The Early Byzantine Tax System in the Light of Selected Hagiographic Texts

Author: Ireneusz Milewski


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The text contains an analysis of accounts concerning taxation loads laid on the inhabitants of eastern provinces, as found in selected Early Byzantine hagiographic texts. Although the texts have questionable cognitive value and the events written therein may even be fictional (including the cited tax levels), yet they are used in research on Roman economy and society at the end of Antiquity. Two of the analysed accounts (Historia religiosa by Theodoretus of Cyrhus and Apophthegmata Patrum) refer to the insolvency of tax payers. In such cases, the leaders of local communities (we often see famous monks, but hardly ever secular priests, in such roles) would sometimes travel to the capital in order to ask the imperial court for a partial tax relief, for prolongation of the payment deadline or even for a total tax remission. Thus we read in the analysed records about overdue taxes burdening the coloni (tenant farmers) or about the poll tax borne by hermits and monks, who in the 5th century were still considered secular people by the law makers (hence the aversion of local tax collectors to granting them tax immunities). The last record analysed, an account by Cyril of Scythopolis (Vitae monachorum Palaestinae), refers to actions undertaken to annul the tax arrears due from Palestine, which was in ruins at the time as a result of the Samaritan uprising (529-530).


late antiquity, late antique and early Byzantine economy, money, taxes, early Byzantine hagiography