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Anthony James Whitley
Peter Fibiger Bang
Taxation is best understood as a form of payment for protection. Greco-Roman taxation developed and expanded with the rise of monarchies and empires. Formerly independent city-states were made to pay a tribute to their imperial masters. In return, imperial government guarded the peace and prevented rivals to make similar claims on their subject communities.
Initially, the world of the Classical city-states was one of low taxation. Per capita, tax demands were minimal and mostly met from indirect taxes. As long as the citizenry, dominated by landowners, could avoid direct taxation of their property or the produce of their lands, the main source of their income, they did, praying to the gods, as Dio Chrysostomus later remarked, that it would never come to the point “that each man would have to contribute in proportion out of his own wealth” (Dio Chrys. Or. 31.46, author’s translation). Much of the expenses for what ancient states did, public building, religious festivals, cult ceremonies, could normally be met from other sources, such as customs and harbour dues, natural resources, state-owned properties, or if need be, temporary contributions. In that respect the experience of the Classical city-state corresponds quite closely to that of other pre-industrial societies. The only factor that seriously could break the pattern of no or little direct taxation was warfare. Military activity generated by far the highest expenses regularly undertaken by premodern states. Historically it is the need to finance armies that has driven the expansion of taxation and the introduction of permanent land-taxes.
The just distribution of social goods was fiercely debated in the ancient Mediterranean and the ideologies of egalitarianism and inegalitarianism developed in Rome and Athens shaped Euro-American political thought from the Enlightenment onward. By contrast, the study of actual income and wealth distributions in ancient societies is a more recent development. Only in the early 21st century have scholars begun to make systematic attempts to quantify levels of inequality in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. Since we lack the documentary sources on which the study of inequality in contemporary economies is based, most of these reconstructions rely on a combination of modelling and the interpretation of isolated figures found in literary texts. This fragmentary evidence suggests that in the best-attested regions of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East inequality was considerable. In particular, the formation of large territorial states—most notably the empires of Babylon, Persia, and Rome—facilitated the concentration of wealth into fewer hands. But it is unclear whether inequality increased over time. At least, there is no unambiguous evidence that wealth and income were more unequally distributed in late antiquity than in earlier periods of Roman history.
Linear A is a Bronze Age (c. 1800–1450
The short book of 3 Maccabees, written in Egypt in the Hellenistic or Roman period and almost unknown in antiquity, records king Ptolemy Philopator’s (221–204
While the book’s historical credibility regarding these events is dubious, it should be seen as an important historical source for the life of Egyptian Jewry and the challenges that it faced during the Hellenistic-Roman period. The book has a discernible four-faceted agenda: (a) Jews are loyal both to their God and to the king, although they cannot be confident of the king’s goodwill toward them; (b) the God of Israel is the Jews’ protector and savior; (c) He also revealed Himself in the Diaspora, far away from the Jerusalemite Temple. The book is also (d) an anti-Dionysiac polemic.
Sarah Iles Johnston
Myths were told in a broad variety of contexts by a broad variety of people in ancient Greece. Unlike fairy tales and fables, Greek myths focus on specifically named individuals, such as Heracles and Athena, who interact with other such individuals across a span of different stories, creating a network of stories and characters. Although Greek myths explore many of the same plots and themes as other traditional tales, they were particularly interested in tales of heroes, metamorphosis, and love affairs between gods and human women. Ancient intellectuals interpreted myths as allegories or as distorted versions of real history. Modern scholars have used a variety of approaches to interpret Greek myths, most of which have been anchored in act of comparing them to the myths of other cultures: the ritualist approach, the structuralist approach, the psychoanalytical approach and narratological approaches. In the past few decades, there has been increasing interest in mythography and in the reception of Greek myths.