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DE´CUMAE (δεκάτη), tithes or tenths.


The Greek writers use the word δεκάτη somewhat loosely, applying it indiscriminately to a tithe of agricultural products and to any tax of 10 per cent. on incomes or commodities. In the heroic age the τεμένη or domain lands by which royalty was supported must unquestionably have paid rents in kind, but whether a fixed or a proportionate quantity of produce is not recorded. The statement that the kings also exacted a tithe (of their subjects' lands is meant, for the amount of rent was of course much higher on their own) is accepted with some qualification by Schömann (Antiq. 1.33, E. T.); but it rests only on a pretended letter of Pisistratus to Solon (ap. Diog. Laert, 1.53), which, as Grote with his strong common sense had already remarked, “ought not to be considered as proving anything” (ch. 30, 3.92 n.). Under the Spartan constitution the subject classes paid a fixed amount of corn and other produce, calculated on an average crop, the Helots to their masters, the Perioeci to the state (Müller, Dor. 3.3.1); so that all the risks of bad seasons fell upon the cultivators. Tithes were, however, exacted from very early times in the despotically governed East, by Persian satraps as by Turkish pashas at the present day; and in the age of the tyrants were doubtless not unusual in Greece. Cypselus vowed to dedicate the whole property of the Corinthians to Zeus if he made himself master of the city; in order to fulfil his vow without ruining them, he compelled them to make a return (ἀπογράψασθαι and took a tithe annually for ten years ([Aristot.] Oecon. 2.2). A tithe of corn at Cranon in Thessaly, of unknown date, is mentioned by Polyaenus (2.34). The particular instance of a tithe on the produce of the land (τῶν γιγνομένων) imposed by Pisistratus and reduced to an εἰκοστὴ by his sons is accepted by Boeckh and his recent editor Fränkel (P. E. p. 327=Sthh.3 1.398), as well as by historians, Grote only excepted. But, setting aside the spurious letter of Pisistratus already referred to, this statement appears to be a strained inference from the language of Thucydides (6.54). The latter says nothing about a δεκάτη: but the words he applies to the Pisistratids, εἰκοστὴν μόνον πρασσόμενοι τῶν γιγνομένων, have been almost uniformly explained (as by Arnold and Classen) of a halving of the tithe levied by Pisistratus himself. The tradition was, however, that the sons were more luxurious, and consequently more oppressive to the people, than their father (Grote, l.c.); and all probability is in favour of Caillemer's conjecture that Pisistratus had limited his exactions to the same amount. The word μόνον will then imply, not “as compared with their father,” but “as compared with tyrants in general.”

Republican feeling was, however, both at Athens and elsewhere, strongly against this form of taxation as applied to the lands of fully enfranchised citizens (Boeckh, l.c., and his general remarks at the beginning of Book iii.; Fränkel, n. 558). Thus Demosthenes declared that the Athenians had not won their glorious renown by “tithing themselves” (c. Androt. p. 617.77); where δεκατεύοντες may contain an allusion to the doubling of the εἰκοστὴ by Androtion's exactions, but, is undoubtedly used for excessive taxation in general (cf. Class. Rev. 1.150). Two other descriptions of tithe, among free Greeks, remain to be considered.

1. Tithes due to temples.

These were sometimes strictly voluntary offerings; thus the ἀπαρχαὶ or “first-fruits” might amount to a tithe, like the δεκατηφόροι ἀπαρχαὶ of Callimachus (Call. Del. 278) paid to the Delian Apollo by the Cyclades, and even by more distant countries. Again, a proprietor might charge his land in perpetuity with the payment of tithe to a specified temple, and by so doing he imparted to the whole estate a quasi sacred character, like that of church lands in modern times. This, as Caillemer has well pointed out, might be done from prudential motives, in order to place it under the shelter of religious sanctions in times of war and insecurity. The best known instance of this kind is that of Xenophon, who built a temple of Artemis on his estate at Scillus near Olympia, established a festival, and endowed it with the tithe of all produce, including game. He not only kept up the sacrifices during his lifetime (δεκατεύων . . . θυσίας ἐποίει), but by an inscription on a stele he bound all future occupiers of the estate to do the same “on pain of the displeasure of the goddess;” the whole transaction having been carried out under the advice of the Delphic oracle. The only sanction, it is clear, was the religious sentiment (Xen. Anab. 5.3, § § 9-13). An inscription found in Ithaca is identical with that given in the Anabasis, and shows that some reader of Xenophon in later times had followed his example in building a temple and endowing it with tithes.

