Since today is April 15, Tax Day, I thought it might be appropriate to blog about taxes, especially in relationship to the ancient world. Taxes, of course, are not modern phenomena. The extraction of funds from the general public for use by the state (or elites) has a long history. One specific tax related to the ancient Mediterranean world and the first century was the Fiscus Judaicus. For an excellent overview of this tax and its implication in the first century, see the recent dissertation from Rijksuniversiteit Groningen by Marius Heemstra, How Rome’s Administration of the Fiscus Judaicus Accelerated the Parting of the Ways Between Judaism and Christianity: Rereading 1 Peter, Revelation, The Letter to the Hebrews and the Gospel of John in Their Roman And Jewish Contexts (2009). This dissertation has a fascinating thesis and is quite well done. (We presented papers in the same section of the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting last year in New Orleans).
The Fiscus Judaicus was the tax levied by Vespasian after the Judean War and the destruction of the Temple (Josephus, Jewish War, 7.218). This tax in essence replaced the Temple tax. The money collected for this tax, ironically, helped reconstruct the temple of Jupiter in Rome which had been destroyed in the civil war of AD 69. One can only image the chagrin of the Judeans who were force to pay this tax. One of the differences between the Temple tax and the Fiscus Judaicus is that the Temple tax was only required of Judean men while the Fiscus Judaicus taxed men, women, children, and even Judean slaves.
This Temple tax consisted of a half shekel (or the equivalent, two Roman denarii or two Attic drachmas). The Fiscus Judaicus tax, while based on the Temple tax, varied over the years.
This tax continued into the time period of Emperor Nerva at which point it was abolished (AD 96). This event was of such importance it was commemorated on a coin minted in Rome. See below.
The inscription on the reverse is FISCI IVDAICI CALVMNIA SVBLATA which translates as “the removal of the wrongful accusation of the Fiscus Judaicus.” Note the date palm tree; a typical symbol used for Judea.