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Ancient Egypt's Extortionate Taxes

A newly-analysed receipt suggests that, over 2000 years ago, tax rates were pretty steep in Egypt.

When the word ‘taxes’ make its way into a conversation a majority of people will gladly present their absolute hatred at having to pay an extra sum of money to their beloved government.  But have you ever wondered what taxes were like around 2100 years ago? July 22nd, 98 B.C. to be exact…

What is apparently an ancient Egyptian tax receipt located in McGill University’s Library and Archives is in the process of being deciphered by Brice Jones, a PhD student at Concordia University. Now you might be wondering how much this particular receipt was. After being partially deciphered this receipt is translated to cost whoever was paying it 75 “talents” as well as an extra 15 talent charge piled on for the taxpayer’s failure to pay in silver. This extra charge was called an “allage.” One talent was equal to 6,000 drachma so after some quick math the total of the bill equaled 540,000 drachma.

You can now safely assume that the Egyptians paying this bill were obviously very, very wealthy as the average unskilled worker made only about 18,000 drachma per year. With the highest denomination of a coin during 98 B.C. being 40 drachma, try picturing how many coins were required for this single payment. To those of you too lazy to open up a calculator, we at CairoScene have got you covered: the total amount of coins would equal 13,500.

With these coins weighing in at about 8 grams (0.3 ounces) the total weight of that single payment would equal 100 kilograms (220 pounds). The people collecting the tax for the bank, known as tax farmers, located in what is modern day Luxor, must have had a tough time transporting that many coins in one go. So yes taxes are a royal pain in the ass to just about everyone but hey, at least your tax bill doesn’t look anything like that. Round of applause for the human race getting out of the Bronze Age!

Photo courtesy of McGill University’s Library and Archives.


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