For Christians IT HAD BEEN A ‘tithe’

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Beards, boots, beehives, candles, nuts, hats, horses, chimneys, water – Tsar Peter taxed all of them. But he is styled ‘The Great’ in modern histories of Russia still, because of the mighty works his taxes produced perhaps. This is the eternal fate of taxation: to be the abused or abusive means towards noble or ignoble ends, never quite in a position to escape its association with extortion and war.

The word ‘taxes’ first appeared in the English vocabulary only in the 14th hundred years. It derives from the Latin taxare which means ‘to assess’. Before that, English used the related term ‘job’, derived from Old French. For a while, ‘task’ and ‘taxes’ were both in common use, the first requiring labour, the second money. ‘Tax’ then developed its meaning to imply something wearisome or challenging. So words like ‘responsibility’ were used to suggest a more appealing purpose. Politics spin has for as long a brief history as taxation just, and neither has been detained unduly by the meaning of words.

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China has one of the longest of all written records, and we know that fees were levied some 3 here, 000 years back as the Empire had been set up. Powers (usually military) that were in a position to impose taxes created the first bureaucracies to collect and administer them. Under the Egyptian Pharaohs ‘scribes’ were billed with raising funds in any way practicable, including a taxes on household food preparation essential oil. Regular audits were conducted to ensure that essential oil had not been recycled – possibly the first historical record of ‘avoidance’. The ‘Book of Genesis’ in The Bible shows that a fifth of all crops should be given to the Pharaoh.

The city state governments of Ancient Greece enforced eishpora to pay for wars, that have been numerous; but once a war was over any surplus needed to be refunded. Athens imposed a monthly poll tax on foreigners. Imperial Rome used tribute extracted from colonized peoples to increase the bounty of empire. Julius Caesar enforced a one-per-cent sales tax; Augustus instituted an inheritance tax to provide retirement money for the military.

However, human bondage continued to be the most lucrative form of tribute for both Rome and Greece. Using the decline of Rome in Europe, ‘religious’ and ‘temporal’ powers weren’t easy to tell apart always. Religious institutions rivalled – and sometimes surpassed – political ones in their material power. To secure this, they imposed forms of taxation.

For Christians it was a ‘tithe’, or a tenth of what the faithful produced, paid to the Church in kind usually. Tithe barns for the receipt and storage of such payments were lesser in proportions only to churches in villages and towns. The development of Islam was followed by the ‘Islamic Tax’, the khums, or ‘one twentieth’ – more humble by fifty percent than the tithe. You can find direct referrals to it in the Qu’ran, which requires its use for specified purposes, like the relief of the poor.

In India, Islamic rulers imposed a tax called jizya in the 11th hundred years. In Latin America the Aztec, Olmec, Inca and Maya cultures all appear to have raised kinds of taxation, usually in colaboration with ritual observance. Both Buddhists and Hindus sustained their temples and monasteries with contributions of time, skill and resources from the faithful. Land was the essential commodity of feudal Europe and service (military or labour) its currency.

Aspiring monarchs experienced little access to revenues in cash, though ‘scutage’ was sometimes accepted instead of military service. The Vikings Then, sailing from Scandinavia, started demanding protection money. In 845 they extorted six tons of silver in substitution for not sacking Paris; in 994 a similar amount from London.

Though the Viking danger subsided, ‘Dangeld’ (restyled ‘carucage’ in England) was still collected by rulers. After the invasion of England in 1066 by the Normans (themselves descended from Vikings), William the Conqueror commissioned the Doomsday Book, a land survey to evaluate his new kingdom’s tax potential. Newer systems of taxation adopted the expansion of imperial Europe, together with towns and cities, where tribute in kind was less useful – cash was the currency here. The monarchies of Spain and Portugal, however, still transposed feudal structures, and an obsession with silver – which was portable – with their job of Latin America.

Others adopted the exemplory case of the city claims of Italy, particularly Venice, which had grown rich on trade with the East; fees on trade were easy to improve relatively. France, the Britain and Netherlands in particular started to establish commercial outposts, and then military control, across Africa and Asia. Traditions of tribute through human bondage revived, however, with the triangular slave trade between Africa, Europe and the Americas.