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Here’s How The First Tax In History Was Born 5,000 Years Ago in Ancient Egypt

Around 3,000 BC, more than 5,000 years ago, taxation was introduced during the First Dynasty of Egypt.


Egypt was not only the first centralized state in the world; it also inaugurated one of the inescapable practices of citizens at all times and places: paying taxes. Since the fourth millennium B.C., small-scale tariffs were collected within the geographic limits of the predynastic kingdoms of Upper Egypt, such as Abydos, Nagada, and Hierakonpolis, which essentially places the origin of Taxation in predynastic Egyptian times.

The word labor in ancient Egyptian is a synonym for taxes.

Ancient Egypt is one of the civilizations I admire the most. Not only because of the magic that surrounds the entire history of Egypt, but because ancient Egypt is evidence that mankind has achieved great things in the past with limited resources. Thousands of years ago, the ancient Egyptian civilization rose to greatness, quickly becoming one of the pillars of history and modern society as we know it.

Egypt has it all.

Mainstream scholars tell us that it was during the third dynast that the first Egyptian pyramid was born when King Djoser commissioned the Step Pyramid complex at the Royal Necropolis at Saqqara. This is believed to have been some 4,700 years ago.

An aerial view of Djoser's Pyramid. Pinterest.
An aerial view of Djoser’s Pyramid. Pinterest.

Egyptologists believe the pyramid was completed in no more than 19 years, and the project was led by a man called Imhotep, who was Djoser’s young architect and royal Vizier. Imhotep would later–after more than one thousand years-be deified in ancient Egyptian society.

In addition to the mighty pyramids, Egypt has a plethora of temples and megalithic structures that arouse one’s imagination. How on Earth did they move such massive statutes and build so many temples in a relatively “short” period of time?

But Egypt is more than just pyramids, temples, and magnificent cities both for the dead and the living.

The ancient Egyptians were excellent astronomers, farmers, engineers, designers, doctors, and scientists in general. They were also great mathematicians.

This latter brings us to a curious subject; Taxation. Egyptians did not have coined money, so their taxes were levied on harvests and property.

Although not many people know this, the first known form or system of Taxation dates back to the land of pyramids, but long before these were even envisioned. Around 3,000 BC, more than 5,000 years ago, Taxation was introduced during the First Dynasty of Egypt. Although different from today, in the distant past, some 500 years ago, taxes were paid to the royal government in the form of goods.

As explained by the University of Pennsylvania Almanac, “merchants transporting goods from one region to another were subject to tolls, duty fees, and other taxes.” This, in turn, led to the appearance of smuggling, which was widespread even thousands of years ago.

An artists illustration showing Egyptian peasants seized for non-payment of taxes. (Pyramid Age). Image Credit: H. G Wells - The Outline of History (1920) p.199.
An artist’s illustration showing Egyptian peasants seized for non-payment of taxes. (Pyramid Age). Image Credit: H. G Wells – The Outline of History (1920) p.199.

With the emergence of a unified state throughout Egypt, the pharaohs founded a collection system that involved the entire country and was supported by a specialized bureaucracy. At first, the king himself was in charge of collecting or promoting it with his presence: he embarked with his fleet and traveled the Nile–from Abydos to Memphis.

The difficulties of the trip were reflected in the fact that at first, it was only done every two years.

Taking advantage of the presence of the sovereign, those entrusted with filling the treasury coffers, established in a department that existed at least since the First Dynasty, organized in each locality collection ceremonies called “the counting of the cattle.”

Their prominence was such that the account was kept for each reign and served as a chronological reference.

During the ancient empire, the court became more sedentary, and the collection took on an annual basis, at the same time that it was no longer linked to the periodic trip of the pharaoh along the Nile.

We have also discovered records of so-called granary receipts etched on limestone ales and written on papyrus that make reference to taxes.

Evidence of Taxation in ancient Egyptian times can be found in the Bible;

“But when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh. The other four-fifths you may keep as seed for the fields and as food for yourselves and your households and your children”.

I believe that it was this Taxation that helped in many ways establish a powerful kingdom and, by the Third Dynasty reign of Djoser, allowed the government to finance and successfully complete the revolutionary task of erecting the first stone pyramid in the history of Egypt. The sole existence of the pyramid tells us that by the Third dynasty reign of Djoser, the royal government of Egypt had dominant control over not only human but material resources as well.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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