmire].
From the tomb of Rekhmire, vizier under Thutmose III
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Two, § 717
    According to Rekhmire's tomb inscription the commandant of the fortress of Senemut (Bigeh) paid among other things 20 deben of gold, his colleague at Elephantine 40, the scribe of the recorder of Elephantine 6, the kenbeti 2 and the scribe of Elephantine 1, the mayor of Edfu 8 deben of gold etc. Silver, cattle, cloth and the like were also part of these taxes, but significantly not slaves. These featured prominently in the imposts gathered in Nubia which the King's Son of Kush presented to the pharaoh in an annual ceremony (cf. the taxes levied in Nubia and Kush under Thutmose III).

The tax-collectors

    Just as the farmers were at the mercy of the tax-collectors, these were subject to scrutiny by their superiors. In the 6th dynasty scene below five governors of districts are brought before the vizier Khentika accused of an ill-defined misdemeanor, probably they had not transferred the full amount of taxes to the royal treasury. Three officials lie prostrate before the vizier, two others are bowing. Two condemned men are tied to posts and are being beaten. (The servants, who execute the punishment, remark: Nice gifts for you, the like has never happened. Which leads one to assume that these two are high officials as well, not used to being flogged themselves.)
- Punishment of tax-collectors, Source: 'Pharaos Volk' by TGH.James
-     During times of social unrest, officials at times illegally relieved taxpayers of the produce they were transporting to a royal institution as part of their tax payment. Horemheb, in an attempt to strengthen the confidence of the citizens in the administration, specifically forbade his tax-collectors to exact any dues from the victims of such robberies:
    [Furthermore, my majesty commands that if a poor man be oppressed by] [robbe]ry, his cargo be emptied by theft of them, and the poor man stand reft of hi[s good]s, [no further exactions for dues shall be made from him] when he has nothing. For it is not good, this report of very great injustice. My majesty commands that restitution be made to him; behold ................
From the Great Edict of Horemheb (18th dynasty)
Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt; part II § 53
    From the Greek Period complaints of citizens against dishonest or incapable tax-collectors are known. The use of force was never far from the minds of either party when collectors had dealings with farmers.
... Artemidoros, the hated of heaven, has embezzled as much as 25 association artabas [13] of wheat out of what we had measured for the last half-artaba tax. Ptolemaios son of Harpsalis, too, has credited nothing to our account for the last half-artaba tax except only 25 artabas because you have not had a receipt, for you treat everything as by the way. When they wanted to take animals in pledge we refrained from using force against him, after I (?) had collected a number of men, and he would not wait till you arrived in health. When Demetrios arrived by chance at the village, they still did not depart, but he was persuaded to restrain himself (?) for the moment; and after I had extricated what was pledged they departed to other villages. You must know that I did not use force pending your speedy arrival ....
Papyrus Tebtunis 0768
2nd year of Ptolemy IX Soter II (?), 25th of the Egyptian month Choiak
APIS Test database
    To protect the tax-payer from illegal exploitative tax collecting the writing of tax receipts became common.
    Under the Ptolemies tax collection was farmed out, and the contractors were responsible for the collection, an undertaking at times at least sealed with an oath. If these tax farmers were feared by the tax payers, they themselves could be in deep trouble if they failed to fulfill their quotas:
    To Asklepiades, nomarch, from Nechembes.
    After I had contracted for the tax of the sixth for (Arsinoe) Philadelphos in the division of Herakleides for the 10th year, there was an incursion of locusts which destroyed everything, what was saved being carried off by the owners without payment of the sixth. I have consequently been wrongfully arrested for this.
    You will therefore do well, if it please you, to join in session Asklepiades and the antigrapheus and the strategos so that my case against the owners of the vineyards may be heard pending the arrival of Theodoros, for the sum of money is no small one, in order that nothing of this may be lost and that you may also instruct your agent Theokles to impound the crops of the vineyard of Dion which is held by Teisikrates at Tanis. For I have previously taken this man before the strategos, and written instructions were issued by him: he wrote that all the produce of this vineyard was to be impounded, and it has been impounded up to now. I beg you, therefore, if it please you, to send written orders to impound the ... in order that the king may incur no loss.
The 10th year, Payni 5.
P.Tebt.0772, 236 BCE
APIS record: berkeley.apis.31
    When a person died, his heirs, or in the case of a slave his owner, had to make sure that the tax authorities were aware of his demise, otherwise they would go on imposing taxes.
    To Philiskos, farmer of the tax on weaving, from Sarapion son of Sarapion.
    My slave Apollophanes, a weaver, registered in Temgenouthis Square, died abroad in the present 7th year of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator. Wherefore I request that his name be inscribed in the list of dead persons, and I swear by Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator that this information is true.
    Year 7 of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator, Mecheir 27th, august day.
(2nd hand) I, Philiskos, have signed. Year 7 of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator, Mecheir 27th, august day.
P.Oxy. II 262, 61 CE
APIS record: columbia.apis.p344

