Poll Tax Receipt


  1. Structure
  2. Format
  3. Layout

During the Roman period, all Egyptian households had to complete a [census declaration] every 14 years and this information formed the basis for the taxation of the population. Chief among these taxes was the poll-tax (λαογραφία) which was imposed on all male citizens from their 14th year. It is possible that this tax evolved from different forms of capitation tax imposed during the Ptolemaic period, and that the Roman administration applied them more ubiquitously and efficiently, see [Wallace 1938 : 116; Monson 2014 : 127-160].


It is likely that between each census there were updates made to the register of those liable for poll-tax, e.g. [316225 II CE, Arsinoite nome], an updated calculation of the number of men liable to the poll tax in the Narmouthis region [BGU XX 2862 : introduction : 144-146].


The poll-tax was collected by a tax collector (πράκτωρ) [17630 141 CE, Memphis; 15936 219 CE, Oxyrhynchus], or an associate (μετόχος πρακτώρων) [10900 186 CE, Theadelphia], who then issued a payment receipt. Payments may also have been made to a bank through an agent (χειριστής) as evidenced by orders to the χειριστής to issue receipts [13594 11 CE; 13503 24 CE, both Tebtunis]; on the latter agent and his role in the collection of taxes see [BGU XX 2851 : 93-97]. The amounts collected were then deposited by the tax collector at the bank and the strategos was informed of the amount [15032 205 CE, Ptolemais Euergetis].


Most poll-tax receipts were drawn up by the scribe as an objective statement [10901 194 CE, Euhemeria; 14374 181 CE, Tebtunis], but there are also some examples in letter form [45367 25 BCE-19 CE, Arsinoite nome; 957084 136 CE; 957085 136-137 CE, both Arsinoe; 14821 155 CE, Euhemeria]. Many more were written on ostraca.


Different rates were applied according to the status of the tax-payer and these varied through different nomes. The standard rate in the Arsinoite nome was 40 drachmas, e.g. [12893 200-211 CE, Theadelphia], but metropolites and those from the gymnasial class paid a reduced rate of 20 drachmas, e.g. [14573 95 CE, Ptolemais Euergetis]. In the Oxyrhynchite nome the standard rate may have been 16 drachmas and the privileged rate 12 drachmas - therefore not always half the standard rate [15936 219 CE, Oxyrhynchus]. On these rates and those in other nomes, see [Wallace 1938 : 126-133; Monson 2014 : 156 and note 139].


There were certain classes which were totally exempt from this tax: Roman citizens, citizens of Alexandria, some priests and some officials. Also exempted were sons chosen by their parents to support them in old age, victors in sports, and members of the museum in Alexandria [Wallace 1938 : 119-121].


As well as the poll-tax itself, these receipts also show an added surcharge of 10 drachmas, the προσδιαγραφόμενα. This has variously been described as a charge for writing costs, the cost of the transportation of the coin to Alexandria, or the cost of the exchange rate between different coinages, see [BGU XX 2853 : 123]. On the increase of the surcharge during the reign of Trajan from 1 dr. 1 obol to a rate of 10 dr., see [Sijpesteijn 1981 : 115-116].


The surviving receipts indicate that the poll-tax was paid either as the sole tax and surcharge (λαογραφία and προσδιαγραφόμενα), or included with a group of other minor taxes, together called the syntaximon (συντάξιμον), [Wallace 1938 : 123-125]. In the latter case, the poll-tax is paid along with the dyke tax (χωματικόν) [957518 231CE, Oxyrhynchus], pig tax (ὑική) [21895 102 CE, Oxyrhynchus], guard tax (φύλακτρον) [23544 189 CE, Memphis], or bath tax (φόρος βαλανείου) [16957 174 CE, Memphis], or a combination of these [13511 186-187 CE, Tebtunis]; see [Wallace 1938 : 140-159]. Other minor taxes are also found, e.g. weaver tax (γερδιακόν) [23898 157-158 CE, Hermopolis].


Receipts from the Arsinoite nome for the poll-tax at the privileged rate of 20 dr. and 10 dr. surcharge, indicate that payments could be made in instalments of 12 and 8 drachmas [9795 199 CE, Soknopaiuou Nesos]. Payment of the relatively high standard rate of 40 dr. in this nome could be made in monthly instalments [97147 135 CE, Karanis], [Wallace 1938 : 123, 126-127; Monson 2014 : 155].


Payments were credited to the stated month or, if made after the due date, to the previous month, as indictated by ἀριθμήσεως / εἰς ἀρίθμησιν [15050 178 CE, (for the same month), 15051 172 CE (for the previous month), both Soknopaiou Nesos; 16957; 14669 170 CE, Arsinoite nome], see [BGU XX 2851 : 98-111]. Some documents may show a poll-tax payment for more than one year [14546 184 CE, Ptolemais Euergetis (2 years); 13848 107 CE, Tebtunis (3 years)], or several taxes for more than one year [13511].


On poll-tax receipts see [Wallace 1938 : 116-134], [P.Mich. XV : no. 695, introduction : 21-23] and [Monson 2014]. For a recent overview of poll-tax receipts from the city of Memphis, see [Claytor 2022 : 121-133]. For a complete list of extant receipts at the privileged rate plus the surcharge (λαογραφία and προσδιαγραφόμενα), see most recently [BGU XX 2855 : introduction : 126-127] with a bibliography of previous lists and an update. To this list should now be added [957084 136 CE; 957085 136-137 CE; 12997 162 CE; 12998 162 CE; 13000 171 CE; 13001 202 CE, all Arsinoe].



