Rule and Revenue in Egypt and Rome: Political Stability and Fiscal Institutions
Historical Social Research, Vol. 32 — 2007 — No. 4, 252-274
This paper investigates what determines fiscal institutions and the burden of taxation using a case study from ancient history. It evaluates Levi’s model of taxation in the Roman Republic, according to which rulers’ high discount rates in periods of political instability encour-age them to adopt a more predatory fiscal regime. The evidence for fiscal reform in the transition from the Republic to the Principate seems to support her hypothesis but re- mains a matter of debate among historians. Egypt’s transition from a Hellenistic kingdom to a Roman province under the Principate provides an analogous case for which there are better data. The Egyptian evidence shows a correlation between rulers’ discount rates and fiscal regimes that is consistent with Levi’s hypothesis.
Explicit rational choice models are lacking in studies of Greek and Roman political history with few exceptions (Quillin 2002; 2004). Most ancient historians avoid discussing the underlying behavioral assumptions of politics and opening them to criticism or potential falsification. Often the impetus for theoretical debate has to come from social scientists willing to venture into ancient history.