Customs duties

    Overseas trade was taxed too. According to Jean Yoyotte Nakhtnebef (Nectanebo I, 380-362 BCE) set the duties on imported goods at 10% in his Naukratis Decree [10]
Then His Majesty said: "Let one tenth of the gold, silver, wood and joinery and all thing coming from the Greek Sea, be taxed for the King's House in the place called Honë, as well as the tenth of gold, silver and all things existing in the domain of the harbour named Kratj on the bank of the Anu canal.."  [3]
    During the Graeco-Roman Period internal customs duties amounted to three percent. They were levied at certain crosspoints: Soknapaiou Nesos in the Fayum controlling traffic to the western oases, Memphis harbour as a passage point into the Delta etc.
Paid, through the gate-house of Soknopaiou (Nesos), the 3 % (customs duty), by Sotas, exporting wheat to the Oasis on one camel, one colt.
P.Mich.inv. 6152, early Ptolemaic
APIS record: michigan.apis.2647
    The animals used for transportation, donkeys, horses and camels, were listed as well as the goods. At times they appear to have been a measure for the amount of goods transported. Listing them may also have prevented the smuggling of animals themselves [15].
Paid, through the gate-house of Soknopaiou Nesos, the tax for the guard of the desert route, by Achillas, exporting one donkey of bitter vetch, 1. Year 5, the twelfth of Hadrianos, 12.
P.Mich.inv. 6149, 2nd-3rd century CE
APIS record: michigan.apis.2644

The Graeco-Roman Period

    Under the Ptolemies much of the commerce and some of agriculture was in the hands of Greeks who were accustomed to using coined money. Their taxes were generally collected in specie too.
    Merchants and craftsmen paid taxes on most of the things they traded in, such as oil, bronze and bricks and on licenses, such as the privilege to sell linen. Brewers were taxed on the beer they sold [7]. Fishermen had to pay for the right to catch fish in the Fayum canal
The 32nd year, from Theodotos, the account of the [revenue on the fish-pots] in the canal of the harbour of Ptolemais, in the month Thoth, the 3rd day; from the collection made by Kalatytis 5? silver drachmae [less one], i.e. 4;
the 4th day, from Hôros the son of Nekhtheneibis the half of 7? drachmae, 3?; from the collection made by Komoapis the half of 10 dr., 7 (sic) , from the slaves of Sokeus the half of 8 dr. 2 obols, 4 dr. 1 obol
....  [1]
Translation by Prof. Sayce, 1891
W.M.Flinders Petrie Illahun, Kahun and Gurob, 1891, p.40
    Agriculture was taxed as well. There were taxes on the land [22], the produce and the livestock. One papyrus speaks of a yearly tax revenue of two talents and nine copper drachmae on gardens and one talent 617 copper drachmae on vineyards [2]. The vineyard tax could presumably be paid in wine or currency, orchards with their perishable produce were apparently taxed in money only [18]. The Ptolemies introduced a crown tax, the dichoinikia, amounting to five percent of an artaba [13] for every aroura [14] of land.
    The produce was taxed separately, often in kind, which, if barley was used for payment instead of wheat caused an additional charge of 5% under the Romans. The Romans also levied a charge supposed to compensate for differences between local and state ordained measures, and they taxed the transportation of the grain from the field to the threshing floor, calling it dragmategia [12].
    Under Ptolemy II a yoke tax of 8 drachmas (4 kit) imposed on householders was replaced by a salt tax of 1 drachma 3 obols (¾ kit) for men and 1 drachma (½ kit) for women. A few years later these rates were reduced.  [18]. Public baths which began to proliferate under the emperors were paid for by taxation, amounting to 6¼ percent. There were taxes on houses, on the baskets used for transporting the collected dues to Alexandria, on burials, on company property, on property transfers, and quite a few more [7].

