Weird History

Taxes That Changed World History  

Aaron Edwards
55.3k views 12 items

As the saying goes, there's only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Taxes have been around for thousands of years and aren't going away any time soon, so it's no surprise they've helped shape world events. The most important taxes, the taxes that changed world history, weren't always epic price gouges on fundamental commodities, but rather new taxes, or those implemented in less-than-favorable conditions. It might shock you to hear there wasn't always something called a sales tax.

Lest we forget, taxes are important. Without them, governments couldn't function. The best leaders know how to impose taxes without upsetting anyone. When implemented correctly, new taxes can successfully fund programs that make governments the people's champion. If implemented incorrectly, there might be a revolution.  

So, if you're still pissed about what you had to pay this year, check out how they used to do it in the old days. You might be surprised by what you find. 
The Agricultural Tax is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Taxes That Changed World History
Photo:  jarekgrafik/Pixabay/CC0 1.0
The Agricultural Tax

Why it's important: It's pretty much the first tax in recorded history and set the standard for the practice for the rest of history. 

Ancient Egypt functioned on a barter economy, which made it difficult to calculate taxes. The solution was to tax harvests and property, which was relatively easy to do with farmers - measure the size of the field and the average yield of crop, then count livestock and any other assets. For non-farmers, the government taxed villages collectively. Ancient Egypt didn't have minted money, and so taxes were collected as grain or labor
The Land Tax is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Taxes That Changed World History
Photo:  Laika ac/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0
The Land Tax

Why it's important: It was the basis of the Chinese government's revenue for most of recorded history.

For thousands of years, China taxed its peasants based on the amount of land they owned. After all, back then, more land meant more crops, and thus more income. This system predates the Roman Empire - it began in the 6th century BCE. Even after the various political revolutions in the 20th Century, the land tax remained intact. It was abolished in 2006, as a result of China's move to a predominantly industrial tax base. 
The Sales Tax is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Taxes That Changed World History
Photo: Gautier Poupeau/Creative Commons
The Sales Tax

Why it's important: It introduced a tax practice that's still in use, and sucked money out of lives of millions of people since its introduction. Unless you live in Delaware, of course. 

Julius Caesar's reign was marked by numerous innovations, including the implementation of the Julian calendar, still in use today. Julius also implemented the world's first sales tax, which he levied at 1%. Caesar Augustus later raised the sales tax on slaves to 4%, though kept it at 1% for all other transactions. 
Caesar Augustus' Roman Tax... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Taxes That Changed World History
Photo:  ysy1104/Pixabay/CC0 1.0
Caesar Augustus' Roman Tax Reforms

Why it's important: It streamlined the Roman bureaucracy, which strengthened the Empire's infrastructure, allowing it to endure for hundreds of more years. Several of the polices are still used today.  

Octavian, later known as Ceasar Augustus, demonstrated his political genius from an early age. Upon taking control of the Roman Empire, he completely reformed tax collection. Previous to Caesar Augustus, dedicated tax collectors gathered money from Roman citizens. The widespread corruption of that system led Augustus to remove the middleman and put the responsibility of tax collection directly in the hands of regional governors. He also created an inheritance tax, which has been used in other countries over the centuries.