The World History of Taxation

Egyptian Taxes

The first known taxation system was in ancient Egypt. The Pharaoh would collect taxes twice a year from the Egyptians. One of the most commonly taxed items in the ancient world was cooking oil, which was actually taxed throughout Egyptian history because of shortages. Egyptian taxes eventually became so widely known that they were even mentioned in the bible, “when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh.”

Athens, Greece

To the Athenians in Greece, war was a lifestyle, and a pricey one at that. As such, Athenians taxed their citizens for war costs with a tax they called “eisphora.” The most historic factor of this tax was that it exempted no one, which many consider the first democratic taxation system, as after the wars the money was often refunded to the people. There is also some documentation of a tax put on foreigners (or any individual without an Athenian mother and father), called “metoikion.”

Salt Tax in India

Salt has been taxed in India for centuries. However, in 1835 the British East India Company raised the import taxes drastically after they began to impose rule over Indian provinces. The salt tax was raised and lowered by multiple leaders and events, and was not repealed until 1946.

Rome and Caesar

Taxes called “portoria” were first levied in Rome on imports and exports to the city. Caesar Augustus, who is now considered a genius tax strategist of his time, gave individual cities the job of collecting taxes. He also raised sales taxes on slaves from 1% to 4%, and created a tax to raise retirement funds for soldiers of the army.

Great Britain

The occupation of the Roman Empire may have sparked the flame for first taxes in England. During the 11th century Lady Godiva’s husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia, said he would lower taxes were she to ride through the streets naked on a horse. Lady Godiva made the now famous ride and lowered taxes for her people.

The French Revolution

Before the French Revolution, civil unrest laid heavily on the shoulders of high taxes for lower classes. While clergymen and nobles were exempt to taxes, peasants and regular wage earning workers were not. The tax gap also left lower class citizens unable to pay court fees, making justice unaffordable except by those wealthy enough to afford it. While the true cause of the French Revolution is still being debated today, many Historians feel these high and unfair taxes were a large contributing factor to the civil unrest.

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