Tax breaks and exemptions

    A sage recommended: If a poor cultivator is in arrears with his taxes, remit two-thirds of them [8]. Occasionally remittance following poor harvests seems to have occurred. The nomarch Kheti II, who governed at Sauty during the First Intermediate Period, reports:
I was rich in grain. When the land was in need, I maintained the city with kha [5] and with heket [5]. I allowed the citizen to carry away with himself grain; and his wife, the widow and her son. I remitted all imposts which I found counted by my fathers.
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt; Part One, § 408
    Sometimes groups of people were exempted from paying taxes or had them reduced, because the state needed their services or their position was too powerful for the state to enforce collection. Horemheb remitted payments from officials in his fight against corruption:
Now, as to the obligation of silver and gold ... ... ... [my] majesty remits it, in order that there be not collected an obligation of anything from the official staff of the South and North.
From the Great Edict of Horemheb
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt; part II § 63
    Priests and their temple estates were exempt [21] from paying dues [6], as were those who worked for them, the fishermen, fowlers, natron-gatherers, salt-gatherers etc.
And no future vizier shall make requisition upon any prophet of these temples, for silver, gold, leather, clothing, ointment
Act of endowment of the temples of Khnum by Ramses III
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part Four, § 150
    The temples even seem to have acquired the right to levy taxes instead of the state as early as the New Kingdom,[30] and the Thebaid became increasingly independent of the pharaonic administration centered on Lower Egypt. Under Osorkon II of the 22nd dynasty the inhabitants of the city of Thebes seem not have paid any taxes to the royal treasury at all:
Said the king in the presence of his father, Amon: "I have protected Thebes in her height and in her breadth, pure, delivered to her lord. No inspectors of the king's house (pr-stny) journey to her; her people are protected forever, in the name of the Good God.
Osorkon II's jubilee inscription
Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt; part IV §751
    During the Ptolemaic Period teachers, actors, and victorious athletes were exempt from paying the salt tax [18]. Occasionally taxes were remitted, as happened under Ptolemy V, for political as well as economic reasons, though he glosses over the real trouble he was in:
... of the revenues and taxes levied in Egypt some he has wholly remitted and others he has lightened, in order that the people and all the others might be in prosperity during his reign; and whereas he has remitted the debts to the crown being many in number which they in Egypt and in the rest of the kingdom owed ...
The Rosetta Stone[4]
    Being close to the powers that be, friends of a monarch could hope for special privileges
We have granted to Publius Canidius and his heirs the annual exportation of 10,000 artabas [about 300 tons] of wheat and the annual importation of 5,000 Coan amphoras [uncertain quantity] of wine without anyone exacting anything in taxes from him or any other expense whatsoever. We have also granted tax exemption on all the land he owns in Egypt on the understanding that he shall not pay any taxes, either to the state account or to the account of me and my children in any way in perpetuity. We have also granted that all his tenants are exempt from personal liabilities and from taxes without anyone exacting anything from them, not even contributing to the occasional assessments in the nomes or paying for expenses for soldiers or officers. We have also granted that the animals used for plowing and sowing as well as the beasts of burden and the ships used for the transportation [down the Nile] of the wheat are likewise exempt from "personal" liabilities and from taxes and cannot be commandeered [by the army]. Let it be written to those to whom it may concern, so that knowing it they can act accordingly.

which Cleopatra VII herself seems to have signed

Make it so!

van Minnen, 2000

Forced Labour

    Corvées were organized locally and benefited the population at least in part directly. Irrigation was only possible through concerted efforts at a local or regional level and without it agriculture would not have been able to feed the growing population.

