Gilles Bransbourg (ANS/ISAW)

"Taxation and inequality in the later Roman Empire"

Abstract: The Dioscorus and the Apion dossiers from 6th century CE Egypt represent a unparalleled opportunity to bring quantitative methods into the study of the Greco-Roman economies. With a combined total of more than a thousand chronologically overlapping documents from two different administrative regions, the material from these two dossiers sheds light on the micro-economic situation of large and small estates. This lecture leverages on many of these accounts—including some still unpublished—in order to reach estimates of the available agricultural surplus, its distribution between tenants, owners and state, their degree of economic rationality, and the evolution of the imperial taxation policy. Close examination of the documents provides an image of the ancient economy that contradicts familiar assumptions of stability: taxation evolved in response to political and military necessities, and economic actors had to adapt in order to thrive or at least survive in times of fiscal crisis. At the same time, the available evidence leads to a sense of provincial unity and of a surprisingly equitable and efficient implementation of tax processing in Egypt.