November 17, 2009
A Lesson from History About Taxation, Section Three: Taxation in Egypt and The Rosetta Stone
W. Marc Gilfillan, CPA, NC, individual and business CPA and Tax expert, shares about the history of taxes…
The Rosetta Stone, unearthed by Napoleon, was perhaps the absolute most eye-opening Egyptian archaeological discovery in history. The Stone had the same writing in 3 different languages: hieroglyphics, demotic (Egyptian script) and Greek. Using the Greek version, archaeologists could understand the demotic and then the hieroglyphs. But the query is sustained: Egyptians had paper, called papyrus, so why was the writing carved into stone? Also, why 3 languages? And why Greek?
The Stone has been around since 3000 B.C. The Rosetta Stone was etched in 200 B.C. during the reign of Ptolemy V (a king of Greek origins). So where did the Pharaohs go? At this time, Egypt was taken over in 700 B.C. by the Assyrians, after that the Persians, and eventually the Greeks in 330 B.C. After reigning 2000+ years, Egypt was finally declining.
The Ptolemy dynasty were for the most part decent kings, but around 200BC, when the Rosetta Stone was etched, Egypt had recently ended a decade long civil war. The internal struggle started because of exorbitant and oppressing taxes put in place by tough Greek tax collectors. As the war ended there was still much unrest. Ptolemy V put into a effect a Proclamation of Peace which granted general amnesty for any rebel and tax debtors, reigned in taxation practices, stopped forced draft into the navy, and reinstituted tax immunity to the priesthood, temples, and their crops and lands, as it had been in the reign of the ancient pharaohs. If you’re feeling the pressure with today’s taxes, call a Raleigh NC CPA for all your tax-related needs!
This was a great edge and monetary windfall for the priests and temples and they desired to make certain first all people knew it and, secondly, did not desire it to be thrown away again at a time in the future.
As a result, “Rosetta Stones” were carved and placed at the entrance of every temple in Egypt. The Rosetta stones proclaimed to all that tax exemption had been given to the priests and this temple and acted as a “Do Not Enter” sign to cease the lawlessness of the king’s tax collectors. Go here if you want help with modern-day Tax Preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll in Cary NC.
This still begs the question: why carved into stone? The answer? Because the priests wanted to make sure it would not fade in history or able to be easily destroyed. Another question was why write it in 3 languages? The Stone was created in three languages because everyone may read and follow the message the priests wanted to spread to everyone of the country. It was written in Greek to be crystal clear to the king’s tax collectors that they could not even go in the temple gates.
As a result of the most important Egyptian archaeological find ever, the stone translated the mysterious language of the Egyptians, made us capable of discovering the secrets of hieroglyphic writing and subsequently the secret to unlocking the mystery of ancient Egypt and the understanding of the Egyptian way of life for 3000 years was, in truth, a tax document.
Keep an eye out for W. Marc Gilfillan’s next chapter in his History of Taxes series: Taxes and The Colussus of Rhodes.