    In contrast to taxes on produce, labour could be exacted from everybody [11]. But quite a few people were exempt from corvée duty, among them labourers on temple estates and gold miners. The Nauri decree by Seti I gave comprehensive protection to the workers belonging to the Nubian Osiris temple, but also restricted the freedom of these workers to accept work elsewhere.
As to every viceroy of Kush, every troop leader, every mayor, every substitute, every person, should he drag by force anybody belonging to Sethos' Abydos temple from one district to another, by agreement, for forced labour to sow the fields or for forced labour to harvest, as well as he who seizes by force any woman or any man belonging to Sethos' Abydos temple or also their servants in order to execute any task in the whole land, as well as any chariot driver, every stable master, any person of the royal household sent with a mission on behalf of the pharaoh - may he live, be hale and well - should he abduct anyone belonging to Sethos' Abydos temple from one district to another, by agreement, for forced labour to sow the fields or for forced labour to harvest, also for the execution of any task, then the law shall be applied through two hundred strokes and five open wounds as well as recompense for the labour of the person belonging to Sethos' Abydos temple on every day he spent with him, he shall be handed over to Sethos' Abydos temple.
Translation from T.G.H.James Pharaos Volk
    Calling up people for a few days and setting them to work on a given task required foresight and organization. Efficiency was not a hallmark of ancient economies, but when the organizational talent was lacking it could become somewhat of a scandal. Thutmose, a scribe of the royal necropolis under Ramses XI, was clearly unhappy with the way his substitute had gone about planning the estate's grain harvest, when he wrote:
So I ordered you: "Despatch Nisusobek, your scribe, and make him hurry together with the doorkeeper Thutmose and the scribe Iuefenamen to bring in the grain, but [you] did not listen. The fishers and fowlers came to where the people of the administration of the necropolis were and said: "We are sitting here to this day and we are imprisoned by you."
Now, they had intended to break out when the sky was small(?) and [///], saying: "You have taken our people at the beginning, so that you could take the labour. And behold, if you take the people again and so also take (their) labour, then we will spend the day here /// and we return to where the vizier is on the morrow," so they spoke.
Indeed, you have not listened to me!
Letter by the scribe Thutmose, pBN 198.III, reign of Ramses XI[23]
    The system lent itself to serious abuse. Many bought their exemption, offered a substitute or bribed the relevant official. Administrators drafted people for their own personal benefit. Complaints sometimes accompanied by threats were used to achieve their release
A shield bearer of His Majesty or a stable master or a vassal of the pharaoh drafts the number of workers who are in Memphis. It is not you who should dispose of them in the temple of Thoth, your god.
Let them go today, so they can spend the night with another man, who will be sent on a mission for the pharaoh tomorrow, immediately. Lest death be on you!
Djehutiemhab to Bakenptah, 19th dynasty
Translation from T.G.H.James Pharaos Volk
    During the Graeco-Roman Period citizens doing corvée duty on the dykes and canals [16] were exempt from paying the Dam tax which was often levied together with the poll-tax and amounted generally to one sixteenth, i.e. 6¼ percent. Where personal taxes like the poll-tax were concerned, it was up to the citizen or his family to inform the authorities of any changes in the status of the taxed:
To Maron, village secretary of Theadelphia, from Stratippos, son of Titan, resident of Philadelphia.
My son Nemesion, registered for the poll-tax in the village died on the 5th of Choiak of the present 9th year of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator. Wherefore I submit this report to you so that you may inform those whom it concerns and so that his name may be removed (from the tax-lists) and registered on the list of the dead so that I may not be responsible, as indeed I am.
P.Mich.inv. 831, 48 CE[28]
    By giving tax breaks and other incentives, the authorities hoped to attract new settlers to certain areas. After the foundation of Antinoopolis by the emperor Hadrian, the citizens there were exempt from paying the 10% sales tax and the poll tax.[31]

