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"The Skeleton of the State:" The Fiscal Politics of Pergamon, 188-133 B.C.E.

  • Author(s): Kaye, Noah
  • Advisor(s): Mackil, Emily
  • et al.

In 188 B.C.E., a Roman commission awarded most of Anatolia (Asia Minor) to the Attalid dynasty, a modest fiefdom based in the city of Pergamon. Immediately, the Roman commissioners evacuated along with their force of arms. Enforcement of the settlement, known as the Treaty of Apameia, was left to local beneficiaries, chiefly the Attalids, but also the island republic of Rhodes. The extraction of revenues and the judicious redistribution of resources were both key to the extension of Attalid control over the new territory and the maintenance of the empire. This dissertation is a study of the forms of taxation and public benefaction that characterized the late Attalid kingdom, a multiscalar state comprised of many small communities, most prominent among them, ancient cities on the Greek model of the polis. It argues that the dynasty's idiosyncratic choices about taxation and euergetism help explain the success of the Attalid imperial project. They aligned interests and created new collectivities. Civic values as much as royal interests determined the cultural categories within which taxation and redistribution took place. To a greater extent than Rhodes, the Attalids integrated and taxed their new subjects, no easy task in a world of flimsy bureaucracy and taxpayers who spoke of the taxman and the pirate in the same breath.

Previous research has explained the Attalid success in two divergent ways. Either the Attalids were fiscally predatory and manipulated civic institutions, or they were laissez-faire "constitutional monarchs." Neither picture accords well with the evidence, primarily inscriptions and coins. These documents reflect a social process of mutual implication in fiscal structures. This dissertation builds on models of the Hellenistic king as interactive with his subjects, and of the Greek city as capable of imposing ideological constraints on monarchs, but it advocates a new model for the Hellenistic kingdom that assigns a permanent, predictable, and rational role to the king in the economy of the city.

Part I explores royal acts of giving. Ch. 1 treats the Attalid habit of applying certain royal revenues for the provision of specific public goods in the cities where they were collected, the practice of "earmarking." I argue that earmarking arrangements were neither a form of sugarcoating the bitter pill of imperialism, nor simply the city's re-appropriation of what were in origin civic resources, but the end product of a social bargaining process. Negotiations over earmarking provided the Attalid king with an arena for the display of the virtue of providence (pronoia). They also necessitated frequent forays into the domain of private property. Ch. 2 examines Attalid patronage of civic gymnasia, which in its intensity distinguished the dynasty from its rivals in this period. I explain the Attalid preference for giving to the gymnasium by re-conceptualizing that institution in the political landscape of the city. While the Hellenistic gymnasium is often seen as a miniature version of the civic community, I draw attention to its autonomy, both institutional and ideological. This autonomy invited royal participation in the finances of the gymnasium. It also rendered the gymnasium a privileged site of negotiation between city and crown where kings, princes, and courtiers interacted with civic elites.

Part II presents the other, less generous side of Attalid political economy after Apameia: the extraction of revenues. Chapter 3 tells a story of wide-scale monetary change, since we now agree that the Attalids instituted their new coinage, the cistophori, after 188. Light weight and strangely decorated, the cistophori are one of the greatest puzzles of Greek numismatics. Against the common view that the production of these coins was highly centralized, I argue that a series of negotiations stands behind the successful imposition of the new monetary regime and that its responsibilities - and profits - were shared. Further, the cistophoric monetary system was not a closed currency zone. The Attalid kingdom operated on a ramified system, in which different currencies were required for different payments. Coinage helped to integrate economic microregions oriented in very different directions, and thus should be seen as integral to a process of state formation. Chapter 4 analyzes the fiscal system of the Attalids. It systematically reviews the evidence for the types of taxes, the personnel of tax collection, and tax rates. For direct taxation of agriculture, assessment by community was the norm, and negotiation over the annual rate seems to have been routine. Military settlers (cleruchs), on the other hand, paid individually on allotments granted by royal authority. Their taxes were a mixed liability of cash and kind, the mixed-phoros regime known in Anatolia since the Achaemenids. Direct taxation of persons, typically those living in non-polis communities, was irregular. The bulk of our evidence for indirect taxation points to a focus on customs dues and usage taxes levied on different parts of the royal patrimony, such as coastal lagoons, saltpans, mines, and royal forests. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Attalids did not employ tax farmers directly, but relied on the subject communities to collect royal taxes as they wished. In this, as in many other respects, continuity with the earlier Seleukid kingdom is evident. Under the pressure of a highly competitive interstate political system, the Attalids pursued greater revenues. Yet royal fiscality always remained a calque on civic: it did not create new categories of taxation, and civic fiscality survived the encounter intact. Generally, fiscal intensification was pursued through indirect taxation. The Attalids aimed to capture revenue on goods moving between the different fiscal zones of Anatolia. To this end, they built up what is described as an infrastructure of surveillance.

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