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NWO grant for innovative research Paying for All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men: A Fiscal History of the Achaemenid Empire.

Kristin Kleber

Dr. Kristin Kleber (Languages and Cultures of the Ancient Near East in the first millennium BCE, VU) receives a grant to develop an innovative line of research and appoint one or more researchers.

Overall aim

“I intend to conduct a comparative study of Babylonian and Elamite texts to write a fiscal history of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550-330 BC). Babylonia and Iran (incl. Elam) are among the first regions where systematic taxation was developed in world history. This research thereby adds a (chronologically) first chapter to the relatively new discipline of fiscal history. Furthermore, the project aims to conduce to answering a longstanding question in ancient Near Eastern studies, namely how the Persians were able to govern their vast territory successfully. My research relates to current interdisciplinary debates on the impact of empires, and will also contribute to global labor history through an elaboration on major aspects of taxation, such as corvée (a labor obligation imposed as a form of taxation), the commodification of labor and the relationship between status and labor.”


“In ancient perception, the ‘Persian’ or ‘Achaemenid Empire’ (ca. 550-330 BC) was a ‘global’ state. With approximately square from its surface eight kilometers, Libya to of million stretching modern day Afghanistan, it contained half of the world’s population at its time. The diversity of local customs and institutions posed an unprecedented administrative challenge. Existing bureaucratic structures were harnessed to mobilize local resources in the transition phase (Jursa 2007; Wiesehöfer 2009: 70, 75; Kleber, forthcoming), but later kings strove to streamline the administration in order to create an effective and integrated empire. The system of revenue extraction, or ‘fiscal constitution’ of the Achaemenid Empire is currently viewed as that of a ‘tribute state’ (Bonney 1995; Bonney & Ormrod 1999, table 0.2; see now also Bang & Bayly 2011 for tributary empires). In an ideal model, the lion’s share of revenue of tribute states derives from the predatory exploitation of subjected territories. Yet, recent research (Van Driel 2002: 314ff.; Jursa 2009; 2011) has shown that the fiscal regime of Babylonia featured ‘more developed’ elements typical of ‘domain’- and ‘tax states’ which we encounter in medieval and early modern Europe.”