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FISCUS In the republican period there was only one public treasury, the Aerarium populi Romani, or Aerarium Saturni, as it was called. On the establishment of the imperial power, there was a division of government between the senate as the representative of the populus and the emperor, and in consequence there was a division of the different branches of the public revenue into two departments. The treasury of the senate retained the name of Aerarium, while that of the emperor received the name of Caesaris fiscus or Fiscus. Fiscus was the large basket in which the Aerarium and great banks kept money (Lex repet. 5.67, 68; Cic. Ver. 3.85, 197: cf. Mommsen, Staatsr. 2.958): in this sense it is opposed to the cista or chest in which private persons generally kept their money. Hence in the time of Augustus the word fiscus was applied to the central financial department of each branch (ratio) of imperial administration: thus we have the phrases fiscus Asiaticus (Orelli, Inscr. 2905), Gallicus (Henzen, 6651), Judaicus (Suet. Dom. 12), frumentarius (Orelli, 790), castrensis (Orelli, 2920), and so Suetonius opposes fisci in the plural to aerarium (Suet. Aug. 101); the word occurs in this sense as late as the time of Hadrian (C. I. L. 967). But the superior importance of the central imperial treasury led to the practice of appropriating the word fiscus to it. The first distinct use of fiscus in this sense is found in the writings of the younger Seneca (de Ben. 4.39, 3; 7.6, 3: cf. Juv. Sat. 4.54, “res fisci est” ): fiscus is thus commonly opposed by Tacitus to aerarium (e. g. Tac. Ann. 2.47, 48; 6.2 and 17). It is a question whether a central imperial treasury was established by Augustus, or whether it was not of later origin. Hirschfeld maintains that there is no evidence of the existence of such an institution under Augustus, but that there were only separate fisci at this time. He even thinks that there was no fiscus under Tiberius in spite of the language of Tacitus to the contrary, and attributes its establishment to Claudius. The common opinion, which we have adopted, is that the institution of a fiscus was an immediate consequence of the share in the government which Augustus undertook. It is true that the emperor's financial administration was not at first so centralised as it afterwards became, which is the explanation of the fisci ceasing in course of time to be mentioned.

The property of the fiscus was held by the emperor in his public capacity, to be employed for the benefit of the state. The law, however, made no distinction between the rights of the emperor over property intended for public uses and that which he held as a private person ( “Res fiscales quasi propriae et privatae principis sunt,” Ulp. Dig. 43, 8, 2.4: cf. Sen. de Ben. 7.6; Tac. Ann. 4.6, 15). Accordingly it passed with the inheritance of a deceased emperor to his heredes; and was at first administered by the emperor's freedmen and slaves, not by public officials: so, too, the emperor was under no legal duty to render an account of it, as would have been the case if it had been the property of the state. But as a matter of fact the administration of the fiscus was kept quite distinct from that of other imperial property, and was treated as public; accounts of it being published by some of the earlier emperors. Hence the res fisci are frequently opposed to the property which the emperor had acquired for his own use, either by title of inheritance (patrimonium principis) or by some other title (res privatae principis). Thus while the ownership of fiscal property was vested in the emperor, and not in the state, it was incumbent on him to make use of his rights over [p. 1.861]such property for the public good; and if his office had terminated, he might have been made responsible by law for failure of duty in this respect (cf. Tac. Ann. 13.14). In accordance with the system of personal government instituted by Augustus, the fiscus relieved the aerarium from many important public charges. At first the army and navy and the imperial provinces were its principal concern, but new burdens were gradually imposed on it, as of the city corn and water supply, of sacred and public buildings, of the banks and bed of the Tiber, the roads, bridges, and coinage (cf. Statius, 3.3). The income of the fiscus was derived from the provinces which were assigned to the emperor and from conquered territory, and especially from the land which he held in his own domain, which included Egypt. [PROVINCIA] The taxes of the senatorial provinces were also to some extent appropriated to the fiscus, and it was also augmented by contributions from the aerarium. Moreover sources of revenue were assigned to it which had previously belonged to the aerarium, as legata caduca by a constitution of Caracalla. (Ulp. Fragm. 17.2.) Gifts from Italian and provincial towns, penalties on account of frauds on the revenue, and forfeitures were also sources of its supply. The emperor frequently subsidised his treasury to a considerable extent from his own private property (cf. e. g. Tac. Ann. 15.18). The distinction between the fiscus and the aerarium became merely formal, as the republican treasury lost its independence. Augustus himself did not interfere with the constitution of the Aerarium populi Romani, but he created a special Aerarium militare to provide pensions for veterans, which was supported by the 5 per cent. succession duty (vicesima hereditatum), and the duty of 1 per cent. on sales (centesima rerum venalium). This subordinate treasury was administered by imperial officers called praefecti (D. C. 55.25). Claudius was the first emperor who assumed the right of nominating an officer to the Aerarium populi. Nero, A.D. 56, appointed two praefecti aerarii Saturni. From the time of this latter emperor the distinction between the two treasuries lost its political importance, although the formal consent of the senate to grants of money out of the aerarium was probably required till the time of Diocletian (Frontinus, de Aquaed. 115). So long as the formal distinction existed, the law relating to each might be expressed by the terms jus populi and jus fisci respectively, as it is in Paulus (Sent. Rec. 5.12). From the time of Diocletian the word fiscus signified generally the treasury of the state, the emperor having concentrated in himself the sovereign power; and so the word fiscus had the same wide signification as aerarium in the republican period: accordingly the two words are sometimes used in the Corpus Juris and in earlier writings as synonymous; fiscus is, however, frequently interpolated in the Digest for aerarium. The administration of the fiscus was similar in many respects to that of the aerarium. It was conducted by imperial officers, called successively procuratores a rationibus, rationales, and comites, who had numerous assistants--adjutores a rationibus, tabellarii, &c. Hadrian first appointed its chief officers from the Equites instead of from his freedmen, according to the previous practice. The fiscus was represented throughout the empire by its procuratores, whose duties were regulated by imperial mandates. Private persons were in the habit of giving information (nuntiationes) to the fiscal officers of forfeitures and other claims due to the fiscus, in order that they might obtain a reward. Actions to which the fiscus was a party were maintained by means of its procuratores. Under Augustus such actions were tried in the ordinary way by a magistratus and a judex, like other suits of the same kind between private persons (Tac. Ann. 4.7, 15; D. C. 57.23); but this subjection of the fiscus to the ordinary tribunals was not of long continuance. Tiberius in his later years began to remove fiscal causes from their cognisance, and by a senatusconsultum of Claudius jurisdiction over them was given to the imperial procuratores (Suet. Cl. 12; Tac. Ann. 12.60), though the governors of provinces also had a concurrent jurisdiction.. Each procurator probably had cognisance of the cases arising within his own department, and was competent to decide them himself, there being an appeal, however, to the emperor. Thus the consequence of this change was to exempt fiscal actions from the ordinary procedure of trial by judices, but the Emperor Nerva deprived the procuratores in Rome and Italy of their jurisdiction, and assigned it to a special praetor and judices. The office of praetor fiscalis does not seem to have been of long continuance. The fiscal procuratores had no power of inflicting fines or criminal punishments, or of taking cognisance of ordinary actions; but, as is shown by various imperial enactments and by notices of historians, they frequently paid little attention to these restrictions. Their arbitrary conduct is to be attributed, according to Mommsen, to the quasi-military position which they were allowed to maintain, soldiers being put at their disposal for the purpose of enabling them to enforce payment of taxes.