But such tithes were not always voluntary, or binding on the conscience only; they were sometimes imposed as a badge of conquest. Thus at the time of the Persian war the confederate Greeks made a vow, by which all those who had joined the enemy without compulsion were condemned to pay tithes to the god of [p. 1.604]Delphi (Hdt. 7.132); and as the Thebans were the greatest offenders, the proverb arose ἐλπὶς ἦν δεκατευθῆναι τὰς Θήβας (Xen. Hell. 6.3, § 20; 5.35). At Athens, the δεκάται τῆς θεοῦ (Dem. c. Timocr. p. 738.120) comprised a tithe of the spoils of war (ib. p. 741.129; Lys. c. Polystrat. § 24); of certain fines, e. g. those imposed for the extirpation of olive-trees (Lex ap. Dem. c. Macart. p. 1074.71); and either of all or a large proportion of confiscated property, notably in cases of treason or κατάλυσις τοῦ δήμου (Lex ap. Andoc. de Myst. § 96; Xen. Hell. 1.7, § 10, the six generals after Arginusae; ib. § 20, the famous psephisma of Cannonus [cf. Grote, ch. 64, 5.524 n.]; Vit. X. Oratt. p. 834 a, the decree against Antiphon and Archeptolemus). Boeckh, to whom these details are due, adds that “the state of Athens owned the tithes of public demesnes, and let them in farm” (P. E. p. 328--Sthh.3 1.399): this statement, though passed without remark by his recent learned editor, we must venture to think erroneous. There is apparently a confusion between “rent” and “tithe.” In the earlier chapter on the rents of the state (book iii. ch. 2) he seems to imagine, as intermediate between private property which admittedly paid no tithe, and public property which of course paid a rent to the state, certain properties which paid a tithe by way of quit-rent, “probably because they had been originally public property” (P. E. p. 304=Sthh.3 1.373). That the state should have granted away its rights on such terms seems to us contrary to the simplicity of Attic land law, which knows no “emphyteutic” or “copyhold” tenures. When we come to examine the evidence on which Boeckh relies, we find that it is limited to a single inscription (C. I. G. 76=C. I. A. 32). This is one of those discussed in his Appendix: the words on which the question turns, καὶ τὰ ἐκ τῆς δεκάτης, ἐπειδὰν πραθῇ, he explains as “the proceeds of the tithe when it is sold (to the tax-farmers).” The δεκάτη the navigation of the Hellespont and Bosporus (Erpressungszoll von Byzanz) cannot, he justly argues, be intended: hence he is led to assume the existence of a tithe of which we have no further account (Sthh.3 2.44). It appears to us that the correct rendering of the above words is “the proceeds of the tithe, when they are sold,” and that the reference is to the tithe of confiscated property, sold by the Poletae [DEMIOPRATA].

