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The Athenian Taxation System


wealthymatters.comIf there has to be a state,there has to be a government and inevitably expenses and so taxes.It’s interesting to see how the  democratic Athenian city-state (polis) dealt with the problem of raising taxes by understanding human needs well.Athens had two ways of tapping into the resources of its wealthier citizens:

First,the Athenians derived funds for the normal, everyday operations of their government from indirect taxes (mainly harbor and market dues), and a variety of fees, fines and rents. These were sufficient in times of peace, even after the loss of their empire.But war was another matter. In times of war and other emergencies, the Athenians, voting in Assembly, levied a special tax (eisphora) on the more well-to-do citizens of the polis, approximately the upper one-third. This tax was based not on income, but on total assets.After all the moneyed had more to lose materially in a war than the poor.

The second method the Athenians used to access wealth was a system of liturgies, whereby private individuals were called upon to perform public services at their own expense. Broadly speaking, liturgies fell into two categories — cultural and military. Many of those in the former category were connected with public festivals and involved the entire polis — for example, the responsibility of providing well-trained choruses for the tragic and comic plays presented at the festivals of Dionysus. The most notable and expensive liturgy in the military category was the trierarchy. The wealthy man tapped for this duty was required to finance for a year the maintenance and operating costs of a trireme — that sleek, state-of-the-art warship that was the heart of the Athenian navy.Liturgies were, in effect, private funding under public control. The polis, in Assembly, decided which projects were worthy of funding — about 100 in a normal year — and stipulated the minimum amount of expenditure for each. The Assembly, or a designated magistrate, determined who would perform which liturgy.The person chosen had no role in the selection process. It was possible to challenge one’s selection with the appropriate official and, if necessary, in court. But such challenges seem to have happened rarely. In fact, quite often those performing liturgies exceeded the minimum expenditures and publicized the fact widely.To want social prestige is pretty normal,so why not allow the wealthy to buy some by allowing them to pay for public welfare?

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About Keerthika Singaravel
Engineer,Investor,Businessperson

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