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How the Super Rich Paid Taxes in Ancient Greece

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Taxation in ancient Greece was much different than any modern system. It’s difficult to imagine now, but in ancient Greece, the richest of the rich actually competed to pay the most in taxes.

Direct taxation paid to the government at regular intervals, like our contemporary system, was unheard of in ancient Greece. Rather than collecting regular taxes from citizens, there was only one method of taxation in ancient Greece, called “eisphora.”

 

The eisphora was a tax levied on only the very richest members of society in ancient Greece, yet it was only in place during times of great need, such as war.

Greeks were also given the right to reject this eisphora, or taxation, if they believed that someone wealthier than themselves was not being taxed, as only the wealthiest were subject to the tax.

Taxes only for the super wealthy in Ancient Greece

Yet there was another system, called “liturgies,” in which the wealthy of Athens were asked to provide funds for public works projects, such as the construction of a trireme ship or gymnasium, or to support a choral or theatrical production.

In certain instances, the wealthy were asked to donate a specific amount to help in funding the project. Yet, some believed that the prestige associated with providing financial support for such endeavors was worth giving away massive sums.

Frequently, in ancient texts, the super wealthy of Athens competed to donate the largest sums during these periods of “liturgy.”

They would flout their wealth by bragging about the extravagant theatrical festivals they had funded, or by the large triremes that were built from their massive fortunes.

International trade came before the rise of democracy

The economy of ancient Greece was quite advanced, even during the Archaic period before the birth of democracy.

The available land for crops in Greece was limited, and the soil is suited mainly to plants like grapes and olives. Thus, trade was essential to Greece’s economy.

Luckily, the country is located in one of the best areas in terms of trade, as it is at the heart of the Mediterranean Sea.

Instead of simply eking out a living by planting whatever the local villages wanted and desired, farmers as far back as the Archaic era were already planning their crops according to the needs of international trade.

This means that separate individual markets for a consumer good would become merged with others to form one large market, aimed at large-scale trading.

Adam Izdebski of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and his colleagues, in a paper published in the November edition of The Economic Journal of Oxford University Press, are saying that this is proof that a true market economy existed in that era.

It has long been known that trade existed between groups of people as far back as the Neolithic era, before man had invented the wheel or even domesticated horses.

And the concept of money and even counterfeiting was extant as far back as those times.

But now, researchers have combined varying fields of scientific research to provide evidence for a market economy in ancient Greece — even including areas around the Black Sea where Greeks had settled — characterized by integrated agricultural production and a major expansion of trade.