Roman Taxation & Monetary Production:
The Case of the Provincia Asia in the First Century BC
Was Roman taxation the main cause for the financial crisis of Asian cities in the course of the first century BC? Was there a correlation between taxation and monetary production? The numerous attempts to examine the nature of Roman taxation in Asia have not grappled seriously with evidence deriving from the ubiquitous evidence of coinage that has still to be assimilated into an inquiry into the transition in structures of power in the region. The complex nature of Roman rule in Asia Minor and its impact on the economic structures of the province could be satisfactorily analyzed only through the interaction between coinage, epigraphic evidence and literary sources. Through the analysis of the production and of the circulation patterns of late and later Republican cistophori, the reduced standard tetradrachm issued in the Provincia Asia between 128 and 48 BC, this paper aims to offer a new perspective on the impact of Roman domination and of the societates publicanorum on this province, defined by Cicero as one of the richest of the Roman Empire.
The societates publicanorum were entrusted with the collection of Asian decuma through the Lex Sempronia C. Gracchi de provincia Asia (123 -122 BC), but were deprived of this privilege first by Sulla and then, in a definitive way, by Caesar in 49 BC. The cities were then delegated the collection of provincial tributes on behalf of the Roman power. The terrible financial situation of Asian cities, their inopia nummorum, was the one that convinced Caesar of the necessity of excluding the publicans from the exaction of the tributes in the province.
However, taxes seemed to have been fairly low. In times of peace, Rome extracted from Asia the decuma, plus other direct taxes (vectigalia), such as scriptura and portorium.1 The tax extraction therefore amounted to a flat ten percent of the revenues of the province, plus the amounts due for other taxes. François Kirbihler evaluates the annual tribute exacted by Rome from Asia to have been between 2,400 and 3,000 talents of silver before the Caesarian reform of 48/47 BC, suggesting that the annual net worth of the province’s production amounted to between 24,000 and 30,000 talents.2 It is therefore necessary to investigate the relevance of the taxes ordinarily levied and the causes for the debt crisis that affected this area in the first century BC. The study of the cistophoric coinage issued in these years will then represent a privileged heuristic tool.
1 For a summary with bibliography of taxes exacted from Asia, see David Hollander, Money in the Late Roman Republic (Boston and Leiden: Brill, 2012), 91. Decuma: App. BC 5.4. Cic. Leg. Man.15. Scriptura: Cic. Leg. Man.15. Vectigal: Cic. Verr.II 1.89, 3.27; Ad Q. Fr. 1.1.26.; Leg. Man.15. Portorium: Cic. Att. 2.16; Leg. Man.15. For the relationship between portorium and financial administration in the Provincia Asia, see Mireille Corbier, “The Lex Portorii Asiae and Financial Administration,” in The Customs Law of Asia, ed. Michel Cottier, Mireille Corbier, et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 202-31.
2 François Kirbihler, “Brutus et Cassius et les impositions, spoliations et Confiscations en Asie Mineure durant les Guerres Civiles (44-42 a.C.),” in Spolier et confisquer dans les mondes grec et romain, ed. Marie-Claire Ferriès and Fabrice Delrieux (Chamberry: Éditions de l’Université Savoie Mont Blanc, 2013), 345–67 (with bibliography). For a quite recent discussion of the taxation system in the Republican Provincia Asia, see Kyle McLeister, Publicani in the Principate (Ph.D. Thesis: McMaster University, 2016), with bibliography.
Coming Autumn 2019.