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Publicāni

A name given by the Romans to those who did business with the State, by becoming contractors for public buildings and for supplies, and to farmers of public lands (see Ager Publicus), especially those who farmed the public taxes (vectigalia) for a certain time on payment of a fixed sum. In Rome, as indeed throughout the ancient world (see Telones), the collection of taxes was not made by paid officials, but by farmers of taxes, who belonged to the equestrian order, as the senators were excluded from such business. The farmers of taxes, by the immense profits which they made, became a politically powerful class of capitalists. As the various taxes in the different provinces were let out as a whole by the censors, jointstock companies were formed, societates publicanorum, whose members received a proportionate return for their invested capital. (See Provincia.) One member, the manceps, made a tender at the public auction, concluded the contract with the censors, and gave the necessary security. The duration of the contract was a lustrum—i. e. the period between one censorship and another; in imperial times always five years. It began on the 15th of March.

The general superintendence was given to a magister societatis in Rome, who vacated office every year; the management of details was in the hands of numerous officials. According to the amount of the taxes farmed, the publicani received special names. The highest class, decumani, were the farmers of the decuma, the tenth part of the produce of the agricultural lands which had been taken from the old possessors. The pecuarii or scripturarii were the farmers of the scriptura, the tax levied for the use of the State pastures. The conductorcs portoriorum were the farmers of the portoria, the import and export dues, etc. In order to make the greatest possible gain, the publicani were guilty of the most grievous oppression of the provincials, whose only hope of relief lay in the governor, who was rarely able to help them for fear of these influential societies. Under the Empire the position of the provincials was improved; for the emperor, as the governorin-chief of all the provinces, heard the final appeal in the case of any grievances. In imperial times the decumani ceased to exist, and the letting out of taxes was intrusted to the official boards especially concerned with them. See Vectigalia.

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