Poll-tax receipts written as an objective statement open with a [date@start] written out in full [10435 166 CE, Ptolemais Euergetis]. Unusually, [11719 179 CE, Ptolemais Euergetis] has the date at the end of the receipt; sometimes there is no date [14371 II CE, Tebtunis]. The term [ἀριθμήσεως / εἰς ἀρίθμησιν] may be added just after the date, e.g. [12837 174 CE, Ptolemais Euergetis] Μεσορὴ ιβ, ἀριθμήσεως Ἐπείφ, indicating in this instance that the payment was made on the 12th of Μεσορή but is to be attributed to the previous month Ἐπείφ.


A statement is made confirming that payment has been made [διέγραψεν name <nom.>]N has paid’, with the patronymic, grandfather’s name and metronymic usually following; [15936 219 CE, Oxyrhynchus, διαγέγραφεν]. The verb is not always present [12998] [van Minnen 2020b : 83-87]. On some receipts the name of the tax collector, or the agent, is referred to [διέγραψεν to name <dat.> πράκτορι ἀργυρικῶ name <nom.>]N has paid to N the collector of money taxes’ e.g. [14638 141 CE, Memphis]; or [διέγραψε διὰ name <gen.> καὶ μετόχων πρακτόρων name <nom.>]N has paid through N and associates of the tax collector’ [10900].


The type of tax is stated [ὑπὲρ λαογραφίας] along with the year for which it is being paid, followed by the location (district or quarter) of the tax payer [12637 l.7, 165 CE, Ptolemais Hormou; 12998 l.7]. Sometimes ὑπέρ is omitted before λαογραφία, [P.Mich. XV : no. 756, : 29, 11n.]. At this point any other taxes included may also be mentioned [22842 192 CE, Memphis; 21895]. This is followed by the amount of tax, written in words, along with the surcharge.


Poll-tax receipts written in letter form open with the formal address [from name <nom.>] [office e.g. πράκτωρ] [to name <dat.>][χαίρειν] [957084]. The main statement has the verb ἔχω, e.g. [957084] [ἔχω παρὰ σοῦ] lit. ‘I have from you’, [14821 ἔσχον; 45367 ἀπέχω]. This is followed by the type of tax, the year to which it is credited, and the amount written in words. A [date@end] completes the receipt.



The receipts are often found written on sheets in pagina format with horizontal fibres [10437 182 CE, Ptolemais Euergetis; 13001]. They are also written on horizontally oriented sheets with horizontal fibres [19988 201 CE, Soknopaiou Nesos; 316217 187 CE, Ptolemais Euergetis] and on a squarish sheet with vertical fibres [14371]. Those carrying more than one receipt can make up a wide sheet [12835 (H. 9.5 x W. 34 cm) 141 CE, Ptolemais Euergetis; 13848 (H. 9 x W. 35.9 cm) 107 CE, Tebtunis]. In one example the scribe wrote the receipt on a particularly short and wide piece of papyrus [11843 (H. 4.5 x W. 18.5 cm) 172 CE, Soknopaiou Nesos].



Many of the surviving receipts from the Arsinoite nome have a distinctively written ἔτους with an enlarged epsilon at the beginning of the first line, the strokes of which extend over the following letters [12329 192 CE; 10437 182 CE; 14667 99 CE, all Ptolemais Euergetis], see [BGU XX 2853 : introduction: 120] and [Micucci 2020 : 301, 1n.]. This is often written in ekthesis to the rest of the text, which follows in a single block [15050], sometimes with the final line indented [12637]. Other examples do not have these features [15936]; and with the first line indented [14638].


The text is usually heavily abbreviated and very cursively written, often with only the variable details (i.e. name, date) more clearly distinguishable [10899 182 CE, Euhemeria; 12326 143 CE, Ptolemais Euergetis], see [Samuel 1977 : 128] and [P.Mich. XV : no. 695, introduction : 22, 7], [Sijpesteijn 1985 : 81].


There can be more than one receipt written out on the same sheet, uniformly displaying the same distinctive features [12835; 13848], see [P.Mich. XV : no. 756, introduction : 27-28]. Other examples with more than one receipt are less uniformly written [14546; 13675 243-244 CE, Herakleopolis (?)]. A single receipt may take up two columns [19988].


The large bottom margins on some papyri might indicate more receipts were to be added to the sheet e.g. [13697 161-166 CE, Memphis], see [P.Vind. Worp : no. 7 : 62]. Given that almost everyone will have needed a poll-tax receipt, there may well have been some mass production where the scribe prepared a row of receipts, and then cut each one. This is evidenced by more than one receipt on the same sheet, e.g. [13848], and by individual receipts with line-end fillers on the left-hand side, e.g. [316217].


How to Cite

Ferretti, L., Fogarty, S., Nury, E., Schubert, P. Description of Greek Documentary Papyri: Poll Tax Receipt. grammateus project. DOI: 10.26037/yareta:vldudaboebhzzab67s66uey6ii