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Ancient Tax Time

How taxpayers funded the rise of empires

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Taxes Mesopotamia Standard of UrOne of the most vivid glimpses into the mind of an ancient ruler was unearthed in 1928, at the royal cemetery of Ur, in modern-day Iraq. The so-called Standard of Ur, dating to around 2500 B.C., is a foot-and-a-half-long trapezoidal wooden box decorated with mosaics made of lapis lazuli, shell, and red limestone that depict a flourishing Mesopotamian city-state. On one side of the box, average citizens dutifully line up to offer produce, sheep, and other livestock as taxes to the king, who is shown with his retinue feasting on the revenues. On the opposite side, the king’s army, funded by tax levies, is seen smiting Ur’s enemies. Both scenes illustrate a king’s-eye view of a highly idealized government functioning with great efficiency thanks to what has become a universal human experience. “Everybody gets taxed,” says University of Michigan historian Irene Soto Marín, who studies taxation in Roman-era Egypt. She points out that the archaeological record is replete with documents recording the typical person’s tax burden. “Many of the texts that survive from the ancient world aren’t literary works, but mundane tax receipts,” Soto Marín says. “They’re the most direct way to get insight into the policies of ancient states and the impact those policies had on people’s daily lives.” A vast body of eclectic evidence reveals how rulers administered taxes on everything from crops to labor, how people complied with their mandate, and how taxes could contribute to the well-being of the state. But these artifacts also show that while the powerful had ambitious plans to extract revenue, at least in some cases, taxpayers themselves did not behave with the perfect compliance of the subjects depicted on the Standard of Ur.

 

Taxes Mesopotamia Standard of Ur II

Top 10 Discoveries of the Decade

Friday, December 04, 2020

Pylos Greece Ring Seal Stone Bull CompositeComing soon: Additional photos and more information on ARCHAEOLOGY magazine’s selection of the best finds of the past 10 years. Stay tuned!

Maya Stelas in 3-D

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

A full view 3-D model of Stela 1 from Wiztna created by University of Alabama archaeologist Alexandre Tokovinine:

 

A 3-D model of Stela 2:

D-Day: The Legacy of the Longest Day

More than 75 years after D-Day, the Allied invasion’s impact on the French landscape is still not fully understood

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Friday, June 05, 2020

Normandy Bay of SeineUnited States Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan was 23 years old when he died near the village of Moon-sur-Elle in northern France. McGowan had grown up in the small town of Benson in western Minnesota, where he loved to ski. He attended Benson High School, St. Thomas Military Academy, and then the Missouri School of Journalism, where he received his degree in 1942. He worked as a journalist and editor, first for the United Press news service in Madison, Wisconsin, and then for his hometown paper, the Swift County Monitor-News, of which his father was the editor and publisher.

 

In 1943, McGowan was called to Eagle Pass Army Airfield in southern Texas for training. In December, he earned his pilot’s silver wings and his commission. A month later, he moved on to Harding Airfield in Baton Rouge for flight training on the P-47 Thunderbolt, the beloved workhorse of World War II American aviation. There he married Suzanne “Suki” Schaefer of Winona, Minnesota, and two months later was sent to England aboard Queen Mary. On May 15, he joined the 391st Fighter Squadron, 366th Fighter Group. Between May and June 5, McGowan made 10 sorties and flew four combat missions.

 

Normandy Map 2At 3:15 p.m. on June 6, 1944, D-Day, McGowan set out from Royal Air Force Thruxton in Hampshire in southern England on a mission to target the Lison train station and enemy convoys moving northeast toward Bayeux. According to the Missing Air Crew Report given by his wingman, Flight Officer Paul E. Stryker, the next day, after they seized “a target of opportunity” and dropped their fragmentation bombs on a passing German train, McGowan’s Thunderbolt was hit by antiaircraft fire at 500 feet, too low for him to safely parachute from his plane. “I was taking evasive action and about 1000', I noticed his plane was in flames and was going into a spin,” relayed Stryker. “He spun it to the ground and the whole ship burst in to flame.”

Girsu’s Enigmatic Construction

By DANIEL WEISS

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Girsu Iraq Bridge FoundationsGirsu Iraq Bridge BricksIn the 1920s and early 1930s, French archaeologists at Girsu excavated a monumental brick structure measuring up to 130 feet long by 33 feet wide, with 11-foot-high walls, that resembled a pair of parentheses. Unsure of its purpose, they termed it the “enigmatic construction.” Based on satellite imagery and excavation of the landscape surrounding the structure, British Museum archaeologist Sebastien Rey identified traces of an ancient canal that had once passed directly through the structure. The canal was some 100 feet wide, and Rey concluded that the structure had served as a bottleneck to reduce its width to around 12 feet, narrow enough to be spanned with the planks of a bridge.

 

The bridge’s foundation was built of fired bricks coated with bitumen to make it sturdy and watertight. On 15 of these bricks, Rey’s team has identified inscriptions dedicating the structure to the god Ningirsu and naming Ur-Ningirsu (r. ca. 2110 B.C.), the king Gudea’s son and successor as ruler of Girsu. All of these inscriptions faced down lest the god’s name be trod upon.

 

Standing about a third of a mile to the east of Gudea’s great temple, the bridge would have been the main entrance to Girsu’s sacred precinct, crossed by pilgrims who traveled to the city for religious festivals held several times each year. “That’s why the bridge was so monumental,” says Rey. “It had the same significance as the temple or a city gate or a city wall. It was built by a king and was meant to be visible in the landscape.”

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