- Compulsory contributions toward public services are a feature of all complex societies. Mesopotamia had two kinds of levies that could be imposed by the main institutional bodies: the temple, the state (see PALACES), or the city. First there were the contributions in labor (corvee duty) or armed service (military duty). Both are well attested since the third millennium B.C. The former could be seen as a legacy of previous social systems where maintenance tasks were performed collectively. Corvee workers were essential for highly labor-intensive jobs such as the clearing and dredging of canals and other irrigation installations, as well as the construction of city walls and public buildings. This workforce was primarily constituted of young men, and also formed the main contingent of fighters in case of military campaigns and for defense (see WARFARE).Taxes in kind levied by temples on their sharecroppers were generally a tenth of the yield (“tithe”). Temples were themselves subject to taxation to the state at times when there was a strong centralized government, as during the time of the Third Dynasty of Ur. That the city ruler could demand payments in silver for all kinds of professional activities is made clear in the royal inscriptions of Uruinimgina of Lagash from the 24th century B.C. He was at pains to reduce the exorbitant sums paid to officials for divorces, the brewing of beer, or the burial of the dead. In the Akkad period, King Naram-Sin introduced a country-wide taxation scheme in which contributions were levied on provinces (city-states) and collected at the capital for distribution. Tax was payable on crops, livestock, trade, and craft production. Payments in kind and in silver had to be accounted for, stored, and distributed as required. The administration of the tax system made considerable demands on the bureaucratic structure of the state. The detailed workings of the system can best be studied in the documents from the time of the Third Dynasty of Ur.During the Old Assyrian period, merchants doing business in Anatolia paid taxes to the city of Assur on leaving with their export goods (e.g., 10 percent on the textiles) and on arrival at Kanesh, the trade colony, where the tax payments were used for the maintenance of the colony.In the Neo-Assyrian empire, taxable services extended to any lucrative trade, and there were variable rates for different commodities. Tax collectors could be accompanied by soldiers, to enforce people’s contributions.Just as individual kings could invent new taxes and new sources of revenue, they could also reduce the tax burden and exempt temples or cities from payments. Such pronouncements are known from a number of rulers and usually as a reaction to massive rises of insolvency and debt slavery.See MESHARUM.
Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. EdwART. 2012.