2. Transit dues.

A δεκάτη or tenth of a different kind was the arbitrary exaction imposed by the Athenians on the cargoes of all ships sailing into or out of the Pontus. This is justly called by Boeckh “a mere extortion” (P. E. 323= Sthh.3 1.396); it was an incident of their maritime supremacy, with which it rose and fell. History first mentions it in B.C. 410 (Xen. Hell. 1.1, § 22); Caillemer infers from two inscriptions (C. I. A. 1.32 and 40) that it may have already existed in the early years of the Peloponnesian War: but these inscriptions most likely refer, as we have just seen, to another kind of δεκάτη. After Aegospotami this tax naturally came to an end; with the revived naval empire it was re-established by Thrasybulus about 390 (Xen. op. cit. 4.8, § § 27, 31); probably again lost by the peace of Antalcidas in 387 ; in the time of Demosthenes we find it again flourishing whenever Athenian commanders were strong enough to enforce it (c. Lept. p. 475.60; c. Aristocr. p. 679.177; c. Phorm. p. 917.34). A long time afterwards, B.C. 224, the Byzantines revived this claim, and so became involved in war with the Rhodians (Plb. 4.38 ff.). The tax was now called διαγώγιον (Plb. 4.52.5) or παραγώγιον (ib. 47.3); to compel passing ships to pay it is παραγωγιάζειν (ib. 44.4 [here Polybius mentions the Athenian practice under Alcibiades], 46.6). It may be observed that Xenophon speaks only of dues exacted from ships which came out of the Pontus, Polybius of those going to the Pontus; Boeckh rightly combines the two accounts, and concludes that the toll was levied in both directions.

These taxes, like many others, were farmed out by the Athenians: the contractors were called δεκατῶναι (Anaxil. ap. Poll. 9.29); the δεκατηλόγοι were probably collectors under them, as Demosthenes applies this name to the employés of Charidemus at Sestos (c. Aristocr. l.c.); the title δεκατευταὶ seems to have included both (Harpocrat., Etym. M., s. v.). These are to be distinguished from the πεντηκοστολόγοι and ἐλλιμενισταὶ of more legitimate import duties, though Schömann (Antiq. 1.450, E. T.) classes them together. The special customhouse for these tithes was δεκατευτήριον (Xen. Hell. 1.1, § 22): Fränkel rightly insists that there were no such places in Attica, where “tithes are scarcely mentioned” (n. 558). (Most of the above materials are in Boeckh; but in critical treatment Caillemer (ap. D. and S., s. v. Dekaté) is decidedly superior. The latter does not notice the titheable lands in Attica, inferred by Boeckh from the single inscription; and, it may be presumed, does not believe that they existed.)

(Appendix). We read of Pisistratus (Ἀθ. πολ. 100.16) ἐπράττετο γὰρ ἀπὸ τῶν γιγνομένων δεκάτην. This is direct evidence for the tithe. which has hitherto been merely inferred from Thuc. 6.54. The difficulty still remains, that the sons who levied only an εἰκοστὴ are always stated to have been more oppressive than their father. They may have lightened this particular tax, and levied others more burdensome.

2. Roman

The nature of the Roman state or domain land (ager publicus) has been fully explained under AGRARIAE LEGES (pp. 50, 51). We may here briefly repeat that these lands were the confiscated territory of conquered enemies; that they were dealt with in four different ways, either sold by the quaestor (agri quaestorii), granted in full (quiritarian) ownership to Roman citizens (agri dati adsignati), given back to their former proprietors (agri redditi), or lastly, retained in the ownership of the state as national property, but let to individuals in occupation (possessio), i.e. subject to a right of re-entry. On the three former classes of lad no rent was imposed: the last paid (or were supposed to pay) a rent called vectigal, and hence were known as agri vectigales. The facts that the ager publicus passed almost wholly into the hands of the patricians, and that the possessory owners, in spite of agrarian laws and Licinian rogations, practically succeeded in ousting the state from its proprietary rights, belong to the civil history of Rome, and need not be treated here: the legal aspects of these questions will be found under LEX LICINIA, SEMPRONIA, and THORIA.