Military Service

    Its geographical position protected Egypt until the Late Period and, unlike its neighbours to the east who were practically all the time at war with each other, it could choose where and when to wage war against foreigners with small, at least partly professional armies. Civil wars on the other hand generally broke out as a consequence of prolonged periods of famine and were waged by factions of the local population. When Khasekhemwy (2nd dynasty) put down a rebellion in Lower Egypt, 47,000 casualties were recorded.
    The unification of the country seems to have been achieved by drafted peasants led by noblemen, and even wars abroad were fought by conscripts:
His majesty made war on the Asiatic Sand-dwellers and his majesty made an army of many ten thousands; in the entire South, southward to Elephantine, and northward to Aphroditopolis; in the Northland on both sides entire in the [stronghold], and in the midst of the [strongholds], among the Irthet Negroes, the Mazoi Negroes, the Yam Negroes, among the Wawat Negroes, among the Kau Negroes, and in the land of Temeh.
    During the Old and Middle Kingdoms the size of the armies remained limited and military proficiency small. Armies and their officers played generally a minor role in society, though under Amenemhet II (12th dynasty) there were nomarchs who raised local armies in their territories.
    When the need for larger, more expert full-time armies arose during the New Kingdom, the pharaohs often preferred to hire foreigners, Nubians, Sherden and others, and only the chariots remained manned by Egyptian noblemen.
    One doesn't quite know how the young men were called up. Apparently censuses were held and the administration had lists of various population groups.
Registering of the whole land before his majesty, supervision of all activities, cognizance of soldiers, priests, royal servants, all craftsmen of the whole land, cattle, fowl and small cattle by the military scribe beloved of his lord Tjeneni, justified.
From the tomb of Tjeneni, reign of Thutmose IV
After J. Kraus Die Demographie des alten Ägypten, p.130
But the young men were probably enlisted by scribes visiting towns and villages.
    Recruits with physical disabilities were excused from military service; thus under the emperor Claudius a man with poor eye sight was declared not to be liable for military service [17]. But if a young man refused to serve, this could be a severe blow to a civil-minded Roman father:
Sempronius to Gaius, very many greetings and continued prosperity in good health. Before all, I pray for your health. I learned from Tilis (?) that, yielding to his persuasion, you did not take service in the fleet; and I spent two days grieving. In the future, then, see to it that you are not persuaded, and (if you are) you will no longer be my son. You know that in everything you easily differ from and hold pre-eminence over your brothers. Accordingly you will do well to enter a fine service that . . . Do not neglect my words and you will have . . .
P.Mich.inv. 191, 2nd century CE
APIS record: michigan.apis.1543

Public office

    Being appointed or elected to a public office may have brought a person public recognition, satisfied personal vanity and even filled his pockets. For millennia most of the priests in the temples were laymen, fulfilling their religious duties according to a roster for a certain period of time every year.
    But some offices were apparently less popular than others, and–as quite a few people did with their annual corvée duty–some tried to wriggle out of serving with a variety of subterfuges and probably varying success. [27] Commissary of corn seems to have been such an unwelcome charge, and one Aristeides complained to one Zenon that he had been elected unlawfully, as he did not answer the age requirement, and asked him to intervene on his behalf:
(Recto) Aristeides to Zenon: greeting. If you are well and everything else is to your mind, I would give much thanks to the gods. I too am well. I have had the misfortune to be proposed by the citizens as commissary of corn, though I am not yet of the right age nor due for that burden, but have been proposed by certain persons out of jealousy. I and my brother Theronides therefore have sent Dromon to explain these things to Apollonios, in order that he may help us and release me from that responsibility. You would do me a favour then by immediately admitting Dromon to Apollonios's presence and assisting him to have speech with Apollonios as soon as possible and seeing that he sends him back to us immediately after settling everything. And write yourself if ever you need anything from there, in order that we may do all that you want. Farewell.
(Verso) To Zenon.;(Docket, 2nd hand) Aristeides about himself and the charge of supplying corn. (Received) year 29, Panemios 1, in Arsinoe.
Letter, received 31st July 257 BCE accessed 17th May 2009

