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Paying for All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men – A Fiscal History of the Achaemenid Empire

The aim of this project is to find out how the Persian system of taxation and fiscal administration contributed to expanding and maintaining this huge empire.

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.

Funded by: NWO VIDI (2014-2019)
Budget: EUR 800,000

Dr. Kristin Kleber, PI

Mark Tamers MA (since September 2014)

Pieter Alkemade MA (from September 2015 onwards)

Post-doc (to be announced) (from fall 2015 onwards)

Dr. Wouter F.M. Henkelman
Dr. Margaretha Folmer
Prof. Dr. Bert van der Spek

Dr. Kristin Kleber

Prof. Dr. Bert van der Spek

Prof. Dr. Bas ter Haar Romeny


  • Kleber, K. (2015). “The Kassite Gold and the Post-Kassite Silver Standards Revisited”. In: K. Kleber, R. Pirngruber (Eds.), Silver, Money and Credit. A tribute to Robartus J. van der Spek on Occasion of his 65th Birthday on 18th September 2014. Leiden: PIHANS, 37-55.
  • Kleber, K. (in press). “Taxation in the Achaemenid Empire”. In: Oxford Handbook Online of Classical Studies.
  • Kleber, K. (in press). “Power Negotiation, Elite Management and Administration in Babylonia under Persian Rule”. In: B. Jacobs & W.F.M. Henkelman (Eds.), Die Verwaltung im Perserreich – Imperiale Muster und Strukturen. Festkolloquium zur 80-Jahr-Feier der Entdeckung des Festungsarchivs von Persepolis / The Administration of the Achaemenid Empire – Tracing the Imperial Signature. Celebratory Conference on the Occasion of the 80th Anniversary of the Discovery of the Persepolis Fortification Archive.
  • Tamerus, M. (2015). “Elusive Silver in the Achaemenid Heartland. Thoughts on the Presence and Use of Silver According to the Persepolis Fortification and Treasury Archives”. In: K. Kleber, R. Pirngruber (Eds.), Silver, Money and Credit. A tribute to Robartus J. van der Spek on Occasion of his 65th Birthday on 18th September 2014. Leiden: PIHANS, pp. 227-276.