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Patterns in Anti-Fiscal Revolts of the Julio-Claudian Period

Jared Kreiner

University of Chicago

Anti-fiscal revolts in the Julio-Claudian period helped shape the Roman forms of governance recognizable today. To date, scholarship has focused on the levels and nature of the tax burden, and the acts of predation carried out by Rome’s agents in the field (Bang 2012, 2013; Corbier 1988; Dyson 1971, 1975; France 2009; Hopkins 1980; Hurlet 2017; Jones 1974). Despite the frequency of debt and tax burdens being cited as causes of unrest and revolt in the primary sources (cases under review: Str. 17.1.53- 29BCE Thebaïd Revolt; Cass. Dio 54.36.2- 10BCE Dalmatian Revolt; Cass. Dio 55.29.1, 56.16.3- 6-9CE Great Illyrian Revolt; Cass. Dio 56.18.3-4- 9CE Varian Disaster; Tac. Ann. 1.76- 15CE Achaia and Macedonia; Tac. Ann. 2.42- 17CE Syria and Judaea; Tac. Ann. 3.40- 21CE Revolt of Sacrovir and Florus; Tac. Ann. 4.72- 28CE Frisian Revolt; Tac. Ann. 12.62-3- 53CE Byzantium; Cass. Dio 62.3- 60CE Boudica Revolt), there is no evidence that Roman taxation levels were higher than those of previous regimes (e.g. Jones 1974). In this paper, I investigate the regional and global contexts surrounding these complaints and revolts against tax burdens. In doing so, three discernable patterns emerge across this period. The first is the specific mention of tribute as the issue for discontent in six episodes. While this may be taken as evidence for those who claim that tribute rates were high or oppressive in nature, the greater context reveals that the situation was more nuanced and that there are two separate types of tribute complaints: resistance to the very act of taxes being imposed upon communities, namely by those recently annexed and still resisting Roman rule (Theban Revolt, Varian Disaster, and possibly the Dalmatian Revolt), and issues with the rate of tribute or the continuous imposition of tribute and its attendant side-effects like debt (Florus and Sacrovir Revolt, Great Illyrian Revolt, and the Frisian Revolt). Five episodes reveal a second pattern, which concerns the weight of burdens levied on provincials more generally. Three of these five are embassies to the Senate seeking reductions in their communities’ overall burdens: Achaia and Macedonia, Judaea and Syria, and Byzantium. The other two episodes are major revolts partially against the weight of burdens (Boudica Revolt and possibly the Great Illyrian Revolt). Based on the wider contexts of this second pattern of episodes, burdens here are considered as exactions in a broader sense, which may include tribute among them, but also the cost of administration (Tac. Ann. 1.76), conscription, and ad-hoc impositions such as requisitions, conscription, and emergency levies. Finally, a major pattern reveals that seven episodes of fiscal complaints are related to recent or current wars in their region. The Dalmatian Revolt broke out during the Pannonian Wars (12-9BCE). Rome’s lengthy campaigns across the Rhine, 12BCE- 16CE, are in many ways related to the issues that brought about the revolt of Florus and Sacrovir (21CE). Byzantium had been exhausted by 53CE because of their support in Rome’s recent wars in Thrace and the Bosporus. Suetonius Paulinus was campaigning in northwestern Wales when the Boudica Revolt broke out (60CE). The Great Illyrian Revolt erupted while Rome was campaigning against Maroboduus in modern-day Bohemia (6-9CE). Just as that revolt was ending Arminius led his rebels in the Varian Disaster in Germania (9CE). Achaia and Macedonia’s complaints in their embassy to Rome in 15CE may also have been related to the significant impact that the Great Illyrian Revolt had on regions near and far, in the same way that Arminius and his followers had been impacted by the revolt.

As the result of the clear link found from the ten cases reviewed here between recent or on-going warfare in neighboring regions and imperial exactions over-burdening provincials, both taxes and ad-hoc impositions, I conclude my paper with how warfare specifically can unintentionally create higher burden levels, or at least the perception of higher burden levels, for those communities near the frontline.

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