5

I suddenly realized that I don't know how to translate the English word "tax" to Latin. What would be the best Latin word for "tax(es)" in the sense of income (salary) taxation in the modern world? I found some possible words, the best ones being vectigal, stipendium, tributum, and exactio, but each one of them seems to have a number of other meanings, too. I am not familiar enough with the Roman taxation system to tell what would be a good fit. A classical word would be great — as always — but it is perfectly fine if the word is a later coinage or obtained its meaning later.

Side question: Is there a way I could have found an answer in an online Latin dictionary? I could find a list of words translated to "tax", but most of them are far from what I want, and the English translations given by L&S are somewhat discouraging. I imagine a good translation for "tax(es)" should be easier to find than what I went through.

  • @Palizsche Good! Can you (or someone else) pick suggestions in the Lexicon for an answer? That'd be great. I can give it a shot later if no one else wants to do it, but I don't have time soon. – Joonas Ilmavirta May 14 '17 at 7:12
  • 3
    You can see several suggestions for income tax in David Morgan's Lexicon (archive.org/stream/TheLexiconAnglumEtLatinumByDavidMorgan/…) – user1466 May 14 '17 at 7:13
  • 1
    sorry i deleted my original comment by mistake. I was going to add the suggestions there. Here they are: "tributum generale redituum", "tributum manupretii" and "vectigal pro reditu". Maybe someone else can do the official answer. – user1466 May 14 '17 at 7:18
3

I have decided to undertake the quest of expanding upon the entries found in the Morgan and Silva University Lexicon, as per Palizche's comment on the question. There are three results in this dictionary for "income tax":

  1. tributum generale redituum- "a common tax of revenue" originally from Helfer
  2. tributum manupretii- "a tax of wages" originally from Helfer as well
  3. vectigal pro reditu- "a tax for revenue" originally from Levine

Now, I'm not here to debate the quality of the sources, as I do not feel qualified to comment on this. It is important to note however, that the MSUL is a compilation of definitions from various, more modern sources for modern terms. These definitions are from the second part of the lexicon, called the Adumbratio, which means they aren't necessary classical idioms, simply put, but they are still worth looking at. I will instead analyze the translations for how close they are to the English definition.

So, right off the bat, I prefer the second translation. Both the first and third translation use a word that means "revenue." It can also mean "income," but take a look at the literal translation of reditum: "that which must go back/again." This may seem odd, but to me it suggests a closer tie to revenue, as revenue is money given back to the seller in exchange for a product or service. Income, however, is different, in that it usually refers to money given in exchange for labor, however it can have a more loose definition. Compare these English definitions for the two terms (revenue and income):

Revenue- income, especially when of a company or organization and of a substantial nature Income- money received, especially on a regular basis, for work or through investments

These definitions again show that revenue is more applicable to companies and the money they make for selling products or services, and income is more applicable to money received in exchange for work. Manupretium means wages, hire, or reward. An income tax is defined in English thusly:

tax levied by a government directly on income, especially an annual tax on personal income

Knowing the definition of income, this is a tax on wages. This is why I believe that the second translation is the best. Finally, to further put the nail in the coffin for the other two, "general" implies that the tax applies to everyone evenly, which, at least in the United States and most countries, not everyone pays an income tax at all or at the same rate as others. I also personally dislike the use of pro in the third definition as it somewhat implies the tax is for generating revenue in one interpretation. This is what taxes are for, but in that context it could be any type of tax really.


Again, the word reditum can mean tax, but I believe it closer means revenue. A tax on revenue could be a sales tax , which itself has its own MSUL definitions, or a corporate tax, which I have given my own translation for because there is not one in the MSUL.

  1. Sales tax = venalicium, tributum consumptionis, vectigal rerum venalium
  2. Corporate tax = tributum societatium

In summary, an "income tax" can be translated as tributum manupretii.

  • Many thanks for the detailed discussion! Based on this, I would call salary or income manupretium, income tax tributum manupretii, and tax when income context is clear simply tributum. For other forms of taxation I might have to use a different word, apparently. – Joonas Ilmavirta May 15 '17 at 1:46
  • @JoonasIlmavirta That would be correct! And I also forgot to draw the connection between the roots of manupretium (manu = hand and pretium = price), which basically means "the price of hands," i.e. the price of labor, or wages! – Sam K May 15 '17 at 2:33
3

Several dictionaries refer to the start of Suetonius's biography of Vespasian (Book 1), where he comments about the future emperor's grandfather :

. . . . . deinde venia et missione impetrata coactiones argentarias factitavit.

Given that Vespasian himself, in order to replenish the treasury as rapidly as possible, was notoriously keen on taxing anything and everything that he could (cf. the non olet story about the tax on public lavatories, which the French still occasionally call vespasiennes), it seems quite appropriate to adopt Suetonius's phrase coactio argentaria for the grandfather's earlier exactions.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.