Hadrian instituted the office of advocatus or patronus fisci, whose duty was to act as counsel for the fiscus. An appointment of those who were to fill this office was made from the advocates attached to each court [ADVOCATUS]. Under Diocletian and his successors the fiscal procedure was altogether distinct from that of ordinary actions, the position of the emperor being changed. The fiscus, as the subject of certain rights, came to be legally regarded as a person, by virtue of the same fiction of law which gave a personal existence to corporations, and to the communities of cities and villages. But the fiscus on account of its relation to the emperor differed in many respects from other persons existing by fiction of law; and as an instance, it was never under any incapacity as to taking an hereditas, which, for a long time, was the case with corporations for the reason given by Ulpian. [COLLEGIUM]

The fiscus was privileged in various ways. Thus the rule applicable to the aerarium, that the time of usucapion or prescription did not run against it, was extended to the fiscus, and the claims of the fiscus had priority over those of other creditors. It was favoured, too, in being an exclusive right of acquiring certain things, and otherwise. The various ways in which property was acquired by the fiscus are enumerated in the Digest (49, 14, 1), many of which may be [p. 1.862]arranged under penalties and forfeitures. Thus, if a man was led to commit suicide, in consequence of having done some criminal act (flagitium), or if a man made counterfeit coin, his property was forfeited to the fiscus. Treasure trove (thesaurus) which was found in certain places was also subject to a claim on the part of the fiscus. (Dig. 49, 15; Cod. 10, 1; Cod. Theod. 10, 1; Paul. Sent. Rec. 5.12; Fragm. veteris jure Fisca, ” ap. Savigny, System, vol. ii.; Mommsen, Staatsr. 2.2, p. 957 ff., from which much of the information in the above article has been taken; Hirschfeld, Untersuchungen; Heimbach, art. Fiscus in Weiske's Rechtslexicon.

[G.L] [E.A.W]

hide References (13 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (13):
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.3.197
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 101
    • Tacitus, Annales, 12.60
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.47
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.48
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.15
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.7
    • Tacitus, Annales, 13.14
    • Tacitus, Annales, 15.18
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.6
    • Tacitus, Annales, 6.2
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 12
    • Suetonius, Domitianus, 12
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