State revenues

    One cannot make reasonable calculations of state revenues before the Ptolemaic Period. Even of this period, from which a great many records are available, we know so little as to make such estimates little more than guesses. Ancient authors recorded annual incomes from Egypt of 700 Babylonian talents of silver and an unknown amount of grain raised by the Persian king Darius [24], 14,800 talents of silver and 1.5 million artabas of grain going to Ptolemy II as reported by Hieronymus,[25] 6,000 talents of silver were raised by Ptolemy XII according to Diodorus Siculus. Strabo quotes Cicero giving an assessment of 12,500 talents. [26]
    Muhs [18] considers these numbers to be too high. The salt tax would have yielded between 625 and 1,460 talents of silver per year under Ptolemy II, the export of grain 1,500 to 2,000 talents. Together with all the other - more specific - taxes the revenues would probably have fallen short even of the number given by Hieronymus.


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APIS Advanced Papyrological Information System
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Sten V. Wangstedt, Ausgewählte demotische Ostraka aus der Sammlung des Victoria-Museums zu Uppsala und der Staatlichen Papyrussammlung zu Berlin, Uppsala 1954

Picture sources:
[  ] Source of the excerpt showing a man and a woman offering produce to a surveying scribe: Jon Bodsworth
[  ] Line drawing after a drawing in T.G.H.James Pharaos Volk
[1] 1 talent = 60 minae = 6000 silver drachmae
     1 stater = 2 drachmae
     1 drachma (4.37 grams) = 6 obols
[2] 1 silver drachma was worth about 350 copper drachmae
[5] kha, heket : measures of grain, cf. Counting and measuring
[6] The Hebrew tradition supports this.
And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt unto this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth part; except the land of the priests only, which became not Pharaoh's.
Genesis 47: 26
This does not constitute proof for the historicity of Joseph; but such knowledge of Egyptian customs adds to the probability that at least some of the Hebrews had sojourned by the Nile at some time before the Bible was written.
[8] Cyril Aldred The Egyptians p.180
[10] M. Lichtheim disagrees with Yoyotte's interpretation. According to her the king ordered 10% of his own proceeds to be paid to the temple while the rate of the tax is not specified:
Let there be given one in 10 (of) gold, of silver, of timber, of worked wood, of everything coming from the Sea of the Greeks of all the goods (or: being all the goods) that are reckoned to the king's domain in the town named Hent; and one in 10 (of) gold, of silver, of all the things that come into being in Pi-emroye, called (Nau)cratis, on the bank of the Anu, that are reckoned to the king's domain, to be a divine offering for my mother Neith for all time in addition to what was there before.
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume III, p.89
[11] Even in the afterworld a person was expected to perform such duties, but by placing a shawabti, a little figurine representing the deceased, into his tomb and using the correct spells to force it to perform all tasks imposed upon the dead, one need not exert oneself for all eternity.
Now, schwabty:
If, in the world of the dead, X is ordered to perform the yearly stint of public work all Egyptians owe their pharaoh,
be it to move bricks, level off a plot of ground, re-survey land when the Nile-flood recedes or till new-planted fields,
you will say: "Here I am!" to any functionary who comes looking for X while he is trying to enjoy his meal of funerary offerings.
Take up your hoe, schwaby, your pick, your demarcation pegs, your basket, just as any slave would for his master.
Jacob Rabinowitz, Isle of Fire, p.130, accessed June 2004