What was the amount of the vectigal? Many modern writers, following Niebuhr (Hist. Rom. 2.138), say that it was a tenth, and consequently apply the name decumae to the (often withheld) rents of the ager publicus in Italy. But in fixing this amount Niebuhr seems to [p. 1.605]have been guided by the analogy of Eastern countries, especially of the Hebrews. His only direct authority is a passage of Appian (App. BC 1.7), already quoted at length under AGRARIAE LEGES (p. 52 b); and even this refers, not to the conquered lands in general, but to those which were uncultivated when taken over. Speaking of the same period, Plutarch calls the vectigal ᾿αποφορὰν οὐ πολλήη (Tib. Gracch. 8). Livy, in his many references to the early struggles for the enforcement of this rent, never once applies the term decumae to it: he only uses the word in the two senses which we shall notice further on. The same may be confidently asserted of the classical writers in general. There can be no doubt that the amount is really unknown; and Marquardt, while treating of the ager publicus and the vectigal, very judiciously passes this point over in silence (Staatsverw. 2.147-156). Further questions respecting this source of revenue will be treated under its proper title, VECTIGAL: see also SCRIPTURA

In the provinces the case was different. The Romans took over the tithes they found already existing in conquered countries; and we find the system at once applied to the earliest constituted provinces, Sicily, Sardinia (including Corsica), and the Hispaniae. In three successive years (B.C. 191-189), a double tithe (alterae decumae) was required from Sicily and Sardinia, and ordered to be sent to the seat of war in the East (Liv. 36.2; 37.2, 50). The second tenth was however paid for (frumenetum emptum: see below). On the other hand, Spain as a less fertile country, after a period of oppression by its Roman governors, was let off with a vicesima and otherwise eased of its burdens (B.C. 171, Liv. 43.2). Towards the end of the republic the system was so far modified, that we find the decumae eo nomine existing only in two provinces, Sicily and proconsular Asia. In these it took the place of the STIPENDIUM (Marquardt, Staatsverw. 2.181 ff.).

It was the legal doctrine that the dominium or ownership of all provincial land was in the Roman people, or, in the language of imperial times, in the Roman people or the Caesar (Gaius, Inst. 2.7; cf. Long's Cicero, vol. i. [Verrines], p. 273; Marquardt, Staatsverw. 2.177). On this was based the system of taxation concisely described by Cicero in his great speech de Frumento (in Verr. 3.6.12), and elucidated by Savigny (Verm. Schriften, 2.97, ap. Long l.c.). “All the provinces except Sicily,” says Cicero, “pay either a fixed land-tax (aut impositum est vectigal certum quod stipendiarium dicitur, ut Hispanis et plerisque Poenorum, quasi victoriae praemium ac poena belli) ; or variable duties, that is tenths or other quotas of produce, which last are let at Rome by the censors” (aut censoria locatio est, ut Asiae, lege Sempronia: in other words, the decumae of Asia, on which see below). “Sicily, on the other hand, has the following constitution: two civitates foederatae and five others sine foedere immunes ac liberae are tax-free; a few which have come under the Roman dominion by conquest, lost the ownership of their land, but received it back on condition of paying certain dues, which are let (that is, they have the same terms as other provinces); all the rest of the land is subject to the payment of decumae, yet so that the law of Hiero is observed.” These decumae were of wheat and barley, wine, oil, and fruges minutae, i.e. vegetables, among which beans are especially mentioned (Marquardt); they were paid in kind, and, like modern English tithes, were a burden on the land only, not on the person (in Verr. 3.86.199). The law of Hiero (lex Hieronica) is explained a little further on (6.14); the tithes of each city were to be let separately, at Syracuse and nowhere else, and the citizens were to have the option of bidding for them so as to keep their affairs in their own hands; they were let according to the estimates (professiones, 49.102) by the people themselves of the cultivated area of each territory. This law was dear to the Sicilians as inherited from a popular king ( § 15): it was fair both to the decumani, as the farmers of the tithe were called, and to the aratores who paid it (8.20). Just before the praetorship of Verres, i. e. in B.C. 74, an attempt had been made to transfer the lettings to Rome; but it had been successfully resisted, and no one except Verres had violated the lex Hieronica. Whatever corn was wanted in addition, was paid for by the state: this was, in the first place, the frumentum in cellam or frumentum aestimatum, for the support of the praetor and his officials (cohors), and for which money was granted him by way of “table allowance” (81.188 ff.); next, a second decuma if required by the senate or Roman people, of which we have seen examples (frumentum emptum, 70.163 ff.); lastly, if still further requisitions were made by the government, frumentum imperatum, for which a higher price was paid than for the emptum. From this last burden no cities were exempt (ibid.). All these had been perverted by Verres into engines of extortion. A single example will suffice; he began with an edict quantum decumanus edidisset aratorem sibi dare oportere, ut tantum orator decumano dare cogeretur (10.25). These decumani were the most important, in this province at least, of the publicani or farmers of the revenue; they had been in league with Verres in his acts of oppression, and had secretly agreed to destroy all compromising records (in Verr. 2.71.173). The temptation on both sides must be admitted to have been great, in the case of rulers less profligate than Verres. It was easier for the governor to share the illicit gains of the publicani than to resist them effectually at the risk of incurring their vengeance on laying down his office; and the state, under the senatorial régime, was powerless against the two combined. The imperial system was the only possible way to avert the ruin of the provinces.

