What is tax in ancient Egypt? Definition, meaning

The concept of "tax" is known to every modern person, but not everyone knows that it is very ancient, and people were forced to pay various taxes a thousand years ago. Let's get acquainted with the fact that such a tax in ancient Egypt and who paid it.

what is tax in ancient egypt

The origin of the tax system

The country of the pyramids is famous for the fact that the pharaohs began to prepare for death almost from birth, therefore erected elegant tombs-tombs. It was necessary to enlist the support of the immortal gods, so each king sought to build as many luxurious temples as possible, decorated with huge sculptures and exquisite frescoes. Finally, the expansion of the borders of the kingdom required the maintenance of constant wars, and the maintenance of the troops needed certain means. All these factors became the root cause of the birth of the tax system.

Consider what a tax in ancient Egypt. This is a collection (both in kind and in money terms) of a certain part of the income of the population, going to the state treasury.The funds received were used to strengthen the power of the pharaoh and to solve important state and religious issues.

tax collection in ancient Egypt

Formation history

The development and implementation of the tax system took quite a long time - about 400 years; they took place at the time when the pharaohs from the first to the third dynasty sat on the throne. The study of history begins (including the issue of taxes) of Ancient Egypt in the 5th grade, then schoolchildren will learn that for all the whims of the kings, they had to be paid by ordinary farmers.

The first Pharaoh, who began to collect tribute from the occupied territories, according to the data that has come down to us, is Narmer. A record on the stone of Palermo tells that the heir to Narmer, the pharaoh Aha, every two years, was touring the country and wondered if his subjects were satisfied with their standard of living.

Interestingly, tax collection in ancient Egypt was at that time a unique phenomenon: the neighboring states did not follow the example of the pyramid country.

taxes in ancient Egypt grade 5

Major Payers

Consider who paid taxes in ancient Egypt. The main taxpayers were farmers. All the farmland in Egypt belonged to Pharaoh,therefore, for the right to cultivate them, to receive crops, which was the main source of food, the farmers were forced to pay tax to the treasury.

Pharaoh gave a part of the land to his entourage, grandee and officials, so the farmers working on this land paid taxes to their immediate landlord. Also, the peasants were obliged to give part of the harvest to the temples.

the meaning of the word tax in ancient Egypt

Exempted from payment

The meaning of the word "tax" in ancient Egypt was considered earlier. And who was exempt from paying tribute to the treasury?

  • Pharaoh.
  • Officials and approximate king.
  • Warriors. Each state needed a powerful army, which is why soldiers were exempt from tax payments.
  • Scribes. Educated secretaries and accountants were also not taxed and levied.
  • The priests. The caste of servants of the gods enjoyed universal respect, therefore any payments to the treasury were not discussed.
  • The judges were also not required to pay taxes.

What is a tax in ancient Egypt based on this data? These are taxes that a narrowly limited circle of inhabitants of the country of the pyramids paid to the treasury. Very many categories and classes were exempted from its payment.

who paid taxes in ancient Egypt

Types of taxes

Considering the question of what is a tax in ancient Egypt, you should definitely touch on the next point - what types of payments were the farmers who were forced to pay to the treasury. There were several of them:

  • The most basic is a part of the harvested grain, which for storage was sent to state warehouses located in the largest cities of the state.
  • The taxes were also paid by bread, beer, animal products: the fat and skin of slaughtered livestock, pigs.
  • Monetary form. If in the early stages of the development of ancient Egypt, coins and paper money were not used yet, then they became widely used.

However, this is not all that we know about what is a tax in ancient Egypt. The tribute was levied from the conquered peoples, also in kind or in money terms, there were other types of mandatory payments to the treasury:

  • cattle tax;
  • on the importation and exportation of goods;
  • on bridges;
  • on the dam.

Tax service is often expressed in the participation of the peasants in the compulsory work: the construction of temples and tombs, dams. Later, there were taxes for renting premises, for traveling around the country, for going into the desert, even for engaging in prostitution.

tax in ancient egypt definition

Profession tax collector

The position of a tax collector in ancient Egypt was not respected and respected, but these people inspired real farmers with real horror. Their duties were quite simple:

  • Harvest tribute after the harvest season.
  • Flog and torture those farmers who were unable to pay tribute in due quantity. At the same time, the tortures were quite cruel: the unfortunate were beaten with whips, thrown into the ditches, drowned.

That is why no one liked tax collectors. Often soldiers were used as their guards; in the era of the Middle Kingdom, these servants of the pharaoh used to gather taxes surrounded by hired Nubians, distinguished by militancy, strength and courage.

In order to serve their ruler, these officials constantly tried to collect as much grain and food from the peasants as possible, often leaving them without means of livelihood. Yes, we got an example of such excessive zeal of the collector: on one of the plates it is indicated that the annual grain tax was 70 thousand measures, and this official delivered 140 thousand measures to the treasury, exceeding the norm by two times. It is difficult to imagine what kind of suffering the peasants caused this desire to curry up.