With the passing of the centuries shawabtis seem to have improved their labour conditions and ended up by being called upon just one day per year, requiring the tomb owner to surround himself with a small army of these stand-ins, one for every day of the year.
[13] artaba: about 27 litres under the Ptolemies
[14] aroura: 2700 m²
[15] When animals were imported it was recorded:
Let pass through the gate-house of Bacchias Herakleios, importing one young, tawny donkey, equals 1 donkey.
Year 4 of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator, the seventeenth of [. . .], 17. I, A[- - -, have signed].
P.Mich.inv. 6057, 43/44 CE
APIS record: michigan.apis.2633
[16] The duration of the corvée was five days, penthemeros:
The fourth year of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator.
Has performed the penthemeros on the dikes for the same year
(2nd hand) in the Pholemis canal, on behalf of Theadelphia: Harpatotoes, son of Aunes.
(3rd hand) [I, . . ., have signed in respect] of Harpatotoes, son of Aunes, having worked from the 14th(?).;
(4th hand) I, [. . .]on, antigrapheus in charge of dikes, from the office of the strategos, have signed.
P.Mich.inv. 970, 57/58 CE
APIS record: michigan.apis.3241
[17] p. Oxy. 317, 52 CE; APIS record: columbia.apis.p349
[18] Brian P. Muhs, Tax Receipts, Taxpayers, and Taxes in Early Ptolemaic Thebes
[19] During the New Kingdom 1 sack (khar) was somewhat less than 80 litres. The specific weight of grain is about 50 to 60 kg/hl.
[20] Tnj elevate -- qAj be high (cf. the page on the transliteration and pronunciation of ancient Egyptian)
[21] These exemptions were not automatic but were apparently acquired by most religious institutions over the centuries as special privileges from the king (cf. Texts from the Pyramid Age by Nigel C. Strudwick, Ronald J. Leprohon, Brill 2005, p.38, pp.98ff, pp.102ff. etc). That there were exceptions to this rule is proved by the many exemption decrees issued throughout Egypt's history, such as the decree of Neferirkare, and as late as the Ptolemaic period mortuary priests at least had to pay a server tax [18].
[22] The following third century demotic text, although not very well understood, gives an idea of how detailed the assessment was:
Ordered was the counting (in) Egypt by inspecting field after field, their irrigation, their location, their quality, their growth (?), their relation (?) to the sacrifice of the tutelary deities with their part of arable fields in the first /// of the royal fields, by inspecting plot after plot, the extension of its districts (?), and of the vinyards /// the fields //// dry and the meadows and the watercourses and the fields which are untilled and vacant (?), the high fields (?) and the artificially irrigated fields, the dams and dykes, which are ploughed and sown (?), by inspecting tree after tree with their ///, the trees (?), the herbs (?), the upper fields (?), the lower parts (?).
O. Karnak L.S. 462.4
After the transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae web site
The officials were also interested in the leases, in wages, in payments to priests and civil servants etc.
[23] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website => aaew => Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Neuen Reiches => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe aus Theben => Briefwechsel des Djehuti-mesu => pBN 198.III => Brief des Djehuti-mesu über Arbeitsorganisation
[24] Herodotus: Histories, 3.91.2
[25] Hieronymus: Commentarium in Danielem III, xi, 5
[26] Strabo, Geography, Book XVII, § 13
[27] Ancient Egypt and the East, British School of Archaeology in Egypt, 1916, p.88
[28] accessed 12 August 2009
[29] Bard & Shubert 1999, p.930
[30] Bard & Shubert 1999, p.131
[31] Bard & Shubert 1999, p.158
[32] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website => aaew => Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Neuen Reiches und der Dritten Zwischenzeit => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe diverser Herkunft => pCairo 58058 => Brief des Mescha an Piay

- The economy in ancient egyptThe economy of ancient Egypt
Labour relations in ancient egyptMasters and Workers : Labour relations in ancient Egypt
Labour relations in ancient egyptNectanebo's Naukratis Decree
The Greek Section of the Rosetta Stone[4] The Greek Section of the Rosetta Stone
Labour relations in ancient egypt[7] Graeco-Roman tax-collector's receipts
The ArmyThe army
-Index of Topics
-Main Index and Search Page
Links(Opening in a new window)
These are just suggestions for further reading. I do not assume any responsibility for the availability or content of these sites.
Cleopatra's papyrus[3] Heracleion - The decree of Nektanebo I by Jean Yoyotte
-The Greek Section of the Rosetta Stone
-[9] Palermo Stone: Translation of the annals fragment
-[12] The rural economy from Karanis: An Egyptian Town in Roman Times
Tax assessmentCrops being assessed for tax purposes on Nebamun's estate
Cleopatra's papyrusPhoto of the papyrus signed by Cleopatra

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