The Fall of the Roman Empire
At this point, something close to 50% of the western Empire’s tax base had been eroded, and money was running out. Not surprisingly, this is the era in which western legislation both complained about the unwillingness of land-owners to pay their taxes and attempted to claw back existing tax breaks.
- Any disinclination on the part of landowners to pay up is obviously an important phenomenon, especially since there is good reason to suppose that normal tax rates were having to increase at this time. Furthermore, new taxes were being invented.
- But to argue from this that the unwillingness of the rich to pay their taxes was a central cause of western imperial collapse, as sometimes has been done, is to put the cart before the horse. Tax privileges for the rich and well connected had always been part of imperial politics: enriching your friends was one reason why they backed you to win power.
The phenomenon assumed an unwanted importance in the 440s only because so many provinces had been lost to immigrants, or so damaged by warfare, that the western Empire’s revenues had shrunk to dangerously low levels.
Peter Heather (2009) Empires and Barbarians: Migration, Development and the Birth of Europe Macmillan