The project investigates structures of taxation and administration in one of the first world empires, the Achaemenid or First Persian Empire (ca. 550-330 BC). In ancient perception, this empire was a ‘global’ state. With its surface of approximately eight million square kilometres, stretching from Libya to modern day Afghanistan, it contained half of the world’s population at its time. The diversity of local customs and institutions posed an unprecedented administrative challenge. Administration and finances are the key issues of empire building.
Until recently Herodotus was used as the prime source for information on taxes in the Persian Empire, but we clearly see that he neglects the most important features of the Achaemenid system of taxation which was far more complex. We are now in the fortunate position to have a large number of cuneiform administrative and legal texts at our disposal that allow us to gain insights into taxation and (fiscal) administration from a local perspective. Most of our sources come from the two core regions Iran and Babylonia. The archives are roughly contemporaneous but have so far not been studied together. In addition, we will organize a workshop to which scholars working in the field of Aramaic will contribute their insights derived from papyri, parchments and ostraca.
The research team will address various questions in detail, such as whether tax reforms were measures to streamline the fiscal system throughout the diverse empire, whether the Persian administration of Persepolis served as a model for the empire as a whole, or whether the Babylonian insurrection in 484 BC was a response to the changes in (fiscal) administrative structures and overtaxation of the Babylonian elite.
Our aim is to achieve a new understanding of taxation, administration and the spending pattern of the Persian Empire.