If a peasant had tax arrears, his property could be used to cover it, which was given to the treasury.

tax collector in ancient Egypt

Tax accounting

Ancient Egypt possessed a written language that was a complex hieroglyphic system; it often took years to learn. Therefore, it is not surprising that the profession of a scribe was rightly revered and respected. Thanks to the papyrus scrolls that have survived to our day, we can learn what a tax is in ancient Egypt, in what form it was expressed and who were the main payers. The following facts are known:

  • Basically taxes were calculated by grain. That is, farmers had to hand over part of the harvest to the treasury, which put them in a difficult situation, especially in lean years.
  • Taxes, on the orders of Pharaoh, were fixed by the royal seal with the image of the mighty god Horus.
  • Often, grain and other goods taken as a tax were spent ineptly. They were placed in the tombs of departed eminent persons, in order to facilitate their life in the other world. Therefore, precious food is simply rot.However, detailed registries of these gifts helped scientists figure out what else, in addition to grain, the peasants paid taxes.
  • Tax accounting was carried out in the territory of Upper and Lower Egypt, continued after their unification into a single kingdom.

The strictest accounting for tax revenues to the treasury led the scribes. And woe to those who refused or could not pay.

who collected taxes in ancient Egypt

Accounting types

Previously, it was told who collected taxes in ancient Egypt, now we will look at exactly how tax revenues were accounted for, with which bona fide tax collectors provided the treasury. There were three main forms:

  • Indicating the size of the land plot, the tax rate, the total amount of the fee. Three numbers were recorded in red. The larger the land area was, the more taxed it was.
  • Indication of the form of ownership (share or part), total area, taxable area, tax rate. The first two numbers were written in black, the third - in red.
  • The third type is not fully decoded; it consists of two numbers, each of which is written in black. The first, as Egyptologists believe, is the area allotted, the second is its uncultivated part, not taxable.

In general, you can see that in many respects the tax system of ancient Egypt was fair:

  • The larger the land area, the greater the tax rate for it was established.
  • If a part of the allotment was not processed, then the duty for it was not charged.
  • The land fell into different categories depending on fertility, degree of irrigation, and the tax depended on these indicators. However, land from one fund could be transferred to another.
  • A specific norm was established in units of measurement - measures, therefore, farmers could understand how much grain they would have to give to the treasury.

However, it was mentioned earlier that overly zealous collectors often exceeded this norm in order to curry favor. And no one was in a hurry to help the peasants.

tax accounting in ancient Egypt

Features of tax collection

Having considered what a tax in ancient Egypt is, we suggest to get acquainted with a number of features of tax collection in this state:

  • The system of economic control was multi-level.
  • After collecting grain, part of it was given to the treasury as a tax, the remainder was returned to the farmer. Then the grain was transported to the royal and temple warehouses.
  • At each stage, strict control and accounting was carried out.
  • Non-compliance with the norm was also recorded.
  • Every two years, a compulsory livestock census was carried out, but data on whether the offspring was taken into account was not preserved. Animals were branded, divided into species, age groups and made up summary lists.
  • Used and an inventory of all the property of the peasants.

The peasants were dissatisfied with the fact that most of the harvest they were forced to give to the treasury, this is evidenced by the uprising, the details of which have reached our days. So, farmers destroyed the lists of debtors, dealt with tax collectors, did not report on the ongoing harvest.

Ancient Egypt: Taxes

Tax value

We considered the definition of tax in ancient Egypt, now consider what its role. Information about the positive and negative sides of the tax system is presented in the form of a table.

The advantages and disadvantages of the tax system



The tax system helped form the state reserve

The tax burden often became an unbearable burden for farmers, many of them went bankrupt.

Contributed to the development of trade, thanks to which goods from other countries, valuables and timber fell into Egypt

Those who were not able to pay taxes,tortured and beaten

The collected funds contained the army, contributing to strengthening the power of the state and its integrity.

The most wealthy classes were exempted from paying contributions to the treasury, although in fact they could contribute to its replenishment.

Taxes helped pay for the construction of architectural monuments, many of which have survived.

Often the products obtained were used inefficiently.

As can be seen from the table, tax collection in ancient Egypt had both positive and negative sides. It should be noted that their introduction was the most important step towards the strengthening of statehood.

So let's summarize the above. Taxes in Egypt played a crucial role in the formation and development of the state, helped strengthen the power of the pharaohs, successful military campaigns and large-scale construction, but at the same time ruined the farmers.

Related news

What is a tax in ancient Egypt Definition, value image, picture, imagery

What is a tax in ancient Egypt Definition, value 30

What is a tax in ancient Egypt Definition, value 5

What is a tax in ancient Egypt Definition, value 93

What is a tax in ancient Egypt Definition, value 87

What is a tax in ancient Egypt Definition, value 56

What is a tax in ancient Egypt Definition, value 15

What is a tax in ancient Egypt Definition, value 81

What is a tax in ancient Egypt Definition, value 50

What is a tax in ancient Egypt Definition, value 99