November 6, 2009

History of Taxes, Part One: Taxation in Ancient Egypt

W. Marc Gilfillan

W. Marc Gilfillan, CPA, NC, individual and business CPA and Tax expert, shares about the history of taxes…

Ancient Egypt was not a land of cruel oppressors and oppressed slaves - that is only the stigma we get from the story of Moses, which formed at a time of turmoil in Egypt. Actual translations of hieroglyphics indicate that life in ancient Egypt was usually pleasant and peaceful. The land was fertile, women and men had roughly equal rights and life was enjoyed. But, there were tax collectors, as numerous as “the sands of the seas”. The order of Egyptian life was kept by these “scribes” who were charged with enforcing the pharaoh’s tax policies. Almost all aspects of life were taxed - sales, slaves, foreigners, imports, exports, and businesses. Crops were taxed at an astounding 20%. There was even a tax on cooking oil and scribes would make regular visits to kitchens to make sure that free drippings were not being used instead of the taxed oil.

The idea of “freedom” ironically in ancient times did not refer to one’s political or social liberty but to one’s tax status. If you were “free,” it meant that you paid no taxes. Ironically, the word can’t be found anywhere in the Egyptian language. Good thing we live in this time eh? Go here if you want help with modern-day Tax Preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll in Cary NC.

However, the scribes were not brutal (at least in theory). They were taught to be kind to the poor and defenseless. One ancient text instructs: “if a poor farmer is in arrears with his taxations, cut 2/3 of them.”

Another translation admonishes scribes to “cheer up everyone and to place them into good humor.”

And, if someone is struggling under the stress of taxation, or is at the end of his means to pay them, you must let the case go unchecked.” If you’re feeling the pressure with today’s taxes, call a Raleigh NC Accountant for all your tax-related needs!

This lenient policy was called “philanthropa”. From that we get the word philandthropy.

Over the 3000 years of the Egyptian empire, there were many times of humane and decent tax administration.

Keep an eye out for W. Marc Gilfillan’s next chapter in his History of Taxes series: Taxes and the Greeks.

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