The agrarian law of C. Gracchus, B.C. 123, the first legal provision for selling corn to the poor of Rome under cost price, had looked to the province of Asia as a main source of supply; and from that time till the year of Pharsalia (B.C. 48) that province paid decumae, with the difference however that the lettings were by the censors at Rome, not, as in Sicily, on the spot. Hence the phrase in Cicero already quoted, “censoria locatio est, ut Asiae, lege Sempronia” (in Verr. 3.6.12). The tithes of each city were let separately, and natives ( “Asiani,” ad Att. 1.17.9) might be bidders as well as Romans: Greek decumani met Cicero at Ephesus (ad Att. 5.13.1): Falcidius, perhaps a former [p. 1.606]tribunus militum and legatus (pro Lege Manil. 19.58), bought the fructus of Tralles for 900,000 sesterces, and was thought to have corruptly obtained a cheap bargain (pro Flacc. 37.91). It is an argument with Cicero for the “imperium Pompeii” against the pirates, B.C. 66, that Asia, naturally the richest of the provinces, had become unable to pay its decumae and other dues (pro Leg. Manil. 6, § § 14, 15). The exactions, after peace was restored, continued intolerable, and Cicero admits that the Roman taxation (scriptura, decumae, portorium) was hated like death (pro Flacc. 8.19; B.C. 59). At last Caesar, after his victory, “got rid of the publicani and changed the decumae into a stipendium” (τοὺς γοῦν τελώνας πικρότατά σφισι χρωμένους ἀπαλλάξας, ἐς φόρου συντέλειαν τὸ συμβαῖνον ἐκ τῶν τελῶν κατεστήσατο, D. C. 42.6). A little later, probably when the conquest of Egypt had opened up another great corn country, the decumae in Sicily were likewise abolished: Pliny (Plin. Nat. 3.91) calls most of the Sicilians stipendiarii (Marquardt, Staatsverw. 2.185; Humbert, ap. D. and S., s. v. Decumae).

At Rome, as in Greece, we find from a very early period tithes of the spoil dedicated to the gods after important victories. Camillus vowed a tenth of the spoil of Veii to the Pythian Apollo (Liv. 5.21, 23, 25). In later times ambitious men dedicated a tenth to Hercules, and spent the money in feasting the people as a means of acquiring popularity: Sulla did this after his triumph, Crassus after his consulship (Plut. Sull. 35; Crass. 2). Hence Herculanea pars, Hercules' share, is used as equivalent to a tenth part by Plautus (Truc. 2.7, 11; cf. Bacch. 4.4, 14; Stich. 1.3, 80). Cn. Aufidius Orestes carried his consulship in B.C. 71 by treating the people to luncheons (prandia) in the streets decumae nomine, on pretence of its being a tithe-offering (Cic. de Off. 2.1. 7, § 58, with Holden's note). The decuma of Hercules is often mentioned in inscriptions of the republican period, but in none later than Augustus (C. I. L. 1113, 1175, 1290, with Mommsen's remarks 1.149 ff.; Inscr. Regn. Neap. 3578, 5756 ; Varro, L. L. 6.54; Macr. 3.6.11; Marquardt, Staatsverw. 3.362).


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