Tax – Older than Money

Tax has been with us for a very long time – certainly for far longer than currency (the first coins were probably minted around 600BC). I thought it might be interesting to take the long view and see how ancient taxes compare to how we have it now…

Tax in ancient Egypt was paid in goods or labour. Agriculture was particularly easy to tax, with perhaps 10-20% of agricultural produce being taken. Individuals may also have been required to work for the state (or to pay someone else to work on their behalf) for a certain portion of the year.

The ancient Mesopotamians were taxed (amongst other things) through a requirement to work for the state as well, although paying for a substitute to work on your behalf might not have been such a great idea – according to Hammurabi’s code of laws (around 1800BC) doing so was a capital offence.

Complaints about tax are probably just as old as tax itself. Records of people complaining about the amount of tax they have to pay survive from the Egyptian New Kingdom (second millennium BC). This might have been quite a risky business, since non-payment of tax could be punishable by death.

One of the earliest known written uses of the word “freedom” appears in an ancient Sumerian record containing a phrase translated as “freedom from taxes”; in other words, tax exemptions have been with us for over four thousand years!

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