At the start of the fifth century B.C., Athens had recourse to the imposition of direct taxation, the so-called eisphora, in an emergency, mainly in wartime, once funds in the state treasury were not sufficient to cover essential expenses.
This measure was not entirely a new one. There had been financial donations in the sixth century too: they were collected from the four naukrariai, and were imposed only in wartime.
The Athenians very probably had recourse to the imposition of eisphora after Xerxes invaded Hellenic territory. But a large quantity of spoils was collected from the Persian Wars and treasures came in to the Treasury of the League; this ensured that Athens would not be under the necessity of imposing the eisphora again, except during the Pentecontaetia.

The tax system of Athens as at 428/7 B.C. laid down that the upper three classes had to pay one talent, half a talent, and one sixth of a talent respectively. These amounts represented the total tax amount paid by all pentakosiomedimnoi, hippeis and zeugitai enrolled in the one hundred symmoriai (tax syndicates) of Athens. Consequently the tax on the three wealthiest classes produced one hundred and sixty-six and two-thirds talents for the polis. This sum was supplemented by the metic tax, which answered to one sixth of the total tax (i.e. thirty-three and a third talents). The thetes had immunity from the eisphora. Thus Athens at the end of the day collected two hundred talents.

Theeisphora was discontinued on the reorganization of Athenian finances in 425/4 B.C., when the tax on members of the Delian League was increased. But during the Dekelian War it was reintroduced, using the 428/7 B.C. rates. At the end of the war these rates were in all probability increased.

In 400 B.C. there was a case of emergency eisphora. The intention was to pay off the public debt contracted during the civil war between the Thirty Tyrants and the democrats after the end of the Peloponnesian War. However in the final decades of Athenian independence, 347/6-323/2 B.C., an annual standing property-tax of just ten talents was imposed so that shipsheds could be constructed.
The last time the regular eisphora was in force as an institution was in 335 B.C. The occasion was the anti-Macedonian rising after Philip's death.

With the establishment of the Second Athenian Confederacy, the tax system founded on Solon's property classes was abolished, in 378/7 B.C. There sprang up in its place scales of value for all taxed persons, with the exception of the lowest class (which was immune from taxation). To other citizens and to metics a common equal system applied. This reform stabilized the sum of eisphora at two hundred talents. At about the same time all those liable to the property-tax were organized into one hundred cooperative groups - the symmoriai - which were different from the already existing tax symmoriai.

The Athenian property-tax was seen by members of the wealthy classes as a particularly heavy economic burden. In an attempt to ease it, they frequently had recourse, both before and after its reform in 378/7 B.C., to concealing part of their estate. It was of course the estate that was the ground for taxation.

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