Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Ancient Greek Wealth Taxes

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Ancient Greek Wealth Taxes

Article excerpt

Credit: Peter Jones

After 685 tightly argued pages, the 'superstar' economist Thomas Piketty unfolds his master-plan for closing the gap between the rich and poor: you take money away from the rich. Novel. Ancient Greeks realised you had to try a little harder.

The culture of benefaction was deeply rooted in Greek society, even more so when the Romans made Greece a province in the 2nd century BC and removed their direct power of taxation. The quid pro quo lay in the prospect of eternal honour for the donors. The services which the wealthy provided for the city included paying for baths, gymnasia and food supply. Where harbour facilities and commercial districts needed renewal, they would stump up. As for festivals and games, they would provide animals for sacrifice, prizes for competitions and banquets to celebrate the winners, with stars of the acting and musical worlds to entertain the crowds.

Here is Mendora, from the unknown Greek city of Sillyon. She was one of a group of ten rich citizens who met any shortfall in the collection of the city's tax liabilities. …

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